Written By Alex Compton
Illinois Fighting Illini
- Times in Champaign are tough. Without a permanent athletic director, the search for a long-term solution at head coach was called off and the program settled on interim head coach Bill Cubit for two more seasons. This situation really highlights the instability of the program at Illinois, but Cubit and his staff have surprisingly done a decent job on the recruiting trail this offseason. The Illini are currently 11th in the Big Ten with 18 commits, including 15 three-star prospects. It is a good class considering the circumstances, but classes like this one won’t help the Fighting Illini climb out of the Big Ten’s cellar any time soon.
- One name for Illini fans to watch is top commit Kentrail Moran out of O’Fallon, Missouri. He has been strongly considering flipping to Syracuse, which would hurt Illinois’ class significantly. He is rated as the 17th best running back prospect nationally, and would make for a really young and dynamic backfield in Champaign along with sophomore-to-be Ke’Shawn Vaughn. A trio of three-star offensive linemen, led by 6’7” Tre Johnson are expected to come in and compete for starting spots right away. Quarterback commit Eli Peters is a nice get as well, and projects as a starter when the current QB Wes Lunt has exhausted his eligibility.
- With the departure of strength and conditioning coach Mark Hill, newly extended head coach Kevin Wilson set out to find his replacement. Citing his skill set and personality, Wilson selected Keith Caton, who is fresh off a four-year stint with Baylor University. Coach Caton will look to continue developing our roster, which is expected to have at least four players selected in this spring’s NFL draft.
- On the recruiting front, things are beginning to pick up as the last contact period before signing day is underway. There are reported to be at least 5 recruits taking official visits to campus this weekend. They are all three-star prospects, and some of the names include DT Amir Watts, DE Quayshon Alexander, LB Dee Walker, and current QB commit Peyton Ramsey.
- Longtime IU target Jovann Swann picked Stanford over Indiana on Tuesday. The 6’3” 250 pound defensive tackle was rated as a solid three star prospect, and said that Stanford emerged as his leader right after his official visit. The Greenwood, Indiana native would have added some much needed depth and versatility on what should be a thin defensive line for next season.
- Be sure to visit the site often and check in with (@Hoosier_Huddle) on Twitter frequently to ensure you are up to date on recruiting information as it comes out!
- After an embarrassing loss in the Rose Bowl, the offseason got slightly better for Hawkeye fans with the announcement that unanimous All-American defensive back Desmond King will return for his senior year. He was a projected top five defensive back and 1st round pick, but cited a desire to get his degree and to go down as one of the all-time greats in Iowa football history as reasons for his return. He will look to repeat as the Jim Thorpe Award winner, given to the best defensive back in college football.
- It has been relatively quiet offseason other than the welcomed news of King’s decision. The Hawkeyes currently come in with the 9th best recruiting class in the Big Ten with a total of 24 commits. Don’t expect too much on that front from the Hawkeyes as signing day approaches.
- First year head coach DJ Durkin has overhauled his staff, including the hiring of former Virginia head coach Mike London as his associate head coach and defensive line coach. Durkin begins his tenure at Maryland after spending last season as Michigan’s defensive coordinator.
- William Likely surprised many by announcing his return for his senior season. He was selected as the Big Ten Return Specialist of the Year, and was also named to the all-Big Ten first team as a defensive back. Junior defensive linemen Yannick Ngakoue and Quinton Jefferson didn’t feel the same way, as they have decided to leave College Park a year early and pursue their professional aspirations in the NFL. Those two departures leave Maryland with little experience up front on defense for next season.
- The Terps’ top commit, four-star QB Dwayne Haskins Jr. is reportedly expected to pursue another scholarship following the departure of Coach Randy Edsall. He will take an official visit to LSU this weekend, and then reconsider his options. LSU and Ohio State are the likely destinations, with the Maryland staff offering two other three-star quarterbacks this week in preparation for his departure.
- After a 41-7 dismantling of Florida in the Outback Bowl, Head Coach Jim Harbaugh is dominating the recruiting trail. He has the Wolverines’ class all the way up to #2 nationally, and #1 in the Big Ten, right ahead of Ohio State.
- In one of the weirder offseason stories, coach Harbaugh “kicked” off the final contact period on 12:01 Thursday morning by arriving at the doorstep of the nation’s #1 kicker Quinn Nordin to have a sleepover and attempt to flip him from Penn State.
- With the departure of senior Jake Rudock, the 2016 QB battle has already begun. The battle is expected to come down to long-time backup Shane Morris and Houston transfer John O’Korn, who had to sit out this season due to NCAA rules. This is definitely something to keep an eye on as spring ball creeps up. IU plays in Ann Arbor on the second to last weekend of the regular season.
- William Henry has entered his name into the NFL draft, forgoing his final year of eligibility. He became an impact player this year, finishing with 34 tackles and 6 ½ sacks in 13 games. He is rated as the 18th best defensive tackle prospect according to NFLDraftScout.com.
Michigan State Spartans
- Big news out of the Under Armour All-American game as MSU was able to lock up a blue chip in-state prospect. Four-star wide receiver Donnie Corley chose Sparty over Michigan, Ohio State, and Tennessee. He was named the 2015 Michigan High School Player of the Year, and has been talked about playing on both sides of the ball. He has huge upside and his decision is definitely one of the highlights of the entire offseason so far in East Lansing.
- With 19 commitments in the 2016 class, Dantonio and his staff are not being ultra-aggressive, but are looking to add one or two more players. One name that excites the staff is Miles Sanders, the top running back in the class. A late surge by Sparty has rewarded them with a scheduled official visit for the end of January. With no running back commit for the class, many people (including current commits on Twitter) like Michigan State’s chance at snagging the stud running back.
- The focus of offseason workouts will be to replace veteran signal caller Connor Cook and some experienced linemen on both sides of the ball. Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry will compete for the starting gig under center next season, as they are both experienced and skilled. You may remember them from the tandem approach that they took on the road to beat the Buckeyes last season. O’Connor is expected to have the slight edge as of now, but there is a long way to go.
- Beloved head coach Jerry Kill finally decided to step down due to lingering health problems in the middle of the season. The team won just one of its final six games after his decision, but went on to win the Quick Lane Bowl against Central Michigan. The team has been turned over to Tracy Claeys, and the 2016 recruiting class has been in turmoil as a result. They have lost eight commits, and added seven new ones in just a few months. Over the weekend, the class lost even more members, as twin brother defensive backs Elisha and Elijah Daniels backed away from Minnesota to explore other options. The staff has reportedly moved on and expects them at Maryland under new coach DJ Durkin. Durkin isn’t stopping there, as he is also dangerously close to flipping one of their best commits, four-star receiver Dredrick Snelson, as well. The name to watch in this class is dual threat QB Seth Green, a one-time Oregon commit (who DJ Durkin is not going after).
- Offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Matt Limegrover is off to Happy Valley to join James Franklin’s staff as the offensive line coach. He spent five seasons at Minnesota under Jerry Kill, and is taking the position to be closer to home. Limegrover’s lines were some of the least penalized in the country, so this is a great hire for a Penn State program that has had all sorts of issues protecting their quarterbacks the last few seasons.
- Defensive tackle Vincent Valentine opted to forgo his senior season and declare for the NFL draft. He joins fellow defensive lineman Maliek Collins in deciding to make the NFL jump early, and leaves the Cornhuskers with little experience up front defensively for next season.
- In his first full offseason as head coach, Mike Riley is not recruiting the way many envisioned that he would. He currently has the 7th best class in the Big Ten with a total of 15 commits. One of those is defensive end Quayson Alexander, who is visiting Bloomington this weekend and is reported to have strong interest in flipping. With their remaining openings, they are pushing hard to surround Tommy Armstrong Jr. with, and are looking to sign up to five more pass catchers this late in the class. On the other side of the ball, they offered IUFB target Collin Miller on Thursday and are working to get him, but many see him as having really strong interest in the real big red. Nebraska will be an interesting team to watch in the coming seasons, as having them become an 8-9 win team consistently would go a long way in balancing the Big Ten divisions.
- One thing to keep in mind is that IU gets Nebraska as a crossover game this year. They will come to Memorial Stadium on October 15th.
- After a disappointing showing against Tennessee in the Outback Bowl, the Cats have seen moderate success while recruiting this offseason. They have 20 commits so far, with all of them coming in at three-stars. They are looking to take maybe one or two more players, but nothing more than that. Names to watch in this group include running back Jeremy Larkin, who is extremely quick and is already being compared to Northwestern star Justin Jackson. Defensive end Tommy Carnafax is another name to watch, as he is going to play from day one, and is an early enrollee at NU. He graduated high school a semester early so that he could start his development with the football program and will surely help bolster a defensive front that could use improvement. Ben Skowronek is the last big name in the class. The Wildcats are severely thin on the outside, and the Fort Wayne native is expected to see a large amount of snaps his freshman year due to his size.
Ohio State Buckeyes
- Nine Buckeyes have decided to leave school early and enter the NFL draft, led by superstars Ezekiel Elliott and Joey Bosa. The other names include top cornerback Eli Apple, starting linebacker Darron Lee, receivers Jalin Marshall and Michael Thomas, safeties Von Bell and Tyvis Powell, and the always polarizing quarterback Cardale Jones. These players join seniors Taylor Decker, Nick Vanett, Josh Perry, Adolphus Washington, Braxton Miller, Tommy Schutt and Chase Ferris as players that will likely be selected in the 2016 NFL draft. That is ridiculous when put in to perspective, and makes it even harder to believe that Michigan State went on the road with a backup quarterback to beat the Buckeyes, win the Big Ten east, and eventually clinch a spot in the college football playoff. OSU won’t rebuild next year. No way. They are in the process of reloading, and will be the probable favorites in the Big Ten once again next season.
- Nike and Ohio State have agreed to a 15-year contract extension worth $252 million, which will kick in starting in 2018. The deal has become the largest such agreement for Nike, surpassing Texas’ 15-year, $250 million deal.
- With the departures of Miller and Jones, there won’t be any quarterback controversy in Columbus next season. Additionally, Torrance Gibson, a once highly regarded QB recruit has said he will “for sure be back” at OSU, but will move to wide out. The job is Barrett’s and that should help the offense perform more consistently during the 2016 campaign.
- Like all great rivalries, the competition between Ohio State and Michigan goes far past the field itself. OSU has ramped up their recruiting efforts since Michigan passed them for the top class in the conference this week. Within the span of this last week, OSU has entered the conversation for five-star Mecole Hardman Jr., who is the top rated athlete in the class. He is expected to use an official visit in Columbus this weekend.
Penn State Nittany Lions
- After three up and down seasons in Happy Valley, star quarterback Christian Hackenberg has entered the NFL draft with one year of eligibility remaining. Over his career, he racked up 8,318 passing yards, 48 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. Replacing Hackenberg will be the top priority for the Nittany Lions this offseason. Former IU commit Tommy Stevens will have to have a great spring and summer to beat out this year’s backup Trace McSorely, who played very well in relief during PSU’s loss to Georgia in the Taxslayer Bowl.
- Two senior playmakers on offense have decided to leave the program. Receiver Geno Lewis is off to Oklahoma after his mother public bashed head coach James Franklin on Twitter. After amassing 1,181 yards and 8 touchdowns over three seasons in Happy Valley, he will be eligible to play right away due to the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule. Running back Akeel Lynch has decided to move on from the program as well after seeing a sharp drop in his touches this season with the emergence of freshman Saquon Barkley. Lynch will also utilize the graduate transfer rule and will be eligible right away. These two join linebackers Gary Wooten and Troy Reeder, plus cornerback Daquan Worley as players to transfer out of Penn State this offseason.
- Year 4 of the Darrell Hazell era is not off to a great start if you could imagine. Things are still looking terrible in West Lafayette, as Hazell and his staff have been unable to recruit effectively at all. With just two scholarships remaining, they are working hard to flip a two star defensive back named Simeon Smiley who is currently committed to…… Southern Alabama. The class has some decent prospects, but nothing that will help Hazell make solid improvements upon his 6-30 career mark as Purdue’s head man.
- One of the real bright spots in the class was three-star OL Dylan Powell, who had a chance to start from day one and projected to be a really solid player down the road. After taking a step back, Dylan decided that he didn’t want to be a Boiler after all, and rescinded his commitment. Sources say he is either off to Virginia Tech or Georgia Tech.
- In somewhat surprising news, Florida announced the addition of Purdue graduate transfer quarterback Austin Appleby to their program. Over parts of three seasons, he completed just over 55% of his passes for 2,777 yards. He tossed 19 touchdowns while also throwing 19 interceptions. It’s a sad day for Big Ten fans, as knowing Appleby would be under center made you feel even more confident when playing Purdue. Good luck with that one, Jim McElwain.
- In notable good news for Purdue football, Boilermaker legend Rod Woodson was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame. He played at Purdue from 1983-1986 and was a three time first team all-Big Ten selection as well as an all-American selection in his senior season. He went on to play in the NFL for 17 seasons, and was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
- In what has become an increasingly hectic offseason for Rutgers, new head coach Chris Ash has finally filled out his staff with the hiring of eight new coaches. He has taken some heat for bringing on coaches with no ties to New Jersey, but stressed the fact that they almost all have ties to Ohio State, which will help them transition into a first-class program.
- Three-star QB and Elite 11 participant Anthony Russo has decommitted, and appears to be headed to either Temple or LSU. Head coach Chris Ash has been hesitant to comment on incumbent starter Chris Laviano’s role for next year, so following the loss they have now put on the full court press for three-star Louisville commit Tylin Oden. They are reported to have a great shot at flipping him, but some feel that he may bolt for Oklahoma State or South Carolina instead. Russo becomes the eighth Scarlet Knight to rescind his commitment this offseason. With just 12 commits currently, the new staff is working tirelessly to bring some desperately needed bodies to Piscataway.
- Wide receiver coach Zak Kuhr has started a movement in an attempt to keep the area’s best talent at Rutgers, using the hashtag “#FenceTheGarden” on Twitter to spread his message. The other coaches have adopted it, and it seems to be catching on. Will coach Ash be able to change the culture and start bringing in local talent? That remains to be seen.
- Linebacker TJ Edwards has been named a freshman all-American by the Football Writers Association of America. He paced the Badgers defense with 84 tackles on the year. With the return of Edwards and some other experienced linebackers, the Badgers are shaping up to have the best line backing corps and one of the best defenses in the Big Ten next season.
- Expect Wisconsin to be quiet on the recruiting front for the time leading up to National Signing Day. They already have a great class with 23 hard commits. Four-star local product Cole Van Lanen is a tackle with great upside and a player that will provide the Badgers with depth instantly. Getting a healthy Corey Clement will be a major storyline for Wisconsin next year, as he was ineffective all year due to lingering injuries. There isn’t too much news out of Madison so far, but the 5th best class in the conference and a bowl win is not a bad way to spend an offseason at all.