Recruiting Trends: Who is up, down and holding steady in Big Ten
Mark Pszonak contributed to this report
Recruiting trends are always interesting to follow, especially for programs that don’t end up getting as much attention as the blue bloods. This week we will look at each Power Five conference and discover some teams trending up, down and remaining remarkably consistent. We start today with the Big Ten.
Recent Class Rankings: No. 57, No. 43, No. 41
Overview: When P.J. Fleck was hired in January 2017, he only had a couple of weeks to put together the No. 57 class in the country. Since then the Gophers have gone 5-7 and 7-6 on the field, while producing the No. 43 and No. 41 classes. There was plenty of excitement in Minneapolis after the Fleck hire, and while the Gophers have only been 12-13 in his two seasons, that general feeling still exists. However, more on-field success is expected in 2019 so it will be interesting to see if the Gophers can continue their recruiting rise if that does not happen.
Farrell’s take: Fleck’s first class didn’t have a four-star in it but he did a good job landing players from all over the country and his energy and aggressive recruiting nature started to show. The 2018 class was much better as he had a full cycle to establish relationships and four-stars such as Daniel Faalele and Curtis Dunlap chose Minnesota from IMG Academy in Florida. He had fewer four-stars in 2019 but the class was deeper, led by quarterback Jacob Clark. Fleck has proven he can be an effective recruiter at the Power Five level and this year if off to a solid but not spectacular start, so we’ll see if he can keep raising the bar.
Recent Class Rankings: No. 68, No. 49, No. 26
Overview: While Jeff Brohm was hired approximately a month before Fleck at Minnesota, he also had to scramble to piece together the No. 68 class in the country in 2017. The recruiting progress in this first two years in West Lafayette has been impressive though, producing the No. 49 class in 2018 and then the No. 26 class earlier this year. While only 13-13 during the last two seasons, Brohm has taken the Boilermakers to two consecutive bowls, which still has fans and recruits buzzing. However, will another .500 level season keep this buzz going?
Farrell’s take: Rondale Moore has helped put Purdue on the map and the yearly battle for Brohm’s services shows what a valuable coach he is. His first class had no prospect ranked higher than a 5.6 three-star, but he did a good job landing prospects from Florida and JUCOs. The 2018 class brought Moore, who was clearly underranked, and a bit more top end talent, but they were still searching for that elusive four-star talent. That came in 2019 with six four-stars led by local wide receiver David Bell and local defensive end George Karlaftis. Purdue has taken a big jump in recruiting, although 2020 has started slowly.
Recent Class Rankings: No. 65, No. 45, No. 39
Overview: The Hoosiers experienced an abrupt coaching change after the 2016 season when Kevin Wilson surprisingly resigned. Tom Allen took over the program and produced the No. 65, No. 45 and No. 39 classes in the country over the last three years. This has been somewhat of a surprising accomplishment, as the Hoosiers program has not had the same buzz as both Minnesota and Purdue since their coaching hires. Couple this with two consecutive 5-7 seasons and one would think that a winning season is necessary in 2019 for the Hoosiers to continue their positive recruiting trend.
Farrell’s take: The 2017 class was a scramble but Allen did a good job landing some talent and depth. Things were better in 2018, as Indiana landed four-star quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and many highly-regarded three-stars. However, Allen and company broke through in 2019 with four different four-stars led by locals Cameron Williams, Sampson James and Beau Robbins. The Hoosiers also landed a potential gem in Tiawan Mullen from Florida. The 2020 cycle has been highlighted by the commitment of Michigan four-star wide receiver Rashawn Williams, which send a message nationally that Indiana can battle the big boys for recruits.
Recent Class Rankings: No. 17, No. 29, No. 62
Overview: Everything seemed to be going very well with recruiting in College Park until the university's irresponsible handling of the Jordan McNair tragedy threw the program into a tailspin. The firing of DJ Durkin, who pieced together the No. 17 class in 2017 and the No. 29 class in 2018, resulted in the collapse of the 2019 class. The hiring of Mike Locksley, a known top-level recruiter, was not enough to solidify the 2019 class, which finished at No. 62 this year. Given a full year to re-establish relationships in the DMV area, Locksley is likely to produce a rebound recruiting season for the Terrapins, but can he also create an upswing on the field?
Farrell’s take: Durkin was an elite level recruiter and once our National Recruiter of the Year, but his dismissal sent the program into a tailspin of sorts. Locksley is a great hire when it comes to recruiting because no one knows the area better and I expect better things in 2020. The on field product will really determine how well Locksley can recruit but despite the low ranking last year, he still pulled some surprises.
Recent Class Rankings: No. 48, No. 50, No. 71
Overview: The hiring of Lovie Smith in March 2016 was supposed to rejuvenate the Illinois program, but instead the Illini have gone 9-27 in his three seasons. The recruiting classes have followed suit, with the Illini dipping to No. 71 in 2019 after finishing at No. 48 and No. 50 in 2017 and 2018. This is likely a do-or-die season for Smith and the Illini, who desperately need more on-field success in 2019.
Farrell’s take: This is a bit misleading but facts are facts. the Illinois national recruiting ranking has fallen each of the last three years. However, the low ranking in 2019 was due to a very small class that was headlined by four-stars Isaiah Williams and Marquez Beason and the average star ranking was solid. This is a huge year in recruiting for Illinois and the program is off to a great start with two four-star commitments. Smith has been able to land some big fish in his time, something many didn’t think he could do, and you could argue that recruiting is trending up despite the national rankings.
Recent Class Rankings: No. 40, No. 40, No. 41
Overview: The Iowa football program is considered one of the more consistent and stable in the country, so it should come as no surprise that the Hawkeyes' recent recruiting classes have followed the same pattern. Having finished with the No. 40, No. 40 and No. 41 recruiting classes over the last three years, the Hawkeyes have gone 25-14 on the field during this stretch, while winning their last two bowl games. Kirk Ferentz has established a winning culture in Iowa City, so expect more of the same from the Hawkeyes with the class of 2020.
Farrell’s take: Talk about consistent. Iowa does not have a strong recruiting landscape so the program needs to head to Florida and into rival Big Ten states for much of its talent. The Hawkeyes also do a good job of developing players. The 2017 class brought a rare five-star in Illinois defensive end A.J. Epenesa and much of the Iowa classes are loaded with high three-stars, but they can get their share of four-stars and compete with the big boys in some cases. Iowa is a solid, steady program and the recruiting rankings show that.