Whose Football Recruiting Class Is Best in the Big Ten, Ohio State or Michigan?

Adam Jacobi@Adam_JacobiBig Ten Football Lead WriterFebruary 6, 2013

Whose Football Recruiting Class Is Best in the Big Ten, Ohio State or Michigan?

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    The 2013 national signing day is more or less in the books and the obvious winners in the Big Ten are Michigan and Ohio State. Both schools put together consensus top 10 recruiting classes, and Scout.com has the Buckeyes and Wolverines ranked  No. 1 and No. 2, respectively (and by a comfortable margin) as of Wednesday afternoon.

    Ah, but which is better? There, the debate truly begins. 

    There are two ways to evaluate recruiting. The first is in terms of pure numbers and star power. That's not an invalid way to evaluate classes, and rare is the class filled with 4- and 5-star prospects that completely flames out or otherwise fails to make a significant impact on the first. 

    There's also the issue of whether the class adequately fills the needs of the roster. This is more of a complicated issue than who graduated or transferred, because replacing guys at every one of those positions is only a perfect fit if the roster was at a perfect equilibrium before graduations, and nobody believes that about their rosters.

    There are always strong and weak spots before graduation and as such a position can still need to be addressed without anyone leaving it. So that's something well worth consideration.

    Got all that? Good. Let's go position by position and declare a winner, once and for all. Or for this February, anyway.



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    Michigan: Shane Morris

    The Wolverines say goodbye to three-year starter Denard Robinson, but at the very least Devin Gardner started the last four games of the 2012 season and he's got two more years of eligibility. Past that the cupboard's pretty bare, especially when it comes to having a plan for the post-Gardner era. Shane Morris is exactly what Michigan needed.

    Morris is a 5-star QB prospect who kept an unwavering commitment to the Wolverines for over 20 months as he waited for National Signing Day, all while continuing to improve as a passer even when he already had an offer in hand. He is the quarterback of the future that Michigan needed.

    Talent: A+

    Filling needs: A+

    Ohio State: J.T. Barrett

    Barrett is not likely to see significant playing time in 2013 as Braxton Miller is back for his junior season and top backup Kenny Guiton is there for his senior season. And yet, Urban Meyer doesn't exactly like to redshirt players if he doesn't have to.

    So if Barrett can work his way onto the field, even in garbage time (and there'll be plenty of that in September, as Ohio State's non-conference schedule is a joke), Meyer just might let him play.

    What Barrett brings to the table is freakish athleticism on par with Braxton Miller. If he can get his passing up to par he'll be the next in a long line of great dual-threat quarterbacks in the scarlet and gray.

    At the very least he's going to spend his first year or two watching how the offense runs with a player of a similar skill set at the helm. He should be able to hit the ground running when the time comes.

    Talent: A

    Filling needs: A+

Running Back

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    Michigan: Derrick Green, DeVeon Smith, Wyatt Shallman (FB)

    For as well as Michigan seems to recruit running backs year after year, this is a position of relative weakness for the Wolverines. Vincent Smith graduates, Fitz Toussaint is out for who knows how long after a bad leg injury last November and Thomas Rawls never established himself as an every-down back. Justice Hayes lurks here, but there's no real depth.

    Say hello, then, to Derrick Green, arguably the top running back prospect in the nation. Green's physique and athleticism are practically NFL-ready straight out of high school. He should be able to take carries on Week 1 if that's what Brady Hoke needs.

    DeVeon Smith has also been committed for about a year. He's a big-time prospect who brings fresh legs and strong running to the table as well (though he's not quite as heavy as Green).

    If Hoke is so inclined, he could easily platoon the two à la Georgia's Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Wyatt Shallman is a bruiser at fullback who, if he can establish himself as a receiver, will add yet another dangerous dimension to the Michigan offense.

    Talent: A+

    Filling Needs: A+

    Ohio State: Ezekiel Elliott

    The Buckeyes are strong and deep at tailback, but only three of the five tailbacks currently on the roster will be around after 2013: junior Rod Smith, sophomore Bri'Onte Dunn and redshirt freshman Warren Ball.

    So while there's not a huge need here, it would have been a mistake for Urban Meyer to leave the running back position alone in this class.

    Fortunately, Meyer found stud tailback Ezekiel Elliott, a St. Louis native who flirted with nearby Missouri late only to reaffirm his commitment on Wednesday afternoon.

    Elliott is the complete package, with grown-man size and speed you'd expect from someone 20 pounds lighter. He could be an every-down back for the Buckeyes in years to come, though the depth in front of him suggests his on-field workload will be rather light in 2013.

    Talent: A

    Filling Needs: A

Tight End

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    Michigan: Jake Butt, Khalid Hill

    The tight end position in Michigan is still somewhat up in the air, as Devin Funchess is starting to emerge as a dangerous weapon in the downfield passing game but looks much more like a giant wideout than a traditional tight end. There are lots of bodies behind Funchess on the depth chart but little experience or star power.

    Jake Butt has some filling out to do on his 6'6", 230-pound frame, but once he does he'll be one of the top TEs in the Big Ten—and he'll eventually be good enough that Michigan will have to figure out a way to get him and Funchess on the field at the same time.

    Khalid Hill is "only" a consensus 3-star recruit who didn't draw much attention from other schools, but Michigan offered him early enough that the coaches clearly see something there.

    He's got potential as an H-Back and his athleticism is underrated, but if he's good enough that Michigan's determined to get him on the field as quick as possible, a move to DE is not out of the question. At any rate, he makes a very deep position even deeper.

    Talent: A

    Filling Needs: B+

    Ohio State: Marcus Baugh

    Baugh isn't the biggest tight end you'll see, though 6'4" and 225 pounds as a high school senior is not exactly a liability. It'll be interesting to see where he ends up in terms of size.

    It'll also be interesting to see where Baugh ends up on the field, because he's dynamic enough as a receiver that we could easily see him lined up as an H-Back, a traditional TE or even split out wide to create a mismatch with smaller backs.

    Ohio State tried this with Jake Stoneburner and it didn't work out well enough in the passing game as probably most people hoped, but Baugh's presence will add a different dimension to a TE position that currently has a couple bruisers in Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett in its 2-deeps.

    Talent: A-

    Filling Needs: A

Wide Receiver

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    Michigan: C'sonte York, Da'Mario Jones, Jaron Dukes

    The youth movement at wideout marches on for Michigan, as Dukes, York and Jones join 2012 signees Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson. Darboh played sparingly for Michigan in 2012 while Chesson redshirted. At any rate, these five guys are the next wave after a large senior class at WR is set to graduate after the 2013 season.

    It's not much of a stretch to think Michigan "has a type" at wideout these days, as Dukes, York and Jones are all tall, sleek receivers who can cover a lot of ground downfield. Darboh and Chesson are both at least 6'2" as well.

    Whether by design or by want of a suitable recruit, there's no "Drew DiLeo" or even "Jeremy Gallon" type in the mix going forward; even Michigan's walk-ons are all tall.

    And yes, there's more that goes into being a slot receiver than being 5'10" or shorter, but you don't look at anyone on the roster and think he's a 10-yards-and-in type of guy. Dukes is the biggest of the bunch at 6'5" and 197 pounds. He could be a matchup nightmare if used correctly.

    It'll be interesting to see how Michigan recruits WRs in 2014. It did well enough with bigger wideouts roughly a decade ago and offenses can obviously survive without smaller wideouts.

    As it stands right now, 2014 will be the first season when Michigan doesn't have that kind of guy on its roster. Whether Hoke addresses that has yet to be seen. 

    Talent: B

    Filling Needs: B+

    Ohio State: Corey Smith, Jalin Marshall, Dontre Wilson, James Clark

    This is probably Urban Meyer's second-best recruiting job by position in 2013. Ohio State was short on receivers and even shorter on receivers with experience. While he can't do much about that on the recruiting front (though he can do a little—more on that in a bit), he adds a dynamic group of wideouts and turns one of his weakest positions into what will quickly become one of his strongest.

    We love Dontre Wilson's versatility in a Percy Harvin-type role. James Clark is a burner who just might make fans remember Joey Galloway. Jalin Marshall is comically fun to watch and might be the best open-field playmaker of the group.

    Meyer even made the right move of bringing in a junior college wideout in Corey Smith, who is physically capable of playing right away, has experience against JUCO-level DBs and bolsters the depth without overloading the class with freshmen (and thus creating a depth time bomb of sorts when it's time for graduation).

    Talent: A+

    Filling Needs: A+

Offensive Line

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    Michigan: Kyle Bosch, Logan Tuley-Tillman, David Dawson, Chris Fox, Patrick Kugler, Dan Samuelson

    We mentioned earlier how and why Michigan went so OL-heavy in 2013. It's absolutely the right move for an offensive line that's still somewhat light on scholarship players even with this gigantic class in tow. More should be on the way in 2014.

    Not only are each of these players highly rated, but one could easily put together a starting five of Tuley-Tillman, Bosch, Kugler, Dawson and Fox. That's a viable offensive line (Fox is technically a guard, but he's also 6'6" and 300 pounds), all in the same class.

    It's unlikely that all five leave as triumphant starting seniors since Michigan's future recruits are going to have a little something to say about all that. But quite simply, Michigan needed a lot of really good offensive linemen and Michigan got a lot of really good offensive linemen. 

    Talent: A+

    Filling Needs: A+

    Ohio State: Evan Lisle, Timothy Gardner

    Offensive line was less of a priority for the Buckeyes in 2013, as only tackle Reid Fragel departs from the starting lineup. Lisle and Gardner are both highly-regarded tackles and should develop into mashers when the day comes, though neither should be expected to play in this upcoming season.

    Keep an especially close eye on Lisle, who was an Army All-American and has the frame to put on 40 pounds without much difficulty. If he gets big, he's mean, smart and athletic enough to take care of the rest of what it takes to be a great offensive lineman.

    Talent: A

    Filling Needs: A

Defensive Line

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    Michigan: Taco Charlton, Henry Poggi, Maurice Hurst Jr.

    One of the best pass rushers in the entire country, Taco Charlton is a potential nightmare coming off the edge. He doesn't have a ton of competition at weakside end for Michigan, but like all true freshmen, he's got some work to do to get conditioned for BCS-level play.

    Poggi and Hurst are both monsters in the middle and a rotation with those two and mammoth DT Ondre Pipkins should make Michigan fans drool.

    However, if anything, it would have been nice to see Michigan go harder at defensive tackle. Jibreel Black and Quinton Washington will both be seniors in 2013 and only three DTs have even two seasons of eligibility left starting in 2013.

    Of the three, only Pipkins looks like a serious difference-maker and there's only so much you can ask a 340-pound nose tackle to do.

    Talent: A

    Filling Needs: B+

    Ohio State: Tyquan Lewis, Tracy Sprinkle, Joey Bosa, Billy Price, Donovan Munger, Michael Hill

    Another position of great strength, defensive line was obviously a priority for Urban Meyer after he watched his entire starting front four from 2012 leave for the NFL draft. His response? Six highly-touted linemen, all of whom have the physicality to play right away.

    Joey Bosa is obviously the best of the bunch and his highlight video above is one of the most ridiculous reels of footage a defensive linemen has been responsible for in a while.

    He can play on the inside or out and is unblockable either way; think a slightly bigger J.J. Watt and you're on the right track. But Tyquan Lewis is also a major-league player at rush end and the trio of "pure" defensive tackles (Price, Munger, Hill) ensures that Ohio State will be strong up the middle for years to come.

    Talent: A+

    Filling Needs: A+


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    Michigan: Ben Gedeon, Michael McCray

    Ben Gedeon is one of the best signings in terms of pure star power for the Wolverines. While he's probably not going to step right into the void at starting MLB left by departing (and underrated) Kenny Demens, Gedeon's signing does appear to be a direct response to Demens' graduation.

    He's exactly what you want from a middle linebacker, with the physicality to mix it up with fullbacks and pulling guards and the athleticism to drop into coverage. He should start sooner or later.

    McCray is also going to be on the interior, but probably at the "will" backer spot. Whether McCray or Gedeon gets on the field in meaningful fashion first might come down to whether current starter at WLB Desmond Morgan shifts to MLB with Demens leaving.

    There's some depth at each spot, but not much. Don't be surprised if neither redshirts.

    Talent: A-

    Filling Needs: A+ 

    Ohio State: Mike Mitchell, Trey Johnson

    Ohio State bids Etienne Sabino adieu. While former fullback Zach Boren only spent a year at MLB, the fact that he moved so he could start right away underscores what a problem depth was at that position for the Buckeyes. Curtis Grant is still growing as a linebacker, but adding Trey Johnson helps immensely here.

    A physical freak with a ceaseless motor, Mitchell should be in the mix at OLB immediately. The relative lack of experience on the outside (aside from Ryan Shazier) means that Mitchell's got a better opportunity than usual to step in during meaningful action and make a name for himself.

    These two are some of the most quality acquisitions by Urban Meyer in terms of filling needs. Combined with the large class of linebackers in the 2012 freshman class, this is a strength going forward.

    Talent: A

    Filling Needs: A+


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    Michigan: Ross Douglas, Jourdan Lewis, Channing Stribling, Reon Dawson

    There's no other way to put it: Cornerback was a certified problem for Michigan by the end of 2012 and it wasn't entirely Brady Hoke's fault.

    Between the early season-ending injury to Blake Countess and the suspension of J.T. Floyd before the bowl game, Michigan went into the Outback Bowl with practically zero depth at cornerback—and it was obvious in the Wolverines' pass defense.

    Brady Hoke gets Countess back and Raymon Taylor established himself at one corner spot. Those guys need help and they got it with this class of cornerbacks. The star quality isn't great, but Ross Douglas is a big-time recruit and Stribling was recruited so early (during summer camps in 2012) that Michigan clearly likes what it see in him. He's also got the height to move to safety; we'll see what comes of that.

    All in all, these guys are still young, but there's some real potential here. It might also mean KR Dennis Norfleet gets to move back to running back after moving to CB before the Outback Bowl. Certainly it means his position will be an issue of what suits his talents best and not a matter of necessity.

    Talent: B

    Filling Needs: A

    Ohio State: Eli Apple, Cameron Burrows, Gareon Conley

    There's no better influx of pure talent on Ohio State's roster than cornerback, as Eli Apple and Cam Burrows are both potential game-changers. Gareon Conley had been one of Michigan's best recruits until Urban Meyer flipped him in November. Conley could find his way to wideout, but that situation is even deeper than CB.

    Bradley Roby has basically one year left at Ohio State unless injury strikes. He nearly went to the NFL as a redshirt sophomore in 2012, but coaches (and possibly NFL scouting reports) convinced him to come back.

    Past Roby, there isn't a ton of talent at corner. Doran Grant has potential and Adam Griffith earned some playing time in 2012, but nobody looks like nearly the game-changer Apple, Burrows or Conley could be. 

    Talent: A+

    Filling Needs: A+


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    Michigan: Dymonte Thomas, Delano Hill

    There's no easy way to replace Jordan Kovacs, but Michigan will have to make do with the likes of Dymonte Thomas and Delano Hill, two highly-rated safeties who have the physical potential to start immediately.

    Free safety is probably locked down by returning starter senior Thomas Gordon, but SS is up in the air and Dymonte Thomas could push Jarrod Wilson and Allen Gant.

    Whether Hill ends up at strong or free safety in the long term remains to be seen. But with Gordon a senior and top backup Josh Furman a junior, the avenue toward a lot of playing time at FS could be there for Hill, especially if he redshirts. He might be too good to keep off the field, though. Either way, Michigan is absolutely set long term at safety now. 

    Talent: A

    Filling Needs: A

    Ohio State: Vonn Bell, Jayme Thompson, Christopher Worley, Darron Lee

    Vonn Bell is a 5-star safety who could well be the highest-rated prospect in the entire Ohio State class. Even without him this is a strong class of safeties for the Buckeyes. Thompson and Lee are ball hawks and if Ohio State used the free/strong designations (it doesn't), Worley would look like a future strong safety. 

    This is all great news, because Ohio State's going to be saying goodbye to starting safeties C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant after the 2013 season. So of these four safeties, two are probably going to have to start in 2014.

    Sophomore Ron Tanner will also be in the mix, but he was a 3-star recruit in 2011 and the idea that he'll be able to stave off everyone in this class is a bit of a stretch. Look for two future starters here.

    Talent: A+

    Filling Needs: A+

Final Grade

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    Let's be clear about this, first and foremost: Michigan and Ohio State both put together objectively great classes. They're far and away the best in the Big Ten and they're both likely top five classes nationally.

    They're at the level of talent that a team can plausibly compete for a national championship a few years down the road with these players taking the lead. Now it's up to Brady Hoke and Urban Meyer to cultivate that talent and develop it into title contention.

    Michigan's class is great. It grades out extremely well. It's just that Ohio State's grades out just a little bit better.

    Using the traditional 4.0 grading scale, in terms of pure talent, Michigan's GPA is a 3.85. That's awesome. And in terms of how well these recruits fit the needs Michigan's going to have this year and next, that's a 3.96 GPA. Again: awesome.

    Ohio State's pure talent GPA, however, is a 4.11. There are just no question marks in that entire class. Not unless things like injuries, grades or the ennui of being a backup for a couple years derail players, and there's no way we can account for that right now.

    What makes this class truly great is what purpose it serves for Ohio State's needs, however, and there it grades out at a near-perfect 4.22: six "A+"s, three "A"s. Every single signing makes sense in terms of pure talent and what Ohio State needs to accomplish in the coming years. 

    Now, recruiting rankings don't mean nearly as much once these guys are on campus, and as we said earlier, there are plenty of factors that nobody can predict that could affect these players' careers.

    And this grading exercise isn't nearly as instructive as actually, y'know, seeing these players and these teams actually play each other.

    And yet, Ohio State fans, be happy about this. Your 2013 recruiting class is phenomenal, and as of right now, it's ever so slightly the best in the Big Ten.