NCF Nation: Alex Kozan

Bulldogs' front seven best in SEC 

October, 10, 2014
Oct 10
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsBenardrick McKinney leads a front seven that has gained the attention of NFL scouts.
There isn’t a hotter team in the country right now than Mississippi State. After holding a combined record of 0-10 against teams that ended up ranked in the final AP top 25 the prior two seasons, coach Dan Mullen has his squad coming off of back-to-back wins over top-10 opponents for the first time in school history. This has vaulted them to No. 3 in the current AP poll, and after studying the coaches' tape, there are several reasons to believe the Bulldogs can sustain and make a serious run at the SEC West title -- potentially a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

On offense they are led by quarterback Dak Prescott (6-foot-2, 230) whose dual-threat capabilities have provided fits for opposing defenses and have him in the early conversation for Heisman. The Bulldogs have been efficient running the ball behind Prescott and running back Josh Robinson (5-9, 215) who both have above-average combinations of power, balance and lateral agility. On the perimeter they have a big and physical receiving corps, led by former basketball player De'Runnya Wilson (6-5, 225), who have shown the ability to win one-on-one downfield battles and keep defenses honest.

While they have improved on offense and are showing better balance, where the Bulldogs will undoubtedly hang their hat this season will come on the defensive front seven -- arguably the best in the SEC.
AUBURN, Ala. – The good news heading into the 2014 season was that Auburn returned four starters from an offensive line that served as the anchor for the top rushing team in college football a year ago. The Tigers averaged an impressive 328 yards per game on the ground.

The bad news, though, was that left tackle Greg Robinson, arguably the team’s best run blocker, was the one not returning. He left school early for the NFL.

Not to worry. Auburn had veterans Shon Coleman and Patrick Miller battling to replace Robinson this spring, and the potential drop-off seemed to be minimal. That was until head coach Gus Malzahn announced that All-SEC freshman guard Alex Kozan would miss the entire season with a back injury, an injury he suffered over the summer.

Now what? The offensive line was supposed to be the strength of the team. All of a sudden, it was an area where coaches were moving bodies, scrambling to find the right combination, and there was little depth to work with.

Auburn isn't worried, and this is why.

The rock

Robinson might have been the strongest and most talented offensive lineman from last year. Kozan made a compelling case as the smartest. But nobody meant more to that line than its center, Reese Dismukes.

[+] EnlargeReese Dismukes
Greg McWilliams/Icon SMIReese Dismukes is the experienced anchor of the Auburn offensive line at center.
Every play began with the ball in his hands. Whether it was calling out signals, pushing back opposing defensive tackles or simply snapping the ball, Dismukes was the epitome of dependable. He’s started 37 games in the past three seasons, and he returns as the centerpiece, responsible for holding the line together.

“The continuity has really improved there,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee told reporters Sunday. “And having your rock at center helps because he makes all the calls; he kind of makes things go. So having Reese there, I think, helped keep that glue there as well.”

There’s no question that Dismukes is smart – he rivals Kozan in that area – and he’s always been quick, but as he heads into his final season with the Tigers, position coach J.B. Grimes says he’s a different player physically. He’s as strong as he’s ever been.

So while there have been changes made up front, the rock is still there.

Mr. Versatility

Losing Robinson hurt, but Auburn had two capable players ready to step in at left tackle. But when it was discovered that Kozan would miss the entire season, there wasn’t a player or players waiting in line to take over, at least none with any real experience.

Fortunately, Auburn prepared for this scenario in the spring,well before Kozan ever got hurt. The staff moved Avery Young, its projected starter at right tackle, inside and gave him some reps at guard. At the time, it was meant as a precaution. Now, Young is slotted at guard with Coleman and Miller starting at the two tackle spots.

The biggest difference between tackle and guard?

“[Avery] is now about six inches away from a guy that has to choke himself to sleep every night,” Grimes said. “When you’re a tackle, you’re a little bit further away from that dude. There’s more banging down inside than there is outside. That’s just something you’ve got to get accustomed to, and he’ll be fine.”

Dismukes, who now plays next to Young, says the 6-foot-6, 315-pound junior already is starting to be a little more physical.

Though he still has work left to do, Young's versatility has allowed for Auburn to put its best five offensive linemen on the field at the same time.

The up-and-comer

The starting five is set. It’s an experienced unit that’s played together before. The problem isn’t with that group. The problem will be if one of those five were to miss any time. With Kozan already out, the Tigers can’t afford to lose another offensive lineman.

However, the coaches can sleep easier at night knowing that it’s only a matter of time before freshman Braden Smith, a.k.a. the Hulk, is ready to play.

“He’s ultra-talented,” Malzahn said. “He’s everything we thought when we recruited him. It’s just a matter of learning the offense and little details. But if you say, ‘Block the guy in front of you,’ he’s going to block the guy in front of him.

“He’s still learning, but he’s a very smart young man. There are a lot of similarities to when Greg Robinson was a freshman.”

Smith is currently penciled behind Coleman at left tackle, where he’s worked exclusively during fall camp, but he can pretty much play anywhere up front if needed.

He’s the next big thing for Auburn, though his number might be called earlier than expected.

Auburn Tigers season preview

August, 6, 2014
Aug 6
» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Auburn Tigers:

2013 record: 12-2, lost to Florida State in the BCS National Championship

Final grade for 2013 season: What a season it was for Gus Malzahn. He takes over in December after Auburn finished 3-9 the year before and leads the Tigers to 12 wins and an SEC championship and comes a play or two away from winning the national championship. How about that for a debut? The only reason it’s not an A-plus is because of the loss to Florida State, but an A seems more than deserving.

Key losses: RB Tre Mason, HB Jay Prosch, OT Greg Robinson, DT Nosa Eguae, DE Dee Ford, CB Chris Davis, S Ryan White

Key returnees: QB Nick Marshall, WR Sammie Coates, C Reese Dismukes, OL Avery Young, DT Gabe Wright, LB Cassanova McKinzy, CB Jonathon Mincy, S Jermaine Whitehead

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesExpect Nick Marshall to be even better this season after dazzling in his first season as Auburn's starter in 2013.
Projected 2014 starters: QB Nick Marshall, RB Cameron Artis-Payne, WR Sammie Coates, WR Ricardo Louis, WR D'haquille Williams, TE C.J. Uzomah, LT Shon Coleman, LG Chad Slade, C Reese Dismukes, RG Avery Young, RT Patrick Miller, DE LaDarius Owens, DT Gabe Wright, DT Montravius Adams, DE Elijah Daniel, MLB Cassanova McKinzy, WLB Kris Frost, Star Robenson Therezie, CB Jonathon Mincy, S Jermaine Whitehead, S Derrick Moncrief, CB Jonathan Jones

Instant-impact newcomers: RB Roc Thomas, WR D'haquille Williams, OL Braden Smith, DL DaVonte Lambert, LB Tre Williams, S Derrick Moncrief

Breakout player: If you can count on anything with Malzahn running the offense, count on him having a productive running back. He had Ben Tate when he was offensive coordinator on the Plains, and last season Mason led the SEC in rushing. Next up is Artis-Payne. The former junior college transfer hasn’t won the starting job yet, but he seems to have a leg up in the competition and showed flashes last season, rushing for 610 yards and six touchdowns. He’s a bruiser but has quick feet to complement his size.

Most important game: The easy answer is Alabama because, well, it’s the Iron Bowl. But a visit from LSU in early October could set the tone for the rest of the season. Auburn has beaten LSU only once in the past seven years, and though the Tigers still made the BCS title game after an early loss to LSU last season, this year’s team can’t afford the same result. The second half of the schedule is brutal, and it’s crucial that Auburn gets through the first half unscathed.

Biggest question mark: What’s life going to be without Alex Kozan and Carl Lawson? Kozan is expected to miss the entire season with a back injury, and Lawson could miss the majority of it recovering from ACL surgery. Both players had All-SEC potential, and their losses cannot be understated. Auburn has capable bodies to fill in on both the offensive and defensive lines, but the production will still take a hit. Can the offensive line block the way it did a year ago without one of its top interior linemen? Can the defensive line get pressure on the quarterback without its top pass rusher?

Upset special: A nonconference road trip to Manhattan, Kansas? On a Thursday night? That just screams upset. Auburn has an extra week to prepare for the game, but don’t sleep on Kansas State. The Wildcats are ranked No. 21 in the preseason coaches’ poll. They have one of the best wide receivers in the country in Tyler Lockett and a solid quarterback in Jake Waters. This is a huge test early in the season for Auburn, and did I mention it’s on a Thursday night?

Key stat: If Jeremy Johnson starts against Arkansas, he will become the eighth different quarterback to start the season opener for Auburn in as many seasons. The last Auburn quarterback to start back-to-back season openers was Brandon Cox in 2006 and 2007.

They said it: “Last year, we snuck [up] on some people. This year, we’re going to be circled, and we told our players that. We’re going to have to be better in every phase, especially early in the season. We’re going to get everybody’s best shot. Really, that’s where you want your program to be. Last year at this time, we were just trying to get it back to that point, and we did that. Obviously, we’re disappointed we came up 13 seconds short of winning the whole thing, but we’re extremely motivated from a players’ standpoint and from a coaches’ standpoint moving forward.” -- Head coach Gus Malzahn, at SEC media days in July.

Preseason predictions:

ESPN Stats & Information: 9.2 wins

Bovada over/under: 9

Our take: Despite losing two first-round draft picks and the SEC’s leading rusher, this season's Auburn team might actually be more talented than last year’s squad. Marshall is back at quarterback, Malzahn said this might be the most talented group of wide receivers he’s ever had on the Plains, and the defense is deeper than it was a year ago. The problem is the schedule. The Tigers travel to both Georgia and Alabama, and there’s a four-game stretch beginning the last weekend in October that’s as rigorous as you’ll see in college football. Auburn would love to duplicate what it did last season, but don’t be surprised if the Tigers have two losses heading into the Iron Bowl. Nine wins seems about right for this team.
Editor’s note: Each day this week Florida State reporter David M. Hale and Auburn reporter Greg Ostendorf will preview a position battle in Monday’s VIZIO BCS National Championship. Today’s matchup is between Auburn’s offensive line and Florida State’s defensive line.

Auburn’s offensive line: We’ve broken down all of the matchups this week, but as Auburn center Reese Dismukes put so eloquently Thursday, “You can have all the pretty boys you want, but whoever wins the line of scrimmage all day is usually going to be who wins the football game.” If that’s the case, the Tigers are in good shape. They feature one of the most dominant offensive lines in the country. It’s the reason they’re in Pasadena, Calif.

[+] EnlargeTimmy Jernigan
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsFSU nose tackle Timmy Jernigan is a force inside, and how well the Tigers do against him could determine how well they run the ball.
Dismukes, a three-year starter, is the anchor of the group. He was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy, awarded to the top center in college football, and although it’s not an official stat, he leads the team in knockdowns. The matchup between him and Florida State nose tackle Timmy Jernigan won’t just be a battle in the trenches -- it will be a war.

From a pure talent standpoint, sophomore left tackle Greg Robinson has emerged as the best player on this Auburn offensive line. He started last year but was still relatively unknown heading into this season. He’s quickly become a star in the SEC, and he continues to improve his draft stock with every game.

Junior Chad Slade doesn’t get the notoriety, but he’s been as solid as it gets for the Tigers. He moved from right tackle to right guard and hasn’t missed a beat. The other two spots are taken by a pair of redshirt freshman, Alex Kozan and Avery Young. Kozan was named to the freshman All-SEC team for his play at left guard.

If Auburn wants to knock off No. 1 Florida State, this is the matchup it has to win. The Tigers have rushed for an average of 402 yards over the past four games, and it’s in no small part due to the play of the offensive line.

Florida State’s defensive line: This is a much different defensive front than what the Seminoles ran in three years under Mark Stoops. When Jeremy Pruitt took over at defensive coordinator this season, he had four new starters on the line and completely revamped the scheme. It’s been something of a work in progress all season, but the Seminoles believe the unit is playing its best football now.

Jernigan is a beast in the middle of the line, and he’ll be a huge challenge for an Auburn team that wants to play physical and run between the tackles. Seminoles opponents are averaging just 3.1 yards per rush between the tackles and fewer than 9 percent of runs up the middle go for 10 yards or more. Jernigan also leads FSU’s defensive linemen in sacks (4.5) and tackles for loss (10.5).

Eddie Goldman and Mario Edwards Jr. add plenty of size to the mix on the D-line, too, while Christian Jones and FSU’s safeties will be counted on to seal the edge, which is where the defense is far more vulnerable. Across the board, Auburn’s O-line figures to be as big a physical challenge as Florida State has faced all season, and with the tempo that the Tigers run, it could be tough for FSU to substitute as often as it would like.

There’s ample talent on the line for Florida State, but this figures to be as tough a matchup as the unit has faced.

Ostendorf: Edge Auburn

Hale: Slight edge for Auburn
AUBURN, Ala. -- It's been a carnival atmosphere at Auburn this season as coach Gus Malzahn has brought confidence back to a program that went 3-9 in 2012. His wide-open offense has recharged players and fans alike, creating stars where there previously were none: the reluctant celebrity, Nick Marshall; the athletic speedster, Sammie Coates; the miracle makers, Chris Davis and Ricardo Louis; the smooth son of De La Soul, Tre Mason.

But while many of Auburn's players have found fame on the road to the Vizio BCS National Championship, the heart of the Tigers' offense remains with the unsexiest of position players: junior center Reese Dismukes. He's not flashy, he doesn't dance and he's far more blue collar than gold chain.

[+] EnlargeReese Dismukes
Greg McWilliams/Icon SMIReese Dismukes isn't flashy, but the center is one of the biggest reasons the Tigers are playing in the national championship game.
"He’s an extension of his coaches; he demands that the other offensive players practice at a high level, and that is what it takes," Malzahn said. "To have a championship-type team, you’ve got to have leaders that really raise the bar for the rest of their teammates."

Bryant Vincent, who coached Dismukes at Spanish Fort (Ala.) High, has seen that leadership since he was a freshman guard barking out protection schemes to the offensive line in practice, ordering around teammates two and three years older than him.

It's just who he is, Vincent explained, calling him a "country boy who wants to sit around the fire."

"On the field, he's mean. He's kind of like a cage fighter. Off the field, he's happy-go-lucky and wants to be in the woods hunting or on his boat fishing."

Dismukes has always been athletic, though. When Vincent had his team run gassers after practice, Dismukes would routinely beat the running backs and wide receivers to the finish line. And when he wasn't playing football, he was the best player on the tennis and golf teams.

But when he'd go home, it was back to work. Vincent would drop by the Dismukes' home after practice and find Reese working with his father, Ed, until sundown.

"We had just put him through the ringer with a three-hour, grueling workout," Vincent recalled, "and he was outside 30 minutes later just laying pipe. It was just amazing. I looked at him and said, 'Dang son, I know you've got to be tired,' and he said, 'Look, this is what I do every day. I have no choice.'"

He was "as tough as they come," according to Vincent, who said Dismukes played most of his junior year with a hairline fracture in his back.

Dismukes signed with Auburn and started all 13 games as a freshman, earning 2011 Freshman All-American honors despite playing with a dislocated elbow and a couple of broken ribs.

Being good at football came easily to Dismukes, but the game has never been a laughing matter. He learned just how serious it was in 2012.

Before the program turned into a mess and Auburn went winless in league play, Dismukes was suspended from the team after being arrested for public drunkenness by then-head coach Gene Chizik. Dismukes said he was "isolated from the team for a while" and had to work to get the trust of his teammates and coaches back. He missed the season opener against Clemson, returned to play 10 games, and never spoke with the media again that year.

"You just learn when that happens, it’s not how hard you fall, it’s about how you get up," he said. "I think that was just the big thing with that. It opened my eyes, and you’ve got to do right.

"I just had to start acting right, working hard and [answer], ‘Do I really want to do this?'"

Vincent, now the quarterbacks coach at the University of South Alabama, maintains a close relationship with Dismukes and his father. The coach called the arrest "the best thing to ever happen to him" because it brought him back to reality.

"He got the feeling of being untouchable," he said. "He got the 'I'm bigger than' syndrome, but I think there comes a time in everyone's life where something happens, whether it's a good experience or a bad experience, that gets you back on track."

Dismukes was frustrated with how last season unfolded. He'd tell Vincent "how much it sucked" for Auburn to fall so far. Chizik was fired and everyone in the program was forced to take a long, hard look in the mirror.

In April, Dismukes came back a more determined player. His focus was back on football, on being a leader, on doing the right things. He told reporters, "I walk a lot straighter line." And in doing so, he developed into a Rimington Trophy finalist.

"I probably wouldn’t be here today if it hadn’t have been for that stuff," he said a few weeks ago. "It makes you work harder."

"It’s been great to grow with him," said fellow offensive lineman Alex Kozan. "You can see it in his game. You can see it in the way he executes every week. ... It all starts with him making the calls, and we all go based off that."

Last season, 34.5 percent of Auburn's plays went for zero or negative yards (91st in the country). This season, Auburn cut that number by double digits, trailing only Navy and Army in percentage of plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. The Tigers lead the nation with 335.7 rushing yards per game heading into their Jan. 6 matchup against Florida State in Pasadena, Calif.

Marshall, Mason & Co. may get the lion's share of credit for Auburn's turnaround offensively, but Dismukes and the linemen allow Malzahn to call the shots he wants to call.

“Anytime you can run the football and people know you are going to run the football against the defenses we have, the offensive line deserves a lot of credit,” Malzahn said.

Dismukes may not be the face of the program, but he's a driving force.

Auburn has come a long way since 2012, and if the Tigers are going to continue playing like stars against Florida State, their unassuming center will lead the way.

AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn defensive end Dee Ford, considered one of the SEC’s top pass rushers with 8.5 sacks this season, has faced some of the top offensive lines in the conference, but he says there are none better than his own. And he should know. He goes against them for 20 to 25 minutes straight every day in practice.

“It’s just the way we work,” Ford said. “We push each other. I don’t think they’ve faced a defensive line as good as ours because we push each other to that limit every day. At times where you think you would lay off a little bit, we don’t. We’re still going at it, whether it’s run fits or pass rush. We go at it.”

[+] EnlargeCameron Artis-Payne, Reese Dismukes, Chad Slade
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsReese Dismukes, left, and Chad Slade, right, have helped anchor a stellar offensive line for Auburn.
It’s that drive that has turned what many thought would be a weakness into Auburn’s biggest strength this season.

The Tigers lead the nation in rushing, averaging 335.7 yards per game. They rushed for an SEC-championship-game-record 545 yards against Missouri their last time out. Throw in the fact that they have only given up 16 sacks after allowing a league-high 37 a year ago, and it’s easy to see why they’re one of the nation’s best offensive lines.

It helps to have players like Nick Marshall and Tre Mason in the backfield, and Gus Malzahn’s system certainly plays a major role in the success. But it starts with the O-line.

“Any time you can run the football and people know you are going to run the football against the defenses we have, the offensive line deserves a lot of credit,” Malzahn said.

When the first-year head coach arrived at Auburn, he knew right away the offensive line would be one of the team’s strengths. It didn’t matter how bad the unit looked at times in 2012; the Tigers had three starters returning and plenty of depth to go around. It was up to the new coaching staff to give them their edge back.

“Auburn is blue-collar, hard-nosed, physically and mentally tough,” Malzahn said. “That is who we are and that is how we win football games here. That is how they have done it for a long time. That is the one thing we realized that we have to get back. That is what we focused on.”

The practices changed. The drills changed. The Tigers became as physical as any team in the country, beginning last spring. They were one of the only teams to let the quarterbacks go live during fall camp. There were some injuries along the way, but now Auburn is sitting at 12-1 and headed to the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

“Any time you get to this game, you’re going to be pretty good up front with your offensive line,” Malzahn said. “In 2010, we had a veteran group, one of the strengths of our team. This year is no different.”

It comes as no surprise that the development of the offensive line has had a direct correlation to Auburn’s turnaround this season.

Left tackle Greg Robinson has emerged as a potential first-round draft pick with his play this season. Chad Slade, who moved from right tackle to right guard, has been a constant all year. Alex Kozan and Avery Young, the two newcomers to the group, have both exceeded expectations, with Kozan earning a spot on the freshman All-SEC team.

And what about center Reese Dismukes, the anchor of the group? He never doubted the offensive line, even with what transpired last season.

“I don’t think our mentality has really changed,” Dismukes said. “Our goal has always been to be the best offensive line in the country. We’ve just gotten better over time.”
The last thing Auburn needed this close to next Saturday's season opener against Clemson was an off-the-field incident.

Moreover, one of the last players Auburn could afford to lose was sophomore center Reese Dismukes, who was a freshman All-American last season and the closest to a sure thing on Auburn's inexperienced offensive line.

As fate would have it, Auburn will be without Dismukes next Saturday when it faces Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game in Atlanta. Auburn coach Gene Chizik suspended Dismukes on Saturday following Dismukes' arrest early Saturday morning on a charge of public intoxication.

Chizik's statement didn't specify how long Dismukes would be suspended, but it will at least be for the opener. Auburn plays at Mississippi State the second week of the season.

That Chizik would suspend such a key player for such a key game over a relatively minor charge tells you all you need to know about where Chizik's tolerance level is for off-the-field nonsense. He's obviously sending a message to his team for the long term. After all, it hasn't been the rosiest of offseasons for the Tigers.

Props to Chizik for taking a strong stand. It takes guts to put your best offensive lineman on the bench for an opener as pivotal as this one. Then again, Clemson will be in the same boat. All-America receiver Sammy Watkins will miss the first two games following his drug-related arrest in May.

The loss of Dismukes presents a couple of different problems for Auburn, which was already lacking experience on its offensive line. Dismukes started all 13 games at center last season, and his backup, sophomore Tunde Fariyike, has never started in a game. That means Auburn could have as many as three or four offensive linemen making their first career starts against Clemson. Three freshmen are in the rotation -- redshirt freshman Greg Robinson at left tackle, true freshman Avery Young at right tackle and true freshman Alex Kozan at guard.

There's also a chance that Auburn offensive line coach Jeff Grimes could do some shuffling. Senior guard John Sullen and Kozan could be possibilities at center, and if Sullen does makes the move to center, redshirt freshman Christian Westerman would then move up the depth chart at guard.

However it shakes out, Auburn is going to open the season with a handful of guys seeing their first meaningful action in the offensive line.

The other thing to consider is that sophomore Kiehl Frazier will be making his first start at quarterback, which is unnerving enough. Now, he's going to be taking snaps from somebody other than the starting center and the center he worked the most with this preseason.

That's never an ideal combination -- a first-time starter at quarterback and a new center.

Big Ten signing day wrap

February, 2, 2012
The most relevant day of the year for outdated fax machines has come and gone. The ink is dry on those letters of intent, and -- with a few notable exceptions -- the recruiting classes of 2012 are complete.

There were a few surprises in the Big Ten on national signing day, but things went mostly as expected. That meant banner days in Columbus and Ann Arbor, as Ohio State and Michigan brought home what every analyst agrees were the league's top two classes. But final judgments on these recruiting efforts won't be passed until a few years from now, when the blue-chippers and the under-the-radar guys prove themselves on the field.

For now, though, we look back and hand out some awards for the Big Ten's big recruiting day:

Top class: Ohio State

Michigan put together a terrific crew, too, but the Buckeyes take top honors. Urban Meyer secured the services of five ESPNU 150 players and 12 prospects rated at least four stars by ESPN. It's a class loaded with potential stars on the defensive and offensive lines, which should form the foundation of Meyer's program. Ohio State got pledges from six players who were originally committed to another Big Ten school, meaning Meyer weakened other teams while strengthening his own. Add in the fact that he got a late start on recruiting after his November hire, and this looks like one of the more impressive efforts in recent league history.

Player you'll see next season: Michigan LB Joe Bolden

In our recruiting roundtable discussion on Tuesday, all three experts picked Bolden as someone who could make an immediate impact. While Bolden just made the cut for the ESPNU 150, checking in at No. 142, he's got excellent size (6-foot-2, 225 pounds) and instincts for the game already. And Michigan will likely have playing time available as it searches for more playmakers at the linebacker spot.

Biggest surprise: Nebraska missing out on Andrus Peat

While the Huskers were never a lock to land this Top 10 overall prospect, Nebraska fans felt good about their chances with the star offensive tackle. Understandably so, since his older brother, Todd, is a defensive lineman for Bo Pelini. But the younger Peat went his own way and chose Stanford, a choice that would have seemed inconceivable 10 years ago. Nebraska still had a good signing day as defensive tackle Aaron Curry and athlete Alonzo Moore made last-minute choices to come to Lincoln. But Peat was the one who got away.

Wildest signing day: Iowa

There were few dull moments for Iowa on signing day. The Hawkeyes made some late offers and made some late additions like wide receiver George Kittle, whose father, Bruce, played offensive line at Iowa. There was also buzz about defensive back Dinero Moss switching his commitment from Minnesota to Iowa, and offensive line target Alex Kozan didn't show up at a signing day ceremony at his high school. Another recruiting target said Iowa didn't have a scholarship for him after telling him not to worry. What a day in Hawkeye Country.

Future award winner: Ohio State DE Noah Spence

The 6-foot-4, 245-pound Spence was rated as the No. 4 overall prospect in this class by and was the only five-star recruit to sign with a Big Ten school. He'll have a lot of competition on a now-stacked defensive line in Columbus, but Spence has all the tools to be a future star as an athletic pass-rusher for the Buckeyes.

Program on the rise: Minnesota

We're not predicting Big Ten titles in the Gophers' immediate future, but there's little question that second-year coach Jerry Kill has improved the overall talent and depth of his roster with his first full recruiting class. Minnesota needed offensive playmakers and appears to have addressed that with receivers Jamel Harbison and Andre McDonald. Four of the team's six junior-college transfers should provide some immediate help to a defense in desperate need of bodies. Kill might have found his quarterback of the future with in-state star Philip Nelson and a potential offensive line anchor in blue-chipper Isaac Hayes. This 31-man class won't rocket the Gophers to the top of the Legends Division, but it should lead to better things than 3-win seasons.

Big-splash recruit: Northwestern LB Ifeadi Odenigbo

Northwestern has landed some solid offensive recruits in recent years, but Pat Fitzgerald hadn't made a big splash on the defensive side until now. Odenigbo is an ESPNU 150 prospect who brings speed and play-making ability to the edge, where Northwestern needs a lot of help in pressuring opposing quarterbacks. The Wildcats need some game-changers on defense to take the next step, and Odenigbo helps in the process.