Big Ten bowl season is officially over, ending in yet another disappointing 2-5 record. That record shrinks down to 2-7 if you include its two incoming programs, Maryland and Rutgers.
Now, with 2013 in the past, it's officially time for Big Ten fans to look to the future and hope for brighter days ahead—something they are all too familiar with doing. But are there reasons now for genuine optimism?
There might be. Ohio State is killing it on the recruiting trail—what else is new?—and Michigan thinks it might have found the next Charles Woodson. Recruiting on the whole has been decent this current cycle, though nothing to write home about.
With the All-American Bowls now also in the past, along with all of their commitments, here's a look at how all 14 Big Ten teams stack up.
Note: All rankings, unless otherwise noted, via the 247 Sports composite.
3-Star DE Nick Carovillano
247 Sports Class Rating: 142.15
Indiana is getting better each year, as Kevin Wilson continues to coach up the offense and make it a respectable unit.
It just hasn't translated to recruiting.
The Hoosiers have just 16 players committed this cycle—14 3-stars and two even lower than that. None of the incoming players is ranked among the top 850 on the 247Sports composite, which is inexcusable at a power-conference school.
This is a huge step back after 2013, when the Hoosiers placed No. 7 in the Big Ten. That class of rising sophomores now has even more pressure to develop and carry this program.
4-Star RB Jeff Jones
247 Sports Class Rating: 141.51
Four-star running back Jeff Jones is the kind of guy who can change a program, and he showed as much with an impressive performance in the Under Armour All-American Bowl on Thursday.
That's the good news.
The bad news is that Jones, currently committed to the Gophers, is being heavily pursued by the Florida Gators, who are scrambling after the loss of Dalvin Cook to Florida State. If he flips, Minnesota would have the worst class in the Big Ten—by a long shot.
For now, his presence helps it edge out the Hoosiers.
3-Star QB David Blough
247 Sports Class Rating: 152.98
Purdue's class is headlined by a player, 4-star quarterback David Blough, it hopes can be a true program-changer. The Boilermakers desperately need another passer to step up and continue their tradition of great quarterback play.
Ultimately, the development of Blough might define this 2014 class, though its depth is also quite impressive. Blough is just one of 17 3-star recruits heading to West Lafayette, which should help—at the very least—provide some competition at the many areas of need.
Purdue is a far cry from where it once was and wants to be. But it still played Notre Dame and Michigan State close in 2013, so it's not like this team is utterly incapable of being good.
If this class can somehow outperform its ranking, it would be a huge help.
3-Star WR Tyrin Stone-Davis
247 Sports Class Rating: 152.53
Gone are the days of Ron Zook—for better or worse. During the regular season, it's probably for better.
On the recruiting trail, it's certainly for worst.
Still, Illinois had a nice bounceback season in 2013 and now has a solid enough class to build around. Tyrin Stone-Davis, a 6'3'' wide receiver, is one of the best athletes Illinois has landed in quite some time. He can really fly down the field; he just needs to work on some technical skills.
Jihad Ward and Joe Fotu are some solid additions across the defensive line, while Chayce Crouch is a good-sized quarterback (6'4'') for Tim Beckman and Co. to develop.
All things considered, this class could be worse.
3-Star RB Markel Smith
247 Sports Class Rating: 167.51
Iowa is one of just four Big Ten teams that doesn't have a 4-star recruit, joining the likes of Indiana, Illinois and Purdue.
That is never where you want to be.
There are a few reasons for optimism—most notably on offense, where athlete Jay Scheel, running back Markel Brown, quarterback Tyler Wiegers and tight end Matt Nelson headline the class—but for the most part, this is a disappointing group.
A nice bounceback season in Iowa City did not quite translate to recruiting.
4-Star WR Saeed Blacknall
247 Sports Class Ranking: 182.87
Rutgers has a deep class signed up before its first season in the Big Ten, which is exactly what the Scarlet Knights need. If 2013 was any indication, there are holes on almost every part of this roster.
Receiver Saeed Blacknall is a big, strong receiver (6'3'', 210 lbs) who could develop into another Brandon Coleman-type in time. With Coleman entering the 2014 NFL draft, however, he will be losing a valuable potential role model.
Other than Wisconsin with 25, no Big Ten school has more commits than Rutgers' 23. Even if most don't jump off the page as can't-miss prospects, bringing in so many FBS-level players should be a good step forward for this program.
4-Star OT Derwin Gray
247 Sports Class Rating: 160.59
Like Northwestern, which we'll get to later, Maryland makes up for a shallow class with a top-heavy one. Despite having just 14 commitments—second-to-worst in the conference—the Terps already have four 4-star recruits locked up.
The crown jewel right now is offensive tackle Derwin Gray, the No. 2 overall JUCO prospect in the nation. If Maryland can land 5-star tackle Damian Prince—a big "if," but not inconceivable in any way—it would be bringing in two of the best bookend blockers in the country.
Those guys could make an immediate impact, while some of the other 4-stars are high-upside prospects. Dual-threat quarterback Will Ulmer is expected to be the future under center in College Park, and his development behind C.J. Brown next year will be of utmost importance.
4-Star JUCO DT Terrell Clinkscales (right)
247 Sports Class Rating: 189.37
Last recruiting cycle, Nebraska hit a home run with JUCO defensive end Randy Gregory, who stepped in and immediately became an All-Big Ten player. Could this cycle be the same?
Incoming JUCO recruit Terrell Clinkscales is a mountain of a man, checking in at 6'4'' and 310 pounds. A consensus top 10 player in the JUCO ranks, he could step in and quickly plug some glaring holes in the middle of Nebraska's run defense.
Fixing the run defense is a consistent theme for this class, which also includes highly ranked defensive tackles like Peyton Newell and Joe Keels.
Dual-threat quarterback Zack Darlington is another name to keep an eye on—especially now that Taylor Martinez is gone from Lincoln.
4-Star CB Parrker Westphal
247 Sports Class Rating: 185.35
Northwestern's class isn't deep—currently comprised of just 15 players—but what the Wildcats lack in depth, they make up for in top-heaviness.
Pat Fitzgerald has landed four 4-star recruits so far this cycle, most notably cornerback Parrker Westphal and running back Justin Jackson. Both are better athletes, from a purely physical perspective, than Northwestern is used to landing, which could make a difference in this highly disciplined system.
This class also has a "quarterback of the future" candidate in 6'4'' Clayton Thorson. He's a pro-style passer, which doesn't fit exactly into Fitzgerald's offenses of years past, but Thorson has the quality arm to make it work.
4-Star DB Montae Nicholson
247 Sports Class Rating: 195.45
Michigan State is already reaping the fruits of its 2013 season, securing a recent commitment from safety Montae Nicholson, its first (and only) 4-star commit to date.
The rest of this group is classic Mark Dantonio: big, angry, physical players who might be a bit overlooked nationally, but who fit nicely into his system. Guys like fullback Gerald Owens, ILB Deon Drake and OLB Chris Frey all fit that bill.
This class could get a lot better in a heartbeat, too. No. 37 overall player Malik McDowell, a defensive end, was once thought to be a lock for Michigan but is now very much in play for the Spartans.
After each team's respective season, who could rightfully blame him?
4-Star DT Craig Evans
247 Sports Class Rating: 209.27
In some ways, this is the prototypical Badgers recruiting class. The highest-ranked players are an offensive tackle and defensive tackle, Jaden Gault and Craig Evans, while the rest of the group is littered with big, burly bodies.
However, this class might also be defined by a very non-Wisconsin newcomer: dual-threat quarterback D.J. Gillins.
Standing 6'3'' and hailing from Jacksonville, Fla., Gillins is much more in line with Gary Andersen's old Utah State quarterback, Chuckie Keeton, than most of the ones Bret Bielema developed in Madison. If he develops as planned, he should have a much easier time with Andersen's offense than Joel Stave has had.
The times in Wisconsin are changing.
4-Star DT Thomas Holley
247 Sports Class Rating: 217.89
A pair of defensive tackles could become instant run-stuffing contributors in Happy Valley. Four-star Thomas Holley and JUCO transfer Tarow Barney both have the size and skills to become useful players up the middle—especially the former, who checks in at 6'4'' and 285 pounds.
In DeAndre Thompkins and Chris Davis, Penn State also brings in a pair of highly underrated wide receiver prospects, both of whom are rated higher by 247 Sports itself than on the composite. Now that Allen Robinson is gone, they will need to establish a rapport with quarterback Christian Hackenberg quickly.
Also keep an eye on Mike Gesicki, whom 247 Sports ranks the best tight end in the class. Along with rising sophomore Adam Breneman, Hackenberg will not lack for big, athletic targets across the middle.
5-Star ATH Jabrill Peppers
247 Sports Class Rating: 236.11
Michigan's biggest rival has the undisputed best class in the conference; from top to bottom, that cannot be denied.
But Michigan itself has the undisputed biggest name.
Five-star athlete Jabrill Peppers is the No. 2 overall player in the country, and some prefer him even more than No. 1 running back Leonard Fournette. Whether it's under center, split out wide or—as he's projected to play at Michigan—in defensive coverage, Peppers pops off tape and has serious NFL potential.
The eight 4-star commits are evenly dispersed among positions, which is a good thing, and 3-star quarterback Wilton Speight should add depth behind Shane Morris.
247 Sports Class Rating: 292.56
Despite the ugly end to the season, when OSU lost back-to-back games against Michigan State and Clemson, the Buckeyes continue to dominate on the recruiting trail.
The rich kept getting richer during Saturday's Army All-American Game, when the Glenville secondary duo of Marshon Lattimore and Erick Smith both pledged to play in Columbus. Ohio State now sits firmly with the No. 2 class in America, ahead of everyone except Alabama.
Five-star ILB Raekwon McMillan is the crown jewel of the class, but guys like Dante Booker and Curtis Samuel have the chance to come in and become instant-impact players.
Both top-heavy and deep, this is, as always, an impressive group of prospects for the Bucks.