Oh, the Big Ten.
Little drab, little sad. Little slow, little weak.
We need hope around here. And in college football, hope springs eternal with every single recruiting class, every group of 15-25 guys about whom a coach couldn't be more excited, as he'll be happy to tell you on National Signing Day.
And, yet, let's be honest: not all recruits are created equal. Some of them are ready to be difference-makers, some of them are "projects" and some...well...some just play hard and give it their best.
Let's look at those difference-makers—the guys who are going to put the Big Ten back on the map.
Look out for Shane Morris.
Since making his verbal commitment to Michigan well over a year ago, Morris hasn't rested on his laurels, spending the offseason at summer camps, wowing scouts and spreading the gospel of Michigan football.
Morris can move in the pocket, he's athletic enough to take off running, his mechanics are sharp and his accuracy is solid. Most importantly, he has shown off a stronger arm—one that'll allow to make every throw necessary at the college level.
Morris should be able to compete for the quarterback job right away, though we're sure Brady Hoke would like the luxury of being able to redshirt Morris if need be. He could be just too good to keep off the field, though.
It's going to be up to Russell Bellomy and perhaps also Devin Gardner to fend Morris off. But that starting job will ultimately be his.
If Morris is the top quarterback in the 2013 recruiting class, it's not by much, as Christian Hackenberg is right up there with him in the national rankings.
Hackenberg is arguably the most important recruit in the 2013 class, and Penn State fans are likely dying to get to February 1 so Hackenberg can get his name on the dotted line already.
The prospect of a quarterback like Hackenberg learning and performing in Bill O'Brien's offense from Day 1 is drool-worthy, considering the arm Hackenberg has—and the smarts to go with it.
Now, he won't have a full group of teammates around him for his entire Penn State career, and he's coming into a situation where he won't be eligible to play in the postseason for the vast majority of his career, especially if he doesn't redshirt (and with Paul Jones leaving the Penn State program, it's pretty obvious Penn State will not want Hackenberg to redshirt).
But if Hackenberg can get past all that and comes to Happy Valley anyway, he'll be the difference between an absolute disaster of a Penn State team and one that has a fighting chance to win nearly every week.
He'll also be a hero to a fanbase that'll appreciate him more than any other fanbase could even fathom.
As frightening physical prospects go, perhaps nobody strikes fear into the hearts of opposing offensive linemen (and coordinators) like Joey Bosa, a 6'6", 260-pound terror out of Florida.
Bosa's an Ohio State commit, and with John Simon graduating and Johnathan Hankins likely to get a good enough draft rating to leave early, the Ohio State defensive line is going to be a fertile ground for playing-time opportunity.
And we know Urban Meyer has no qualms about letting true freshmen, if they're ready, earn their way onto the field.
And make no mistake, even for being relatively young for his class (he won't turn 18 until July 2013), Bosa is physically ready to be on that field and make a difference right now. He's got the speed to play on the edge, the power to play in the middle and the versatility to move between the two spots on a down-by-down basis.
Think Jared Crick, but more athletic. Yeah.
So Ohio State's in extraordinarily good position here, both with its existing four defensive line recruits and with guys like Bosa coming down the pipeline.
Another early commitment to Michigan's 2013 class is safety Dymonte Thomas, one of the best prospects in the state of Ohio and the type of athlete Brady Hoke will need to get on the field as fast as possible—however possible.
Thomas excels at the high school level at tailback, where—through the first three contests of his senior year—he's averaging about 200 yards and three touchdowns per game.
But he projects as a safety at the next level and has outstanding closing speed and tackling ability to make a smooth transition to defense.
That's very good news for a secondary that's going to be losing Jordan Kovacs, especially since Thomas Gordon has been merely serviceable at the other safety position thus far. Maybe Gordon makes a leap toward greatness.
Maybe. But Thomas likely will make such a leap at some point in his career.
And even if Thomas can't get into the starting lineup on Day 1, Hoke must be loving the prospect of putting a guy like him in at gunner on special teams and watching the destruction unfold.
When Johnny Stanton committed to Nebraska back in July, a great cheer went up from the city of Lincoln.
And it's easy to see why: he's a fast, dangerous runner out of the option look and a surprisingly good passer. And he's got size, too, at 6'2" and a solid 215 pounds. All that from a guy coming out of California and going to Nebraska? Sounds a little familiar.
Unfortunately, Stanton tore his ACL early in his senior season. He's still committed to the Huskers, and by the same token, the Huskers remain committed to him as he rehabs and gets set for his first year in red and white in 2013.
It'd be in everyone's best interests if he redshirts as his rehab progresses, especially with Taylor Martinez's senior season coming up. But, come 2014, don't expect the Nebraska offense to slow down once the Johnny Stanton era begins.
Cam Burrows is going to wow Ohio State fans for years to come with his pure ability to cover ground at the cornerback position. He's rangy and has room to grow, and his football speed is good enough to take any deep threat out of the equation.
Moreover, you see a strong ability to play the ball at its highest point from Burrows, and he's able to make these plays in coverage without mauling the guy in front of him. Cornerback is about athleticism, absolutely, but the difference between a good cornerback and a great one is instincts. And Burrows has those instincts.
Look for him to find his way onto the field early for Urban Meyer, either in nickel situations or even pushing for time in a rotation at cornerback.
Redshirting an athlete like this does not appear to be a serious option.
If there's one prospect in the 2013 class who is going to frustrate opposing defenses to the point that they're biting clean through their mouth protectors, it's Matt Alviti, a Northwestern commit.
Alviti isn't physically imposing, whatsoever, at 6'0" (see: not actually six feet tall) and about 170 pounds (this will rise as he participates in college strength and conditioning). He can move in and out of the pocket pretty well, but you can find guys who can do that in D-II. And his arm strength isn't going to knock any of his receiver's cleats off.
But the kid just makes plays—over and over and over. His change of direction is stellar, which is going to keep defenders off-balance in both pass pursuit and in the open field. His mechanics are rock-solid, which means his passes go exactly where they're supposed to be. He keeps his eyes up on his scrambles, which means if someone comes open, he'll know.
But what we love most about Alviti is his footwork.
He can throw on a rollout effectively because he throws off the proper foot. If he's rolling left, he gets his feet re-set then throws. There's no jitteriness in the pocket, no short-arming throws (something that's downright endemic in Big Ten dual-threat QBs these days) and no breakdown of mechanics if he feels rushed. His throws are solid every single time.
That's poise. That's intelligence. That's what drives opposing defenses crazy.
That's what's going to make Alviti one of the Big Ten's best quarterbacks.
Yes, a guy who's not even going to be on the field for a minimum of 23 months (and won't even be signing his letter of intent for another 16 months) is an odd choice for a list of players who'll quickly revitalize the conference.
But good gravy, that highlight film...from a sophomore in high school? That is unreal athleticism. And, for as sexy as long touchdown runs and "hey we can even split this guy out wide" plays look, the real jaw-dropper is watching Ferns play linebacker. His lateral movement is unbelievable. He can get sideline to sideline in a hurry. He hits aggressively and forcefully.
And again: he's a sophomore.
It's hard to imagine a scenario where Ferns isn't a star for Michigan, unless that scenario involves some combination of injury, sloth and criminal misbehavior. He's a natural linebacker. He's Brian Urlacher II: the Re-Urlaching. He's Ray Lewis and Derrick Brooks mixed together (Derray Broowis). He's off the charts.
And unless someone convinces him otherwise in the next 16 months, he's a Michigan Wolverine.