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NSD: Grading the Big Ten programs

Paris Johnson Jr.
Paris Johnson Jr. (Rivals.com)

Ohio State has a stranglehold on the top of the Big Ten team recruiting rankings, and will almost certainly finish with the conference’s best class again in 2020. There were some hits and misses throughout the league, and we give each team a grade following the Early Signing Period.

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

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


ILLINOIS

Analysis: Illinois is in jeopardy of signing the Big Ten’s lowest-ranked class for the second year in a row. This class looked like it would be better after a strong start, but the Illini could not sustain that momentum throughout the recruiting process and signed a league-low 12 prospects in the early period. Their longest-tenured commitment, four-star wide receiver Jadon Thompson, was not among those who signed early, but could still sign in the late period. The headliner of this class, then, is clearly Rivals250 running back Reggie Love. The St. Louis native is an explosive offensive weapon who should contribute early for the Illini.

Grade: C-

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INDIANA

Analysis: Kevin Wilson was the first to show Indiana it can recruit on par with the rest of the league after the Hoosiers spent decades in the Big Ten’s recruiting basement, and Tom Allen is showing that consistency can be maintained. This class does not rank as high as last year’s, but with just 17 signed Indiana still has room to add more in the late period and increase its class ranking. Six in-state prospects form the foundation for a class that is currently top 50 nationally and ranks 11th in the Big Ten coming out of the Early Signing Period. The headliner is four-star wide receiver Rashawn Williams out of Detroit.

Grade: C+

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IOWA

Analysis: It makes sense that a head coach with over 20 years of tenure at one school has found his recruiting rhythm, and that’s exactly where Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz finds himself. The Hawkeyes have been extremely consistent, finishing between seventh and ninth in the Big Ten class rankings each of the last four classes. The Hawkeyes find themselves once again ranked No. 7 in the conference coming out of the Early Signing Period. A total of 20 prospects signed with Iowa in the Early Period, and all were committed by the end of August. The last to commit was also the highest ranked – four-star defensive end Deontae Craig out of Indiana.

Grade: B-

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MARYLAND

Analysis: With his first, full class in College Park, Mike Locksley has Maryland sitting among the top five Big Ten recruiting classes coming out of the Early Signing Period. Maryland is the only Big Ten program other than Ohio State to sign a five-star prospect in 2020, after local wide receiver Rakim Jarrett flipped his commitment to the Terrapins on National Signing Day. Locksley also got a big signing day commitment from four-star running back Isaiah Jacobs, whose brother was coached by Locksley at Alabama. Jacobs joins Detroit’s Peny Boone as four-star running back pick-ups in this class, and Maryland signed a total of 20 prospects in the early period.

Grade: A-

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MICHIGAN

Analysis: Michigan has signed a nationally ranked top 10 class three of the last four years, but finds itself just outside that tier after the Early Signing Period. The Wolverines 11th-ranked class is the second-best group going in the Big Ten for this recruiting cycle. It features 12 four-star commits among the 22 players signed in the early period. Those 22 players hail from 11 different states, covering Massachusetts all the way out to Hawaii. Of Michigan’s 12 four-star prospects, three fall in the Rivals100, including Baltimore running back Blake Corum, who is the highest-ranked prospect in the class.

Grade: B+

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MICHIGAN STATE

Analysis: If the current standings hold, this class will be Michigan State’s lowest finish in the Big Ten rankings during Mark Dantonio’s tenure. The Spartans emerge from the Early Signing Period with the conference’s ninth-best class, but there are still spots available and more could be added in the late signing period. This class got a shot in the arm when Minneapolis athlete Terry Lockett committed to the Spartans on the Sunday before National Signing Day. Lockett is the only four-star prospect to sign with Michigan State in the early period, and he headlines a class that is heavily weighted with defensive prospects.

Grade: C

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MINNESOTA

Analysis: P.J. Fleck has had a tendency of signing big classes during his tenure in Minneapolis, and this 2020 group is no different. A total of 24 prospects inked letters of intent with the Gophers in the Early Signing Period, including defensive end Jah Joyner, who flipped his commitment on National Signing Day after being committed to Boston College for the previous six months. St. Louis defender Itayvion Brown is the only four-star in the class. He played linebacker as a senior, but at 6-foot-5 could grow into a defensive end. This class is deep on the defensive side of the football, but also brings in playmakers at running back and wide receiver.

Grade: B-

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NEBRASKA

Analysis: No Big Ten program was involved in as much of the signing day drama as Nebraska, which ended up with four new additions on Wednesday. One of those dramatic signing day moments involved four-star cornerback Jaiden Francois, who started and stopped his announcement ceremony several times before declaring for the Cornhuskers over his hometown Miami Hurricanes. Scott Frost brought in players from coast to coast to build his 23-man signing class, but the two highest-rated prospects are both from the Cornhuskers' back yard. Wide receiver Zavier Betts and offensive tackle Turner Corcoran both rank in the top 60 for the 2020 class and are two of 10 four-stars in a class that currently ranks fourth in the Big Ten and Top 20 nationally.

Grade: A-

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NORTHWESTERN

Analysis: It looked like Northwestern would carry some momentum into the Early Signing Period after getting three-star defensive tackle Jordan Butler to flip from Vanderbilt a week earlier. However, the period started off on a sour note as the Wildcats lost one of their two four-star commitments to a Big Ten rival. Three-star California quarterback Carl Richardson did join the class on the final day of the Signing Period, but this group enters January ranked 12th in the conference. The strength of this Northwestern class is along the offensive line, where Rivals250 tackle Peter Skoronski is the top-ranked prospect signed in the Early Period.

Grade: C

OHIO STATE

Ryan Day
Ryan Day (AP Images)

Analysis: In Ryan Day’s first, full class in Columbus, Ohio State has resumed its spot among the top three classes in the country. After finishing with top three classes in the previous three years, the Buckeyes slipped out of the top 20 after last year’s coaching change. With the Early Signing Period now closed, Ohio State sits behind only Georgia and Alabama and clearly has the Big Ten’s best class. The class is highlighted by three five-stars, two of which are wide receivers. The third five-star is offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr., who was also the Buckeyes' first commitment in 2020. A total of 24 prospects signed with Ohio State in the early period, including eight from the state of Ohio.

Grade: A-

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PENN STATE

Analysis: The third-ranked Big Ten program coming out of the Early Signing Period is Penn State, and it is the biggest class in the conference with 27 prospects inking letters of intent last Wedneday. This class was really made in the summer, with 17 of the 27 prospects who signed making their commitments in the month of June, July and August. There were some key additions late, however, including Rivals250 tight end Theo Johnson, who chose the Nittany Lions over Big Ten rivals Iowa and Michigan. With Johnson’s commitment on Dec. 9, Penn State bookends this class with its two highest-rated prospects. Rivals100 linebacker Curtis Jacobs was the earliest commitment of the prospects who signed, keeping his pledge since last February.

Grade: B

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PURDUE

Analysis: The on-field product was less than Purdue fans were expecting this past season, but Jeff Brohm continues to build for the future with another strong recruiting class in 2020. The Boilermakers exit the Early Signing Period with the No. 27 overall class in the country, which is good for sixth best in the Big Ten. Wide receiver recruiting continues to click for the Boilermakers and accounts for two of the four four-star prospects in this class. Rivals250 wide receiver Maliq Carr is the highest-ranked prospect in the class, and Brohm went back to the Detroit area to steal four-star Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen from Northwestern on National Signing Day. The other four-stars come in at quarterback and defensive end, but wide receiver, linebacker and offensive line all add good depth and talent.

Grade: B

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RUTGERS

Analysis: The only head coaching change in the Big Ten saw Greg Schiano return as head coach of Rutgers, replacing Chris Ash. Rutgers hired Schiano on Dec. 1, giving him two official visit weekends to work with before the Early Signing Period opened. Schiano used that time to add 10 players to this class, and was able to retain seven prospects that had committed to the previous staff. In his first stint as Rutgers head coach Schiano made in-state prospects the focal point on his recruiting plan, and that appears to be his strategy again. Ten of the 17 prospects signed in the early period are from New Jersey. There are no four-stars in the group, but depth was added throughout the defense as well as on the offensive line, and the Scarlet Knights added a quality arm in three-star quarterback Evan Simon.

Grade: B

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WISCONSIN

Analysis: Wisconsin has put together 10-win seasons in five of the last six years, but the Badgers' recruiting classes rarely rank among the Big Ten’s best. Part of that is location, but another factor is the high percentage of Badgers who play out their entire eligibility, which leaves few scholarships available each year to use in recruiting. That again was the case in 2020, as Wisconsin signed one of the conference’s smaller groups. A total of 19 prospects inked in the early period, with four of those 19 being four-star prospects. That includes Rivals250 linebacker Kaden Johnson, who chose the Badgers on National Signing Day. The strength of this class, though, is on the offensive line, which features four-stars Trey Wedig and Jack Nelson.

Grade: B-

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