Big Ten Spotlight: Wrapping up the Early Signing Period
After an outstanding effort in 2018 that saw two conference teams finish in the top five of the Rivals team recruiting rankings, the Big Ten pulled back in 2019 and is unlikely to have any program finish that high this cycle. The news is not all bad, however, as several conference programs are working on their best classes of all time.
STANDING OVATION - Wisconsin
Paul Chryst has quietly put together what should end up as the highest-ranked Wisconsin recruiting class of all time. It may surprise you to know that Wisconsin has never had a class ranked higher than 33 in the final Rivals.com team recruiting rankings. The Badgers exit the early signing period with a top-25 ranked class, and the make-up of that group is very diverse. Just three of the 19 prospects signed in the early period are in-state products, during what was a down year for talent and depth in the state. The Badgers signed six four-star prospects and all six come from different states, headlined by Rivals100 prospects Logan Brown and quarterback Graham Mertz. In all, 10 states and the District of Columbia are represented, which should help Wisconsin fans forget what was a down year on the field in 2018.
SURPRISE PARTY - Indiana
It has never been easy recruiting to Indiana. Kevin Wilson raised the bar on what is possible for Hoosier recruiting, and Tom Allen may end up surpassing that in this 2019 class. The highest Indiana has ever finished in the Rivals.com team recruiting rankings is 38th. The program exited the early signing period ranked 39th and features four four-star prospects. The headliner of that four-star group has to be running back Sampson James, whom the Hoosiers flipped from Ohio State this past fall. Wins like that should serve notice that this is no longer your father’s Indiana program when it comes to recruiting. This class is currently ranked 10th in the Big Ten, but Indiana is nipping at the heels of Iowa and Minnesota and has a good shot of picking them off with a few adds in the late signing period.
WORK TO DO - Maryland
The Early Signing Period was just the beginning of this 2019 class for Mike Locksley in College Park. The new Maryland head man had just 15 days to recruit after he was tabbed on Dec. 4 to succeed D.J. Durkin following a tumultuous six months for the Terrapins' program. Just six prospects signed with Maryland in the early period. New coaches means new schemes and the need for new and different personnel. Although the timeline of coaching hires makes recruiting that first class difficult – a situation now compounded by an early signing period – it is necessary to start addressing the holes in your roster a new hire creates. With better than 80 percent of the legitimate, Power Five caliber prospects already off the board, Locksley and his staff can leave no stone unturned, which includes doggedly pursuing prospects currently committed to other schools who have yet to sign.
RANKING THE BIG TEN
The Bad: Despite holding the lead now, it is going to be difficult for Michigan to win its first Big Ten recruiting title since 2007. The numbers show Penn State with a strong shot to overtake the Wolverines.
Top Remaining Target: None
2. PENN STATE
The Good: This class has the highest average star rating (3.89) in the Big Ten by a substantial margin. It is headlined by five-star running back Devyn Ford and 15 of the 18 prospects signed are rated four or five stars.
The Bad: With just 18 prospects locked in for Penn State, additional needs still exist in this class. The defensive tackle position is one James Franklin and his staff will have to find an answer for in the late period.
Top Remaining Target: D’von Ellies, DT
The Good: Scott Frost already had a strong 2019 class teed up heading into the early signing period, but he bettered that group by landing three more additions Wednesday, including four-star Ty Robinson.
The Bad: Nebraska looks like it has an instant impact guy at the running back position with four-star JUCO transfer Dedrick Mills. The problem, though, is that Mills did not sign in the early period after it looked like he would.
Top Remaining Target: Noa Pola-Gates, DB
4. OHIO STATE
The Good: The Buckeyes were at risk of a second straight early signing period loss of an in-state five-star, but rallied to land local defensive end Zach Harrison over strong efforts from Big Ten foes Michigan and Penn State.
The Bad: Losing long-time QB commit Dwan Mathis to Georgia means the Buckeyes currently do not have a quarterback in this class, and they also have to replace Jordan Battle, who flipped to Alabama on Signing Day.
Top Remaining Target: Doug Nester, OL
The Good: Two of Wisconsin’s earliest commitments in this class also ended up being its two highest ranked prospects. Other programs came after Graham Mertz and Logan Brown in the last year, but Wisconsin fended them all off.
The Bad: The two commits Wisconsin got along the offensive line are really, really solid, but they could have used at least one more body there and just missed out on top targets like Bryce Benhart and John Olmstead.
Top Remaining Target: DeShon Hall, DT
The Good: There are a lot of positives here, not the least of which is this will likely be the highest-ranked Purdue recruiting class in 15 years after spending many years ranked among the worst Power Five classes.
The Bad: Now that Purdue is recruiting like a top tier program it needs to be more efficient, especially early in the process. The Boilermakers tend to be slow starters, and that causes them to reach for some prospects.
Top Remaining Target: David Bell, WR
7. MICHIGAN STATE
The Bad: Michigan State landed four-stars with four of their first five commitments, but has not added another since and is currently sitting at its lowest class ranking in the Big Ten in more than a decade.
Top Remaining Target: Tre’von Morgan, WR
The Good: The strength of this class is on the defensive line, where the Gophers signed inside guys, outside guys and guys who could do both. If they can sign Kristian Williams in the last period it will be even better.
The Bad: When P.J. Fleck took over at Western Michigan, he raised the recruiting bar for the entire Mid-American Conference. Granted that is more difficult at the Power Five level, but he’s not making conference foes uncomfortable yet.
Top Remaining Target: Demariyon Houston, WR
The Good: While known more for their NFL production at offensive line, linebacker and, more recently, cornerback, Iowa has quietly been a tight end factory and landed three more prospects at the position in this class.
The Bad: Iowa still has needs at defensive back and defensive line, but does not have any reasonable targets left at those positions and will have to dig out some candidates in the coming weeks.
Top Remaining Target: None
The Good: In a strong year for top-end talent in the state of Indiana, the Hoosiers were able to land four of the top six prospects in-state, including four-stars Sampson James, Cameron Williams and Beau Robbins.
The Bad: Just when Indiana was starting to put a border around homegrown talent, the other in-state Big Ten program, Purdue, has resurrected its recruiting and should provide stiff competition for years to come under Jeff Brohm.
Top Remaining Target: David Bell, WR
The Good: Northwestern loses two starters out of its defensive backfield following the 2018 season, but no worries because Pat Fitzgerald re-stocked the cupboard with five new prospects at the position in this 2019 class.
The Bad: There were no two-stars signed in the early period, but each of the Wildcats' 18 new additions had a Rivals Rating of either 5.5 or 5.6. That is good for depth, but there’s no real headliner of the group.
Top Remaining Target: Ainias Smith, RB
The Good: Rutgers got a major Signing Day win against a Big Ten foe when it flipped running back Aaron Young from Michigan State. He joins Ohio three-star Kay’Ron Adams as part of a strong running back class.
The Bad: Rutgers is supposed to be the state school of New Jersey, but for the second straight year the Scarlet Knights do not have a prospect signed or committed among the state’s top 15 prospects.
Top Remaining Target: Zamar Wise, QB
The Good: Lovie Smith made the St. Louis area a priority and you would have to call that effort a success. Illinois signed three of the top eight prospects out of the St. Louis area, including Rivals100 athlete Isaiah Williams.
The Bad: Eleven prospects signed in the early period is not going to cut it for a team that has just nine wins in the last three seasons. This roster needs an influx of talent, but less than 20 percent of Power 5 caliber targets remain unsigned.
Top Remaining Target: Shammond Cooper, LB
The Good: In the 15-day span between when he was hired and the early signing period opened, new head coach Mike Locksley was able to land three commitments, including four-star wide receiver Isaiah Hazel.
The Bad: This Maryland class ranks last in the Big Ten even though these rankings include five prospects who are committed, but have not yet signed. Locksley has his hands full over the next six weeks.
Top Remaining Target: Keilan Robinson, RB