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Big Ten Spotlight: Top targets as Late Signing Period approaches

CLASS OF 2019 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | State | Position | Team

CLASS OF 2020 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | State | Position

Doug Nester
Doug Nester (Nick Lucero/

RIVAL VIEWS: Which 2019 prospect has the highest ceiling?

Last week we featured the biggest questions still to be answered in the late signing period for the Big Ten. This week we take a look at the top remaining targets for each conference program that could lead to those answers.

MORE: Big Ten team recruiting rankings


Recruiting for 2019 was feast or famine for Lovie Smith. He landed four-stars Isaiah Williams and Marquez Beason, but only signed 11 in the early period. Linebacker Shammond Cooper has committed since, but most of Illinois’ recent work has been done in the transfer market. Claiborne is a late-riser out of Houston who has generated some Power Five interest as of late and is expected to officially visit Champaign this weekend.


A total of 19 prospects signed with Indiana in the early period, but the Hoosiers still have stakes in several recruitments. Both sides of the line are priorities, however, with Tom Allen looking to have offensive linemen take a couple of the final spots. Jones was a late-bloomer who has blown up since his senior season ended. Indiana will not get an official visit, but is a short drive from his home and sits in the Indianapolis’ native’s top five.


Iowa has been known to make late offers to largely unheralded prospects in past recruiting classes, and the Hawkeyes have the available spots. A few candidates could receive their Iowa offers this week, but the Hawkeyes are also still trying to get the final official visit from Lockhart, a former UAB commit who has already visited North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Mississippi State this month.


Maryland brought in a head coach in Mike Locksley who has outstanding recruiting credentials, but this 2019 class is proving a challenge even for a recruiter of his abilities. Just six prospects were signed in the early period and needs still have to be met across the board. Florida State commit Nick Cross was on campus last week and his former high school coach is now on Locksley’s staff. That would be a major pull if the Terrapins can make it happen.


The Wolverines still cling to a small lead in the Big Ten team recruiting rankings standings, but Penn State is just 45 points behind. While there is some talk Michigan might make a late run at someone like Alabama running back commit Keilan Robinson, expectations are that this class is pretty much wrapped up and there does not seem to be opportunities left to grow that lead. Even Pesek-Hickson is already factored in because he is committed, but has not signed yet.


The Spartans gained a big, late period addition when four-star wide receiver Tre’Von Morgan pledged to Michigan State on Jan. 1. They have a top-30 class with just 20 commitments, but could be done in 2019. Maryland running back commit Houston did make a visit to East Lansing earlier this month, but whether Mark Dantonio and his staff are ready to take him or anyone else in this class remains to be seen.


Even without Williams, this 2019 defensive line class for Minnesota is pretty good. With Williams it would be better. The Memphis native pledged to the Gophers days before the early signing period opened, but did not ink a letter of intent. He officially visited Oregon this past weekend and Indiana is also trying to get the Minnesota commit to flip. At this point, it looks like Williams or bust to finish out the class.


With Nebraska’s roster in the midst of a Scott Frost makeover, the Cornhuskers have been the Big Ten’s most active team since the late signing period. Outside linebacker is still one of the major needs after Nebraska signed 25 in the early period. Four-star Steven Parker and JUCO Soni Fonua are top targets, but late-emerging Kansas product Dylan Jordan appears to be No. 1 on the wish list. He officially visited this past weekend and could decide very soon.


Before Pat Fitzgerald can put a bow on this 2019 class, Northwestern needs to add another running back. The loss of Jeremy Larkin to a career-ending health issue back in September prompted this need, but many of the top targets at the position were already off the board. Hull received an offer from Northwestern on Jan. 18 and took his official visit to Evanston this past weekend.


The longest-tenured of Ohio State’s 2019 commitments, Nester was strongly affected by Urban Meyer’s retirement and decided not to sign in the early period. Additional official visits have been scheduled, and taken, and now the Buckeyes are in a fight to keep the Rivals250 lineman in this 2019 class. Currently on an eight-year conference recruiting title streak, Nester represents one of the must-have pieces if the Buckeyes have any chance to keep the streak alive.


It would be an ironic twist if the commitment that ended Ohio State’s eight-year run as Big Ten recruiting champs was Penn State landing Nester. The four-star from West Virginia officially visited State College this past weekend with a trip to Virginia Tech still upcoming. If Penn State is Nester’s choice in the end, it will give the Nittany Lions enough points to overtake Michigan for the top spot and end Ohio State’s streak.


Purdue fans had one focus coming out of the Early Signing Period and that was Rivals100 wide receiver David Bell. Turns out there was nothing to worry about as Bell had already signed his letter of intent with Purdue in the early period and just waited to announce it until the All-American Bowl. The final piece of this class may come in February if Purdue decides to sign Wahlberg, who committed in December, instead of having him blueshirt.


Rutgers is not in the Big Ten’s team recruiting rankings basement, but the only two teams ranked below the Scarlet Knights – Illinois and Maryland – combined to sign the same number of prospects as Rutgers did in the early period. Just one of Rutgers’ 16 prospects signed in the early period was a defensive lineman, so adding Cunningham, who officially visited the Scarlet Knights this past weekend, addresses a remaining need.


It is hard to believe, but this 2019 class will end up the highest-ranked for Wisconsin in the era, and more could still be added. Wisconsin has always been able to recruit top talent, but its classes are usually on the smaller side, which keeps its ranking down. Look for more additions in the late period, with Hall, who is currently committed to Louisiana Tech, still a top target for the Badgers.