Big Ten: recruiting roundtable

National signing day is next Wednesday. To get you ready for the big day, we checked in with a pair of ESPN.com recruiting experts for their take on how the Big Ten is faring.

Senior national recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill and Midwest recruiting writer Jared Shanker shared their thoughts on a handful of recruiting topics related to the league. This is Part II of that discussion; you can find Part I here.

Which teams in the Big Ten have surprised you with this year's class?

Jared Shanker: Indiana definitely surprised me. If you looked at their class last summer [in 2011], when they had Gunner Kiel, you said, "Wow, that's a pretty good class." But then it really fell apart. This one's kind of the opposite. It wasn't looking too strong, and then things really started rolling during the season. They were able to get an ESPN 150 guy from Georgia [Rashard Fant]. They were able to flip Darius Latham from Wisconsin, they flipped David Kenney from Iowa, Antonio Allen was originally committed to Ole Miss. They've done a good job recruiting each state, as well as keeping some of the top talent in Indianapolis. Indiana is a basketball state, but there are some pretty good football players there, and Latham, Kenney and Allen are all four-star players from Indianapolis. So I like what Kevin Wilson has been able to do. This class really turned around, starting in October or so.

Minnesota is doing OK. Penn State is probably a surprise. You see five four-star guys. You see the No. 1 quarterback in the country in Christian Hackenberg. Adam Breneman is the No. 1 tight end. They have some other three-star guys that can contribute and even have some walk-ons who had scholarship offers elsewhere. They just dropped out of the Top 25, but they were hanging on in the Top 25 for a while.

Iowa has traditionally filled its class down the line and kept getting commitments until signing day. For the most part, Iowa was close to done by mid-summer with their class, which was pretty unique for Iowa. It's a stark contrast compared to their 2012 class, which is probably why you haven't heard about Iowa much lately. They've been out of the news. But I think they're generally happy for the most part how things turned out. They did lose David Kenney to Indiana. But if they can flip Reggie Spearman from Illinois and also add one more receiver, I think they'd probably be pretty happy.

Tom Luginbill: Since we mentioned Indiana, I would say that Northwestern continues to impress. Texas continues to be fruitful for the Wildcats. QB Matt Alviti couldn't be a better fit for their offense. If Alviti were taller, I think he would have been a national recruit and has been undervalued. Athlete Godwin Igwebuike is versatile and continues their presence in Ohio. Pat Fitzgerald and his staff may be as good as anyone in college football. They evaluate for them and don't worry about what others think. They identify who is the right fit and attack it.

How do you think Nebraska has done with this class, especially in trying to beef up its defensive front?

TL: The week of January 21st was a rough patch for Nebraska with the loss of two committed prospects in athlete Marcus McWilson and receiver Dominic Walker, who is out of Florida and now committed to Auburn. They did retain Tre'vell Dixon who was originally committed to Nebraska, broke away for a bit and came back. It has been a whirlwind for Bo Pelini and his staff. There are a lot of additions in the defensive front seven both from the high school and juco ranks including defensive end Randy Gregory, who, had he not been injured, may have ended up as our No. 1 ranked juco player overall.

JS: Nebraska might have been able to do a little better. That's not to say their class still isn't good. They have one of the best jucos in the country. Johnny Stanton was one of the better quarterbacks at the Elite 11. He's coming off an ACL tear. They've got a host of four-star guys. I still think it could have been a little bit stronger, all things considered.

They've got Randy Gregory at defensive end. They're pretty strong at linebacker, so they're looking pretty good along the defensive front but maybe not in defensive line depth. The huge numbers aren't there. You have to at least like Gregory and the linebackers, but you can just see the eye test -- they're not there yet with upper teams in the Big Ten. I think they still have some work to do to get there.

Finally, give us a handful of players who might make an immediate impact next season.

JS: I like Derrick Green [from Michigan]. Jalin Marshall at Ohio State, I think he's a guy you put the ball in his hands on a jet sweep, a screen or what have you, and there's a chance he takes it to the house. So those two guys really stick out.

I know the Illinois staff is really high on [quarterback] Aaron Bailey and is looking at him as the future. Maybe something happens with Nathan Scheelhaase and he can step in and get some early playing time. Then there's Corey Clement at Wisconsin. He's kind of a bigger back, at 5-foot-11, 200 pounds. With Montee Ball gone, maybe at least he breaks into the rotation and sees some touches as a freshman.

TL: Receiver Jalin Marshall, Ohio State; running back Derrick Green Michigan; linebacker Trey Johnson, Ohio State; tight end Adam Breneman, Penn State (if healthy); defensive tackle Darius Latham, Indiana; athlete Rashard Fant, Indiana.
National signing day is just one week away. Before the big day arrives, we thought we'd check in with a pair of ESPN.com recruiting experts to get their take on how the Big Ten is faring.

Senior national recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill and Midwest recruiting writer Jared Shanker were kind enough to take some time out of their frenzied schedules to address a handful of recruiting topics related to the league. Here's is Part I of that discussion; look for Part II on Thursday:

Michigan and Ohio State are obviously the headliners among Big Ten teams right now. Are they recruiting at a level where fans can expect them to contend for national titles in the near future?

Tom Luginbill: Possibly. The challenge for both OSU and Michigan will be whether they can pool the type of defensive front player that can contend with SEC competitors, because that is the difference right now, and both Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke know it. Both coaching staffs are recruiting very well and at a level that should set them apart from the rest of the conference at this time. Michigan continues to lay down its blueprint of what they want their identity to be, which is why the commitment of running back Derrick Green is so pivotal. He embodies what they want their program to be about -- physical, tough, wear-you-down type of roster. Ohio State's focus is clearly on defense in the front with the 2012 class and again in this class, but with more of an emphasis on the defensive secondary and offensive-skilled weapons.

The reality is that if Michigan or Ohio State are undefeated or one-loss teams, which both are capable of being in the coming years, then yes, they will be able to contend for the title. Winning it means they will have to lure top defensive lineman likely out of the South and away from the SEC and ACC.

Jared Shanker: I think so. Florida and Alabama, we have them as No.s 1 and 2 in in the country right now. Ohio State, if you look at some of their remaining targets, there's a chance -- I don't know if they can get all the way to No. 1, but they could crack at least the top three. I like what they've been able to do defensively, especially in the defensive backfield, with five-star Eli Apple, Gareon Conley and Cam Burrows. I like what Michigan's been able to do, especially offensively, with Shane Morris at quarterback and Derrick Green at running back. There might not be another offensive line haul as good in the country as Michigan's.

If you look at both classes, this is the second year both of them are going to finish among the highest in the country. You have to believe they're going to continue to do that. These recruiting classes should be able to help close that gap and translate into at least competing for a spot to play in the national championship at some point.

Outside of the Wolverines and Buckeyes, what other Big Ten schools have impressed you?

TL: Penn State and Indiana. Say what you will, but Penn State has been able to hold firm. Of course they had some early defections, but quarterback Christian Hackenberg and tight end Adam Breneman have been true ambassadors for the Nittany Lions as much as any coach has been. The class will not be large, of course, but the caliber of player is quality, and better than most would expect. The question is whether they can do it over the next three years as well. The numbers will dwindle, and likely so will the wins, so what is the caliber of player going forward that they will truly have a legitimate shot at?

Kevin Wilson has some buzz right now. It actually started last year with the likes of quarterback Nate Sudfeld who was way under the radar and from California, and has continued with this class with more of an emphasis on the South. The state of Georgia has proven to be quite fruitful with the additions of athlete Rashard Fant, outside linebacker Kristopher Smith, and cornerback Noel Padmore. In-state defensive tackle Darius Latham is a huge get at a critical need position.

JS: I like what Michigan State's done. They don't have huge numbers in this class, but they have a lot of quality there. I especially like what they're doing at linebacker, with ESPN 300 guy Shane Jones. Delton Williams, he's a bit of a tweener, but I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up at linebacker. Four-star Jon Reshcke, he's a Michigan State legacy; Michigan came after him a little bit late but he's sticking with the Spartans. So three of their four top commits are likely all going to be playing linebacker, and the one guy that isn't a linebacker in that group is quarterback Damion Terry. I've seen him play and really like what he's done. He brings a dual threat to Michigan State, and I think in a couple of years he can be the next big quarterback there.

Northwestern, they've done pretty well on the offensive line, and once again they've been able to get one of the better recruits in the country with quarterback Matt Alviti, Obviously, they're not going to get a staggering class, but they've got two four-star guys and some pretty good offensive linemen. So I like what they've been able to do.

How have the new staffs at Wisconsin and Purdue fared in recruiting after getting a late start?

JS: I think they're doing what you'd kind of expect, maybe a little bit better in terms of keeping guys on board. I believe Wisconsin has only lost one commitment. Four-star Alec James is wavering, but I believe he's going to end up sticking with Wisconsin at this point. They're making a run at a couple of other guys they wanted, but they're going to keep the class intact for the most part. They might add a couple of juco guys, or a couple guys late. You have to at least like that Gary Andersen has been able to hold the class, and if they can get a guy like Tanner McEvoy, the juco quarterback out of Arizona, I think you'd have to be really happy. But I think Badger fans should be satisfied that Andersen kept the class together for the most part.

Purdue has done pretty well with some big recruiting weekends recently. They've had to scramble a little bit and go for some guys who were maybe looking at the MAC level before. But I like what they've done. Offensive tackle Jason Tretter, he's 6-foot-7 and had a pretty bad injury his junior year, and that might have prevented him from getting a little more attention. Evan Panfil, they were able to flip from Illinois. Dan Monteroso, they flipped him from Boston College. I think all things considered, coming in late and Purdue not being the easiest place to recruit to, there are a lot of positive signs in what coach [Darrell] Hazell's been able to do. You have to like that he was able to keep the two biggest recruits on board as well: quarterback Danny Etling and running back Keyante Green.

TL: There has not been much movement. For the most part the classes have held firm from commitments to the prior staff. Purdue seems to continue its presence in the Southeast, which Danny Hope started.
This is Part II of our Big Ten recruiting roundtable. Once again, our experts are senior national recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill, Midwest recruiting writer Jared Shanker and Scouts Inc. recruiting coordinator Craig Haubert.

Topic 4: After the top tier of Ohio State and Michigan, what other Big Ten schools have done a good job with this class?


Tom Luginbill: "Michigan State has done a really good job on offense. They had to replace a some wide receivers, and their top two players in the class are receivers, in my opinion. I think they've done a nice job with the offensive line and on the edge with the defensive line. But they haven't addressed maybe their defensive tackle needs. Really, David Fennell is the only one in the whole class. But they're going to recruit their style of guy and they're going to develop them and mold them, because this isn't a program that feels it has to play true freshmen.

"I've been a little bit surprised that there isn't more of a Texas presence in [Nebraska's] class. I understand their want and need to create a presence in the Midwest, because that's where half of their livelihood is during the fall. But you look at where their guys are from -- Missouri, Colorado, Utah, Georgia, Ohio, Illinois -- and you're only really talking about one Texas prospect in their entire class, and that's a little bit surprising. Michael Rose is a really good player on the inside at linebacker and in front of him Paul Thurston out of Colorado has a chance to be a really good one, too. So they've done a nice job in the front seven overall, which they obviously needed to do."

Jared Shanker: “Wisconsin really tried to swing for the fences and went after some top guys. They only have 12 commitments. It’s not a whole lot in quantity, but there is some good quality. They have four four-star guys, and in the 2010 and ‘11 classes, they had one four-star guy combined. It looks like they really slowed down after the season started. They were going after some big guys. It looks like they’re going to lose Kyle Dodson. They lost the other offensive tackle, [J.J.] Denman. They’re hoping to get Jordan Diamond, but if I had to guess, I think he’ll end up at Michigan. They sent out a couple last-second offers to some other offensive tackles. Wisconsin, it looks like they tried to take that next step in recruiting. They whiffed on some, but I still like what they did overall with the class, even though they don’t have a whole bunch of numbers.

“Nebraska didn’t have a whole bunch of room. They had 14 or 15 guys, but they’re hoping to get three or four more. It looks like they’ll get Andrus Peat, one of the best tackles in the nation. He’s a guy they’ve been high on the whole time. Getting Imani Cross, the running back out of Georgia, was a big pickup. It looks like they’re probably going to land three-star Vincent Valentine out of Illinois. It would be a pretty successful signing day for them [if they get Peat and Valentine]."

Craig Haubert: “Very quietly Iowa, especially down the stretch here, has put together a pretty solid class. They just picked up a four-star offensive lineman, Alex Kozan. He was their sixth four-star guy in their class, so they’re doing a really good job. They’ve done a nice job in the trenches, especially on the offensive line where they’ve got some guys leaving and need some guys. They’re not a team a lot of people are buzzing about, but they’ve quietly done a good job.

“Michigan State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, you can lump together. If you ask five people to look at those classes and rank them, you’d probably get three different answers. With Wisconsin, it’s a very small class but a good class, just not much in numbers. The same can be said for Nebraska. They’re going to sign a small class, too, but did a great job filling needs at linebacker. The Armstrong kid can develop into a nice fit for them at quarterback.

“Northwestern, getting Ifeadi Odenigbo was, in the six or seven years I’ve been doing this, the most significant defensive pickup they’ve gotten in that time. Over the years they’ve actually picked up some pretty good offensive guys, but in our eyes, they’ve never landed anybody quite to his caliber, especially coming out of high school.”

Topic 5: What are your surprises and disappointments in the Big Ten for this class?


CH: “The team that’s really surprised me is Minnesota. They’ve done a really good job. That being said, they’re going to probably still finish in the lower half. But if you look at their class, they’ve done a very good job, and they’re on the heels of some of the teams right in front of them. The only difference with their class and some of the Michigan States and Wisconsins and Iowas, when you get to the meat of the class, Minnesota drops off a little bit. But at the top of their class, they’ve done a great job. They’ve got two really god wide receivers in Andre McDonald, who is a Minnesota kid, and Jamel Harbison, a kid out of North Carolina who’s a really good player. ... Considering how bad they’ve been on the field the last few years, this is a really good class. If you’re a Minnesota fan, you can look at this class and say there’s only a limited amount of prospects coming out of the state of Minnesota. You’ve got to be able to keep them. They’ve done that, and they’ve gotten some decent out-of-state pickups.

“A disappointment is Illinois. There’s a real possibility they could finish last in the conference. Any time you get a coaching change, that can cause some problems, but their class is just not very strong, and they lost a few guys after Zook was fired. So it’s really not a very strong class. They’ve been a team that has shown over the years that they can put together some pretty good classes. While they’ve surprised at times with some of those classes with guys like [Arrelious] Benn, it’s probably equally surprising how opposite this is.”

JS: “The disappointment is Michigan and Ohio State are up there and there isn’t another Big Ten team in the class rankings. You’d expect Michigan and Ohio State to always be up there, but with Michigan struggling recently and Ohio State going through its turmoil, if you were the other programs you hope this is an opportunity to maybe close the gap in recruiting. And none of them were able to do that. Not that they got bad classes, but you would have hoped that they’d take full advantage.”

TL: "I think Minnesota has slowly but surely put together a pretty nice looking group. When you consider the issues with Jerry Kill and his health throughout the fall and the fact they had an abysmal year on the gridiron, they've still been able to get three of the top five guys within the state. I would say their top five-to-seven guys would probably exceed expectations from what they'd normally be able to draw. It's a very big and deep class. So I think they're a surprise that's fallen under the radar to some degree.

"Another team where things weren't ideal for them on the field but they put together a pretty decent class is Iowa. They've done a pretty nice job of getting a lot of high-end three-star, low-end four-star players that aren't getting that internet notoriety, which they could care less about.

"I wouldn't say there's any disappointment. Northwestern has done as good a job as they can given their parameters. I don't want to judge Tim Beckman yet, because he's just now laying down his blueprint."

Topic 6: Give us three or four players who can make an immediate impact next season.


TL: "I think Noah Spence could have an impact at the defensive end spot for Ohio State. I think either Aaron Burbridge or Monty Madaris at receiver for Michigan State will likely be asked to contribute in some way, shape or form, just because there's a significant need there. Michigan could have quite a few guys come in and play a role. Maybe Devin Funchess at a need position [tight end] for them on offense. A guy who may surprise and get on the field pretty quickly for them is Joe Bolden, a linebacker."

JS: “Ifeadi Odenigbo, going to Northwestern, coming in he’s going to obviously have to add some weight, but he’s a guy that can be a situation pass rusher, coming in on third down and maybe end up with six, seven, eight sacks as a freshman just with his speed off the edge.

“Adolphus Washington, committed to Ohio State. He’s another guy who could make a big impact. He had a huge senior season. He doesn’t play against the best competition, but I was really impressed watching him, the few times I saw him this year.

“And if he gets a chance, even on special teams, I really like Joe Bolden, going to Michigan. I saw him play in the opener, and he has great instincts. He was making two steps in the direction the play was going to go before the ball was even snapped. I wasn’t down in St. Petersburg, but I heard he tore up the Under Armour game.”

CH: “Any time you’re a five-star guy, you’ve got to look at a guy like Noah Spence. Joe Bolden, he’s got a chance for two reasons: he’s already on campus, and he’s a pretty good football player, a pretty instinctive guy. Also for Ohio State, Adolphus Washington, a kid with good size, great motor.

“In Iowa’s class, Greg Garmon. He fits their system well.

“For Nebraska, that corner they got out of juco [Mohammed Seisay] is pretty good. But sticking with the high school kids, Imani Cross was a great pickup for them. He was committed to Tennessee at one point. He’s a really good running back, a bit bigger, but in addition to being a good prospect, he’s a great fit for them. He’s a no-nonsense runner. He finds his hole, makes one cut and gets up field. And for a need at linebacker, [Michael] Rose is really good, too. I really was impressed with the job he did down at the Under Armour game. He’s got good size for a kid coming out of high school, a linebacker, pretty savvy in coverage, too, for a high school kid.”
The Super Bowl is Sunday, but the super bowl of recruiting arrives on Wednesday. So on the eve of national signing day, we thought we'd check in with some of ESPN.com's top recruiting experts to get a feel for what's going on in the Big Ten.

Our esteemed panel included senior national recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill, Midwest recruiting writer Jared Shanker and Scouts Inc. recruiting coordinator Craig Haubert. This is Part I of our discussion; look for Part II later on today.

Topic 1: What impact has the arrival of Urban Meyer had on the league and in general when it comes to recruiting?

Tom Luginbill: "It's been fairly significant. If there's one thing Urban Meyer understands and has been able to do, it's that you build a championship team from the inside out. Whether it was at Florida or now at Ohio State, if you notice who essentially all his first commitments were, they were all on the defensive line and offensive line. So he understands that, if they're going to compete for a national championship, the gap has to be closed in the defensive front seven. That's the difference between what's happened in the SEC and everywhere else. So I think that's where he's made his biggest impact."

Craig Haubert: “What Urban Meyer has been able to come and do down the stretch has been huge. I knew when he took over, they would get better as a class, but I didn’t really think when this happened, they’d have a chance to crack the Top 25. They’re still in a position to possibly land some guys. Davonte Neal, the No. 1 athlete, could be headed there. Stefon Diggs and Jordan Diamond are also in the mix there.” [Diggs and Neal are both post-signing day announcements].

“If you look at this class, it’s all in the trenches, really. And our philosophy is there’s always an increased value to upper-tier linemen because they’re harder to find. Noah Spence obviously is huge, he’s a five-star, but so is Adolphus Washington. The other thing that stands out to me about Ohio State is he’s been plucking guys from other Big Ten schools. [Se’Von] Pittman was a Michigan State kid. Joey O’Connor had decommitted before he got him, but he was a Penn State kid. Same thing with Tommy Schutt. Armani Reeves. So his upper part of his class, a lot of them have come from other Big Ten schools.”

Jared Shanker: “He’s exceeded my expectations. He’s obviously a great recruiter. At the same time, I wouldn’t call it walking into a perfect situation, but with what was going on at Penn State, I think he’s taken five recruits from Penn State, so there were opportunities for him to come in and flip some guys. Noah Spence was a Penn State lean. He had O’Connor and Tommy Schutt, two other ESPNU 150 guys who were committed to Penn State. Camren Williams and Armani Reeves, two other guys at Penn State. Obviously, he’s one of the best recruiters in the game. He also had some good fortune in being able to come in at a time when things were shaky at a rival school and pick up some of their commitments. Se’Von Pittman, the other ESPNU 150 guy, he was really looking for a reason to get to Ohio State.”

Topic 2: How good is Michigan's class, and has the Wolverines' momentum slowed down in the last several weeks?


CH: “They came out fast. We’ve always had them in that 5-to-7 type range. People might get frustrated that it’s getting near signing day, when there’s a lot of buzz and things going on, and they’re not doing much, but to be fair to them, what they did has allowed them to maintain in the same area where they’ve been for most of the recruiting process. The thing that sticks out to me about this class is a lot of people kind of scoffed when Brady Hoke got hired and he said, ‘I’m a Michigan man.’ But he’s been true to that. They’ve done very well in state. A lot of their key players are Michigan guys, led by Terry Richardson. So he’s brought a little bit of that Michigan man feel, and there seems to be an excitement among recruits.”

TL: "
Michigan was rolling before Meyer got the job, and they were teetering on maybe swinging Bri'onte Dunn, the running back, and Ohio State was able to keep him in the fold. Is Michigan in competition with Ohio State for some players? Yes. But Michigan right now is more focused on revamping the roster to the mold that Brady Hoke wants. They need more size up front, some size at the linebacking positions and some size at the skill spots. And I think they've done that in all three areas. [The lack of recent commitments] is a reflection of numbers and how much room they have. With the Big Ten's hard cap, they don't have a ton of wiggle room. If anything, the winning on the field and the sustained excellence helped solidify that the class would stay intact."

JS: “I don’t know if I’d say they’ve lost momentum. They really were hoping to get Josh Garnett, who ended up going to Stanford. Their class filled up so quickly, and they only had about four or five spots left midway through the season. They’re hoping to get some of the guys who are closer to signing day. They’re in good position to get Jordan Diamond. I think he’s No. 94 overall. So it seems like they’ve maybe fallen off, but they were at 21 or 22 commitments by the time the season started. They really had their run of success in the spring and summer. I’m sure they would have liked to maintain that a little bit and gotten some of those final targets like Garnett, but they’re also able to get the two receivers, [Amara] Darboh and [Jehu] Chesson, right after the season ended. So they’ve still been able to pick up some guys along the way.”

Topic 3: How has Penn State fared given all the turmoil surrounding the program and the flurry of decommitments?

JS: “My thinking for them was, if they could have just held on to their 14 commitments, that would be the main thing. They were obviously going to get some more commitments, but they weren’t going to be the top-caliber guys. If they could hold onto the 14 and add those sleeper guys who have a chance to be something at the next level, that was my expectation for them. I like that they got Akeel Lynch, the running back. I think he could be a good player. They’re probably a little disappointed that it looks like they’re going to miss out on [Skyler] Mornhinweg and the two Massachusetts guys in Reeves and Williams.”

TL: "I think to this point, Bill O'Brien has done a good job. But a lot of credit needs to go to that previous staff. Outside of the guys they lost to Ohio State, through all of this, they're still siting here with 18 verbal commitments. If you think about it, that's astounding. And I would say that the top third of them, athletically, can compete for a conference championship. Of course, you don't know all the intangibles and all that, but based on pure player level, this is a pretty strong class. It certainly isn't anywhere near where people would have expected it to be. ... But just to have bodies in this class, in my opinion, is a positive. [O'Brien] won't be judged on this class. He will be given a long leash, and in my opinion, it was made very clear with the timetable the administration set with this hire that the 2012 class is not the priority. If it had been, they would have hired a guy in December."

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