Written By T.J. Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)
2015 Recruiting Wrap – Big Ten Edition
*Please note* - All class and player rankings are according to 247Sports and do not factor in transfers
1. Ohio State Buckeyes
National Ranking: 6th – THE Ohio State University has THE top ranked recruiting class in THE (is that annoying yet? Ugh…) Big Ten and the 6th ranked class nationally.
Top Recruit: Justin Hilliard – OLB - There are a lot of choices for the “top recruit” in a class full of highly-rated players but Hilliard is the 2nd ranked linebacker in the country. Ohio State has a long history of great players at linebacker and the Cincinnati, OH native is expected to be the next one.
Sleeper: Michael Weber – RB – No one is truly a “sleeper” for the Buckeyes. When you commit to Ohio State, expectations are high and you don’t exactly “fly under the radar”. That being said, Michael Weber’s signing had some additional significance. His recruitment was the first, of what promises to many, Signing Day battles between Urban Meyer and Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh. Weber is the 9th ranked running back in the 2015 class and he was originally committed to Michigan. In November, he decided to flip his commitment to Ohio State. Harbaugh didn’t give up and Weber’s commitment was up in the air until he announced for the Buckeyes on National Signing Day. Buckeye fans have been happy to let others know, that’s Urban-1, Harbaugh-0.
2. Penn State Nittany Lions
National Ranking: 14th – James Franklin’s first full recruiting class (without scholarship reductions/sanctions) as the coach at Penn State is a good indicator of his skill as a recruiter. He brought in a number of 4-star prospects and secured the 2nd ranked class in the B1G.
Top Recruit: Sterling Jenkins – OT – Jenkins is not the highest rated player in this class (that honor goes to running back Saquon Barkley or CBs Garrett Taylor/John Reid) but I think he might be the most important. Locking down Pennsylvania is important for Penn State and their offensive line was the weakest spot on their team and landing Jenkins addressed both of those issues. He’s 6’8” and the Nittany Lions are hopeful that he can develop into an All-B1G left tackle.
Sleeper: A Trio of WRs – I’m going to cheat a bit here and pick a group of three wide receivers: Juwan Johnson, Irvin Charles and Brandon Polk. All three of them are 4-star guys but I chose them as sleepers because none of them are likely to see significant playing time this season but they each have the potential to turn into high-impact players. Penn State should be loaded at WR (DaeSean Hamilton, Geno Lewis, Matt Zanellato, Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall are all returning and De’Andre Thompkins will make his debut after redshirting. We’ll sleep on these three right now but they’ll likely have a large impact in the future (possibly with former IU commit Tommy Stevens throwing them the ball).
3. Michigan State Spartans
National Ranking: 22nd – Mark Dantonio continues to bring in solid recruiting classes and the Spartans should continue to be players in the B1G and on a national level.
Top Recruit: Larry (LJ) Scott – RB – Scott is considered the 6th best RB in the 2015 class and the Hubbard, OH native should be a great fit in the Michigan State offense. MSU is pretty well stocked at running back but Scott could factor in as early as next season and he compares Spartan fans are excited about his potential.
Sleeper: Mufi Hunt – DE – Spartan fans will be waiting quite a while to see this young man. He’s from Salt Lake City Utah and he is a Mormon. This means that he will be taking a two-year mission and he won’t begin his college career until 2017. That means he could end up being a senior while he is 24 or 25 years old. BYU is certainly the school that is most known for having older players and I know their coaches (and opponents coaches) have publicly spoken about the advantages and challenges that Mormon missions present. Hunt’s story will be a unique to follow in a couple of years.
4. Nebraska Cornhuskers
National Ranking: 31st – New head coach Mike Riley did a pretty good job of holding on to a solid class for Nebraska after he was brought in to replace Bo Pelini. It’s not a class that is likely to vault Nebraska to the level they’d like to be but it’s certainly not a bad class, particularly after a late coaching change. The 2016 class will be a strong indicator of whether or not Riley is up to the challenge of making Nebraska a top 10 program once again.
Top Recruit: Eric Lee – DB – Lee was committed to Nebraska prior to Riley’s arrival. He stuck with the Huskers and has already enrolled in school in hopes to be ready to play for his freshman season. He’s the highest rated player in the class and was top player from the state of Colorado.
Sleeper: Matt Snyder – TE – Mike Riley has historically gotten a lot of production out of his TE’s (something that Bo Pelini didn’t do). Snyder is 6’5” and is a well-regarded prospect from California. He has the size to play immediately but I put him here because I think we’ll start to see more from tight ends in Lincoln.
5. Wisconsin Badgers
National Ranking: 34th – As I noted in our Signing Day preview podcast, Wisconsin has the lowest recruiting budget in the conference. The fact that they continue to crank out solid classes and very good teams is a testament to the system they have and their ability to develop talent. New head coach Paul Chryst is very familiar with what it takes to win at Wisconsin so expect more 2,000 yard running backs and lots of highly-drafted offensive linemen.
Top Recruit: Jordan Stevenson – RB – Who will be the next big-time running back for the Badgers? Meet Jordan Stevenson, a 4-star running back from Dallas, Texas. Stevenson is the highest rated player in UW’s class and RB is a position that Wisconsin knows how to use running backs (that’s an understatement….they have an assembly line of giant behemoth offensive linemen that turn good running backs into stars).
Sleeper: Jon Dietzen – OT – How many 3-star recruits are you fairly certain will turn into all-conference players and eventually be drafted? He’s from Wisconsin, he’s an offensive lineman, he’s huge (6’5”/345 pounds) and he’s already enrolled at UW and working in whatever factory they send offensive line prospects to that makes them into stars.
6. Michigan Wolverins
National Ranking: 38th – Michigan spent a lot of money to bring in a coach they believe can get them back to contending for national titles. Jim Harbaugh’s next few classes will largely determine whether or not that investment was worth it. It’s not fair to judge him on this class but I think it’s encouraging for fans of the Maize and Blue that he was able to piece together a Top 40 class in a very short time frame. They only have 14 signees in this class but that includes six 4-star prospects.
Top Recruit: Brian Cole – ATH – Cole is a 4-star athlete from Saginaw, Michigan that is expected to line up at either DB or WR for the Wolverines. Clint Brewster of 247Sports believes Cole will initially play on offense as the Wolverines are looking for dynamic playmakers on that side of the ball.
Sleeper: Jon Runyan Jr. – OL – Does that name sound familiar? Jon Runyan (SR.) is a former NFL great that excelled as O-linemen for the Oilers and Eagles. Runyan played for Michigan (and is now a member of the U.S. House of Representatives) and his son is following in his footsteps. He’s currently 6’4” and around 270 pounds but his father was 6’7”/330 and Runyan will probably put on quite a bit of size when he gets in the Michigan weight program. The bloodlines are there, his father is a “Michigan Man” (which is very, very important to Wolverine fans, just in case you somehow hadn’t heard) and I’d expect Runyan will end up being a valuable player for UM.
7. Illinois Fighting Illini
National Ranking: 45th – Tim Brewster did just enough in 2014 to keep his job so bringing in a nice recruiting class was important for the Illini. Finishing with the 45th ranked class is a solid job by Brewster, whether or not he’ll be around to coach this class for the next four years is yet to be seen but there are some solid pieces here that might help Brewster turn Illinois into a consistent bowl team. They had the lowest ranked recruiting class in the conference in 2014 so this was a big step forward for Illinois.
Top Recruit: Gabe Megginson – OT – Megginson was the 2nd highest ranked player in the state of Illinois and it was extremely important to keep him close to home. Megginson is a 4-star offensive tackle prospect that is expected to be a starter at left tackle as early as his sophomore season.
Sleeper: Ke’Shawn Vaughn – RB – Vaughn is a 4-star RB from Tennessee that was a very late addition to this class. He chose Illinois over Louisville and his commitment was a surprise to many. He will probably see the field some this year (playing behind Josh Ferguson) and Illini fans expect him to be a 2 or 3 year starter in the Illini backfield.
8. Maryland Terrapins
National Ranking: 48th – Maryland brought in a class with only 18 players and they clearly wanted to focus their efforts on improving “in the trenches”. Of their 18 signees, the Terps signed 8 linemen. They missed out on a couple of high-profile Signing Day decisions but this is a solid class for Randy Edsall and his staff.
Top Recruit – Adam McLean – DT – As I mentioned, Maryland brought in 8 linemen (either offensive or defensive) and McLean was the highest rated of the bunch. He was also the 2nd ranked player from Maryland. They lost out on the top ranked player from the state (Isiah Prince chose Ohio State on Signing Day) so securing McLean was important for the Terrapins.
Sleeper – D.J. Moore – WR – Maryland has a pretty solid group of wide receivers heading into this season. However, most of those guys will be moving on after the 2015 season. D.J. Moore could be a guy that fills that void in 2016. The Philadelphia native isn’t particularly big but Maryland reporters say he’s explosive and has good hands (I’m told that’s important for a wide receiver).
9. Indiana Hoosiers
National Ranking: 51st – The disclosure at the top of these rankings needs to be considered before looking at this class ranking. Marqui Hawkins and Jordan Howard are not factored into this ranking. With those two (particularly Howard), this is probably the 7th ranked recruiting class in the B1G. Regardless, this is a very good group for Indiana and a very nice job by Kevin Wilson and his staff. The Hoosiers brought in 22 players (24 with the two transfers), signed everyone they were expected to coming in to Signing Day and added a surprise commitment from WR Camion Patrick.
Top Recruit – Tyler Green – S – A 4-star defensive back (safety in high school, Kevin Wilson says he’ll begin his IU career at corner) from Maryland, Green originally committed to Ohio State. He opened his commitment back up and quickly decided to join the Crimson Army. Green has really good size (6’3”/195) and athleticism and I’m intrigued about seeing him at corner against some of the bigger receivers IU will go up against. Rashard Fant is a really good cover corner but he’s not big enough to battle large receivers so Green’s size could make for a very good partnership.
Sleeper – Austin Dorris – TE – This was a very tough one to pick. I could have gone with one of the talented receivers that IU brought in. Or I could have gone with prototypical rush defensive end Brandon Wilson or I could have chosen electric playmaker Devonte Williams. I’m going way off the grid and choosing Austin Dorris. Dorris played QB during his senior season in Shadyside, OH and ran for 1,400 yards, threw for 1,000 yards and had 31 TDs. However, he’ll be playing TE for the Hoosiers. Dorris is 6’5”/230 pounds and reminds everyone who watches him of former IU star Ted Bolser. I like the potential of two TE sets with Jordan Fuchs (just a sophomore) and Dorris.
10. Northwestern Wildcats
National Ranking: 52nd – The Wildcats have had a rocky couple of seasons and some of the shine has worn off of head coach Pat Fitzgerald. I still think he’s a very capable coach and Northwestern brought in a class of 20 players that is pretty consistent (in terms of ranking) with where they have been in the past couple of seasons.
Top Recruit – Jordan Thompson – DT – Thompson is the consensus top player in NW’s class. He had offers from many top schools (Notre Dame being his other finalist) and he is expected to see some playing time on the Cats defensive line as early as this coming season.
Sleeper – Flynn Nagel – WR – Nagel is a 5’11” WR from Lemont, Illinois. He doesn’t look particularly imposing or like all that impressive of a player. However, he put up good numbers in high school and in his “all-star” camps and produced everywhere he played. Former Wildcats WR Jeremy Ebert will be training him in the offseason and I always admired Ebert’s game. Plus, his name is Flynn and I think that will sound kind of cool when it gets yelled out by a hyperventilating BTN announcer when he scores a TD on a quick slant in October against Purdue.
11. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
National Ranking: 54th – There’s a lot of Big Ten schools between numbers 30 and 55 so a player here or there can swing you from having the 6th ranked B1G class to the 11th ranked B1G class. Rutgers secured the signatures of 8 players from their home state and 7 from Pennsylvania so the majority of their class was focused in those two states.
Top Recruit – Marques Ford – DE – Ford is a 4-star recruit who decommitted from Tennessee after what he calls a “misunderstanding” with the Vols coaching staff. He is from Gibsonton, Florida and looks like the prototypical edge pass rusher that every school is after. He’s 6’4”, has long arms and is “very athletic” (honestly though, which one of these kids is not “very athletic”…they are almost all “very athletic”).
Sleeper – Ronnie James – S – James is from New Jersey and it was no surprise that he ended up signing for the Knights. However, he had offers from some high-profile programs (mainly Ohio State) which suggests he has higher potential than his ranking suggests.
12. Iowa Hawkeyes
National Ranking: 60th – This is not a strong showing from Kirk Ferentz and his staff and things continue to slide slowly downward for the Hawkeyes. They did bring in 21 recruits and Ferentz has never relied on getting top-10 classes but I think Iowa fans are expecting more than 12th in the B1G.
Top Recruit – Levi Paulsen – OT – Brandon Scherff just wrapped up a very successful career at LT and he’ll hear his name called very early on draft night. Levi Paulsen (his brother is also in this class) could be the next major talent at LT for the Hawkeyes.
Sleeper – Adrian Falconer – WR – Falconer is a 6’1” WR from Leesburg, Florida. He’s only around 180 pounds but that should change quickly in college. Iowa’s 247Sports reporter, Andrew Kulha, likes Falconer quite a bit and recently wrote that if he is utilized correctly, the incoming freshmen could be a star because he’s a good route runner with speed and he is “longer than his measurables say he is” (shouldn’t someone re-measure then?).
13. Minnesota Golden Gophers
National Ranking: 61st – After a very successful 2014 campaign, Jerry Kill brought in 24 players and the 13th best class in the B1G. There are no 4-star players in this class but according to The Daily Gopher (SBNation fan site for Minnesota), Kill’s classes have gotten progressively better each year when you look at the average rating of each player. Gopher fans hope this class helps them on their steady climb upward in the B1G.
Top Recruit – Quinn Oseland – OT – Minnesota’s recruit are all pretty much 3-star guys that are rated roughly the same. So, when in doubt, I chose the guy who Minnesota’s coaches and fans seem the most excited about. Quinn Oseland is a 6’6”/310 offensive linemen from Springfield, IL. He chose the Gophers over Arizona State and California and is a player that should fit in very nicely along a Minnesota offensive line that likes to play what their fans affectionately call “MAN Ball”.
Sleeper – Rashad Still – WR – Minnesota’s passing game was their weak spot last season and it doesn’t figure to be appreciably better this season with the loss of TE Maxx Williams (their one true receiving threat). Rashad Still might be able to help out a bit in that department. He’s a 6’5” prospect from El Paso, Texas and his new coaches said that he was quite polished and could see the field right away.
14. Purdue Boilermakers
National Ranking: 64th – Things are not going well for Coach Hazell. He’s lost back-to-back Bucket games to IU, the Boilers aren’t winning on the field, no one is attending the games in Ross-Ade Stadium and he has the bottom ranked recruiting class in the B1G…again (and he’s referring to recruits as being from the “State of Purdue”…he’s so depressed that he’s turned Purdue into a state). There are some solid prospects in this class and the Boilers aren’t too far stranded but there’s not a lot of reason for optimism surrounding the Gold and Black at the moment.
Top Recruit- Matt McCann – OT – Purdue’s coaches have publicly said that they’d like to become the most physical team in the B1G (as long as we’re dreaming, I’d like to become 6’9” and play in the NBA after winning 2 NCAA titles at IU) so getting a guy like Matt McCann is important. McCann is 6’6”/305 and played for a very successful Indianapolis area high school program (Bishop Chatard).
Sleeper – 24-way tie – I’m not trying to be snarky…I really have no idea. Most of their recruits were “under the radar” guys that were largely un-recruited by Power 6 schools. I guess I’ll choose Markell Jones, a RB from Columbus East. Jones had a successful high school career and had interest from other B1G schools. Purdue appears to want to be a power running team so Jones could have plenty of opportunities to excel.