Big Ten Spotlight: Five coaches that need a strong close to 2024 cycle
Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Clint Cosgrove highlights five Big Ten coaches that need a strong close to the 2024 recruiting cycle with the Early Signing Period just a few short weeks away.
MORE IN THIS SERIES: Big 12 coaches who need a strong close
CLASS OF 2026 RANKINGS: Rivals100
Jonathan Smith, Michigan State
If there is one coach who needs a strong close to 2024 more than anyone it is without question new Michigan State head coach Jonathan Smith. Smith is taking over a program that has a mix of resources, high expectations and recent success, but also often plays second fiddle to another Big Ten school in its own state. It starts by keeping the small but talented class of what is down to eight commits intact. Smith cannot afford to lose guys like Nicholas Marsh, Jaylen Thompson, the Luniewski brothers (Charlton and Mercer), Justin Denson or anyone else, for that matter. Then Smith is going to have to take advantage of the new hire momentum and flip some guys as well. One can only imagine if Smith and staff could somehow reel back in former 2024 Spartan pledges like Reggie Powers, Andrew Dennis and Jamari Howard.
The administration made this targeted hire as soon as possible and that was to take advantage of as much time leading up to signing day as possible. With that comes the expectation that this is not a lost class, as the new regime in East Lansing is likely to build its program from the high school ranks. Michigan State has been stuck in the portal since Mel Tucker's quick fix and Smith intends to make this a sustainable program built by recruiting and developing young talent. This is a tall task, but if Smith can make the most out of this class with the time remaining Michigan State will be up to speed sooner rather than later in his tenure.
James Franklin, Penn State
James Franklin is known for his recruiting acumen and he has built a nationally competitive program. Penn State has all of the resources to be a destination school that wins championships.
While the Nittany Lions' recruiting efforts have been impressive under Franklin, the program still can't seem to get over the hump and become a consistent title contender like Michigan or Ohio State. Penn State has gone 4-16 against those Big Ten foes during Franklin's tenure. In order to replicate the big two in the Big Ten Franklin and staff need to win some recruiting battles for elite players like Michigan and Ohio State do at a higher clip.
Penn State is currently No. 10 in the latest playoff rankings and right, wrong or indifferent the fans want more. While the talent is borderline elite and the coaching has been adequate at some point the program needs to take the next step under Franklin. While the Nittany Lions have done a great job recruiting in-state, losing players like Semaj Bridgeman to Michigan and Yahzeed Haynes to Georgia last year or Peter Jones to Notre Dame this year cannot happen if they are to become a national title contender. For now, it seems like Penn State is only a couple players away from taking that next step and closing strong in 2024 will be critical to Franklin's tenure in State College.
Ryan Day, Ohio State
As elite as Ryan Day's program has been on the recruiting trail and on the field, for some reason it can't seem to win the big one when a conference title is on the line.
The Buckeyes recruit at an incredible clip on a yearly basis and have won the Big Ten recruiting title almost every year in recent memory. The close in 2024 needs to be flawless, because despite the numerous conference recruiting titles the Buckeyes have lost key commits like Dasan McCullough, Kayin Lee, Mark Fletcher and Terrance Brooks in years past, and that isn't going to cut it if they want to beat Michigan on a regular basis.
This year has been another lights-out year on the recruiting trail, but the Buckeyes cannot afford to lose any of its elite players. A lot of eyes will be on the incredibly skilled group of receiver commits because Jeremiah Smith, Mylan Graham and Jeremiah McClellan are future difference-makers for any program in the country and schools are going to be coming after them hard. Winning Big Ten recruiting titles has gotten the Buckeyes far under Day, but it looks like Ohio State needs to win a national recruiting title if it is going to take the next step.
PJ Fleck, Minnesota
Minnesota does a great job identifying guys that fit PJ Fleck's program and culture. This doesn't always lead to the highest-rated recruiting classes, but it has led to plenty of success on the field during his tenure. Not only has Minnesota proven to develop its talent, the staff does a great job of identifying and landing that talent early in the cycle, which in turn has led to some of the Gophers' top commits blowing up on the recruiting trail after committing. While flipping or landing a couple of additional players would be nice, keeping the current group of commits in the boat is what could make or break this class.
Both Koi Perch and Jide Abasiri have high NFL Draft upside, and it looks like the Gophers will be battling blueblood programs down the stretch for their signatures next month. Perich is set to visit Ohio State and Florida State in the coming weeks, with Abasiri potentially scheduling a visit to USC prior to signing day. Should Fleck hold on to the two in-state products and add a commitment from a guy like four-star defensive end Lugard Edokpayi, who is fresh off a visit to Minnesota, this class could end up having plenty of upside.
Indiana's next coach is going to have a tall task on the recruiting trail because the Hoosiers are already behind in terms of talent and they will be behind in terms of time to make an impact in the 2024 class after a new coach is hired. It is imperative that Indiana's next head man keeps all of the current commits in the boat - especially the higher-rated commits like Judah Jenkins, Josh Philostin, Brady Kosin, Javier Etheridge and Adedamola Ajani. Let's be honest though. The Hoosiers really can't afford to lose anyone, and there are some arguably underrated guys in this class, too.
The next coach will need to make a couple of important and calculated decisions as well. Which players do the Hoosiers spend a lot of time and resources trying to flip? My answer would be key guys at positions of value like current Duke commit Tyler Cherry, who is right in their back yard. The other decision is whether they go for the quick fix and hit both the JUCO ranks and the portal hard. One thing is for certain - Indiana needs an influx of talent, and the 2024 class cannot be lost because of a coaching transition.