It's late November, and college football coaches, players and fans have all turned their attentions to finishing strong down the stretch, conference championships, bowl games and even BCS runs. But coaches have another ongoing task that is almost forgotten this time of year: recruiting.
November might actually be one of the more important months on the calendar when it comes to recruiting. Official visits during rivalry games have a major impact on a potential recruit's decision, and winning or losing can be all that's needed to sway a prospect one way or the other.
So where do the various Big Ten teams—including 2014 newcomers Maryland and Rutgers—stand in recruiting heading into the final few weeks of the 2013 college football season? I'm glad you asked!
We're forced to wonder exactly how the currently upward trend of Minnesota is going to continue while Jerry Kill's health remains a concern. Everyone certainly wishes Coach Kill the best, but if his health is preventing him from coaching on the sidelines, what does that do to Minnesota's recruiting?
The Golden Gophers haven't been the choice destination for the conference's top recruits for some time now, and based on early reports, it doesn't look like it's going to be in 2014, either.
Minnesota has eight commits thus far for 2014, the most noteworthy being 4-star running back Jeff Jones. Jones holds the distinction of being the top recruit from Minnesota for the class of 2014 and is listed as the No. 9 overall running back nationally (based on 247Sports.com's Composite Rankings).
Illinois is lagging behind the rest of the conference in the standings—still in search of its first conference win since 2011—as well as in recruiting. In a frustratingly vicious cycle, one is feeding the other.
It falls to head coach Tim Beckman to break that cycle, and so far, we're not seeing any signs of him doing that. Illinois has 14 commits already for the Class of 2014, but none of them have been given above a 3-star rating from 247Sports.com's Composite Rankings.
Wide receiver Tyrin Stone-Davis is easily the top pickup for Beckman thus far. A 247Sports.com Composite 3-star (but 4-star from the site's internal rankings), Stone-Davis is one of the top 25 overall JUCO transfers for the Class of 2014 and could pay big dividends if he lives up to the hype as one of the top WR transfers.
Firing Danny Hope was supposed to be the first step in the rebuilding process in West Lafayette. Now, we're going to see how quickly Darrell Hazell can turn things around, at least from a recruiting standpoint.
So far, there's not a ton to get excited about if you're a Boilermakers fan. Purdue's list of 11 commits is without a single 247Sports.com 4-star prospect, not to mention 5-star recruits. So far, David Blough, a pro-style QB from Carrollton, Texas, is one of the top recruits Hazell has signed for 2014.
But Blough isn't even among the top 50 recruits from the state of Texas in the Class of 2014, according to 247Sports.com's Composite Rankings, so it's difficult to see any massive talent boost coming in the near future at "the cradle of quarterbacks."
Could you just imagine if Indiana could combine its current explosive offense with a defense that's at least halfway serviceable? Head coach Kevin Wilson is probably having the same thought.
Two of Indiana's top recruits thus far are on the defensive side of the football. Defensive tackle Michael Barwick and defensive end Nick Carovillano are both 247Sports.com 3-star prospects from Ohio, and both may be called upon to contribute early, as Indiana's defense ranks dead last in the conference, giving up 534.8 yards per game.
Still, with just 12 3-star recruits (and a pair of 2-stars) already committed, Wilson would do well to try and snag at least one big-name defensive prospect before we tie a bow on the Class of 2014.
Maryland will become a member of the Big Ten in 2014, and so it's only fair to take a peek into the recruiting of the Terrapins when it comes to the Class of 2014. Maryland head coach Randy Edsall has been improving his team in each of his three seasons, from 2-10 in 2011 to 4-8 last season.
The Terps already have five wins in 2013, and with games against Boston College and NC State remaining, it's not out of the realm of possibility to see Maryland playing in a bowl this year.
Edsall also seems to be doing fairly well on the recruiting trail, perhaps playing up his program's move to the Big Ten. Unlike the programs we've looked at thus far, Maryland has landed several 247Sports.com 4-star recruits already.
Defensive end Jesse Aniebonam, a 4-star recruit from Olney, Md., is one of the top 10 defensive end prospects in the nation, according to 247Sports.com. As Maryland moves toward its first Big Ten season, adding more top defensive prospects—not to mention a few playmakers on offense—will be a must if the Terps are to be competitive right out of the gate.
Another lackluster season in Iowa City is leading to another lackluster recruiting class for Kirk Ferentz's Iowa Hawkeyes. Notice I'm not saying "bad," just "lackluster."
Iowa will most likely return to a bowl game this season after sitting out last year, but a 6-4 record heading into games against Michigan and Nebraska isn't exactly the kind of season that thrills the fan base. Iowa's recruiting haul so far this year isn't raising many eyebrows, either.
The 16 verbal commitments Ferentz has gathered to this point don't include a single 4- or 5-star prospect. With the lack of any exciting accomplishments to point toward this season, it's possible, if not likely, that the Class of 2014 will be finalized without any.
Just when you thought Northwestern had turned a corner in the history of the program, the Wildcats go out and lay the mother of all eggs in conference play. Northwestern is a shocking 0-6 in the Big Ten this season, and there's no question that's going to hurt the recruiting fortunes of Pat Fitzgerald and company.
Despite the collapse Northwestern is suffering in 2013, Fitzgerald has been able to attract a few top recruits to the academic rigors of Evanston. Led by 247Sports.com 4-star all-purpose back Justin Jackson, Northwestern's Class of 2014 is shaping up to be one of the program's best in years. Add in 4-star QB Clayton Thorson, and it's clear the Northwestern offense will be in good hands moving forward.
All of the turmoil that the Nebraska program has gone through this season apparently hasn't slowed the recruiting process. Bo Pelini has been busy sorting through the verbal commitments, all of them from recruits rated 3-star-or-better by 247Sports.com.
Pelini has even attracted the talents of highly touted wide receiver prospect Robert Lockhart, one of the best wide receiver recruits nationally and a top ten overall prospect out of Florida. If he's everything he's cracked up to be, Cornhuskers fans can look forward to more spectacular receiving performances in the upcoming years.
If Rutgers was planning on remaining in the increasingly football-deficient American Athletic Conference with the likes of Tulane, East Carolina and Tulsa—all joining in 2014—the Scarlet Knights might find themselves out-recruiting almost every team in the conference. But the Big Ten is heads and shoulders beyond the AAC, and Rutgers comes in at No. 6 on my list for the Class of 2014.
That doesn't mean Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood hasn't been hitting the recruiting trail hard. He has already received 23 verbal commitments—more than any other 2014 Big Ten program—and nearly all of them (20) are from 3- or 4-star prospects.
Saeed Blacknall, a 4-star wideout prospect, has opted to stay close to home, playing college football in his home state of New Jersey. As one of the top 20 wide receiver prospects nationally, it should be clear to most Big Ten watchers that Coach Flood knows what his Knights are in for come next season, and he's recruiting to compete.
Moving from a Big East/AAC-style program to the Big Ten isn't an easy transition—just ask Rich Rodriguez. But Rutgers has played the role of underdog before, and it's resulted in some rousing success.
Michigan State, heading for a second Legends Division championship in three seasons, is riding its No. 1 nationally rated defense toward Indianapolis on December 7—and quite possibly a BCS bowl come January. Clearly, Mark Dantonio knows a thing or two about building a defensive powerhouse.
But the one thing that has kept MSU from climbing to what many see as the Spartans' rightful place in the BCS Top 10 is a less-than-impressive offense (ranked 88th in the FBS). Indeed, Michigan State is the only one-loss team from a "power five" conference (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) that is not ranked in the Top 10 of the latest BCS rankings.
So it might not be all that surprising to see MSU attempting to beef up its offensive credentials with the Class of 2014. Of MSU's 17 verbal commitments thus far, three of the most important have all come on offense. Ohio QB recruit Chris Durkin, FB/OL Brian Allen from Illinois and FB Gerald Owens out of New Jersey—the nation's No. 1 overall FB prospect—have all chosen to play their college ball in East Lansing.
Even after losing touted 4-star WR Drake Harris to rival Michigan because he wanted to play for a winning program, Michigan State still seems to be on the right path on the recruiting trail this season. And maybe after MSU's 29-6 beat down of the Wolverines, Harris is regretting his uninformed decision.
How does Bill O'Brien do it? Despite facing crippling scholarship limits and a continuing bowl ban from the NCAA, O'Brien is still attracting top talent to Happy Valley. Giving hope to throngs of Nittany Lions fans across the nation, Penn State has already received 15 verbals for 2014, three of which have come from players rated as 4-star prospects by 247Sports.com.
There seems to be a clear desire to provide freshman phenom quarterback Christian Hackenberg with some wide receiver weapons. Two of Penn State's three 4-star verbals are from wideouts Chris Godwin and DeAndre Thompkins.
And with those aforementioned scholarship limits, there's a decent chance we'll be seeing Godwin and Thompkins suiting up on Saturdays come next autumn.
What is and has been the identity of Wisconsin football? Big, strong, power run games. Even a new head coach, Gary Andersen, isn't changing that identity.
And why should Andersen shake things up drastically? Wisconsin has won at least a share of the last three Big Ten titles, and the Badgers are rolling along this season with a 8-2 mark.
Even though 2013 won't end in a Big Ten title for the Badgers, Andersen clearly is planning on fixing that in the near term. The Class of 2014 already includes some big names on both the offensive and defensive lines, and the addition of 247Sports.com's No. 5 dual-threat QB and 4-star prospect D.J. Gillins has the Badgers looking pretty solid.
While people in Columbus and East Lansing are reveling in the struggles of Michigan this season, informed observers might see a different kind of Michigan team being rebuilt from the ground up. One of the reasons Michigan hired Brady Hoke—a coach straight out of the Schembechler/Carr School of Coaching—was to transform Michigan back into a true Big Ten team after Rich Rodriguez did his best to tear that all down in favor of the spread, Big East model.
Add seven of eight prospects with 4-star-or-higher ratings from 247Sports.com, and Ann Arbor is quickly becoming a town flush with football talent once again. Led by 5-star athlete Jabrill Peppers, Hoke is again putting together not only one of the best recruiting classes in the Big Ten, but also a top 10 class nationally, according to 247Sports.com's team rankings.
With Hoke recruiting just the kind of "Michigan Men" football fans at the Big House have become accustomed to over the decades, the only thing left for the Wolverines to do is to put the remaining pieces in place to compete with the likes of Michigan State and Ohio State on the field.
Outside of the SEC, there isn't a single program or a single head coach capable of attracting football talent like Ohio State and Urban Meyer. If the Big Ten were to decide to shake off the last vestiges of academics—like many believe the SEC has—it's possible Ohio State could quickly begin to challenge the Crimson Tide and their ilk for the top recruiting class spots.
Still, Urban Meyer is doing an outstanding job on the recruiting trail. Ohio State has already received 17 verbal commitments, 13 of which have come from 4-star prospects as ranked by 247Sports.com. With as many 4-stars as many other Big Ten teams have total commits, it shouldn't surprise anyone that the Buckeyes get my top spot in recruiting at this point.
Now, if the Buckeyes could work on scheduling some tough out-of-conference opponents, they'd be able to close the strength-of-schedule gaps on the SEC, too. At least Ohio State—and the rest of the Big Ten—isn't scheduling FCS teams late in November.
Seriously, Alabama? Chattanooga?
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