MIND OF MIKE: Early signing period is a good start
College football recruiting is often about momentum and the challenge for most programs is carrying that momentum over from class to class. The Big Ten is coming off its best recruiting showing in a decade, but can they keep it up?
Can Ohio State make it eight straight years with the Big Ten's best class?
This is the biggest question of them all. When talking recruiting streaks in the Big Ten, Ohio State’s seven straight years of bringing in the Big Ten’s top-ranked recruiting class is the most impressive streak.
Many of those years saw weak recruiting efforts from the conference as a whole, but even when the rest of the Big Ten picked up the pace in the 2017 class and placed four others in the top 20 nationally, the Buckeyes responded by signing their best class during the streak.
Other conference schools have jumped out to strong starts in 2018, particularly Penn State which currently has the No. 2 class nationally and a 400-point advantage on Ohio State. But the Buckeyes have two five-stars among just seven commitments and plenty of time to make up ground.
Will Purdue emerge from the Big Ten basement?
On the opposite end of the spectrum from Ohio State is Purdue, which has finished 13th or 14th in the conference recruiting rankings for every class since the Big Ten expanded to 14 teams. That is four years of cellar-dwelling and, not surprisingly, the author of those weak Boilermaker classes found himself without a job this past winter. In steps Jeff Brohm, who developed his recruiting chops as a head coach at Western Kentucky for the previous three years and as an assistant coach at Louisville and Illinois before that.
The most notable recruiting change we have seen in the early-going of his tenure – and something that should give Boilermaker fans optimism – is a return to placing an emphasis on in-state recruiting in a time when the talent within state borders is seeing an uptick.
Can the conference keep attracting the nation's top talent?
Signing top-ranked prospects has never been a strong suit for the Big Ten, until the 2017 class when it shattered the previous conference record by signing a total of 11 five-star prospects. There has been relative consistency, though. Outside of 2015, when no team in the conference signed a single five-star prospect, the Big Ten has claimed at least one player ranked in the top 10 every year since 2010, including Michigan signing No. 1 overall Rashan Gary in 2016.
The 2018 class currently features a pair of prospects from Big Ten country ranked among the top 10 in offensive tackle Jackson Carman of Ohio and defensive end Micah Parsons of Pennsylvania. Parsons is already committed to Penn State, so the possibility of keeping that trend alive is strong. The Big Ten also has three five-stars currently committed to conference programs. Only the ACC has more.
Will Nebraska keep signing Rivals250 prospects from California?
Mike Riley has now had two full recruiting classes at Nebraska and in each he has signed a Rivals250 prospect from the state of California. In 2016 the Cornhuskers landed defensive back Lamar Jackson and quarterback Patrick O’Brien. In 2017 they brought in cornerback Elijah Blades and quarterback Tristan Gebbia. The pipeline even has a name now – Calibraska – and it does not look to be drying up any time soon.
Nebraska already has a commitment in the 2018 class from Rivals250 members Eric Fuller of Los Angeles and Manuel Allen of Corona (Calif.) Centennial, and the Huskers are considered top contenders for several more elite prospects in the Golden State. When I was out in Los Angeles for the Rivals 3 Stripe Camp presented by adidas earlier this month, five-star Amon-Ra St. Brown and Rivals100 cornerback Aashari Crosswell were mentioning the Huskers prominently.
Can Maryland and Rutgers keep climbing higher in the Big Ten rankings?
Since joining the Big Ten starting with the 2014 season (and, thus, the 2014 recruiting class), Maryland and Rutgers have followed similar tracks in recruiting. Both came in and recruited similarly to how they had when associated with their previous conferences for a couple years, then they both fired their head coaches and rebounded with their strongest classes since joining the Big Ten in 2017.
Maryland pulled together a top four class in the conference and top 20 class nationally, while Rutgers finished No. 9 and 200 points better than any of the previous three classes after posting the Big Ten’s worst class in 2016.
The 2018 class should give us a better sense of where the two newest additions stack up in recruiting compared with the rest of the conference. It has been a slow start, though, with Maryland at just three commits and Rutgers still searching for its first.