Big Ten Spotlight: How has pandemic impacted recruiting?
They say all politics are local and the same adage might be true in recruiting, never more than during a global pandemic. Commitments are coming off the board at a rapid pace this offseason and an argument could be made it’s because of the NCAA's moratorium on in-person recruiting.
With so many pledges already done, the expectation is there could be a massive decommitment season coming as well and that could change the scope of every recruiting class. Here is a look at each program in the Big Ten, how they have recruited locally and away from home as the summer continues into an uncertain fall.
CLASS OF 2022: Top 100
Staying home: Recruiting the region or establishing in-state dominance is definitely not part of the overall strategy for Illinois’ 2021 class - at least that’s what the first 11 commits or so prove out. There are only two commits from the region so far in three-star offensive tackle Brody Wisecarver out of St. Louis (Mo.) De Smet and the newest pledge OL Josh Kreutz out of Wilmette (Ill.) Loyola Academy.
Hitting the road: For the limited success locally, Illinois has made a tremendous dent in the South as seven commitments come from the state of Florida, led by DB Daniel Edwards, two from Georgia and one from Texas, the program's first 2021 pledge, in three-star QB Samari Collier. Virginia two-star recruit Kalen Villanueva from Falls Church (Va.) Justice is one of Illinois’ newest commitments.
Farrell’s take: Illinois is not getting the job done in-state. However, many of Lovie Smith’s best commitments have come from out-of-state and I like what I see from Florida and Georgia. But the pandemic hasn’t kept kids home in Illinois so far.
Staying home: Six of nine commitments are from the state of Indiana or regional prospects and that’s a good start for Tom Allen and his staff, who have two of the top six recruits in the state already committed. Four-star quarterback Donaven McCulley was the biggest in-state win out of Indianapolis (Ind.) Lawrence North. Indiana has four in-state commits along with one from Illinois and one from Michigan.
Hitting the road: Rarely can the Hoosiers dip into Florida for four-star talent, but that’s just what happened this cycle when Jacksonville (Fla.) Robert E. Lee DB Larry Smith III made his pledge. Three-star DB Aubrey Burks, also out of Florida, has committed along with three-star WR Jordyn Williams from Texas.
Farrell’s take: Indiana has a couple of problems in its home state — Notre Dame and Purdue. But landing McCulley at quarterback was a big win and many more prospects in Indiana seem to be staying home.
Staying home: Iowa is keeping things close - and it’s paying off in a big way in the 2021 recruiting class. Fifteen of the Hawkeyes’ 17 commits live just a few hours - if that - from the Iowa campus including eight in-state commits as Kirk Ferentz and his staff focus on local prospects and those from surrounding states. The Hawkeyes have hit Illinois hard with three pledges and then ones from Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Minnesota as well. All those players live close enough to have breakfast at home and then lunch in Iowa City.
Hitting the road: The frequent flyer miles, at least for this recruiting class, are not piling up for the Hawkeyes as they have just two commits from outside the region in three-star DB Jordan Oladokun from Tampa (Fla.) Gaither and two-star QB pledge Joe Labas out of Broadview Heights, Ohio, who had MAC offers up and down the board.
Farrell’s take: Iowa does not have a great geographic location for recruiting, but current trends seem to be helping the program a bit. Many Midwest prospects in Iowa and the surrounding states often leave the area or pick a power program, but that's not the case this year. The local recruiting has been excellent for the Hawkeyes and that should help in the next few years moving forward. Iowa isn’t an easy place to get to, so it makes sense why it hasn't landed a bunch of talent from far away. But next cycle that will need to change.
Staying home: So far, Maryland has landed a commitment from only one of the top 10 in-state prospects, but the Terrapins are absolutely piling on local recruits in this recruiting class. Eight are from the state led by DT Marcus Bradley and LB Demeioun Robinson out of Gaithersburg. Four more are from Washington, D.C., with DT Taisze Johnson as a four-star. There is also one commit each from Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Hitting the road: With so many local pledges, Maryland has not had to focus much outside the region. The Terps’ only commits from far-away destinations are Venice, Fla., TE Weston Wolff and JUCO LB Gereme Spraggins, who’s now at Hutchinson (Kan.) C.C.
Farrell’s take: The big challenge for the Terps has always been keeping prospects from Maryland and D.C. home and they continue to do an OK job of that, but many of the elite are leaving. But Mike Locksley knows how important these local relationships are so taking a kid from a Maryland or D.C. school is better than reaching elsewhere. There have been some nice local wins here like Bradley and Robinson, but keeping someone like five-star quarterback Caleb Williams would have been huge.
Staying home: Only one of the top five prospects in the state of Michigan is committed, which makes sense since a major portion of the Wolverines’ recruiting class are from further destinations. Four-star OL Giovanni El-Hadi is that prospect, and then the Wolverines have also added in-state commitments from K Tommy Doman and four-star OL Raheem Anderson.
Hitting the road: The Wolverines have basically hit every corner of the United States in this recruiting class, including California, Arizona and New England. There is one commitment each from Tennessee and New Jersey, and the state of Florida is of particular interest to Michigan with four pledges from there led by star quarterback commit J.J. McCarthy, who’s originally from Illinois but will be playing his senior year at IMG.
Farrell’s take: Michigan needs to do a better job hitting the Southeast and there are some signs the Wolverines are doing that, but the Northeast presence in this class is puzzling. That’s not to say they haven’t landed some talented prospects, but the programs they have beaten out aren’t exactly national powers.
I like that McCarthy is headed to IMG as that will help continue that pipeline and Junior Colson is a great get from Tennessee. Michigan is doing a very good job out west as well. They need to keep some of these home state prospects in place however as the state of Michigan is on an upswing. And with less travel for recruits, this should be an advantage.
Staying home: The start of this Michigan State recruiting class was filled with in-state prospects as four committed right in a row through April. Since then only Michael Gravely Jr., out of Cleveland has pledged to the Spartans from a distance within seven hours of campus. As it stands now, none of the top-11 prospects in the state have committed to Michigan State.
Hitting the road: The new staff at Michigan State under Mel Tucker is venturing out for talent in talent-rich states like Texas where the Spartans have two commitments including quarterback Hampton Fay. Michigan State also won a big recruiting battle for four-star DB Charles Brantley from Venice, Fla., and it also went to New Jersey and Maryland for commitments. Recent commit Jake Renda could be a sleeper this season out of Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy.
Farrell’s take: Tucker is supposed to get Michigan State into the Southeast while keeping some prospects at home like Mark Dantonio did. That process has been up and down so far. The state of Michigan is loaded this year, but the Spartans haven’t been a huge factor and that’s a problem. The churn in the Southeast has been slow as well.
Staying home: Just more than half of Minnesota’s recruiting class are prospects within a seven-hour drive from campus, but many of them are right around that distance since in-state recruiting has not gone incredibly well so far this cycle. The Golden Gophers have been successful in Illinois with five commitments from that state including Athan and Dino Kaliakmanis, only two from in-state players and one from Nebraska in four-star Avante Dickerson.
Hitting the road: P.J. Fleck and his staff have done a nice job touching talent-rich parts of the county by fighting off Pac-12 programs for four-star Steven Ortiz out of Arizona, going to Georgia for two commits, Florida for one and then hitting Indiana and Ohio as well. Three-star WR Brady Boyd gives Minnesota some entry into the state of Texas.
Farrell’s take: Minnesota has won some nice battles in other states and kept a few key prospects home, but there is more work to be done. However, when you can land a prospect like Ortiz from Arizona or go down to Texas or Florida and fill a need, it’s always good. Fleck is an elite recruiter and that comes through on Zoom as well. The state of Minnesota doesn’t produce a ton of talent and the surrounding area is a challenge, but they are holding their own.
Staying home: Recruiting nationally has to be a priority for Nebraska to return to national prominence, but winning some recruiting battles at home is not bad either, as half of the Huskers’ class are local prospects. The state’s top prospect, four-star OL Teddy Prochazka, is already committed to the Huskers along with three-star QB Heinrich Haarberg. Two recruits from Iowa and one from South Dakota have pledged as well.
Hitting the road: Nebraska coach Scott Frost has found success in the Southeast and West regions as well this recruiting cycle, going to Utah for massive OL Branson Yager, Northern California for DE/LB Will Schweitzer and then heading to Georgia for two pledges and Florida for one more. Running back Gabe Ervin from Buford, Ga., is a recent commit, as is four-star WR Latrell Neville out of Houston (Texas) Hightower. Three-star sleeper Lardarius Webb Jr. from Jackson (Miss.) Jackson Academy could be a steal.
Farrell’s take: The Huskers are expected to recruit all over the map, especially under Frost who has had success out West and in the Southeast in previous stops. The local recruiting has been solid, although Avante Dickerson is a big loss. It’s nice to see them making an impact in California, Texas, Georgia and other states. TE Thomas Fidone is a must-get as a home region prospect. If the Huskers can keep him home along with some of the others, this will be a successful class during the pandemic.
Staying home: Only two of Northwestern’s 13 commitments are from in-state prospects led by four-star LB Mac Uihlein, but regionally the Wildcats have done a terrific job keeping top recruits close. Four-star OL Caleb Tiernan is from Beverly Hills, Mich., and four-star DE Najee Story is out of Solon, Ohio. Four other players from the state of Michigan have made their commitments, two others from Ohio and one from Indiana as well.
Hitting the road: There has not been a significant amount of out-of-region recruits committing to Northwestern as only four are on board so far, although they are all from talent-rich areas. Three-star DE Barryn Sorrell is from New Orleans, three-star TE Lawson Albright comes from Greensboro, N.C., and two-star WR Donnie Gray, Northwestern’s first commit, is a Massachusetts native. Three-star WR Jacob Gill from Raleigh, N.C., was added recently.
Farrell’s take: The state of Illinois is getting raided a bit and that’s not good for Northwestern. They Wildcats have done well in landing four-stars from Ohio and Michigan, but local recruiting has not been helped by the pandemic. And that’s not good news.
Staying home: Four of Ohio State’s first five commitments were in-state pledges, led by five-star defensive end Jack Sawyer out of Pickerington North and then three four-stars in Jayden Ballard, Ben Christman and Reid Carrico. Then the Buckeyes took a much more national approach to their recruitment. Three-star LB Jaylen Johnson out of Cincinnati LaSalle and four-star DT Michael Hall from Streetsboro are the only other in-state commits in the class. Ohio State also has commitments from Jantzen Dunn out of Bowling Green (Ky.) South Warren and Andre Turrentine from Nashville (Tenn.) Ensworth and while neither is right down the street, they’re still within a morning’s drive to campus.
Hitting the road: Like many national powerhouses, Ohio State has incredible national reach and the 2021 recruiting class is more evidence to that fact. The Buckeyes went to Australia for a kicker, went to Scottsdale (Ariz.) Saguaro for four-star DB Denzel Burke, dipped into the Houston area for five-star OL Donovan Jackson, landed five-star DE Tunmise Adeleye out of Brandeon (Fla.) IMG Academy by way of Houston as well and got a four-star tight end in Sam Hart from Colorado. Running back commitments have come from North Carolina and Virginia, four-star DB Jakailin Johnson is out of St. Louis and Philadelphia has also been good with two commitments.
Farrell’s take: There is not much to dislike about this class as it’s such a great blend of out-of-state talent and local stars. No program up north does a better job of hitting Florida, Texas and California than Ohio State and the adjoining states are also very important. Arizona has suddenly become a Big Ten hot spot and Ohio State is taking advantage of that, and two five-stars from Texas is impressive. Pick a state and Ohio State can pull a prospect out of there. Nothing has changed from Urban Meyer to Ryan Day. No one has recruited better through the pandemic.
Staying home: James Franklin has proven to be one of the most-adept recruiters in college football with the ability to go anywhere for any prospect. So far in this recruiting class, staying relatively close to home has paid off the most. Penn State has three commitments from Detroit, which is not down the road but is well under the seven-hour threshold to get to campus. Four-star DBs Kalen King and Jaylen Reed lead the way there. The Nittany Lions have also gone to Maryland for two pledges, Ohio for one and Connecticut for one. In-state recruiting has also been busy with three Pennsylvania commits, led by four-star Lonnie White, Jr.
Hitting the road: The only Penn State commit outside a seven-hour radius from campus is three-star defensive end Rodney McGraw from Elkhart (Ind.) Central, and he barely missed the cut-off. He had programs much closer to home recruiting him, but he chose the Lions.
Farrell’s take: After landing key prospects from states like Texas and Florida, this class has been very regional so far and that’s good news and bad news. The Nittany Lions have done well going into Maryland and now Michigan has become a key state, but they’ve struggled pulling in big-name prospects from around the country. However, I’m not overly worried as Franklin is an amazing recruiter.
Staying home: Jeff Brohm and his staff are winning some recruiting battles, keeping players in the state or at least regional recruits closer to home and that’s been the main focus of this class so far. There are three in-state commits along with one from Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky each with high three-star athlete Byron Threats out of Dublin, Ohio leading the way.
Hitting the road: The Boilermakers have focused close to home at the beginning of this recruiting class but they’ve also gone to New Rochelle, N.Y. for DE Khordae Sydnor and to Griffin, Ga., for DB Brandon Calloway, who picked Purdue over Illinois.
Farrell’s take: Purdue does a solid job keeping local prospects and, like Indiana, the Boilermakers have won some in-state battles. But this class lacks a real Southeast presence and while that is understandable it’s also troubling. And Brohm’s old stomping grounds, Kentucky, need to be better to them.
Staying home: Greg Schiano has taken an aggressive approach to loading up Rutgers’ recruiting class early and it’s working since the Scarlet Knights have more commits than any other team in the Big Ten. Many live close by as nine commits are in-state prospects and then two others are from neighboring Pennsylvania.
Hitting the road: With so many commits close to home there isn’t a ton of room for out-of-region prospects but Rutgers have taken a particular focus to talent-rich Florida. Four commits come from that state including OL Albert Reese and then Rutgers also went to Colorado for OL Gus Zilinskas.
Farrell’s take: This is no surprise at all as Rutgers is expected to focus on New Jersey, New England, New York, Eastern Pennsylvania and Florida under Greg Schiano. This is the formula that worked the first time around. The problem now, however, is that Rutgers is in the Big Ten and more Big Ten programs are coming into the area. The pandemic hasn’t kept as many elite prospects home as they’d like.
Staying home: Wisconsin has a vice grip on in-state recruiting as four of the top-five prospects there are already committed to the Badgers and the fifth one does not have an offer yet. The Big Ten power has done an excellent job of keeping top prospects home led by four-stars JP Benzschawel and Hunter Wohler. Wisconsin also went to Minnesota and Illinois for commits and won a big recruiting battle against Iowa and others when four-star DE T.J. Bollers picked the Badgers. The Tiffin, Iowa, recruit lives just minutes from the Iowa campus.
Hitting the road: It hasn’t been just all home-cooking for Wisconsin, though. It really never has been as the Badgers have gone to Florida for Ricardo Hallman and Jake Chaney, California for QB Deacon Hill and New Jersey for DT Michael Jarvis as Wisconsin has had uncommon success in that state over the years. Two players from Ohio and one from Tennessee round out the class.
Farrell’s take: Wisconsin, like Iowa, doesn’t have a ton of home grown talent, so keeping some in-state is always key and the Badgers have done a solid job. The pandemic is keeping prospects closer to home overall and Wisconsin is a pretty good example. But being able to go into Iowa and steal away Bollers is a huge deal as well. Wisconsin has spread it around a bit better than Iowa and arguably have done a better job recruiting this year. It’s close.