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Five recruiting trends developing across the Big Ten

Jack Sawyer
Jack Sawyer (Josh Helmholdt / Rivals)

There are always interesting recruiting trends when one takes a bigger-picture look across the college football landscape rather than just the busy day-to-day recruiting news. Today, we start a new weeklong series breaking down each conference and we start with the Big Ten.

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

CLASS OF 2022: Top 100

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Over the last five recruiting classes, from coach Urban Meyer to coach Ryan Day which included controversy surrounding Meyer’s handling of the Zach Smith situation, the Buckeyes have forged ahead and completely dominated when it comes to recruiting five-stars.

So much so that Ohio State has far more five-star commitments or signees over the last five classes than the rest of the Big Ten combined. The Buckeyes have 16, including three so far this cycle in offensive lineman Donovan Jackson and defensive linemen Jack Sawyer and Tunmise Adeleye. The rest of the conference currently has none.

Other than Ohio State’s 16 five-stars over the last five cycles, Michigan has five, Penn State three and then Maryland and Iowa one each.

Farrell’s take: This is not a shocker, but the difference in five-star talent between the Buckeyes and the rest of the conference is a bit alarming and explains why they dominate the league. And Ohio State lands five-stars from all over, including Texas and Ohio in this cycle with a chance to pull one or two from Washington in J.T. Tuiamoloau and Emeka Egbuka. Since Meyer took over, the disparity of high-level talent in the Big Ten has been astonishing and it continues under Ryan Day.



Donovan Peoples-Jones
Donovan Peoples-Jones (AP Images)

Five-star prospects are from every region but there are certainly concentrations of top players in the Southeast, in Texas and in California - and the Buckeyes have basically gone everywhere for those elite players.

In recent classes, Ohio State has landed Sawyer, OL Paris Johnson Jr. and Zach Harrison from in-state, WR Julian Fleming from Pennsylvania, LB Teradja Mitchell from Virginia and superstar DE Chase Young out of Maryland. Florida has been fertile recruiting territory for the Buckeyes as well with pledges from Adeleye, OL Nick Petit-Frere, DB Tyreke Johnson, DB Shaun Wade and WR Trevon Grimes, although he’s transferred back to Florida. And then there’s Texas with Jackson, WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, DB Jeffrey Okudah and LB Baron Browning. Five-star OL Wyatt Davis is from California.

Penn State took a much more local approach to landing five-stars with LB Micah Parsons and DB Lamont Wade from Pennsylvania and WR Justin Shorter out of New Jersey. Parsons has been the lone hit of that bunch so far.

Michigan went everywhere for its top players including in-state with Donovan Peoples-Jones but then also Georgia for Christopher Hinton and Aubrey Solomon, Florida for Jordan Anthony and Oklahoma for DB Daxton Hill. Iowa landed A.J. Epenesa out of Illinois and WR Rakim Jarrett was a D.C. kid who went to Maryland.

Farrell’s take: It’s impressive where the Buckeyes are getting their talent and their national reach is the key to their playoff success. While Michigan and others mainly land five-stars in the Big Ten footprint, Ohio State pulls from Florida, Georgia, Texas, California and other areas as well. Michigan made a nice push into Georgia recently but has lost a bit of that momentum.


Evan Pryor
Evan Pryor (Nick Lucero/

There is another interesting stat that speaks to Ohio State’s domination in recruiting - and maybe paints a picture as to why the Buckeyes are 99-10 over the last eight seasons. Not only is Ohio State smashing the Big Ten competition for five-stars but he Buckeyes are doing extraordinarily well loading up with four-star prospects as well.

Over the last 10 recruiting cycles, Ohio State has landed more four-stars than three-stars in every single recruiting class. In 2021, the Buckeyes are already at a margin of 13 four-stars to just two three-stars. The last time Ohio State had more three-stars than fours in a recruiting class happened in 2010 and 2011 when Jim Tressel’s career was on the downslide and Luke Fickell was the interim before Meyer took over.

In Rivals history dating back to 2002, Ohio State has only signed more three-stars than four-stars in five classes. That’s an incredible feat, especially since there are so many more threes than fours every recruiting cycle.

Farrell’s take: Harping on Ohio State too much? Maybe. But the fact that the Buckeyes usually always land more four-stars than three-stars is quite amazing for a team with a solid but not amazing local talent pool and that plays in a cold weather state.


T.J. Bollers
T.J. Bollers (Nick Lucero/

There are 36 former Wisconsin players on NFL rosters last season and the Badgers haven’t had a losing season since 2001, but the recruiting rankings haven’t always reflected those truths. Of the 36 NFL players only Vince Biegel, Corey Clement, Melvin Gordon, Jonathan Taylor and Andrew Van Ginkel were four-star prospects.

There have been 17 three-stars and then J.J. Watt and Russell Wilson (although they started out at Central Michigan and NC State, respectively) were famously two-star recruits. Wisconsin has had a handful of unranked players as well including NFL first-rounder Ryan Ramczyk.

Out of 20 recruiting classes in Rivals history, Wisconsin’s average star ranking per recruiting class is just 2.95 although the Badgers haven’t been under three-stars since 2015. And there have been just two five-stars in all of those recruiting classes with Josh Oglesby in 2007 and Justin Ostrowski in 2003.

Farrell’s take: Wisconsin has never had a top-25 recruiting class in history but it doesn’t seem to matter. The Badgers keep finding under-recruited prospects and developing them, and they usually do well with the bigger names they land as well. Out of all the Big Ten programs, you could easily argue that Wisconsin gets the most out of the perceived least.



Christian Veilleux
Christian Veilleux (Nick Lucero/

Through the final decade of coach Joe Paterno’s career and then the short two-year stint of Bill O’Brien before James Franklin took over at Penn State, the Nittany Lions recruited well but not consistently well.

From 2002-13, Penn State had one first-place finish in the Big Ten recruiting rankings and a couple third-place finishes, but the Nittany Lions were usually fourth or worse in the conference, twice finishing sixth, once seventh and even No. 11 in 2003, hard to believe even though those were the lean years before Paterno’s resurgence in the final years.

But Franklin has not only steadied the ship on the field (over the last four years Penn State and LSU have the same 42-11 record) but recruiting has gone consistently well as the Nittany Lions keep pace with almost every team in the conference.

Franklin’s first recruiting class was third in the Big Ten, followed by a second-place finish, then fourth, third, two seconds, a third and early in 2021 the Nittany Lions are sixth - although if history is any indication they should move up over the next few months in the conference rankings.

It was a near-impossible job taking over at Penn State when Franklin did it. He’s turned the corner - recruiting is going well and the on-field performance has vastly improved, too.

Farrell’s take: We all knew Franklin was a good recruiter and talent evaluator from his days at Maryland and especially Vanderbilt, but his consistency at Penn State has been impressive. With Big Ten recruiting as competitive as ever upon Franklin’s arrival, he has kept pace and been more consistent than Paterno was in this last decade. That’s saying something. This year's class is small, but the quality is excellent and they are doing a good job spot recruiting in Florida and Texas.