NCF Nation: Jordan Smith

True freshmen impact in the Big Ten

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
10:30
AM ET


True freshmen are having a bigger and bigger impact throughout college football these days, as coaches are either becoming less afraid to throw their youngsters into the fire or are facing fewer options.

[+] EnlargeDontre Wilson
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesThe versatile Dontre Wilson could be one of many to get touches in the diamond formation.
With that in mind, today we are ranking the top five teams in the Big Ten in order of the impact true freshmen are making for that team. We're going with quality over quantity here, mind you.

1. Penn State: The Nittany Lions are starting just one true frosh, but he's a guy with a little bit of importance to the team's fortunes: quarterback Christian Hackenberg. The 18-year-old has had some ups and downs but is on pace for a 3,000-yard season. Tight end Adam Breneman and receiver Richy Anderson have also played in every game, with one start each. Von Walker, Brandon Bell and Jordan Smith are among others who have seen time for coach Bill O'Brien, who doesn't have the luxury to redshirt many guys with the Lions' depth issues.

2. Nebraska: The Huskers' defense is young, all right. So young that two true freshmen are starting at linebacker for Bo Pelini in Josh Banderas and Nathan Gerry. They rank fourth and fifth on the team in tackles, and Banderas is handling a leadership position as the middle linebacker.

3. Ohio State: Urban Meyer says Ohio State doesn't redshirt. If you're ready, you play. Technically, the Buckeyes don't start any true freshmen, but Dontre Wilson has already made a big impact as a runner, receiver and kick returner. Several other first-year players dot the two-deep, such as safety Vonn Bell and defensive lineman Joey Bosa, and running back Ezekiel Elliott ran for more than 100 yards and scored two touchdowns last week versus Florida A&M.

4. Indiana: No surprise to see the Hoosiers on this list, since coach Kevin Wilson has played as many true freshmen as any coach in the country the past few years. That means Indiana finally has some veterans, but Wilson is starting T.J. Simmons at linebacker and getting contributions from Darius Latham on the defensive line, Antonio Allen in the secondary and Marcus Oliver and Clyde Newton at linebacker.

5. Wisconsin: The Badgers are mostly an experienced, veteran team. The one exception is in the secondary. Sojourn Shelton is starting at cornerback for the Badgers, while Jakarrie Washington and Nate Hammon are top reserves in the defensive backfield.
Penn State has signed larger and more decorated recruiting classes than the 2013 version, and brought in more big names. But the program has never faced NCAA sanctions, including scholarship reductions and postseason probation. Under the circumstances, the 17-member recruiting class PSU signed Wednesday might be one of the most impressive in team history. Penn State brought in star power like quarterback Christian Hackenberg and tight end Adam Breneman, retained most of its top recruits and addressed several needs. Head coach Bill O'Brien and his assistants have received a lot of praise for their first recruiting class of the sanction era, and deservedly so.

ESPN.com caught up with O'Brien on Wednesday to discuss the class.

[+] EnlargeO'Brien
Reese Strickland/US PresswireCoach Bill O'Brien says Penn State filled immediate needs with its recruiting class.
How did you guys keep this class together with all the challenges you had?

Bill O'Brien: I think it has a lot to do with two groups of people. Really the assistant coaches here, and then the prospects and their families that we signed. We started early on these guys, and we began to develop relationships with these guys right when I was hired here. And then we just began to keep grinding out those relationships. We never missed a phone call, we never missed an opportunity to talk to somebody that was influential in this young man's life. You have to give a lot of credit to our assistant coaches, and then give a lot of credit to these guys and their families who stuck with us.

Was there ever a point where you started to worry, or did you have faith all along that you'd keep the group together?

BO'B: I was certainly concerned when the sanctions came out. That day in July, I was definitely concerned. What happened was a group of guys who were committed to us, about eight guys, they drove up here to State College and they met with us that weekend, maybe two days after the sanctions came out, and that was a very productive meeting. They reaffirmed their commitment to me and to our football program. So that was when I began to say, 'As long as we work at it and we stay with these guys and we stay committed and they stay committed, we'll be OK.' Right after that, it got a little bit better.

How did the season itself affect keeping guys on board or bringing in interest from other recruits?

BO'B: Winning always helps. Any time you can go out and win eight out of your last 10 games -- we were on TV all the time, or these guys were actually at the game and they saw that atmosphere, that winning locker room and the atmosphere at Beaver Stadium -- that's a very positive thing for any football program.

What's the significance of Christian signing with you guys at the quarterback spot?

BO'B: It's really important. At the end of the day, Christian comes from a great family and he's just a really good person who has got a lot of talent and is going to come in here and make us a better football program. It's important that all these other guys, not just Christian, stayed committed to us. That was such a big, big thing for us. We owe a lot to those guys and their families. We're proud that they stayed with us.

How does he fit what you want to do on offense?

BO'B: He definitely fits what we're looking for. He's a tall guy who's athletic. He's an accurate passer, he's smart, he's competitive, he's made plays in big games, he's run 2-minute drills in high school to win games. So we feel really good about him. We felt good about him right from the start. He was the No. 1 guy we went after, and we were able to get him. It says a lot about him, and it says a lot about us. He fits our system to a T.

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The big day is so, so close. National signing day will get started bright and early Wednesday morning, but it's time to take a look at where the Big 12 teams sit with one day left before players can officially sign.

This will change quickly in the next couple days, but here's how they look before things get real crazy. Here's how the rankings looked two weeks ago, when we last updated the Big 12 scorecard.

This scorecard is written in pencil. Tomorrow, players will sign in ink.

1. Texas Longhorns

National ranking: No. 3
Total commits: 27
ESPNU 150 commits: 11
Key commits: RB Johnathan Gray, DT Malcom Brown, WR Cayleb Jones, QB Connor Brewer
Latest news: Texas recently added the nation's No. 1 inside linebacker, former Tennessee commit Dalton Santos. That may help its national ranking, which fell from No. 2 to No. 3 since our last update. The Longhorns also added No. 14 ATH Daje Johnson, a former TCU commit. Both were ESPNU 150 prospects. Texas also added defensive end Bryce Cottrell, who had previously been committed to Oregon.

2. Oklahoma Sooners

National ranking: No. 10
Total commits: 20
ESPNU 150 commits: 5
Key commits: RB Alex Ross, WR Sterling Shepard, WR Durron Neal, OL Ty Darlington, WR Trey Metoyer
Latest news: Oklahoma surpassed Texas A&M since our last update, and added Sam Grant, the nation's No. 18 TE. David Smith, the nation's No. 124 ATH, also joined the fold for the Sooners. One of the nation's top juco offensive tackles, Will Latu also pledged to Oklahoma and could make an immediate impact. Oklahoma swiped Zack Sanchez on Monday, a cornerback who had been committed to Baylor since July.

3. Texas A&M Aggies

National ranking: No. 12
Total commits: 22
ESPNU 150 commits: 5
Key commits: OLB Jordan Richmond, RB Trey Williams, ATH Bralon Addison, QB Matt Davis
Latest news: The nation's No. 33 defensive end, Polo Manukainiu, became a late addition to the Aggies' class, and the nation's No. 30 safety, Edward Pope, also gave new coach Kevin Sumlin a commitment.

4. Texas Tech Red Raiders

National ranking: No. 17
Total commits: 26
ESPNU 150 commits: 3
Key commits: WR Reginald Davis, WR Dominique Wheeler, OT Michael Starts, QB Clayton Nicholas
Latest news: The Red Raiders added juco cornerback Ola Falemi to their class, but look out for Tuberville on signing day. Switches on the big day are no surprises with him at Tech.

5. Baylor Bears

Total commits: 22
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: ATH Corey Coleman, OT Kyle Fuller, DT Javonte Magee, OLB Brian Nance
Latest news: Baylor swiped Kansas QB commit Seth Russell, No. 47 nationally at the position, to make a big wave across the Big 12. It also grabbed cornerback Patrick Levels out of Dallas. Nance and Magee both pledged to Baylor after the new year.

6. Missouri Tigers

Total commits: 18
ESPNU 150 commits: 1
Key commits: OG Evan Boehm, QB Maty Mauk, ILB Donavin Newsom, OLB Torey Boozer
Latest news: Missouri may be in the lead in the DGB sweepstakes after hosting the nation's No. 1 receiver on a visit on the final weekend of the recruiting season. The nation's No. 105 ATH John Gibson and No. 151 DT, Harold Brantley, are the latest additions to Mizzou's class.

7. Oklahoma State Cowboys

Total commits: 21
ESPNU 150 commits: 1
Key commits: TE Dominic Ramacher, OLB Jeremiah Tshimanga, OT Michael Wilson, QB Wes Lunt
Latest news: OSU has added five commits since our last update, including Wilson, the nation's No. 22 offensive tackle. Receiver Chance Allen (No. 141) joins the squad as well. CB Kevin Peterson came to OSU after originally committing to Oklahoma. OSU also added receiver Jhajuan Seales. Juco offensive tackle Chris Grishby committed on Jan. 22.

8. Iowa State Cyclones

Total commits: 21
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: OT Daniel Burton, WR P.J. Harris, WR Quan West, ATH Damien Lawry
Latest news: The Cyclones have two fewer commits than the last time we checked in, but added Devlyn Cousin, the nation's No. 154 defensive tackle.

9. Kansas State Wildcats

Total commits: 18
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: WR Vernon Vaughn, DT Travis Britz, RB Jarvis Leverett, QB Tavarius Bender
Latest news: Kansas State added five commitments in the last two weeks, highlighted by Demonte Hood, the nation's No. 111 DT. RB Charles Jones is headed to Manhattan via Louisiana, too. S Donovan Starks is coming from Crosby, Texas, and receiver Judah Jones is a Wildcat after wrapping his high school career at power Evangel Christian in Louisiana. OT Ellwood Clement gave K-State five juco players in this class, low by Bill Snyder's standards.

10. Kansas Jayhawks

Total commits: 18
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: TE Jordan Smith, OG Brian Beckmann, S Gregg Allen, DT Tyler Holmes
Latest news: New coach Charlie Weis has added four commits since our last update. QB Seth Russell, the team's top commit, is gone, but the Jayhawks have the QB spot settled for the next three years with transfers Dayne Crist and Jake Heaps. Greg Allen (No. 89 safety) is the top new addition, and Charles Brooks gives the class a second tight end. The Jayhawks also added a pair of juco defensive tackles that figure to have immediate impacts, Chaquil Reed and Jordan Tavai.

Updated 2012 Big 12 recruiting scorecard

December, 20, 2011
12/20/11
9:00
AM ET
So, the season gets, you know, kind of crazy. It's unrelenting, and recruiting plummets in priority. Thus, we haven't had a recruiting update since before the season.

Time to update.

Signing Day is less than two months away, and here's where each Big 12 team sits as we hit the recruiting home stretch before the big day in February.

All commit totals, rankings and stars via ESPN Recruiting, which updated its national recruiting rankings this week.

1. Texas Longhorns

National ranking: No. 1
Total commits: 25
ESPNU 150 commits: 10
Key commits: RB Johnathan Gray, DT Malcom Brown, WR Cayleb Jones, QB Connor Brewer
Class notes: Four of Texas' top five commits are skill position players, a huge need for the Longhorns. They're one of a handful of schools still chasing one of the nation's top recruits, too, receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. Gray will come to Texas as the Gatorade National Player of the Year. Texas also has two juco transfers coming next year, OT Donald Hawkins and DT Brandon Moore, a rarity for the Longhorns.

2. Texas A&M Aggies

National ranking: No. 8
Total commits: 22
ESPNU 150 commits: 4
Key commits: OLB Jordan Richmond, RB Trey Williams, ATH Bralon Addison, QB Matt Davis
Class notes: Texas A&M's class is being spearheaded by Davis, who's spreading the "Agg Swagg Movement" via social media, and Texas A&M will enter the SEC with one of its best classes in recent history. It's a deep class, too. Eleven of the 22 commits earned four-star status on ESPN.

3. Oklahoma Sooners

National ranking: No. 9
Total commits: 17
ESPNU 150 commits: 5
Key commits: RB Alex Ross, WR Sterling Shepard, WR Durron Neal, OL Ty Darlington
Class notes: The Sooners are after DGB, too, but may have a sudden big need at running back after a handful of transfers over the past few months. ESPNU 150 signee from 2010 Trey Metoyer, a receiver, is expected to be in Norman next year after spending a year at Hargrave Military Academy. He'll offer some nice help, but will Landry Jones be throwing him the ball?

4. Texas Tech Red Raiders

National ranking: No. 17
Total commits: 22
ESPNU 150 commits: 3
Key commits: WR Reginald Davis, WR Dominique Wheeler, OT Michael Starts, QB Clayton Nicholas
Class notes: The Red Raiders added five commits since our last update, but Davis, Wheeler and Starts should all be nice pickups and additions to an offense that lacked a big-play threat this year when Darrin Moore was battling injuries. Tech is also adding five juco transfers, including two more receivers and a pair of pass-rushers.

5. Oklahoma State Cowboys

Total commits: 16
ESPNU 150 commits: 1
Key commits: TE Dominic Ramacher, OLB Jeremiah Tshimanga, QB Wes Lunt
Class notes: Texas swiped CB Kendall Sanders with a late recruiting push, following a few high-profile former OSU commits to go elsewhere. This year's class won't make many headlines, but it'll be interesting to see if the 2011 Big 12 title pays off in the 2013 recruiting class. OSU knows definitively now that it can be better than OU and Texas. Lunt, an Illinois native, is an uber-productive dual-threat. Former blue-chipper Calvin Barnett, a DT from Tulsa, spurned OSU for Arkansas on Signing Day 2010, but he's committed this year via junior college.

6. Baylor Bears

Total commits: 19
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: ATH Corey Coleman, OT Kyle Fuller, CB Terrell Burt, WR Kiante' Griffin
Class notes: Baylor added a handful of recruits just before the season to reach 18 commits, and added just one commit over the course of the season. Baylor's grabbed big-time recruits like Ahmad Dixon and Kendall Wright in the past that have been productive, but there's no big name in this class just yet.

7. Missouri Tigers

Total commits: 15
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: DT Donald Hopkins, QB Maty Mauk, ILB Donavin Newsom
Class notes: Missouri is chasing DGB too, but the story this season has been class attrition for the Tigers. They were in the top 20 but lost ESPNU 150 commit Evan Boehm, who decommitted. The Tigers fell out of the top 25 and fell behind Oklahoma State and Baylor. Running back Jonathan Williams took his four stars to Arkansas and OT Germain Ifedi moved to fellow future SEC member Texas A&M. Mauk, Hopkins and Newsom are the only remaining four-star recruits in the class.

8. Iowa State Cyclones

Total commits: 20
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: OT Daniel Burton WR P.J. Harris, WR Quan West, QB Grant Rohach
Class notes: The Cyclones added 11 commits since our last update. Three of the Cyclones top four commits are offensive skill position players, but Burton is the class' top commit. He committed on Sept. 29. A second QB, Luke Knott, committed way back in April. His older brother, Jake Knott, is a star linebacker for the Cyclones. Paul Rhoads' 10-year contract extension could help on the recruiting trail next year, too, offering parents some security that he'll still be coaching their sons for their whole careers. ISU has no four-star commits, but eight three-stars.

9. Kansas State Wildcats

Total commits: 11
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: WR Vernon Vaughn, DT Travis Britz, RB Jarvis Leverett, QB Tavarius Bender
Class notes: Kansas State added four commits since our preseason update. Seven of the commits are three-stars and just one is committed via junior college. Two commits are unranked.

10. Kansas Jayhawks

Total commits: 8
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: QB Seth Russell, TE Jordan Smith, OG Brian Beckmann
Class notes: ATH Bilal Marshall and DE De'Jon Wilson are no longer committed and new Kansas coach Charlie Weis has his work cut out for him. He says he doesn't want to be under scholarship numbers, but he doesn't want to offer guys just to fill scholarships with bodies. It'll be a tough balance. He's got catching up to do. WR Tre Parmalee and DT Keon Stowers are Weis' first two commits.

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