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Big Ten breakdown: Top needs in the 2018 class

The Big Ten is coming off one of its best recruiting classes as a conference in 2017. For an encore, several schools, led by Penn State, are off to fast starts in the 2018 class. Here is a look around the league at the top positions of need for each team in that 2018 class.

MORE: Buckeyes land top-rated DT | Top 2019 Midwest storylines

Class of 2018 rankings: Rivals250 | Team | State | Position

ILLINOIS

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Coran Taylor

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Biggest Need: Quarterback

Top Targets: Coran Taylor, Kaleb Eleby, Cordel Littlejohn

Notes: Technically, 2018 is Lovie Smith’s first full class with the Fighting Illini, even though he has now been at the school for more than a year. Several issues were addressed in the 2017 class, but quarterback remains a need because JUCO pickup Dwayne Lawson is still at Garden City C.C. trying to earn his associate’s degree and the prep signee, Cameron Thomas, is a project. Garrick McGee has not truly landed his guy yet, but they are after dual-threats in 2018. Taylor (who committed to Illinois after this story was published, see story below) and Eleby are local players they like a lot, while Littlejohn will be tougher to pull from the South.

BREAKING NEWS: Taylor commits to Illini

INDIANA

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Cammon Cooper

Biggest Need: Quarterback

Top Targets: Cammon Cooper, Jake Ruder, Devin Leary

Notes: Despite a sustained effort, Indiana was not able to land a quarterback before the 2016 season, as most of its top targets went elsewhere. With the quarterback pool largely picked over, the Hoosiers had to scramble late and eventually filled a spot with two-star Nick Tronti out of Florida. This year they are making a strong effort again, with more than a dozen offers out nationally. The trio above is getting a heavy dose of attention, but expect Indiana to be more flexible this year in an effort to make sure it lands a top guy before the fall.

IOWA

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Mike Bruner

Biggest Need: Linebacker

Top Targets: Mike Bruner (commit), Dillon Doyle (commit), Ayodele Adeoye, Rocky Shelton

Notes: This is one team that has already started to address its biggest need with commitments in the 2018 class. Bruner was Iowa's first commitment in the class last fall, while Doyle joined two weeks ago and is a particularly intriguing prospect who could end up being among the biggest grabs in this class. The Hawkeyes would like to complement those two outside linebackers with one or two inside guys, however, because they signed just one linebacker in 2017 and their top three at the position from last season will all be gone by 2018.

MARYLAND

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John Morgan

Biggest Need: Linebacker

Top Targets: John Morgan, Nihym Anderson, Eriq Gilyard, Eyabi Anoma

Notes: The Terrapins are sitting pretty good at the offensive skill positions after D.J. Durkin’s first full class signed last month. In 2018 they will look to address an emerging concern at linebacker where starters Jermaine Carter Jr. and Shane Cockerille graduate following the 2017 season. The good news is there are solid options in state, including Morgan – who they project as an inside linebacker – and Anoma, who is listed as a defensive end but would play the Buck linebacker position in Maryland's defense.

MICHIGAN

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William Barnes

Biggest Need: Offensive Tackle

Top Targets: Richard Gouraige, William Barnes, Ryan Hayes, Jalen Mayfield, Jaelyn Duncan

Notes: Michigan produced No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick Jake Long in 2008 and had Taylor Lewan go No. 11 overall in the 2014 class, but has struggled to find that stud left tackle ever since. The 2017 class produced a couple possibilities, but no sure-fire stars. Michigan has peppered the country with offensive tackle offers in hopes of finding that elite backside protector, but no obvious answers emerge. In-state it is after a pair of tackles in Ryan Hayes and Jalen Mayfield, while Gouraige and Barnes are higher rated, but lack ideal size.

MICHIGAN STATE

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Eli Collins

Biggest Need: Running Back

Top Targets: Ronnie Walker, Iverson Clement, Eli Collins

Notes: The Spartans have hit their needs pretty well over recent classes, but current and expected early departures could create concern at both running back and defensive tackle. We focus on running back here, where current starter L.J. Scott could bolt for the NFL Draft with a good junior season. Michigan State has not peppered the talent pool with offers yet, and more could be going out during the spring evaluation period. In fact, things seem to be heating up between the Spartans and Green Bay three-star back Henry Geil.

MINNESOTA

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Terell Smith

Biggest Need: Cornerback

Top Targets: Benjamin Sapp (commit), Terell Smith (commit), Marquis Williams, Tyrik Henderson

Notes: Now that he has had time to evaluate his roster more in-depth, first-year head coach P.J. Fleck has obviously identified several needs based on the number of scholarship offers his staff has put out so far in 2018. Among the most needed is cornerback, where the Gophers lost their top starter and a top backup following the 2017 season and two more top contributors were suspended and are not on the spring roster. They are off to a good start with commitments from Sapp and Smith, though Sapp is coming off two knee injuries and further bodies will be needed in the class.

NEBRASKA

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Isaac Taylor-Stuart

Biggest Need: Defensive Back

Top Targets: Brendan Radley-Hiles, Isaac Taylor-Stuart, Olaijah Griffin, Stephan Blaylock, Mario Goodrich, Bryan Addison

Notes: The entire defensive backfield will be a focus for Nebraska in 2018, but fortunately for the Cornhuskers their preferred recruiting territories are loaded with talent at that position. They will look to keep that Calibraska pipeline open with guys such as Taylor-Stuart, Griffin, Blaylock and Anderson. Radley-Hines, meanwhile, may be their top target regarding of position. All are needed after just one defensive back was signed in the 2017 class and they lose their starting corners after 2017.

NORTHWESTERN

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Greg Newsome

Biggest Need: Defensive Back

Top Targets: Greg Newsome, Elisha Guidry, Christian Morgan, Ely Doyle

Notes: Pat Fitzgerald’s approach to recruiting differs from many of his colleagues in the Big Ten ranks in that Northwestern does not put out many offers. This means that those players who do hold offers from the Wildcats are guys they are sure they want. The approach has paid off well thus far in the 2018 class with quarterback, tight end and offensive line largely addressed through early commitments. Defensive back has been an area of focus as well based on the number of offers out, but they have yet to secure a commitment at that position.

UPDATE: Greg Newsome commits to Northwestern

OHIO STATE

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Jackson Carman

Biggest Need: Offensive Tackle

Top Targets: Jackson Carman, William Barnes, Rasheed Walker, Jaelyn Duncan

Notes: Starting left tackle Jamarco Jones is gone after the 2017 season, but in the immediate future it should be OK. True freshman Michael Jordan could bounce back out to tackle after this season, and starting right tackle Isaiah Prince has two more years, but there are no sure answers behind them. Carman, a five-star and the No. 4 overall player in the 2018 class, is priority No. 1 for the Buckeyes regardless of position, although he did recently name Clemson his favorite.

PENN STATE

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Justin Shorter

Biggest Need: Wide Receiver

Top Targets: Justin Shorter (commit), Daniel George, Darryle Simmons, Solomon Enis

Notes: This is currently the No. 2 class in the Rivals.com team rankings, and many of the Nittany Lions' needs are already on their way to being filled. That is the case with wide receiver as well, where four-star Justin Shorter has already pledged to come aboard. But with top receiver Chris Godwin declaring early for the NFL and second-leading receiver DaeSean Hamilton entering his final season, Penn State wants to add at least two more bodies at the position in this 2018 class.

PURDUE

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Madison Norris

Biggest Need: Defensive Line

Top Targets: Madison Norris, Lawrence Johnson, Branson Deen, Willie Ervin

Notes: In the transition from Darrell Hazell to Jeff Brohm, several glaring holes stand out on Purdue’s roster. It desperately needs wide receievers and offensive linemen, but at the defensive line projected starter Gelen Robinson is gone after the 2017 season and there is very little depth. All four of the top targets listed above are from the state of Indiana, which has been a focus of Brohm’s staff – a major difference from the previous staff’s recruiting game plan.

RUTGERS

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Noah Shannon

Biggest Need: Defensive Tackle

Top Targets: Ja’mion Franklin, Cam Goode, Noah Shannon

Notes: Lady Luck was not a friend to Rutgers at the defensive tackle position in the 2017 class. It lost out on Axel Nyembwe and Corey Bolds when it looked at times that Rutgers had good shots at both, and also had Darius Stills flip to West Virginia after initially giving the Scarlet Knights his pledge. That pushes the defensive tackle need over to the 2018 class, and Chris Ash’s staff has littered the position with offers thus far. Franklin and Goode have received a particularly high level of attention from Rutgers early in the process.

WISCONSIN

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Jordan Redmond

Biggest Need: Defensive Tackle

Top Targets: Verdis Brown, Jordan Redmond, Tyler Bentley, Keondre Coburn

Notes: This is another class that has gotten off to a strong start with eight commitments and a top-12 class ranking nationally. Getting several prospects on board at other positions will help Wisconsin focus on defensive tackle, where it needs to add depth. The 2017 class did not produce any defensive tackle signees, and as the injury to starting nose tackle Olive Sagapolu showed last year, there are not many good options behind him. A new offer went out to Coburn, a four-star out of Texas, just last week, and more could be on the way soon.

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