Big Ten: Skyler Mornhinweg

Penn State fans were getting a bit antsy about the fact new coach Bill O'Brien hadn't landed a verbal commit for 2013.

The wait is over, and Nittany Nation is celebrating.

Quarterback Christian Hackenberg committed to Penn State on Wednesday, becoming the first verbal for an all-important 2013 class. Lions247.com first reported Hackenberg's commitment, and colleague Jamie Newberg confirmed it with Hackenberg's father.

Hackenberg, a member of the ESPNU 150 Watch List, is a 6-foot-3, 210-pound signal-caller for Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia. He had received offers from Alabama, Florida, Miami, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, among others.

This is a big get for Penn State, which needs quarterback help in the 2013 class. Penn State lost out on one-time verbal Skyler Morningweg, and while new quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher loves incoming recruit Steven Bench, the team needs more options. It's also significant for O'Brien, whose background as a quarterback guru should help Penn State upgrade the position. Hackenberg recently cited O'Brien's work with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as a big selling point. Hackenberg's father, Erick, played football at Virginia with Tennessee coach Derek Dooley, so Penn State certainly had some competition for Christian's services.

Two positions where O'Brien could make a major impact are quarterback and tight end, given the Patriots' success last season with tight end Rob Gronkowski. Penn State is in the mix for tight end recruit Adam Breneman, who grew up a Lions fans and recently took an unofficial visit to the school.

Penn State has a long way to go in 2013 recruiting, but Hackenberg's pledge is an excellent start.
The Big Ten recruiting classes are signed and sealed, and although a few more recruits could come aboard, we have a good idea of what the rosters will look like heading into the 2012 season.

That means it's Power Rankings time. Again.

We're taking a post-signing day look at where the league stacks up. There aren't too many changes from our previous rundown, but some teams received a bump from strong recruiting classes.

As they say on Twitter, #legooo.

1. Michigan State: The Spartans' recruiting class didn't crack ESPN's top 25, but it features several strong prospects and is loaded up at wide receiver and defensive back. Mark Dantonio tells us he can't remember recruiting 10 athletes like the ones Michigan State added in the class. Michigan State already is one of the Big Ten's most athletic teams, so this bodes well for the Spartans as they look for another big season.

2. Michigan: Brady Hoke and his staff rode a fast start to 2012 recruiting and finalized a class ranked No. 7 nationally. The Wolverines started three freshmen on defense in 2011 and added several more who can contribute early in their careers, including linebacker Joe Bolden, cornerback Terry Richardson and defensive tackle Ondre "Pee Wee" Pipkins. If Michigan can maintain its momentum on defense after losing several stud linemen, it will be very tough to beat in 2012.

3. Ohio State: Urban Meyer announced himself with a superb recruiting class featuring arguably the nation's best crop of defensive line prospects. Ohio State would have been an improved team in 2012 after its first seven-loss season since 1897, but the recruiting class boosts the Buckeyes even more. The defensive front seven should be a deeper and stronger unit, and players like Noah Spence, the Big Ten's top-rated recruit, have a chance to contribute immediately.

4. Nebraska: The Huskers missed on their top signing day target (offensive lineman Andrus Peat) but still inked a solid class that should help at positions like linebacker, where Big Red lacked size and depth. Linebacker Michael Rose could contribute early in his career. Nebraska also addressed the departure of standout cornerback Alfonzo Dennard with talented juco addition Mohammed Seisay.

5. Wisconsin: Quality not quantity was the theme for Wisconsin, which signed only 12 players, the Big Ten's smallest class by five recruits. The Badgers lost two offensive line commits to other schools but added a decorated quarterback in Bart Houston and some solid players to the defensive back seven, including linebacker Vince Biegel. This is the type of season that will test Wisconsin's ability to reload and provide a true gauge of the program's progress under Bret Bielema.

6. Penn State: New coach Bill O'Brien and his staff had to scramble to keep the class together, and the 2012 recruiting haul didn't quite match what Penn State adds in most seasons. The coaches were able to keep some good prospects and fulfilled a need at wide receiver with Eugene Lewis and others. It'll be interesting to see how quarterback Steven Bench turns out after Penn State lost verbal commit Skyler Mornhinweg to Florida.

7. Purdue: The Boilers added speed in their 2012 class, and they loaded up on quarterback prospects for the future with four signal-callers. But Purdue also beefed up along the offensive line with Jordan Roos and others. With coaching changes and personnel changes throughout the Leaders Division -- not to mention Ohio State's bowl ban -- Purdue has an excellent chance to make some noise in 2012.

8. Iowa: The big story in Iowa City isn't so much the recent recruiting class but the seismic changes going on in one of the nation's more stable programs. After having the same coordinators for the past 13 seasons, Kirk Ferentz must replace both Norm Parker and Ken O'Keefe, who left late last week for a post on the Miami Dolphins' staff. Iowa will have new leadership on both sides of the ball, creating some uncertainty but also some excitement. The Hawkeyes added some nice pieces in the 2012 class, such as running back Greg Garmon and defensive end Faith Ekakitie.

9. Northwestern: Although the Wildcats' class didn't crack the national rankings, it looks like the best haul in Pat Fitzgerald's tenure as head coach. Northwestern picked up a potential difference-maker on defense in defensive end/linebacker Ifeadi Odenigbo. Malin Jones could be the team's answer at running back, a spot that has suffered during Fitzgerald's tenure. The Wildcats also added the league's top transfer in former USC receiver Kyle Prater.

10. Illinois: It might take a year for Tim Beckman and his staff to make a big splash on the recruiting scene. Illinois' 2012 haul didn't receive great reviews, but the Illini are pursuing several nationally elite 2013 prospects from within the state. Linebacker recruits Tajarvis Fuller and Tyrone Neal should help Illinois in the defensive back seven. There's enough talent on the squad to get back to a decent bowl, but Beckman and his staff have plenty of work ahead.

11. Minnesota: The Gophers inked a class that drew good reviews from ESPN's analysts. Jerry Kill and his staff retained several top in-state prospects, including offensive lineman Isaac Hayes, wide receiver Andre McDonald and quarterback Philip Nelson. McDonald and fellow wideout Jamel Harbison could be immediate contributors for an offense that needs more options. But defense must be the top offseason focal point for Minnesota, which added several juco defenders.

12. Indiana: Although the Hoosiers remain at the bottom, we liked their recruiting class, which should first and foremost provide immediate help on defense. Junior college defenders like Tregg Waters and Jacarri Alexander likely will step in right away for a struggling unit. Indiana also will increase the competition at quarterback with heralded prep prospect Nate Sudfeld and juco addition Cameron Coffman.
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."

Big Ten lunchtime links

January, 30, 2012
1/30/12
12:00
PM ET
It's officially Super Bowl week. Consider this the Super Bowl of lunch links:

Big Ten chat wrap: July 20

July, 20, 2011
7/20/11
2:45
PM ET
Another entertaining Big Ten chat is in the books. We're building some nice momentum heading into the final stretch of the endless offseason.

Here's the full wrap-up for those who missed it (tsk, tsk).

Some highlights:
Steve (NJ): Adam, now that PSU has received a verbal from Skylar Mornhinweg, shouldn't Joe give serious consideration to Paul jones? The threat of Bolden leaving the team would be less costly at that point, and Jones appears to be the better athlete. McGloin can back him up and Skylar can take over in a few years.
Adam Rittenberg (12:04 PM): Steve, I see what you're saying, but Jones has to work his way into the mix. Bolden and McGloin clearly were the top two options coming out of spring ball, and Bolden is still on board as of now. I agree the threat of Bolden leaving remains, but if he wins the starting job he's likely not going anywhere. I do like the Mornhinweg addition as Penn State could be losing some quarterbacks down the line.
Joe (Council Bluffs, Iowa): My girlfriend is a Husker fan and I am an Iowa fan. We've followed the blog closely and there is one thing you and Brian fail to mention about the Iowa and Nebraska rivalry. They are the top football programs in their states. All the other Big Ten teams are in states with NFL. I know Iowa has the Barnstormers, but Iowa is still far more popular. So when Iowa and Nebraska play, that will be THE game of the week in Iowa and Nebraska, where all the other teams will have the NFL the next day.
Adam Rittenberg (12:13 PM): Joe, I hope your relationship survives Black Friday! That should be intense. Good points about Nebraska and Iowa. Before Nebraska entered the league, I always felt Iowa and Ohio State were the two Big Ten programs that had a unique pull on sports fans throughout their states. Iowa football is the biggest thing in Iowa, and while Ohio has two NFL teams, the Buckeyes have had far more success. Nebraska certainly fits into that category as a team that can grip a state's attention without having to share with other teams.
Beau (Quad Cities): Adam, what will it take for Kirk to finally get over that hump and make Iowa a destination. I've seen South Bend and Ann Arbor, as I know you have too. We have had much more recent success than either of the teams that play there. If they can recruit top talent nationally, what is stopping my Hawks?
Adam Rittenberg (12:30 PM): Beau, it comes down to factors like tradition, location and exposure. Iowa has nice tradition, especially under Ferentz, but you can't really compare it to Michigan and Notre Dame over the long haul. Both Michigan and Notre Dame also receive more exposure than most college football programs, particularly Notre Dame through the NBC contract. I love Iowa City, but it's not as easy to reach as South Bend and Ann Arbor. Although Iowa should be able to recruit nationally, particularly at certain positions like offensive line, it's going to be a challenge unless the Hawkeyes start rattling off Big Ten championships.

John (Detroit, Mich.): Adam, Michigan State starts their Big Ten Schedule off in brutal fashion with game at OSU, then home for Michigan and Wisconsin, and then at Nebraska. Needless to say, this stretch will have a huge impact on their season. How many wins do you think MSU will get and who do you think will give them the most trouble?
Adam Rittenberg (12:40 PM): John, that's a brutal month of October for the Spartans. I know from talking with Edwin Baker that Michigan State is really focused on the Ohio State game. The Buckeyes might be short-handed, but they always give MSU trouble. So I'd start off there. A win in Columbus gives Michigan State a big confidence boost. A loss could shake the Spartans before facing a Michigan team itching for a win in the rivalry series.

Thanks again for all of the questions, and my apologies to those whose questions didn't get posted. Join me next week for another chat!

Big Ten lunch links

July, 20, 2011
7/20/11
12:00
PM ET
Getting linky with it.
A few PM items for you on a toasty Tuesday in Chicago:
  • Penn State added a big piece for its 2012 recruiting class as four-star quarterback prospect Skyler Mornhinweg committed to the Nittany Lions on Tuesday afternoon. If you're wondering about the last name, Skyler is the son of Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. He originally committed to Stanford but withdrew his pledge after coach Jim Harbaugh left for the 49ers job. Mornhinweg, ranked as the nation's No. 16 quarterback by ESPN Recruiting, also received interest from Alabama, Tennessee and Illinois. Penn State has several young quarterbacks in Robert Bolden, Paul Jones and Kevin Newsome, but the team's QB picture could look different by the time Mornhinweg is ready to see the field.
  • Iowa announced its three "color games" for the 2011 season. Fans attending the Sept. 17 home game against Pitt will be asked to "Be Bold, Wear Gold." The Oct. 15 prime-time game against recent nemesis Northwestern will allow fans to stripe Kinnick Stadium in black and gold. Fans in even numbered sections are asked to wear gold and fans in odd numbered sections are asked to wear black. This is my favorite display by far, as last year's game against Penn State looked amazing. Iowa's home finale Nov. 12 against Michigan State has been designated the annual "Blackout" game at Kinnick. Here's a look at the "Blackout" against Michigan in 2009.
  • Allstate and the AFCA on Tuesday announced their nominees for 2011 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, and seven Big Ten players made the list. The team recognizes players at all levels of college football who excel in community service work. The Big Ten nominees are: Northwestern OT Al Netter, Minnesota DE D.L. Wilhite, Iowa P Eric Guthrie, Nebraska DT Jared Crick, Indiana LB Leon Beckum, Michigan G Patrick Omameh and Purdue QB Rob Henry. The 11-player FBS Good Works Team will be announced in late September.


A few PM items for you on a toasty Tuesday in Chicago:
  • Penn State added a big piece for its 2012 recruiting class as four-star quarterback prospect Skyler Mornhinweg committed to the Nittany Lions on Tuesday afternoon. If you're wondering about the last name, Skyler is the son of Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. He originally committed to Stanford but withdrew his pledge after coach Jim Harbaugh left for the 49ers job. Mornhinweg, ranked as the nation's No. 16 quarterback by ESPN Recruiting, picked Penn State despite interest from Alabama, Tennessee and Illinois. Penn State has several young quarterbacks in Rob Bolden, Paul Jones and Kevin Newsome, but the team's QB picture could look different by the time Mornhinweg is ready to see the field.
  • Iowa announced its three "color games" for the 2011 season. Fans attending the Sept. 17 home game against Pitt will be asked to "Be Bold, Wear Gold." The Oct. 15 primetime game against recent nemesis Northwestern will allow fans to stripe Kinnick Stadium in black and gold. Fans in even numbered sections are asked to wear gold and fans in odd numbered sections are asked to wear black. This is my personal favorite by far, as last year's game against Penn State looked amazing. Iowa's home finale Nov. 12 against Michigan State has been designated the annual "Blackout" game at Kinnick. Here's a look at the "Blackout" against Michigan in 2009.
  • Allstate and the AFCA on Tuesday announced their nominees for 2011 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, and seven Big Ten players made the list. The team recognizes players at all levels of college football who excel in community service work. The Big Ten nominees are: Northwestern OT Al Netter, Minnesota DE D.L. Wilhite, Iowa P Eric Guthrie, Nebraska DT Jared Crick, Indiana LB Leon Beckum, Michigan G Patrick Omameh and Purdue QB Rob Henry. The 11-player FBS Good Works Team will be announced in late September.

SPONSORED HEADLINES