Big Ten: Montae Nicholson

Big Ten morning links

August, 18, 2014
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Actual college football returns next week. Huzzah.

And players are likely celebrating as well, because training camps are winding to a close. Depth charts are also shaping up as well as teams move nearer toward preparing for Week 1. But some key jostling for jobs remains. Let's take inventory of a few of the more interesting position battles left in the Big Ten:
  • Wisconsin quarterback: By most accounts, incumbent starter Joel Stave has looked like the better option over Tanner McEvoy so far this month. At this point, I'd be surprised if Gary Andersen started McEvoy over the far more experienced Stave in the opener against LSU, though McEvoy could see some time in special packages. The Badgers have practiced some option, and that just doesn't seem like Stave's cup of tea, now does it? Where some battles stand for the Badgers.
  • Illinois quarterback: Tim Beckman has said he could name a starter on Wednesday. Most everyone expects it to be Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt. A big question, in my mind, is how the Illini can best use Aaron Bailey's talents.
  • Michigan State linebacker: Replacing Max Bullough and Denicos Allen isn't cut and dry, but it's not because of a lack of options. Riley Bullough and Jon Reschke are coming on strong and pushing Taiwan Jones and Darien Harris for playing time. Mark Dantonio described the situation on Saturday as "sort of a linebacker group by committee right now."
  • Iowa cornerback: It's a three-man scrum between Maurice Fleming, Sean Draper and Greg Mabin to see who starts opposite Desmond King. Mabin might have been set back by a minor injury. But Kirk Ferentz said the position is "up for grabs right now." Ferentz still has a lot of questions to answer.
  • Ohio State left guard: Darryl Baldwin seized the right tackle job, but there's far less clarity at left guard, a position that Urban Meyer has said concerns him. Doug Lesmerises breaks down the fight for playing time there and elsewhere on the Buckeyes.

Another major position battle should be cleared up on Monday, when Purdue is expected to name its starting quarterback. But that's one where Danny Etling has been a big front-runner all along.

On to the links:

Weekend scrimmages

1. Jabrill Peppers is going to play a lot, the offensive line still needs work and other observations from Nick Baumgardner on Michigan's open scrimmage before an estimated 25,000 fans.

2. Rutgers' Saturday scrimmage, dominated by the offense, provided answers to some key questions.

3. Wide receiver Deon Long was one of the stars of Maryland's open scrimmage.

4. Defense won the day at Michigan State's scrimmage.

5. Indiana coach Kevin Wilson sees improved depth on his team after the Hoosiers' latest scrimmage.

6. The running game was the main attraction in Purdue's scrimmage.

7. Northwestern held an open scrimmage, but hardly anyone of note participated.

West Division
East Division
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State had the most eventful signing day of any Big Ten team, complete with the Malik McDowell melodrama and Darius Slade's move to Ohio State. The Spartans also signed quite possibly coach Mark Dantonio's best class at the school. The defending Big Ten and Rose Bowl champions landed several standout defenders, a big running back and several stout linemen.

Dantonio was unable to discuss McDowell on Wednesday because the coveted defensive tackle hadn't sent in his national letter of intent, but the Spartans coach sat down with ESPN.com to review the rest of the 2014 class.

What stands out to you most about this class?

Mark Dantonio: This is an excellent class from top to bottom in terms of the quality of players. We have tremendous people in this class. I've seen it by how they interact with each other. There's a reason they've been so successful. You see their character.

Have you seen the effects of last season on this class, or will it not be until 2015?

MD: We did. There were some guys obviously who were [committed] as we entered the season. If you look at Michigan State football, we've been on the rise, maybe took a small step back [in 2012] but it's been a program right there, on the threshold of a championship. This year, we win the championship and recruiting gained momentum as we gained momentum on the football field. As it came down to the end, we were on some very highly recruited guys. We got some, some we didn't and that's OK. I appreciate their interest, but people make their decisions based on what's best for them, and again, I just hope that everybody can celebrate the day.

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesWinning the Rose Bowl has resulted in a recruiting boost for Mark Dantonio and Michigan State.
Are you encountering players who are further along in their development now than a few years ago?

MD: I think so, but the longer you're at a place, the deeper you go in the recruiting process in terms of how long you've looked at a guy. Recruiting has become very accelerated, and there are certain individuals you see as a sophomore, and you've watched them grow. Guys like Montae Nicholson, who I thought was a national recruit but we were on him early, we knew about him, had relationships with he and his family. A big-time football player. Brian Allen is another guy who's an outstanding football player. I don't know what his record is as a wrestler. He was 48-0 last year, I think maybe he's lost once this year, so he's outstanding with leverage and very athletic. We've got guys who fit our needs, but they're also high-level players. Craig Evans, Enoch Smith it doesn't take long to watch them and you know as a football team, you want them.

Are you seeing the effects of what you've done on defense in recruiting?

MD: We are. We've been the top defense in this conference for the past three years. I think we're one of two teams in the nation that have been in the top five in the four major categories for the last three years. You see collectively, people want to be a part of that. They see guys have an opportunity to go to the NFL from our defense. They're succeeding, they're impacting the team. And on the offensive side, we've got some outstanding guys as well.

[Gerald] Owens, the big back, where does he fit into what you do?

MD: He's like T.J. Duckett. He reminds me of T.J. a lot. I'd watch his film, and then I'd put on T.J.'s film when I was here in the past. You'd see very similar running styles.

You have another Bullough in Byron. What does he bring at the same position as his brothers?

MD: When you have guys that have played for you before, like Max and Riley and now you have Byron, you have Jack Allen and now you have Brian Allen, it sends a message to me that what we're doing here is in the best interest of their sons. It tells a story that what we are doing is being done the correct way. We're not just being good football players and developing them, but we're developing the person, too. It was the same thing when we had Brent Celek and we got Garrett Celek. When we have families and they send their next son here, it's a statement.

What were your big needs in the class?

MD: Linebacker was a need because we lost some great linebackers this year. Defensive line's a need as well, just because we lost really three good inside players. I think we addressed that with three outstanding players in David Beedle and Enoch Smith and Craig Evans. David is a physical guy, 6-4 plus, 290 [pounds], on a state champion team at Clarkson High School. He has a presence and he's instinctive. For a high school kid to bench-press 225 [pounds] 30 times, it's pretty impressive.

You had a couple of guys already enrolled. Are they in better shape to contribute earlier?

MD: Yeah. Matt Sokol comes in as a tight end. He was a quarterback throughout high school and played a little bit of tight end. He's been a mismatch guy. He's 6-4, 6-5. He's going to develop. And Chris Frey is a very instinctive guy. You see him playing fullback, tailback, linebacker, corner on his high school team. He can take a game over. High-energy guy. Reminds me a lot of Chris Spielman when I was at Ohio State. He's just a football player, and he can run, a powerful, explosive guy.

What's the one theme that stands out most about this class?

MD: This group was very connected. That's through social media and everything else, even some of the guys who may have opted to go other places at the end, they were connected. This is an outstanding class, maybe our best class in seven years. That's a huge statement, and I don't mean to disrespect our other classes. Time will tell. You come in a lamb and you've got to go out a lion. That's how it is.

Big Ten recruiting roundtable

February, 3, 2014
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National signing day is just 48 hours away. To get you ready, we checked in with our ESPN.com recruiting experts for their take on how the Big Ten is faring.

Senior national recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill and Big Ten recruiting reporter Tom VanHaaren spared time from their busy schedules to answer these questions:

Ohio State and Michigan again lead the way in the Big Ten recruiting rankings. How much late drama do you expect with those two programs?

[+] EnlargeMalik McDowell
Tom Hauck for ESPNDE Malik McDowell, No. 60 in the ESPN 300, could come down to a signing day decision between Ohio State and Michigan.
Tom VanHaaren: Probably not much for Michigan as it is really only targeting ESPN 300 defensive lineman Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield). McDowell visited Ohio State Jan. 31 and has hosted every head coach in his top four of Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Florida State.

He will take his decision out to signing day, so there is a battle going on there, but there's still a chance he ends up at Michigan State or Florida State. He has kept everything close to the vest and it's anyone's guess as to where he ends up. Ohio State could have a little drama, but that happens when you land top ranked prospects.

Tom Luginbill: I really just expect to see where McDowell falls.

What other Big Ten programs have impressed you?

TL: Penn State and Wisconsin. Badgers coach Gary Andersen is adding more speed and athleticism to this class, including QB D.J. Gillins (Jacksonville, Fla./Ribault). They would love to close with CB Chris Lammons (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Plantation).

TVH: Michigan State has put together a good class. I really like ESPN 300 defensive back Montae Nicholson (Monroeville, Pa./Gateway) for the Spartans defense. I think Northwestern has put together a really good class as well with three ESPN 300 commitments. The Wildcats added in-state defensive back Parrker Westphal (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook), which was a big get for them. Illinois did a lot to help fill immediate needs as well. The Illini lose four receivers and brought in some junior college prospects to compete right away.

How much impact has James Franklin made on Penn State's recruiting in a short time?

TVH: It seems to be all positive for now. It's not surprising that he has flipped so many Vanderbilt commitments to Penn State, because he was the coach who recruited them. The recruits, however, that have flipped will all tell you that he is the guy they want to play for. There is already some excitement in the 2015 class and in the Pennsylvania area, so I think Penn State fans are going to be very happy with what Franklin and his staff does in the near future.

TL: Significant, but it should be noted that Michael O'Connor (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy), De'Andre Thompkins (Swansboro, N.C./Swansboro) and Chris Godwin (Middletown, Del./Middletown) all enrolled early prior to his hire, but after Bill O’Brien departed, which tells you of their commitment to the program. Since his hiring, Penn State has added seven verbal commits, including flipping Rutgers commit WR Saeed Blacknall (Manalapan, N.J./Manalapan) this past week.

How much of an effect, if any, has Michigan State's on-field success had in its recruiting so far?

TL: Minimal. They do what they do. The biggest myth is that they are made up of 2- and 3-star players, which is not true. It has been 4- or 3- star players the past three to four classes The Spartans develop players as well as anyone. They don’t give in to external pressures to recruit anyone and they identify not only good players, but the right players for them.

TVH: It had some impact in the 2014 class, but because that class was already almost over by the time the Spartans won the Rose Bowl, the real affect will likely be on 2015 and 2016 prospects. Michigan State already has one of the top in-state prospects committed with Kyonta Stallworth (St. Clair Shores, Mich./South Lake) and there is a realistic chance the Spartans could land most of the top prospects from the state of Michigan. They have already heard from some prospects that they otherwise would have been out of the running for, so I think 2015 could be where you see some of those affects.

How have Maryland and Rutgers done in recruiting, and are their efforts up to Big Ten standards?

TVH: Rutgers has suffered a lot of decommitments in the 2014 class. It seems like this is a whole new class from what it used to be. The most recent was Blacknall, who flipped to Penn State. Maryland has had a better time recruiting in this class, but is still outside the top 40 in the class rankings. The Terrapins have had a lot of injuries to deal with, so I think once they get healthy and get back on track they will start to see a little more success. Now that they're in the Big Ten they can tell local recruits that they can stay close to home and still play in big stadiums and on national television, which will be a big draw.

TL: Rutgers is crumbling. At one time they had four ESPN 300 prospects and all have decommitted. This is not a good start for the Knights heading into the Big Ten. We very much like the top third of Maryland’s class, and the middle third has upside, but there is a significant drop off in talent in the bottom third, in our opinion.

What teams do you view as disappointing with this class?

TL: Rutgers. The rest have essentially been as expected for the most part.

TVH: Can I cop out and give everyone a trophy? I don't think anyone has a really disappointing class. I imagine Rutgers' coaches aren't thrilled with the way things have gone, but for the Big Ten teams from this season I think most of them have done a really nice job filling needs and getting a few big recruits in the class.

Finally, name a few players who we can expect to have an immediate impact in the 2014 season.

TVH: Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic) is probably the first name that sticks out. He is the No. 2-ranked prospect in the country for a reason and could end being an outstanding college football player once he's done. I expect him to play early in some capacity. Potentially, a guy like Dominique Booth (Indianapolis/Pike) at Indiana at receiver, running back Jeff Jones (Minneapolis/Washburn) if he sticks with Minnesota, Johnnie Dixon (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla./Dwyer) at Ohio State and maybe juco defensive lineman Joe Keels (Kenosha, Wisc./Highland (Kan.) Community College) at Nebraska.

TL: Peppers, (Ohio State LB) Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County) and Jones, if he sticks.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- James Franklin hasn't even spent one night in Happy Valley, but Penn State's new head coach has already thrown down the recruiting gauntlet against Pittsburgh and other teams in the northeast.

"Our recruiting philosophy," Franklin said Saturday afternoon during his introductory press conference, "we are going to dominate the state. We are going to dominate the region.

"I'm going to call all the high school coaches. I'm calling all the people in the state that we need to come together like never before."

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsJames Franklin didn't mince words when talking about recruiting, say that it's his mission for the Nittany Lions to dominate within the state of Pennsylvania.
Franklin emphasized every line about recruiting and spoke passionately during his first-ever news conference as the Penn State head coach. He's been widely regarded as an incredible recruiter -- he reeled in 22 four-star commits during his time at Vanderbilt -- and he didn't hesitate when asked about his high recruiting hopes.

The new coach's bold statement comes after years of PSU routinely losing out in western Pennsylvania. Sure, Penn State has earned commitments of some prospects such as wideout Troy Apke, but it's missed more than it's hit. PSU fell out of favor with ESPN 300 targets such as WR Tyler Boyd (2013 commit; Pitt), ATH Dravon Henry (2014 commit; West Virginia) and DB Montae Nicholson (2014 commit; Michigan State).

Beating Pitt out for recruits in its own backyard is a daring statement. So, a few minutes after answering his first recruiting question, Franklin was given a chance to soften his words. This time, he was asked where his recruiting focus lay -- but he again wasted no time in reinforcing his original point.

"I don't know if I mentioned this before, but we're going to dominate the state," he said matter-of-factly. "That's the first thing we're going to do."

And after that? Well, Franklin said next comes the region, in such states and areas as New Jersey, New York, New England, Virginia and Delaware. And, then, comes the nation.

"I think you sell yourself short when you don't do that," said the coach who got three commitments from California in Vanderbilt's last class.

Of course, Franklin never specifically mentioned Pitt at that point in the press conference. Maybe he'd back down if that was spelled out to him, maybe he'd try to soften up all this talk of dominating and controlling. It was an interesting thing to say, after all, for his first day on the job.

But Franklin just doubled-down on those statements when Pitt was specifically mentioned in one reporter's question.

"When I say Pennsylvania, when I say Penn State, that's the whole state," he said. "That is the whole state. We will recruit every corner of this state, every school of this state, every neighborhood of this state.

"And when I say recruit, not only just the student-athletes. I mean the people of the great state of Pennsylvania. We will recruit everybody, and that is with tremendous respect for the University of Pittsburgh. But we are ... Penn State."

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

January, 6, 2014
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Despite the dead period there was still plenty of action within the Big Ten on the recruiting trail. Here is a look at what happened throughout the conference this past week.

Recruit and return: Michigan State 

January, 1, 2014
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Michigan State capped off an outstanding season with a 24-20 win over Stanford in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO. The Spartans finished 13-1 after playing in their first Rose Bowl since 1988.

This was a dream season, but the team loses some key performers. With the No. 40 ranked class, the recruiting efforts will help fill some of those voids.


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Big Ten class rankings analysis 

November, 13, 2013
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There has been movement on the recruiting trail within the Big Ten conference, so it's time once again to take a look at a few trends and changes among the teams. Here is a look at the latest for the Big Ten class rankings.

Trending up:

Tom VanHaaren: Michigan State has a chance to move up in the rankings if it can close strong. ESPN 300 prospects Jamil Kamara (Virginia Beach, Va./Bishop Sullivan Catholic) and Kiy Hester (Wayne, N.J./DePaul Catholic) recently added the Spartans to their top list, while Montae Nicholson (Monroeville, Pa./Gateway) and Parrker Westphal (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook) are still listing Michigan State in their top group as well. The strong defensive play on the field has Michigan State in position to play for a Big Ten championship, which could further help this recruiting class.


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It's never too early to talk about signing day, especially with so many questions currently unanswered on the recruiting trail. Big unknowns remain for the Big Ten conference, so here are 10 questions leading up to signing day.

1. Last year, Ohio State finished with the No. 3 class in the nation. Can it happen again?


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From big visits to Big Ten schools building a solid base for the future, the conference wasn’t devoid of good storylines. Here’s a look at the week that was:

Boilermakers hope Drue finds ‘Tranquill’ setting

Purdue will get one last chance to impress three-star pledge Drue Tranquill (Fort Wayne, Ind./Carroll) this weekend and it will come against the hottest team in the nation when the Boilermakers play Ohio State, which has won 20 games in a row. Tranquill has been a soft commit to Purdue since Notre Dame offered him a scholarship on Aug. 2. He’s visited both campuses several times since then and wants to make a choice after this visit.

Buckeyes’ big news after big recruiting weekend


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Most important targets: Big Ten 

October, 22, 2013
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As teams across the country get closer and closer to filling recruiting classes for 2014, every recruit becomes that much more important for each program.

Big Ten teams are still targeting some big names in this class and have the opportunity to fill some major needs. Here is a look at some of the most important prospects within the Big Ten.


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There are still a ton of prospects on the board for Big Ten teams, so conference recruiting reporters Tom VanHaaren and Brad Bournival take a look at the best and worst case scenarios remaining for each team.

Illinois
Best-case scenario: Illinois picked up an offensive line commit on Monday with Peter Cvijanovic (Great Barrington, Mass./East Coast Prep), which gives the Illini two offensive line commits. Despite having four wide receiver commits on board, it looks like the staff would take another receiver in this class.

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From official visits past and future to a commitment, the Big Ten was buzzing with headlines this week.

Here’s a look at a few programs that highlight a busy week in this week’s Big Ten storylines.

Boiler Up


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Big Ten class rankings analysis 

September, 11, 2013
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Week three of the regular season and there still isn't much movement with Big Ten recruiting. The class rankings didn't shift too much because there wasn't a lot of news outside of Ohio State's new addition to the 2014 class.

Big Ten recruiting reporters give you a look at some of the trends and things to watch within the conference recruiting landscape:

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Big Ten fodder is never hard to find, especially in recruiting. This week is no different as schools start positioning themselves in the recruiting world. Here’s a look at a few programs that highligh a busy week in this week’s Big Ten storylines.

Cornhusker in the making?

Defensive tackle Peyton Newell (Hiawatha, Kan./Hiawatha) is set to announce his decision on Friday. He is down to Kansas, Kansas State, Nebraska and South Carolina, but it’s likely between South Carolina and Nebraska.

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The latest version of the ESPN class rankings are out, and there are seven Big Ten teams within the top 40 classes.

With movement happening across the board, there are trends and stories developing, so Big Ten recruiting writers Brad Bournival and Tom VanHaaren give you a look at what to watch within the conference:

Trending up:

Tom VanHaaren: The number of ESPN 300 prospects committing to Big Ten schools. The number hasn’t started to increase yet, but there is a good chance it will. As it currently stands the Big Ten has 25 ESPN 300 commitments within its teams. That number is low compared to the 77 committed to SEC schools and 35 to ACC programs. However, there are roughly 18 ESPN 300 prospects still listing Big Ten programs, including No. 4 ranked Da’Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge) with Michigan, No. 1 inside linebacker Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County), Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield), Montae Nicholson (Monroeville, Pa./Gateway) and more.


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