Big Ten Spotlight: Grading the 2023 class
The recruiting event of the season has concluded and the vast majority of 2023 high school players have signed their National Letters of Intent. This recruiting cycle was full of intrigue, shocking flips and exciting finishes with last-minute commitments. We grade how each Big Ten program performed during the Early Signing Period.
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ILLINOIS (No. 8 Big Ten, No. 39 overall)
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It was a breakout season for Illinois on the field and its success in the win column proved to pay dividends in the recruiting trail as well. The Illini signed two four-star recruits during the Early Signing Period in Kaden Feagin and Antwon Hayden, a feat it hasn't accomplished since the 2019 recruiting cycle. Even further, both of the Illini's four-star signees are in-state recruits, proving Bret Bielema and his staff have made major strides in the Land of Lincoln.
Along with the headliners, Illinois has a number of three-star recruits who could very well outplay their ranking, like New Jersey defensive back Saboor Karriem. This class may not be finished either, as highly rated unsigned recruits like four-star WR Malik Elzy have Illinois among their list of candidates.
INDIANA (No. 14 Big Ten, No. 74 overall)
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A tough season on the field led to a tough season on the recruiting trail, and the Hoosiers will be forced to do some serious work in the transfer portal and also during the Late Signing Period to complete this class.
Much of Indiana's last-place ranking in the Big Ten can be attributed to only signing 12 players during the Early Signing Period, but there is some talent in this class, led by DB Amare Ferrell and DE TeDerius Collins who was a big signing day win.
The Indiana staff closed especially strong by landing five of its 12 signees in the week leading up to signing day, giving hope that this class will finish much higher when the 2023 class is all said and done.
IOWA (No. 5 Big Ten, No. 30 overall)
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One thing we have learned over the years is that no matter how high or low the Hawkeyes' recruiting classes rank, Iowa recruits NFL prospects and develops talent with the best of teams. The No. 30 ranking matches that of the 2022 Hawkeye class. It's a little worse than their 2021 class and a little better than the No. 35 ranking of 2020's class.
While the loss of five-star OL Kadyn Proctor the day before signing day is what grabbed the headlines there is still plenty to like about this class, which is headlined by impressive four-star OT Trevor Lauck.
Defensive back and defensive line were obvious areas of emphasis, along with linebacker, where ATH recruit Aidan Hall will likely join OLB Ben Kueter.
This class is solid from top to bottom, and don't be surprised if Chicagoland defensive backs John Nestor and Kahlil Tate outperform their three-star ratings.
MARYLAND (No. 10 Big Ten, No. 46 overall)
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One would expect Maryland's success on the field this season to lead to more wins on the recruiting trail, but after overachieving on that front I expected the Terrapins to do more during the Early Signing Period. That being said, this class is heavy when it comes to size, skill and numbers.
Maryland incredibly signed six ATH recruits, including the position group headliner Tamarcus Cooley, who was a big signing day win. Another impressive aspect of this class is the number of pass rushers the Maryland staff brought, in headlined by another signing day win in Neeo Avery and one-time four-star Rico Walker.
Although this class may be short of spectacular in terms of fan standards, there are a number of needs covered here, and the group as a whole will likely outplay its current ranking. There is a chance that this class could make some major moves by the time the Late Signing Period is complete with players like five-star Nyckoles Harbor still in the mix.
MICHIGAN (No. 3 Big Ten, No. 17 overall)
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This class went from average at best when November started to pretty darn impressive by the time Dec. 21 was in the books. Much of the strong finish can be attributed to the work Michigan did in Illinois by landing four-stars Roderick Pierce III and Jyaire Hill with the clock winding down on the Early Signing Period.
There is a little bit of everything in Michigan's early signing class, highlighted by three four-star receivers in Semaj Morgan, Fredrick Moore and Karmello English, along with Hill and fellow four-star defensive back Cameron Calhoun, who could be underrated despite his lofty ranking.
MICHIGAN STATE (No. 7 Big Ten, No. 37 overall)
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The Spartans only signed 15 players in this early signing class, but what the class may have lacked in numbers it certainly made up for in talent, with nearly half of the class coming in with four-star ratings.
Michigan State's average star ranking of 3.47 is currently third best in the Big Ten and No. 18 in the nation, putting it in front of schools like Auburn, Michigan and Utah, who finished much higher than Sparty in the Early Signing Period rankings.
The class is strong from top to bottom, highlighted by a trio of highly ranked defenders in defensive ends Bai Jobe and Andrew DePaepe and linebacker Jordan Hall. This class has a chance to be really good once it catches up in numbers with late signees and transfer portal additions.
MINNESOTA (No. 6 Big Ten, No. 33 overall)
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There is a lot to like in this early signing class for the Gophers - especially when looking at the top. ATH Darius Taylor, who will likely play running back at Minnesota, is an absolute beast and may be one of the best players in the nation when it is time for this class to get drafted. He is followed by five 5.7 three-stars, which include potential difference makers on the offensive line and receiver.
You have to commend PJ Fleck and staff for their strong finish, and there is still some room for additions in this class. It could be sneaky good when all is said and done.
NEBRASKA (No. 4 Big Ten, No. 28 overall)
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Hats off to Matt Rhule and staff, because this Nebraska class had a chance to be a disaster had they not finished the way that they did. The highlight of the class came on signing day, when high four-star ATH Malachi Coleman reaffirmed his pledge to the Huskers after flirting with a flip to Colorado to play for Deion Sanders.
An incredible 13 of the 21 Husker signees came following the hire of Rhule, and the fact that Nebraska was able to put together a class of this magnitude in such a short time bodes well for the future of Huskers football. The nation's No. 28 ranking may not be elite, but the close of the Early Signing Period certainly was.
NORTHWESTERN (No. 9 Big Ten, No. 40 overall)
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You have to give the Northwestern staff a lot of credit, because signing a class of this caliber following the Wildcats disaster of a season could not have been an easy task. With only 19 early signees, you have to believe there is some additional good news on the recruiting trail coming the Wildcats' way between now and February.
The class is headlined by a pair of four-stars in DE Michael Kilbane and TE Chico Holt. They are followed by a number of borderline four-star players in Dylan Senda, Nigel Glover, Damon Walters and Tyler Gant, all of which could easily outplay their ranking.
Local QB Aidan Gray has a chance to be the signal caller of the future as he has all of the physical and athletic gifts plus intangibles to be a special player for the Wildcats.
OHIO STATE (No. 1 Big Ten, No. 4 overall)
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This Ohio State class is spectacular from top to bottom and the only fault that you can find in it is what it could have been had everything gone perfectly. But, this is college football recruiting, where chaos is expected and this class is about as perfect as a coaching staff or fan base can hope for.
The Buckeyes' class, headlined by five-star receivers Brandon Inniss and Carnell Tate, is far and above better than any other in the conference. The five-stars are followed by an incredible 11 four-star players, highlighted by five-star candidates Luke Montgomery, Jermaine Mathews and Jason Moore.
One could argue that this early Buckeye signing class has as many as 13 players better than other conference foe's top signee - and with only 20 players currently in the class there is more than enough star power to go around.
PENN STATE (No. 2 Big Ten, No. 15 overall)
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Following a three-month dry spell, the Nittany Lions closed strong heading into signing day and secured the Big Ten's No. 2 spot at the completion of the Early Signing Period.
It isn't often that you will find a class that has more than half of its signees rated as four-stars or higher, but that is exactly what James Franklin and his staff managed to pull off early in 2023. To say that this class is loaded with star power from top to bottom would be an understatement.
The class is headlined by offensive lineman Alex Birchmeier and is especially strong at the TE with three four-star signees at the position in Mathias Barnwell, Joey Schlaffer and Andrew Rappleyea.
PURDUE (No. 13 Big Ten, No. 66 overall)
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This is a hard class to evaluate as head coach Ryan Walters was named roughly one week before the Early Signing Period and the class as a whole largely remains in flux.
There was an early signing day win in landing high three-star DT Jamarrion Harkless, but until Walters has adequate time to put together a class I am going to withhold judgement - as well as a grade.
RUTGERS (No. 12 Big Ten, No. 62 overall)
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This Rutgers class resembles its performance on the field this season - and there is definitely plenty to be desired. That being said, with only 19 players currently signed the Scarlet Knights have plenty of room for improvement between now and February.
Class headliner Jasire' Peterson has all of the tools to be a special player in the Big Ten and will likely outperform his three-star ranking. Big offensive lineman Dominic Rivera has a chance to be the prototype left tackle and could also very well outperform his ranking.
Rutgers is nearing "win-now" mode, so don't be surprised if this class is supplemented by a number of plug-and-play transfers in addition to some late signees.
WISCONSIN (No. 11 Big Ten, No. 59 overall)
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This Wisconsin class may not be one to write home about when you look at it from a sheer rankings perspective, but there is plenty to like when you get down to the nitty gritty and consider the amount of time that Luke Fickell had to put things together prior to the Early Signing Period.
Four-stars Trech Kekahuna and Amare Snowden were big signing day wins for the Badgers, along with landing potential four-star DB Bradeyn Moore, who had previously been committed to Fickell and his staff at Cincinnati.
Like Nebraska and Purdue, this class is somewhat hard to rank because a lot was forced to happen in a short amount of time. But Wisconsin fans have to be encouraged by the recruiting chops this new Wisconsin staff has put on display, especially when you consider impact transfers and late signees who could be headed to Madison.