Thanks to the rise of the internet, the growth of televised sports, and the ingenuity of a few early pioneers who found a college football niche aching to be covered relentlessly, we now have a day on the college football calendar that is nearly as important to fans as game days. National signing day has become the stuff dreams are made of. Classes fill up with players that are perfect proxies for the hopes of fans. No one has messed up yet, failed to develop, been kicked off the team, or suffered a string of injuries. Each class is, in a word, perfect.
Although, some classes are more prefect than others as this season's Big Ten recruiting season has shown in spades.
Big Two, Little Ten:
Like it or not, when it comes to the 2012 recruiting class in the Big Ten, there are Michigan and Ohio State, then everybody else.
The Wolverines started off hot on the heels of Brady Hoke's hire last January. By the end of the summer most of Michigan's 2012 class had been filled up, and quite impressively so. The Wolverines were able to lock down a trio of highly touted defensive players from the mitten state (Royce Jenkins-Stone, James Ross, and Terry Richardson) while having great success in Ohio. Coach Hoke was able to pull a number of four-star recruits from the Buckeye state, headlined by offensive linemen Kyle Kalis --- a former Ohio State commit --- and defensive linemen Chris Wormley and Tom Stroble. The biggest commit, however, is probably Ondre Pipkins, a behemoth defensive tackle from Missouri that recently impressed in the Army All American game.
All told, Michigan has 16 players that garner four stars from at least one of the four major recruiting sites (Rivals, Scout, ESPN, and 24/7). Two of the recruits, Kalis and Pipkins, are five-stars to Rivals, and Michigan is still in the running for a handful of four-star prospects.
That might have been good enough for the best class in the Big Ten had Ohio State not made a late push under Urban Meyer.
The Buckeye's class languished all season long as the team struggled on the field and uncertainty surrounded the head coaching position. Then, right on cue Urban Meyer rode in and saved the day. He solidified the recruits already committed --- including Bri'onte Dunn, who had a long flirtation with Michigan --- and added three defensive ends and a defensive tackle all rated four or five stars (Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington, Tommy Schutt, and Se'Von Pitman), and two of whom (Schutt and Pittman) were committed to other Big Ten schools before flipping.
Ohio State's class is slightly smaller that Michigan's but is heavy on top talent (four players are five stars on Scout, and one player, Noah Spence is a consensus five-star).
As the next week and a half wind down on the way to signing day, these two schools will be fighting tooth and nail to finish the class strong. No matter who wins the title for "best class", both Michigan and Ohio State have positioned themselves well for the future.
Fighting for Third Place:
Outside of the top two, you would be hard pressed to find a better class than the one that Wisconsin has been able to put together so far. The Badgers have only 12 commits currently, but seven of them are getting four-star consideration from at least one site. Even more, the recruits fit Wisconsin well. Three of the four star players are offensive linemen, one is a running back and another is a quarterback, setting Wisconsin up well to continue its recent offensive success down the road.
Behind the Badgers is a Penn State team that seems to be moving backwards. The Nittany Lions have just 13 commits right now after losing four-star linebacker Camren Williams to Ohio State. The bleeding could get worse if Williams' classmate Armani Reeves, a four-star cornerback, decides to switch his commitment to either Michigan or Ohio State --- both are currently recruiting him hard.
Michigan State hasn't been able to turn its recent on-field success into better recruiting, as the Spartans have just one consensus four star, receiver Aaron Burbridge, and three others with four-star consideration. The rest of the class is solidly in the three-star range.
Iowa's class is bigger --- with 18 commits --- but outside a solid top group of three consensus four-stars and a few three and four-star types, there is a lot of two-star and unrated players at the bottom of the list (ten players either have a two-star rating by at least one service or are not ranked).
Nebraska's class is the smallest in the conference so far with just 11 commits, but seven of the 11 get four-star consideration from at least one of the sites. The class is also heavy on linebackers. There are currently four committed to Nebraska; over one third of the class.
Minnesota (26), Purdue (25), and Indiana (24) are currently the three largest classes in the conference, but will all likely be surpassed by Michigan which has room for five more commitments.
Northwestern has 20 commits including Ifeadi Odenigbo, a consensus four-star defensive end.
Illinois class is currently what you would expect from a team that collapsed over the back half of the season, fired its coach, and hired a guy from the MAC. The Illini have 13 commits and not one is considered a four-star by any of the major recruiting services.
In the end, any discussion of a recruiting class is premature before national signing day when these verbal commitments become binding signatures for the next year. Lots of things will change over the next week and a half. It will be fun for some and heartbreaking for others. No wonder we love recruiting so much. It is hard to get this kind of drama anywhere else.