NCF Nation: Patrick Kugler

When a football coaching staff signs one of the top few recruits at any position, it's cause for celebration. Therefore, grabbing two of the top three prospects at that position might warrant an Animal House-style party.

Between 2006, when ESPN began assembling recruit rankings, and 2013, individual programs managed to sign at least two of the top three players at a position 16 times. In many cases, one -- and sometimes both -- of those players became instant stars as true freshmen. Think Taylor Mays and Joe McKnight at USC, De'Anthony Thomas at Oregon, Laremy Tunsil at Ole Miss and Sean Spence at Miami.

This was a relatively unique occurrence up until 2014, when it happened five times -- with four of the five instances occurring in the SEC: twice at Alabama, which signed the top two players at both center (No. 1 Josh Casher and No. 2 J.C. Hassenauer) and outside linebacker (No. 1 Christian Miller and No. 2 Rashaan Evans), plus at LSU (with No. 1 and 3 wide receivers Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn) and Florida (with No. 2 and 3 defensive tackles Gerald Willis and Thomas Holley).

Clemson was the other school to accomplish the feat in 2014, signing No. 2 and 3 receiving tight ends Milan Richard and Cannon Smith.

In some of these cases -- particularly at LSU, which lost the vast majority of its receiving production from 2013 -- expectations are high that the star signees can immediately become valuable contributors as true freshmen. The Tigers have multiple alternatives at receiver, including Travin Dural and John Diarse, but Dupre and Quinn might rank among the leading contenders for playing time.

Judging by the long list of Freshman All-America and freshman all-conference honors won by those who previously signed as part of such a dynamic duo, perhaps it's not such a long shot that at least one of the newcomers will make a similar instant impact.

2006

Safety | USC
No. 2 Taylor Mays, No. 3 Antwine Perez

Mays appeared in all 13 games -- starting the last 12 at free safety after Josh Pinkard suffered a season-ending injury in the opener -- in 2006 and led the Trojans with three interceptions. Mays was fifth on the team with 62 tackles and tied for second with six passes defended, ending the season as Pac-10 Co-Freshman of the Year and as a member of multiple Freshman All-America teams. Perez played in seven games and recorded three tackles.

2007

Center | Auburn
No. 1 Ryan Pugh, No. 3 Chaz Ramsey

Pugh started six of Auburn's final nine games at left tackle and appeared in eight games overall. He also backed up Jason Bosley at center and earned Coaches' All-SEC Freshman team honors after the season. Like Pugh, Ramsey appeared for the first time in Week 4 and went on to start nine of the Tigers' last 10 games at right guard. He also made the Coaches' All-SEC Freshman team.

Running back | USC
No. 1 Joe McKnight, No. 2 Marc Tyler

McKnight played in all 13 games in 2007, ranked third on the team with 540 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns. He also caught 23 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown and served as the Trojans' primary punt returner, with his 8.4 yards per return helping him earn a All-Pac-10 honorable mention nod. Tyler redshirted in 2007 while recuperating from a high school leg injury.

2008

Inside linebacker | Ohio State
No. 1 Etienne Sabino, No. 2 Andrew Sweat

Sabino played in all 13 games and notched six tackles. He notched the only touchdown in the Buckeyes' 16-3 win against Purdue by returning a blocked punt 20 yards for a score. Sweat appeared in the last nine games and recorded five tackles, also contributing mostly on special teams.

Outside linebacker | Miami
No. 1 Arthur Brown, No. 2 Sean Spence, No. 3 Ramon Buchanan

Not only did Miami sign ESPN's top three outside linebacker prospects in 2008, it also signed No. 5 Jordan Futch. That's an outstanding haul for one year. At any rate, Spence emerged as the key member of this group from the get-go, ranking third on the team with 65 tackles and leading the Hurricanes with 9.5 tackles for a loss in 2008. He was ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year and made multiple Freshman All-America teams. Brown (who later transferred to Kansas State) played in 11 games as a freshman, notching four tackles and shifting from outside to inside linebacker. Buchanan had six tackles in nine games, playing mostly on special teams and also contributing at safety and linebacker.

Offensive tackle | Ohio State
No. 2 Michael Brewster, No. 3 J.B. Shugarts

Brewster played in 12 of the Buckeyes' 13 games in 2008 and started the last 10 at center, earning Freshman All-America honors in the process. Shugarts appeared in seven games at offensive tackle and missed six other games with a shoulder surgery that required offseason surgery.

Safety | Florida
No. 1 Will Hill, No. 2 Dee Finley

Hill played in 13 games and ranked sixth on the team with 48 tackles. He also picked off two passes and notched 1.5 sacks. He made the SEC All-Freshman team and led the Gators with 22 tackles on special teams. Finley did not qualify academically and spent the 2008 season at Milford Academy prep school. He eventually enrolled at Florida and shifted from safety to linebacker, but transferred away from Gainesville in 2011.

2009

Safety | South Carolina
No. 2 Stephon Gilmore, No. 3 DeVonte Holloman

Early enrollee Gilmore started all 13 games at cornerback, ranking fifth on the team with 56 tackles. He tied for the team lead with nine passes defended and ranked second with eight pass breakups, adding six tackles for a loss, three sacks, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and an interception. The Freshman All-SEC and Freshman All-America honoree also averaged 10.1 yards per return as a punt return man. Another early enrollee, Hollomon also played in every game, notching 30 tackles, an interception (which he returned 54 yards against rival Clemson) and a tackle for a loss.

2010

Athlete | Florida
No. 1 Ronald Powell, No. 2 Matt Elam

Powell played in 13 games at strongside linebacker and recorded 25 tackles, three tackles for a loss and a sack en route to winning Freshman All-SEC honors. Elam also played in all 13 games, mostly on special teams and at defensive back, and notched 22 tackles, two tackles for a loss and a sack.

Defensive tackle | Florida
No. 1 Dominique Easley, No. 3 Sharrif Floyd

Easley recorded four tackles in six games. Floyd played in all 13 games, earning Coaches' Freshman All-SEC honors by making 23 tackles and 6.5 tackles for a loss.

Wide receiver | Texas
No. 2 Mike Davis, No. 3 Darius White

Davis ranked second on the team with 478 receiving yards and 47 receptions (a record for a Texas freshman). He became one of only three receivers in Longhorns history to post multiple 100-yard games as a freshman. White appeared in 10 games in 2010, but caught just one pass for 5 yards and eventually transferred to Missouri after two seasons, citing a need for a fresh start.

2011

Athlete | Oregon
No. 1 De'Anthony Thomas, No. 2 Devon Blackmon

The speedy Thomas earned Pac-12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year honors and was named an All-Pac-12 kick returner and a Freshman All-American. He was the only player in the nation to post at least 400 yards rushing, receiving and kick returning in 2011, ranking as the Ducks' second-leading receiver (595 yards on 46 catches) and third-leading rusher (608 yards and seven touchdowns). His 983 kickoff return yards ranked second in school history. Blackmon redshirted in 2011 and appeared in two games in 2012 before announcing his plan to transfer. He played at Riverside City College before signing with BYU as a juco transfer in 2014.

2012

Defensive end | Florida State
No. 1 Mario Edwards, No. 3 Chris Casher

Edwards became the only freshman to start all season for a loaded FSU defense when he replaced the injured Tank Carradine in the ACC Championship Game. He also started in the Orange Bowl win over Northern Illinois. In all, Edwards finished the season with 17 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks. Casher played in two early games before suffering a season-ending injury and taking a redshirt in 2012.

2013

Offensive guard | Michigan
No. 2 David Dawson, No. 3 Patrick Kugler

Dawson and Kugler both redshirted in 2013. Dawson practiced during the spring at left guard and left tackle, while Kugler is among the candidates to start at center this fall.

Offensive tackle | Ole Miss
No. 1 Laremy Tunsil, No. 3 Austin Golson

Tunsil immediately became one of the better offensive tackles in the SEC, earning second-team All-SEC and Freshman All-America honors in 2013. He played in 12 games and started nine at left tackle, making him one of only two true full-time freshman starters at the position in the FBS. Tunsil allowed just one sack all season. Golson played in 12 games, mostly at guard, before missing the Rebels' bowl game because of shoulder surgery. He transferred to Auburn this summer, citing a family illness as the reason he wanted to move closer to his Alabama home.

Safety | USC
No. 1 Su'a Cravens, No. 3 Leon McQuay III

A 2013 early enrollee, Cravens started 13 games at strong safety, ranked eighth on the team with 52 tackles and tied for second with four interceptions. He made multiple Freshman All-America teams and earned an All-Pac-12 honorable mention nod after the season. McQuay played in all 14 games, picked off one pass and recorded 19 tackles.
Both Ohio State (No. 3) and Michigan (No. 6) finished in the top 10 of ESPN Recruiting's overall class rankingsInsider for 2013. When it comes to specific position groups, however, both the Buckeyes and Wolverines top the chart.

ESPN Recruiting recently completed its team rankings for position groups in the 2013 class.

Not surprisingly, Ohio State finished No. 1 in the defensive back category. The Buckeyes signed five defensive backs ranked in the ESPN 300, including cornerback Eli Apple -- the Big Ten's highest-rated recruit overall at No. 11 -- and safety Vonn Bell. Ohio State's secondary haul is even more important as the Big Ten recently has slipped a bit in recruiting elite defensive backs.

In another clear choice, Michigan finished No. 1 in offensive line recruiting for 2013. Four of the six offensive linemen Michigan signed rank in the ESPN 150, including guards David Dawson and Patrick Kugler. This could be the class that solidifies Michigan's offensive line depth for years to come.

Ohio State also finished No. 1 in the wide receiver/athlete category. The late addition of Dontre Wilson, who originally committed to Oregon, along with wideout Jalin Marshall and junior college receiver Corey Smith put Ohio State over the top. This is another critical area to upgrade as the Big Ten has seen a significant drop-off in elite receivers the past year or so. Ohio State is positioning itself to have a major edge on the perimeter.

Michigan received honorable mention for its running back haul, headlined by Derrick Green. Ohio State earned honorable mention for its defensive line class.

No other Big Ten teams were recognized in the position group rankings.
Recruitniks have had today marked on their calendars for quite a while, but for those in the dark, the Under Armour All-America Game takes place tonight at 5 p.m. ET in St. Petersburg, Fla.

There's definitely a Big Ten flavor to the starting lineups for the game Insider, unveiled Thursday afternoon. Nine players who have verbally committed to Big Ten teams will start in the game, led by Black team quarterback Christian Hackenberg, the Penn State pledge rated as the nation's top pocket passer by ESPN Recruiting.

Hackenberg and long-snapper Tyler Kluver, an Iowa commit, are the only Big Ten recruits on the Black squad. The White team includes even future Big Tenners.

Here's the full list ...

BLACK TEAM
  • QB Christian Hackenberg, committed to Penn State
  • LS Tyler Kluver, committed to Iowa
WHITE TEAM

Kugler also is serving as one of four captains for the White team. Conley is a one-time Michigan recruit who decommitted in November and switched his pledge to Ohio State in early December. After playing on the same team as Kugler, Dawson and Poggi on Friday, Conley definitely will be the enemy when they hit the college ranks.

The 2013 ESPN 150 -- our list of the top high school rising seniors in the country (now with less U!) -- was unveiled this afternoon. And the Big Ten's hand prints are all over the list, which you can find in its entirety here. (You can read more about the class, including spotlights on Penn State commit Christian Hackenberg and Ohio State recruit Cam Burrows, here).

Twenty players from the list have already committed to Big Ten schools. So of the 77 players who have committed, the Big Ten claims more than a quarter of them. The Big Ten only signed 12 players from the 2012 ESPN 150 list.

Michigan is responsible for the biggest portion of that haul. The Wolverines -- who have 17 total commitments for the '13 class -- boast 11 ESPN 150 prospects in their corner so far.

That's easily the most of any school in the country. Texas and Florida are next with seven ESPN 150 commits each, followed by Alabama and Georgia with six. Alabama had the top class in the country this year with 13 ESPN 150 signees. Michigan has a chance to compete for the top class ranking next year if this current group holds together and gets a few more notable additions. Brady Hoke and his staff have done an excellent job of locking up early pledges.

Ohio State is doing well, too. The Buckeyes currently have five ESPN 150 commits for Urban Meyer, including three in the top 55 of the list.

But the league school with the highest-ranked prospect so far is Penn State. Let's take a look at the players from the list who are currently committed to a Big Ten team:

No. 11: Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State

No. 12: Eli Woodard, CB, Ohio State

No. 21: Cam Burrows, CB, Ohio State

No. 37: Shane Morris, QB, Michigan

No. 39: Adam Breneman, TE, Penn State

No. 55: Jalin Marshall, ATH, Ohio State

No. 63: Gareon Conley, CB, Michigan

No. 75: Mike McCray II, OLB, Michigan

No. 92: David Dawson, OG, Michigan

No. 97: Logan Tuley-Tillman, OT, Michigan

No. 98: Dymonte Thomas, ATH, Michigan

No. 105: Chris Fox, OT, Michigan

No. 107: Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan

No. 112: Kyle Bosch, OG, Michigan

No. 113: Matt Alviti, QB, Northwestern

No. 115: Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan

No. 121: Patrick Kugler, OG, Michigan

No. 123: Greg Webb, DT, Penn State

No. 127: Marcus Baugh, TE, Ohio State

No. 142: Evan Lisle, OT, Ohio State

Here is where we issue the requisite word of caution, as these are only verbal commitments and it's a long way until signing day next February. Things can change a lot between now and then, and star rankings do not always predict college success. But clearly the Big Ten is doing a good job competing for the nation's highest-ranked prospects during this recruiting cycle.

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