We're counting down the days until National Signing Day in college football, and with it comes the official word about these kids' hopes and dreams being put on the dotted line. Coaches finally get to mention their player by name, and the long, tiresome recruiting process for everyone who signs will at long last be over.
Most importantly, everyone will believe their class is great. Ah, February.
Here's a look at what's going on in the Big Ten on the recruiting front as that magical day winds ever closer.
First off, the state of the Big Ten as a whole is...well, it's not good. Michigan and Ohio State are leading the pack. Brady Hoke and Urban Meyer have both proven themselves to be great recruiters, and their classes are currently in the top five nationally in 247Sports.com's 2013 composite recruiting rankings.
It's just that the bottom drops out pretty hard after that. We'll let Eleven Warriors' Kyle Rowland put it into perspective:
ESPN currently ranks Vanderbilt's recruiting class No. 21, better than all Big Ten schools except Ohio State (fourth) and Michigan (sixth).— Kyle Rowland (@KyleRowland) January 24, 2013
Woof. To be fair, in the overall composite rankings, Nebraska's class comes in at No. 20 and Penn State's class is 22nd, compared to Vanderbilt's No. 28. ESPN is just one of many recruiting services. But still, yikes. If the Big Ten's planning on returning to its status as a premier college football conference, it's sure not recruiting like it.
Nebraska is putting the finishing touches on its class this month as it tries to reload a roster that loses 29 seniors. The Huskers boast eight commitments in the month of January, and the crown jewel of that pack is tailback Terrell Newby. You'll want to see this guy in action. Clips? Clips.
Newby's listed at 5'10" and 185 pounds, so Rex Burkhead he ain't, but he'll be a solid contributor as an Ameer Abdullah type in the Husker backfield, and like Abdullah it's possible we'll see him in the return game before he's taking on significant carries.
Over in Happy Valley, if there's a recruiting blowback from Bill O'Brien's brief flirtation with the NFL earlier in January, the effect is awfully delayed. O'Brien has kept his (necessarily) small but talented recruiting class intact, and he's already got on campus one half of what could well be the best quarterback/receiver combination in the Big Ten, as highly touted TE Adam Breneman enrolled early in January.
The other half of that duo is 5-star QB Christian Hackenberg, rated by 247Sports.com as the top quarterback prospect in the country. To Hackenberg's credit, his verbal commitment has held strong for nearly 11 months, and he's just a few short days away from making it binding. He won't be throwing to Breneman right away—Breneman's redshirting as he recovers from a torn ACL—but the two look like winners down the road.
Michigan's class continues to impress, and if you include Taylor Lewan's return for his senior season as part of the 2013 class, it's perhaps the best in the nation. Of course, nobody includes things like that in their recruiting rankings, so the Wolverines' class will have to stand on the merits of its incoming freshmen.
Three of such players to keep an eye on are OL Dan Samuelson, CB Reon Dawson and S Delano Hill. Those names are likely to make some Big Ten fans bristle, as all three players were committed to other conference programs until recently.
Hill, a product of the powerhouse Detroit Cass Tech (MI) program, decommitted from Iowa in December shortly after receiving an offer from Michigan. Samuelson flipped from Nebraska to Michigan on Jan. 12 and Dawson bid adieu to Illinois two days later before declaring his allegiance to the maize and blue.
Michigan's recruiting is almost done, but there's one last piece of the puzzle left, and it's looking like Derrick Green is that piece. Green is a 4-star RB from Virginia who's narrowed his choices down to Michigan, Auburn and Tennessee with Michigan now looking to be the heavy favorite (via Detroit Free Press). Green is expected to announce this weekend.
Ohio State is also wrapping up recruiting after a strong 2013 class, and it got a major boost when LB Mike Mitchell—a longtime target—finally committed to Ohio State at the U.S. Army All-American Game. Mitchell was a standout performer in summer camps in 2012 and figures to be a big part of the Buckeyes' future plans on defense.
All in all, Ohio State's class just barely tops Michigan's in 247Sports.com's composite team recruiting rankings for 2013. Will a Derrick Green commitment put Michigan back on top? We'll soon see.