One way to look at recruiting is sheer star power. If you're Ole Miss, for example, you just had a jarringly great recruiting class, and all those 5-star recruits signing feels mighty good. Here in the Big Ten, Ohio State's class was mighty good. So was Michigan's. Nebraska and Penn State? Not too shabby.
But recruiting's not about accumulating stars. You can't trade stars in for points. It's about identifying needs on the roster and filling those needs, and to that end the conversation about these recruiting classes shifts a bit. No, not everybody stocked their rosters with 4-star superhumans this year. But did they fill needs?
That's worth looking at, and today we take such a look at every Big Ten team.
Illinois head coach Tim Beckman
The obvious crown jewel of this class is dual-threat QB Aaron Bailey, who spurned offers from most of the Big Ten—including Nebraska and Ohio State—to come to Champaign-Urbana. With Nathan Scheelhaase set to graduate and Reilly O'Toole and Miles Osei getting up there in terms of eligibility, QB was a major need, and Bailey just turned the position from a potential liability to an outright strength.
Illinois needed to upgrade its offensive line and get more dynamic players on the perimeter, and while some of the members of this class won't make their impact felt immediately, it does seem like Tim Beckman went in the right direction on this one. He got offensive tackles Jesse Chadwell and Austin Schmidt to enroll early, and they'll be joined by JUCO OT Dallas Hinkhouse in the fall.
Meanwhile, DB Caleb Day is athletic enough to be a difference-maker, and he's part of a recruiting class with seven defensive backs. Two of the safeties are JUCO players, so this isn't an entirely overloaded class in the secondary, but you can expect Beckman to ease off on the defensive backs in the next couple years.
Illinois was also thin at wideout in 2013; Beckman responded with three signees, and that could turn into four if Miguel Hermosillo ends up at WR. Let's assume he does, as ESPN.com puts him there.
So all in all, in the OL, secondary and WRs alone, Beckman has 15 recruits. His entire class has 25. Yes, he was acutely aware of where his roster needed the most work.
Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson
Indiana's defense was bad in 2012. Bad, bad, bad. It was arguably worse in 2011, mind you, but it was still bad last season—and now the Hoosier's best defender, DT Adam Replogle, has graduated.
There are two ways to fix this problem in recruiting. You could go out and find the best, most gifted high school seniors who are capable of playing right away and beating out a seasoned collegian for a starting role (generally, these are 4- and 5-star recruits), or you can bring in guys with experience playing at the JUCO level, which at least physically is one step up from high school.
Kevin Wilson did both, and he added some key pieces to the offense in the process. Wilson signed two JUCO DTs to help ease the pain of losing Replogle, and if Christopher Cormier is good enough to see the field right away, he'll be a difference maker at the nose position, as he checks in at 6'2" and 330 pounds. We'll see how much of it is "good" weight, but at the very least, running between the tackles on the Hoosiers looks like it won't be as easy a proposition as it had been in years past.
On offense, the Hoosiers bring back a host of young starters, so their needs aren't glaring. But Stephen Houston won't be there forever, and to that end, Indiana signed 4-star RB Laray Smith and also brought in bigger RB Myles Graham. Smith is a burner who might work his way into the backfield rotation immediately, though it's not as if the Indiana offense will be hurting for playmakers in 2013.
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz
If it weren't for the horror show at Illinois, Iowa would have had the worst offense in the Big Ten; as it stands, it was still one of the worst in the nation. You can blame the coaching for that and there'd be some merit to it, but Iowa wasn't exactly beating many teams by sheer dint of athleticism.
Hopefully, then, the influx of wide receivers (five) and tailbacks (three) will produce enough playmakers that Iowa can start moving more than three yards at a time.
Michigan head coach Brady Hoke
We talked about Michigan's recruiting in terms of both star power and filling needs earlier. Suffice it to say Michigan did an awesome job, easily one of the best in the Big Ten. It's a Top 10 class nationally by any conceivable metric, and we're not going to argue with anyone who has Michigan in their top three.
If there's any nit to pick, it's that the cornerbacks and wideouts aren't quite on the level of the rest of the class, although Hoke signed so many of each that the competition ought to produce enough contributors to shore up any actual on-field weaknesses. Again: nit-picking here. It's a great class.
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio
It would have been nice to see Michigan State target more offensive linemen, as the unit in place right now is getting heavy with juniors and seniors. But there's enough depth there and only one graduating senior that Michigan State can get away with just adding stud tackle Dennis Finley from Cass Tech in Detroit.
The addition of Damion Terry, a dual-threat QB from Erie, Pa., is interesting. One quarterback in this class looks about right from a depth perspective, but Terry's unlike any quarterback Mark Dantonio has used at Michigan State. He's athletic, though not nearly as fast or elusive as a Braxton Miller or Devin Gardner. Think Nathan Scheelhaase here. He's got some happy feet in his drop-backs, but his mechanics and arm strength are both solid.
If we had to pick a comparison, in terms of skill sets, Terry is reminiscent of Donovan McNabb. Obviously McNabb's career was insanely good, and we're not suggesting Terry will reach those heights when it's all said and done, but the way they play is similar, and it'll be interesting to see how well Mark Dantonio utilizes those skills at QB when he's never really had to before.
Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill
If there was one glaring fault on the Minnesota Golden Gophers last season, it was the sheer lack of playmakers coming off the edge on defense. Yes, D.L. Wilhite was fine, but he wasn't great, and he graduated after 2012.
And if Minnesota can't put extra stress on opposing offensive tackles, its secondary is going to have a tough time covering wide receivers for five seconds at a time as the QB waits...and waits...and waits patiently for someone to get open.
That's why the addition of OLB De'Vondre Campbell, a lanky JUCO prospect who can create speed mismatches coming around the edge, should change the complexion of the Minnesota defense. Defensive ends Owen Salzwedel and Hendrick Ekpe, both high schoolers, join him in the 2013 class, and with any luck, Jerry Kill will have a functional pass rush on the edge in the very near future.
Kill also loaded up on WRs in this class, and while he'll need a couple years to turn high school QB (and late Missouri decommit) Donovahn Jones into a serviceable wideout, the potential payoff is huge.
Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini
After watching superstar QB prospect Bubba Starling spurn the Huskers and choose a professional baseball career last year, Nebraska couldn't afford to go another recruiting cycle without finding its future quarterback, and it found that this year in Johnny Stanton, a speedster from Southern California (stop us if that formula sounds familiar, Husker fans).
An even more glaring need was along the defensive line, which was ravaged by graduation and bids farewell to DT Chase Rome, who has finally left the program for good after a tumultuous go-around with coaches in 2012.
Bo Pelini reacted by recruiting six defensive linemen, and the crown jewel of that group is DE Randy Gregory, a JUCO star out of Arizona Western. He'll play right away, and he has serious All-Big Ten potential. There'll be a fight among the three incoming DTs to see if any can crack the two-deeps right away; odds are decent that at least one will.
Linebacker is also a position that needed a lot of help, and Nebraska brought in Courtney Love, Marcus Newby and Josh Banderas there. Don't be shocked if none of them redshirt.
This was a strong class for Nebraska, one that identified some real weak spots and hit them hard with solid prospects.
Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald
Kain Colter can't be in Evanston forever, but it is a fact that Northwestern is contractually obligated to trot out an undersized, scrappy quarterback who will make opposing fans tear their hair out at all times (Colter, Dan Persa, Mike Kafka, C.J. Bachér, Brett Basanez, Zak Kustok...we can keep going back as long as you'd like). And good heavens, has Pat Fitzgerald ever filled that need in this class.
Matt Alviti is a dual-threat QB from Maine South in the Chicagoland area, and he is generously listed as 6'0", and 192 pounds. He will also drive opposing defenses insane.
Northwestern bids farewell to most of its starting offensive line, but four linemen in this class should help the depth situation as Fitzgerald finds a good starting five for the 2013 season. Tyler Lancaster could stand to redshirt and add weight, but he could be Northwestern's next long-term starter at center after the highly underrated Brandon Vitabile graduates; Vitabile will be a junior in 2013.
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer
Ohio State has the best class in the Big Ten. We proved it with science and grades in this position-by-position breakdown from Wednesday. Go read that.
For as good as the star quality is, though, it's an even better class in terms of how it addresses holes and needs for the upcoming years. Urban Meyer is a master recruiter, and do not ever forget it.
Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien
Bill O'Brien was hamstrung by scholarship restrictions that kept him from doing things that most coaches would take for granted, like "take two or three wide receivers when you only need one" or "overload on the defensive line." O'Brien's forced to be a hole-plugger for the next few years, and to that end, he did a very good job with this recruiting class.
Obviously, QB was a major need and obviously getting Christian Hackenberg to sign was a major, major recruiting victory—arguably the best signing in the Big Ten. Tight end Adam Breneman should thrive in O'Brien's offense once he recovers from a torn ACL—though tight end isn't as much of a need as QB is.
The biggest needs were on defense, however, and Garrett Sickels and Zayd Issah look like future stars on a unit that could desperately use star power. Issah has the athleticism to play right away at linebacker and while Sickels could use a year to bulk up at end, he'll be pressed into action soon enough.
Purdue head coach Darrell Hazell
Purdue is terribly thin at tailback after seeing several players depart over the last couple years, and new head coach Darrell Hazell addressed that need in a big way by signing four ball-carriers in the 2013 class, headlined by David Yancey. You could see Dalyn Dawkins move to a slot role as well; he's got the size and agility to be put out in space.
Purdue's WR depth is also dwindling rapidly, and Hazell brought in three wideouts (four if Dawkins heads to the slot, obviously), so while there aren't any "oh my god" type of instant impact recruits among the mix, we could see big things from the likes of Dan Monteroso in due time.
Hazell avoided the offensive line in this class, though, and that's a surprising decision give that five linemen will graduate this year and, according to the roster, only nine offensive linemen will remain. Perhaps some tight ends will shift inside, but still—that's probably the most egregious instance of ignoring a team's need in the entire conference this year.
Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen
We love the signing of Tanner McEvoy, a uniquely talented JUCO quarterback with three years of eligibility, but quarterback wasn't even a need for Wisconsin; Joel Stave and Curt Phillips both started and did rather well for the Badgers, and Bart Houston is a former 4-star recruit with loads of potential.
And yet McEvoy has the talent to beat them all, and if that's the case, that's a major coup for new head coach Gary Andersen; recruiting an immediate starter at quarterback is as big of an upgrade as a team can possibly make.
The signing of Corey Clement at tailback is great; he's a future NFL-er. Wisconsin will need help on the defensive line very soon (though not this year), so seeing Chikwe Obasih and Alex James come aboard as defensive ends helps tremendously.