More skill prospects than ever in Michigan and Wisconsin

Normally you wouldn't expect to find skilled athletes in the upper Midwest and Great Lakes region. Last year was thought to be the exception with players like running backs Jonas Gray (Notre Dame) and Mark Ingram (Alabama) and wide receiver Fred Smith (Michigan State) highlighting the talent in the Wolverine and Badger States. The 2009 has continued the trend.

Eight of the top ten players in the region are offensive standouts and six play at a skilled position. As a matter of fact, the very best player in Wisconsin and the very best fullback in the nation is Tyler Dippel (Hartford, Wic./Union). Even though the Badgers will play him at defensive end, he is a wrecking machine at the fullback position. Dippel explodes through linebackers as he leads on the isolation play.

As good as the offensive skilled talent is in the area, there are some very good players from the trenches. Offensive tackles Jeff Fantuzzi (Macomb, Mich./Dakota) and William Campbell (Detroit/Cass Tech) are stout, powerful linemen who can open huge holes up front. Defensive end Shelby Harris (Mequon, Wisc./Homestead) is a quick, athletic playmaker who uses his hand well and should develop into an outstanding pass rusher. The Badgers are elated to get the duo of Dippel and Harris.

Top recruit
Edwin Baker, running back
Oak Park, Mich.
Verbal commitment: Michigan State

What do the top two players in the state of Michigan have in common? Both are running backs, and both are going to Michigan State to play college football. It's not often that two high-caliber players at the same position and in the same class want to compete with each other. Baker and Larry Caper (Battlecreek, MI./Central) have decided to do just that for the Spartans.

Baker is a thick, tough, explosive running back who has great balance and upper-body strength. He displays excellent vision in finding the smallest of creases and then accelerates through the line of scrimmage with a head of steam. He is athletic enough to bounce the ball out or cut it back without losing speed in the transition. Baker is tough to bring down in the open field and can run through arm tackles. Once in daylight, Baker kicks it in to a second gear and has shown the ability to leave defenders in the dust.

Recruit under the radar
Shamari Benton, defensive back
Brother Rice H.S. (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.)
Verbal commitment: Central Michigan

The Chippewas got a steal with the talented Benton, a linebacker who will play safety at the collegiate level. He has very good speed and is a quick reactor filling the voids in run support and attacking the line of scrimmage on a downhill course. Benton is a reliable open-field tackler but needs to be more consistent at driving through the tackle with more force.

Benton is an effective pass defender who covers a lot of territory when breaking on the ball. He is also a valuable asset on the coverage units of special teams, routinely avoiding blockers in the open field as he closes in on returners.

On the Trail
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Michigan, 18 commits (Oct. 22)
Rich Rodriguez and staff have gone national for the 2009 class, with ten different states represented in their current verbal commitments. System-fitting quarterbacks, one of the Wolverines' biggest concerns looking ahead to the '09 campaign, are in tow with Californian Tate Forcier (San Diego/Scripps Ranch) and Texan Shavodrick Beaver (Wichita Falls, Texas/Rider). Another common theme is speed, and Under Armour All-American Craig Roh (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chaparral) fits the mold from the defensive end spot.

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Michigan State, 17 commits (Oct. 22)
Unlike the Wolverines, the Spartans are concentrating on a more regional flavor of recruits -- nine of their verbals are from Michigan and five hail from neighboring Ohio. Not only that, they snagged ESPNU 150 offensive tackle David Barrent (Clive, Iowa/Valley) from Iowa when he switched his verbal in July. Top-20 quarterback prospect Andrew Maxwell's (Midland, Mich.) best football is ahead of him; the pocket passer has poise and a quick release to build on.

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Wisconsin, 16 commits (Oct. 22)
The Badgers have a good mix of talent in the 2009 class at this point. They have some exceptional defensive ends with David Gilbert (Oakland Park, Fla/Northeast) joining Shelby Harris and Tyler Dippel. Six-foot ESPNU 150 QB Jon Budmayr (Woodstock, Ill./Marian Catholic) looks like Chase Daniel with his measurables, arm strength and demeanor.

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Central Michigan, 24 commits (Oct. 22)
On-field success for the 5-2 Chippewas is paying off on the recruiting trail. This is one of the best mid-major classes in the country right now with four players grading out 77 or better on the Scouts Inc. grading scale. Sleeper offensive tackle Jeff Fantuzzi (Macomb, Mich./Dakota) didn't have a lot of big-time offers but ranks as one of the top 15 tackles in the country. New commitment Shamari Benton (Bloomfield Hills, Mich./Brother Rice) and Leron Eaddy (Clarksville, Md./River Hill) should form a solid secondary for years to come.

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Western Michigan, 10 commits (Oct. 22)
Offensive line is the obvious theme of this class, with the Broncos' four top-ranked prospects all fighting the good fight in the trenches. Top-30 OT Mark Zielinski (Winnetka, Ill./New Trier), a 320-pound behemoth, has a great first step and could play either tackle or guard at WMU.

Eastern Michigan currently has only three known verbal commitments.

ESPNRISE.com Wisconsin Game of the Week
Cedarburg (7-1) at Homestead-Mequon (8-0), Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET:
This is a short week as both teams close out the regular season with a midweek game in Mequon. The playoffs kick off early next week.

The Homestead Highlanders, second-ranked in Wisconsin's Division I (largest-school division), needs a win to claim their eighth straight North Shore Conference championship. The Highlanders advanced to last year's state title game, losing to top-ranked Arrowhead-Hartland, but last won the title in 2006.

This season the Highlanders have shown dominance on both sides of the ball, having shut out three teams and won the last two games over Whitefish Bay and Germantown by a 76-14 aggregate score. Aric Daniels tops the team's ground game. Defensive end Shelby Harris (6-3, 235) will sign with Wisconsin.

The Cedarburg Bulldogs opened with five consecutive wins before losing to Port Washington 28-26. They since have rebounded averaging 45 points in victories over Milwaukee Lutheran Grafton. The offense is paced by running back Logan Lauters, who has rushed for 996 yards (7.7 yards per carry) and scored 15 touchdowns and passing of quarterback Chip Rank (999 yards, 10 TDs). Linebacker T.J. Hogan (6-3, 200) is the top defender. -- Christopher Lawlor

Bill Conley is a recruiting coordinator for ESPN Scouts Inc. He previously worked at Ohio State for 17 years as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator.