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Big Ten: Winners and losers from the 2020 recruiting cycle

Justin Fields
Justin Fields (AP Images)

With the second Signing Day now complete, it’s time to take stock of how each individual Power Five Conference fared in the 2020 class. The Big Ten placed just one team in the top 10 of the final team recruiting rankings, but there were more winners, and a few losers, throughout the conference.

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CLASS OF 2020 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Position | Team | State

CLASS OF 2021 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Position | Team | State

WINNERS

Conference Parity

There can be reasonable debate on this topic, but when I look at the final outcomes of the 2020 recruiting class, it will help the West Division, which has not won a Big Ten title since the conference split into geographical divisions six years ago, to close the gap on the East Division. Yes, the top three programs in the Big Ten’s 2020 class rankings are from the East Division, but five of the next six are from the West. This class alone will not allow the Big Ten West to step up to the East’s level, but it is a move in the right direction.

Justin Fields

Ohio State’s quarterback has to say goodbye to leading receiver K.J. Hill, but he gets to say hello to one of the best receiver classes ever signed by a school. Expectations are Fields has just one more season in Columbus, but receiver is one of the positions that is easiest for freshmen to see the field. And, with experienced pass-catchers like Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson back next fall, Fields does not need a freshman to step up and be the man. You can bet he will be happy to add some more big bodies on the edge like five-stars Julius Fleming and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, or a speedy slot like Mookie Cooper.

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New Michigan LB Coach Brian Jean-Mary

After linebackers coach Anthony Campanile left in January to take a position with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh replaced him with 20-year coaching veteran Brian Jean-Mary, whose most recent stop was USF. And, Harbaugh had a present for Jean-Mary when he arrived: the Big Ten’s best linebacker class. The Wolverines signed a total of six linebackers in the Early Period, four of which were rated four-stars. The group is led by All-American Kalel Mullings, who ranks as the No. 8 outside linebacker and No. 92 overall in the class.

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Early Signing Period

Around 85 percent of all Power Five prospects who sign with Power Five schools in this 2020 class will have done so in the Early Period. That number is even higher in the Big Ten Conference, where currently 297 prospects have signed with conference programs in the 2020 class, and 285 – or 96 percent - of those were signed in the Early Period. Half of the conference’s programs didn’t sign any prospects in the Late Period. I have made my stance clear that the Early Signing Period is not a win for college football overall, but in the battle between which period is more impactful, this is no contest.

LOSERS

Don Brown
Don Brown (AP Images)

Big Ten Defensive Coordinators

When you look at the first-year players heading to Big Ten programs next fall, the conference really cleaned up at the offensive skill positions. Running back will see four-stars like Jalen Berger at Wisconsin, Blake Corum at Michigan and Reggie Love at Illinois. Ohio State’s receiver class is scary enough on its own, but Maryland will also be showcasing five-star Rakim Jarrett and Nebraska gets to unleash Rivals100 pass catcher Zavier Betts. While there are plenty of smiling faces in offensive team meetings across the conference, their defensive coordinators down the hall are wringing their hands in anticipation of the offensive skill coming into the Big Ten.

Jaylen Mayala

When he committed to Indiana last month, three-star Georgia defensive end Jalen Mayala told Rivals Southeast Analyst Chad Simmons: “It was all about the coaches… coach (Mark) Hagen is the coach I am closest to.” About 90 minutes after Mayala sent in his paperwork to the Indiana football offices last Wednesday, though, word began to break that Hagen, the Hoosier’s co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach, was headed to Texas to join Tom Herman’s staff. Coincidental timing? Not likely.

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College Park Buffets

With his first, full recruiting class at Maryland head coach Mike Locksley apparently determined he need to bulk up his offensive and defensive lines. The Terrapins signed six players in this 2020 class weighing more than 300 pounds, more than any other team in the conference. They added four more who weigh at least 280 pounds. You do not want to be the Maryland staffer tasked with picking up the bill for team meals.

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Players in the Transfer Portal

One of my predictions heading into the December Signing Period was that we would see a larger number of prospects dropped in the days leading up to the first Signing Day for 2020 as teams look to bank some initial-qualifier spots to use in the Transfer Portal. You know what? That did not come to fruition, which means there are not enough landing spots to accommodate every player in the portal. Each school only gets 25 initial-qualifier spots per year and transfers, even grad transfers, count toward that limit. When you run the numbers it’s obvious many in the portal are going to be left without a chair when the music stops.