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Big Ten breakdown: Grading the classes

There are less than four months until National Signing Day, and while there is still plenty of recruiting to be done in the class of 2017, most Big Ten programs have the majority of their classes set.

Taking into account each team’s situation, it is time to grade how all 14 conference programs are recruiting heading into the final stretch.

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STRENGTHS: Ohio State got off to one of the hottest starts of any class in recent memory when they landed 10 commits before the start of the 2017 class’ junior season. And their early commits were big-name prospects, including five-stars Josh Myers and Shaun Wade. They now have four five-star commits with the additions of offensive guard Wyatt Davis and wide receiver Trevon Grimes over the summer.

WEAKNESSES: If there is a weakness, it is that Ohio State only has 17 commits thus far, the third fewest of any class in the top 10 of the Rivals team recruiting rankings. Then again, that could be construed as a positive in that they have room for late-deciding big-name types coming down the stretch. With the start this class had, anything less than the No. 1 overall group in the country come Signing Day would be underwhelming.



STRENGTHS: There are only five five-stars prospects currently committed to Big Ten schools in the 2017 class, and four are pledged to Ohio State. The other one is defensive end Josh Kaindoh, who is pledged to Maryland. New Terrapins' head coach D.J. Durkin also has his quarterback of the future locked up in Rivals100 Kasim Hill and the No. 2 ranked class in the Big Ten. That is awfully impressive for a coach in his first full recruiting class.

WEAKNESSES: Of Maryland’s 18 commits, only four are rated four or five-stars, which is low for the No. 2 ranked Big Ten class. That is nit-picking at this point. They are off to a solid start on the field at 4-2, have a top-15 ranked class nationally and room to add more bodies before National Signing Day. All in all, it is an outstanding recruiting start for Durkin in College Park.


Chevin Calloway
Chevin Calloway


STRENGTHS: Iowa has ranked in the bottom half of the Big Ten team rankings each of the last three classes and signed only three four-star recruits in that time. In 2017, however, they already have as many four-star recruits as the previous three classes combined, including the nation’s No. 1 strongside defensive end in A.J. Epenesa. The Hawkeyes' recruiting momentum has been rejuvenated and they are back in the top 25 team rankings.

WEAKNESSES: After grabbing their third four-star commit in July from Texas defensive back Chevin Calloway, the Hawkeyes have only landed two more commits since and both have been two-stars. With only 17 commits in the class, Iowa has room to bring in more talent, but they need to maintain the momentum they started early in this class in order to finish in the top-25 team rankings on Signing Day.


Micah Clark
Micah Clark


STRENGTHS: Like Durkin at Maryland, first-year head coach Chris Ash is demonstrating his recruiting acumen with his first full class at Rutgers, and he is doing it with homegrown talent first and foremost. Fourteen of the Scarlet Knight’s 20 total commits in the 2017 class are from the state of New Jersey, including four stars Bo Melton and Micah Clark.

WEAKNESSES: What has occurred on the field thus far in the 2016 season is Rutgers’ biggest recruiting issue. The result at season’s end probably does not look as bad, considering Rutgers has played three of the top five ranked teams in the country. But they’ve lost to those teams by a total of 184-13. Making matters worse, they had a big recruiting weekend when Michigan drubbed them 78-0 earlier this month


Lovie Smith
Lovie Smith (Getty Images)


STRENGTHS: Whether by design or by chance, first-year head coach Lovie Smith started off his tenure in Champaign with a string of commits from the Chicagoland and greater St. Louis areas. Those cities are the two most important for the Fighting Illini’s recruiting success, and Smith is building goodwill in both places. He has complemented those home region commits with some speed and athleticism from Florida as well.

WEAKNESSES: Smith was dealt one of the most difficult hands to start a recruiting class of any head coach in recent history when he was hired in mid-March. Most of Illinois’ rivals were well into their 2017 recruiting game plans while Smith was just starting to assess his team’s needs as it related to the schemes he planned to run. Because of that this class will likely be small, either in numbers or talent or both. However, thus far Smith has exceeded expectations.


Mike Riley
Mike Riley (Getty Images)


STRENGTHS: The success of Nebraska’s 2017 class is measured not only in terms of commitments, but in terms of the prospects they are legitimately in the mix for. Consider this: After six weeks of the college football season, no team in the country has hosted more five-star or four-star official visitors than Nebraska. Their class is right on the edge of the national top 25, and No. 6 in the Big Ten, but they have only 15 commits and plenty of opportunity to add more big names.

WEAKNESSES: The 15 commits is both an issue and an opportunity. Having more spots available than your competitors gives you more freedom, but it also means you have to deliver down the stretch. The other potential negative here is that being such an early official visit date for so many top prospects, will those visits be a distant memory when it comes decision time?


Pat Fitzgerald
Pat Fitzgerald (Getty Images)


STRENGTHS: Once known as a late starter in the recruiting game, Northwestern addressed their needs early in 2017 with a limited number of scholarship offers. It was a masterfully executed game plan that saw 18 prospects commit before August, all but two of whom are rated three-stars. The only real challenge for the coaching staff now is keeping the group intact through Signing Day.

WEAKNESSES: For all the success Northwestern had meeting their needs, they have yet to land a four-star prospect in this class. There certainly has not been any shortage of four-star signees in the past, but this Northwestern class is missing that true headliner. And with very little room left to add more players, it is unlikely they will get one before Signing Day.


Dylan McCaffrey
Dylan McCaffrey


STRENGTHS: After landing just three in-state commits and none from Ohio in Jim Harbaugh’s first full recruiting class, there was concern the Wolverines were going to have trouble recruiting their own backyard. This 2017 class, though, proved those concerns were unfounded, with four in-state commits and two from Ohio thus far. Nine of their 16 total commits are rated four-stars, including Rivals100 quarterback Dylan McCaffrey.

WEAKNESSES: Michigan is undefeated with a big-name head coach, a high-profile apparel deal and tons of momentum. There is no reason they shouldn’t be recruiting on par with their rival, Ohio State, yet they currently sit outside the top-15 in the team rankings. Michigan is in contention for several big-time prospects in 2017 and still has a good shot to finish strong, but the effort thus far has been pretty average considering the circumstances.



STRENGTHS: Penn State’s average star rating of 3.36 is third to only Ohio State and Michigan in the Big Ten. Their headliner is four-star quarterback Sean Clifford, but four-stars have also been added at offensive line, defensive end, linebacker and safety. The Nittany Lions have also done a good job identifying prospects before their stock takes off, which has helped them steal several top prospects.

WEAKNESSES: Few things are more detrimental in recruiting than uncertainty around your head coach’s future, and James Franklin has not done a lot to fend off the hot seat talk in State College. The Nittany Lions have built a solid base in this class, but with only 14 commits to date they still need to finish strong if they are going to bring in a class that can make a difference in future years.


Tyler Beach
Tyler Beach


STRENGTHS: This class was always going to be small – 13 is the working number right now – and it took a careful approach to make sure needs were met and top talent was added while not overshooting their available scholarships. The need at offensive line was met extremely well, headlined by four-stars Kayden Lyles and Tyler Beach. The Badgers also have their quarterback of the future in four-star Jack Coan.

WEAKNESSES: The weakness of this class is numbers, obviously, but as stated above Paul Chryst’s staff has done a solid job juggling the opposing forces in this class. Of course, the reason Wisconsin has low scholarship numbers available this year is because of limited attrition. Still, there are needs remaining, specifically at running back and defensive back.



STRENGTHS: Tight end was a major need for Michigan State in this class with their top two at the position graduating, and they out-dueled several Big Ten foes to land one of the country’s best in four-star Matt Dotson. They have also added depth on both lines and at wide receiver, where Spartan legacy Hunter Rison headlines.

WEAKNESSES: The Spartans were on a roll, winning Big Ten Championships, making the College Football Playoff and signing top-25 recruiting classes with becoming the norm in East Lansing. But this 2017 class has not continued that momentum yet. The Spartans have been used to contending for the Midwest’s best prospects, but just three of their 16 commits in 2017 are rated four-stars. They need to win some big battles down the stretch, which becomes more difficult with the team limping at 2-4.



STRENGTHS: Indiana under Kevin Wilson has been known as an offense-dominated football team, but that has also meant the defense has been porous at times. That issue was an obvious priority for this 2017 class, with three of their four highest-rated commits coming on that side of the ball. Defensive line is particularly strong, led by nationally-ranked tackle Derrius Mullins and end Lance Bryant.

WEAKNESSES: It appeared Indiana recruiting had finally turned that corner when they signed four four-star prospects in the 2013 class. A year later they brought in two more four-star prospects, but the Hoosiers have been unable to bring that caliber or prospect to Bloomington since and are to date without a four-star again in 2017. They added tight end Kurt Rafdal on Thursday, but lost a commitment from defensive tackle Juan Harris on Sunday.


Kyrei Fisher
Kyrei Fisher


STRENGTHS: Few teams recruit their home state as well as Minnesota, and they are maintaining that advantage again in 2017 with five commits from their backyard, including the state’s No. 1 overall player in offensive tackle Blaise Andries. They also got a nice steal from the state of Oklahoma with hard-hitting and athletic linebacker Kyrei Fisher.

WEAKNESSES: Tracy Claeys started his tenure in head-scratching fashion by dropping several commits from Minnesota’s 2016 class and his start to 2017 has not inspired much confidence, either. The Golden Gophers' class is ranked dead last in the conference and it seems that when Jerry Kill left, so did the recruiting momentum Minnesota had been building the last few classes.


Former Purdue head coach Darrell Hazell
Former Purdue head coach Darrell Hazell (Getty Images)


STRENGTHS: After entering the month of June with just one commitment, Purdue went on a tear, adding 12 commits in just under two months. They have addressed the quarterback position with two commits and offensive line with three while adding a trio of athlete prospects who should provide versatility for future Purdue teams.

WEAKNESSES: Recruiting under Darrell Hazell never gained momentum, and it never seemed a matter of particular importance to the now former head coach of the Boilermakers. Purdue is centrally located to major metropolitan areas in the Midwest and can sell outstanding academics, so the potential is there, but this class currently ranks 13th in the Big Ten and outside the top 60 nationally and that is before the expected post-coaching change attrition.