As far as recruiting is concerned, the Big 12 North Division doesn't have the same geographical advantage its counterparts in the South Division do. There is a lean talent base within the states of Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Colorado. All the South schools are in either Texas or a state that borders Texas, which has its advantages and creates challenges for North programs trying to infiltrate an already crowded recruiting landscape.
If you look at the teams like Missouri, Nebraska and even Kansas, you will find that many of their top playmakers are from Texas -- such as Chase Daniel and Todd Reesing. This trend must continue for North schools to remain competitive and start winning the big games against higher-ranked opponents from the South.
Colorado is coming off a stellar 2008 signing class but a rather disappointing season on the gridiron this fall. For the most part, recruiting has been more marathon than sprint for the Buffaloes, but Dan Hawkins and his staff have gone on a tear in January. The addition of DE Nick Kasa (Broomfield, Colo./Legacy) and DT Edward Nuckels (San Marcos, Calif./Mission Hills) has really bolstered this front four. Luring Kasa back from the grips of the Florida Gators was important for Colorado's stature within the state -- if the Buffs had not gotten him back, they wouldn't have had a commitment from any of the state's top five prospects. QB Clark Evans (Los Alamitos, Calif.) is a sleeper in this class, and he fits their scheme extremely well. The class also features several playmaking wideouts.
Top prospect: Without a doubt, it's Kasa: He will give them a real threat off the edge. It is worth noting that four of Colorado's top five recruits are defenders, and three of them will play in the front seven. This is a good sign.
Don't be surprised if Colorado competes for the North crown in 2009 and 2010.
The Cyclones went winless in Big 12 play, and their disappointing season is reflected in this recruiting class. The hope is that former Auburn defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads can turn things around in Ames both on and off the field. We expect Rhoads to continue hitting the recruiting trail hard up until signing day and anticipate a few more commitments coming aboard. Iowa State did add some youth at positions of need with the likes of James White (Dallas/Skyline) and Beau Blankenship (Norman, Okla.) at running back. A short but compact downhill runner, Blankenship could be a nice complement to Alexander Robinson. We feel White is an underrated scat-back. Opening holes up front will be top-50 tackle Kyle Lichtenberg (Bettendorf, Iowa). While Iowa State has a few solid additions in this group, Rhoades needs to improve the overall talent on this roster to climb out of the Big 12 North cellar.
Top prospect: Safety Deon Broomfield (Palm Bay, Fla./Bayside) was a nice land out of Florida. He is a prospect we think could develop into an All-Big 12 free safety. He has a long frame to add size, good range, speed and athleticism. Broomfield has a ton of physical development left and a great teacher in Rhoads, who will help him polish his raw tools. This is a good under-the-radar pickup for the Cyclones.
Don't be surprised if Iowa State's defense and turnover ratio greatly improve under Rhoads in 2009, which allows the Cyclones to muster a couple of Big 12 wins.
Although Bill Snyder, the legend of Manhattan, is back in the saddle for the Wildcats, there may not be a quick fix here. With an overflow of junior college prospects signed under the old regime, this program lacks both underclassman depth and the speed and athleticism that Snyder is used to having. With 14 high school commitments and another four juco prospects on board, this class is doing fine numbers-wise, but there are no program-changing type prospects on board just yet. We believe Snyder's influence on this program should be evaluated in the 2010 class and beyond. This is also one of the most rural, difficult places in the country to recruit to. The good news is that this program is getting into some talent rich states such as Florida, Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma.
Top prospect: Speaking of Louisiana, it is no surprise that S Torrell Miller (New Orleans/O. Perry Walker) hails from the Bayou State. Tall and rangy, Miller is a really good athlete who could possibly develop into an OLB in time.
Don't be surprised if K-State is better sooner, rather than later. No one understands and tackles the challenges of this program like Snyder.
It may lack true difference-makers, but given the dearth of in-state talent to cash in on, Kansas has a solid class heading into signing day. In our eyes, the Jayhawks have addressed most of their needs. We feel that consistently good programs are often made up of prospects who fall into the 77-79 grading range, and the Jayhawks claim seven in that range. Safety was a position that needed to be emphasized in this class and was with Darian Kelly (Girard, Kan.) and Prinz Kande (Euless, Texas/Trinity). Both are very active safeties with a good blend of range and physicality. We feel Kansas landed an in-state sleeper in Huldon Tharp (Mulvane, Kan.), an impressive all-around athlete with a good size-to-speed ratio. Another under-the-radar commit resides on the offensive side of the ball in the quick-footed Deshaun Sands (Coconut Creek, Fla./Monarch). While Sands is on the smaller size, we think he is a good fit as a "space player" in Mark Mangino's potent spread offense. He was overlooked in the fertile state of Florida. Opening up holes for Sands in the future will be the state's top-rated offensive guard, Riley Spencer (Hesston, Kan.).
Top prospect: Kansas may have gotten a steal in Tharp because of his ACL tear last summer. The No. 1-rated athlete out of Kansas held offers from other programs such as Stanford and Illinois, but presumably many more would have followed had he not sustained the injury. A multifaceted athlete, Tharp has the size, speed and skill set needed to develop into a solid outside linebacker for the Jayhawks. While he could use a bit more size, it's hard to ignore his good initial burst and reactive athleticism in attacking the football.
Don't be surprised if Bill Snyder and Kansas State win a couple of key in-state recruiting battles versus the Jayhawks in 2010.
Missouri concluded the 2008 season atop the Big 12 North, but it will most likely place in the bottom half of the entire Big 12 conference on signing day, similar to last February. The state of Missouri is not a hotbed for recruiting talent, but for the second consecutive year Gary Pinkel did manage to retain his state's top prospect in much-needed ESPNU 150 defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (St. Louis/Gateway Institute of Technology). Mizzou loaded up on receivers last year, but we still felt they needed an additional playmaker in this class, particularly with the early departure of Jeremy Maclin to the NFL. The Tigers stole one from Penn State in 6-foot-4 Jaleel Clark (Allentown, Pa./Parkland). The Tigers added talented youth up front with the state's top-ranked offensive tackle Jack Meiners (St. Louis/Chaminade). A top-30 positional prospecte, Meiners has great size and power and deceptive agility.
Top prospect: Although we haven't totally bought into the national hype surrounding Richardson, there is no denying his great athleticism for a 280-pounder. A recent addition into the ESPNU 150, Richardson is a versatile player and moves very well for a big guy. He originally was projected as a tight end by Scouts Inc., and although he still could play that position, he was switched to defensive tackle. Richardson's blend of size and quickness may be better used in college as a penetrating defensive lineman.
Don't be surprised if Blaine Gabbert, ESPN's No. 5-rated signal-caller in 2008, becomes the heir apparent to the electrifying Chase Daniel and puts together a fine career of his own.
Bo Pelini certainly did a commendable job igniting life back into a storied Nebraska program last fall. He is landing solid prospects to continue the turnaround in his first full recruiting season in Lincoln. This year's class doesn't have many difference-makers, but it's hard not to like the quality and blue-collar feel the group collectively possesses. The Cornhusker's top pledge is Texas native Cody Green (Dayton, Texas), a physically impressive quarterback who put up staggering stats as a senior. Pelini certainly went to his roots and upgraded the defensive side of ball, as well. We thought Nebraska needed to sign a well-rounded safety in this class, and it has one in Dijon Washington (Lawndale, Calif./Leuzinger), a top-30 positional prospect. The linebacker unit gets a boost from a stout run supporter in Chris Williams (Abilene, Texas) and the fast-attacking Earnest Norman (Euless, Texas/Trinity), one of the more underrated linebackers in this class. Pelini has a keen eye for developing raw defensive talent, and he's got a gem in corner Lazarri Middleton (Long Beach, Calif./Polytechnic) and one who's ready to play in DeAndre Byrd (Tallahassee, Fla./Lincoln).
Top prospect: Despite his high school productivity, we are not convinced yet that Green will remain under center as a quarterback in Lincoln. We believe that Green, like highly touted LSU commit Russell Shepard (Houston/Cypress Ridge), is a better athlete than a true quarterback prospect, and that he could see the field earlier at another position. He is a long, smooth runner with great initial quickness and movement skills for his impressive size. While he throws well on the run and gets rid of it quickly, his throwing mechanics need a lot of polish.
Don't be surprised if Nebraska's defensive line develops into one of the better units in the country with All-Big 12 defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh opting to return for his senior season. The swagger of the once-feared Blackshirts returns to Lincoln.
Billy Tucker is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. and has close to a decade of coaching experience at the college and high school level.
Tom Luginbill is the National Recruiting Director for ESPN's Scouts Inc.