Welcome back, Maize n' Brew readers! This is the continuation of the post-Signing Day recap where we assess the recruiting classes of the Big Ten teams. Last time we tackled the Legends Division.
Here's a look at the Leaders Division.
ATH 2, DB 7, DE 3, DT 3, OL 3, QB 1, RB 1, TE 2, WR 3
Overview: Quarterback and wide receiver were two crucial areas of need going into the 2013 class, and Tim Beckman addressed those moderately. Given how bad the 2012 season went, it's understandable that he focused more energy on the defensive side of the ball: the Illini signed 7 defensive backs, 2 athletes (both of which will probably play safety), and six players along the defensive line. Beckman also did a good job focusing on in-state recruits. He signed 8 total prospects from the state of Illinois, including his two best skill players: QB Aaron Bailey out of Bolingbrook, IL, and RB Kendrick Foster out of Crete, IL.
Headliner: Illinois fans were perhaps most relieved that dual-threat quarterback Aaron Bailey stuck with his commitment to the Illini despite the porous 2-10 season. The 6'2", 215 lbs. scrambler is accurate and could easily succeed Nathan Scheelhasse.
Bottom Line: Like many coaches who suffer terrible first seasons, Beckman filled the ranks of his 2013 class with players from junior colleges who could provide immediate help. Of the 25 players that eventually signed with Illinois, 10(!) enrolled early (5 freshmen, 5 JUCOs). Beckman hopes that by doing so his staff can hit the ground running and have some answers by spring practice. Although the Illini look much deeper in the defensive backfield, the offensive line is still a primary concern, and Beckman will need to recruit heavier and develop that position if he hopes to survive grueling conference play.
ATH 2, DB 2, DE 2, DT 3, LB 5, OL 1, RB 3, TE 2, WR 2
Overview: While Kevin Wilson's offense took major strides in 2012, his defense is still trying to improve. Wilson's biggest needs in the class were to get players who can stop the run and the pass. He added five linebackers and three defensive tackles--most notably four-star Darius Latham, who he flipped from Wisconsin. Wilson dipped into the Southeast to get players like LB Kristopher Smith and four-star athlete Rashard Fant, both out of Georgia. The secondary also got a boost from four-star safety Antonio Allen and three-star Noel Padmore. Wilson didn't ignore the offense, though, signing three running backs, including short, quick scatbacks like Laray Smith and Daryl Chestnut, both of whom are decently ranked at the position.
Headliner: Defensive back Antonio Allen is widely considered to be the highest rated addition to the class and at a position where talent is desperately needed. Allen participated in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and comes from Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis, a solid in-state pipeline for Wilson to tap.
Bottom Line: It's not often that Indiana gets four-star recruits in football, but that Wilson has been able to do it should be an indicator of how well he's building the program. The Hoosiers' recruiting haul in 2013 is far better than usual (even impressive), but it's far from perfect. Wilson will still need to add considerable depth along the offensive line regardless of the offense he wants to run, and taking one offensive lineman per class is not going to cut it. However, the bigger issue was defense, and Wilson addressed that probably about as well as he could have. Most of his gems come from in-state schools, showing that Indiana is not going to roll over to teams like Notre Dame and Purdue on the recruiting trail.
ATH 2, DB 5, DE 3, DT 3, LB 3, OL 2, RB 2, TE 1, WR 2
Overview: Urban Meyer may have lost the two best skill players in the state of Ohio--Malik Zaire, the state's best dual-threat quarterback, to Notre Dame, and Deveon Smith, the state's best running back, to Michigan--but he made up for it by stealing away the prized gems of other states: running back Ezekiel Elliott out of Missouri and dual-threat quarterback J.T. Barrett out of Texas. Ohio State also got a boost to their ranking by nabbing five-star players Mike Mitchell and Vonn Bell, the latter of which chose the Buckeyes over Alabama and Tennessee in a Signing Day shocker. The 2013 class is deepest at defensive back, where they signed five prospects, and along the defensive line, where they signed six (3 DTs and 3 DEs), including Joey Bosa out of Fort Lauderdale, FL.
Headliner: Though he wasn't the talk of Signing Day, dual-threat QB J.T. Barrett could be the heir-apparent to Braxton Miller, who is now going into his junior year.
Bottom Line: Not surprisingly, Ohio State put together best class in the Leaders Division and it's not even close. The late addition of five-star safety Vonn Bell pushed them slightly ahead of Michigan in the rankings, but the Big Ten's Big Two are neck-and-neck and everybody else knows it. Buckeye traditionalists may be a little concerned that Urban Meyer isn't building a wall around the state of Ohio the way Jim Tressel did, but if Meyer keeps winning at the rate he does then it won't matter. Ohio State's haul on the defensive side of the ball is impressive, but if there is a concern going forward, it's on the offensive line. Expect that to be Meyer's key focus in 2014.
ATH 2, DB 4, DE 3, LB 1, OL 3, QB 2, RB 1, TE 1
Overview: Bill O'Brien's offense is centered around a strong-armed, accurate quarterback, and it was crucial that he get Penn State's quarterback of the future in this class. He did just that by bringing in Christian Hackenberg out of Fork Union, VA, who ESPN considers to be the best pro-style quarterback in the country. O'Brien's offense also likes to utilize talented tight ends, and he got a good one with four-star Adam Breneman, an in-state guy out of Camp Hill, PA, though the Nittany Lions would have liked to sign at least one more at the position for depth's sake. While the linebacker position is a little lighter than usual, Penn State loaded up what they could on the offensive and defensive lines, most notably four-star DE Garett Sickels, who stayed committed to O'Brien even after the sanctions were handed down. Given the struggles on special teams in 2012, the biggest miss of the class is that the Nittany Lions were not able to secure an elite kicker.
Headliner: I still can't fathom why Christian Hackenberg signed with Penn State when he had offers from Florida, Alabama, and South Carolina, but it shows that Bill O'Brien is selling something about Penn State besides playing for Big Ten championships or going to bowl games, which Hackenberg will not be able to do for most of his career.
Bottom Line: With 15 scholarships taken away by the NCAA, O'Brien and his staff showed great resiliency by signing a medium-sized class of 17 prospects, many of which are blue-chip players who the Nittany Lions will depend on as they weather their post-season bans for the next few years. It also speaks to the talent of O'Brien as a recruiter that he has managed to not only keep most of his players from de-committing, but that he's able to land such talented athletes in spite of the sanctions. If there were any skeptics about O'Brien when he was first hired, I'm sure by now those numbers are dwindling.
ATH 2, DB 4, DE 3, DT 2, LB 3, OL 1, QB 1, RB 3, TE 1, WR 3
Overview: Given the nature that coaching changes typically have on recruiting, Darrell Hazell's first accomplishment as Purdue's head coach was keeping the majority of Danny Hope's class together. The biggest commitments he kept were from quarterback Danny Etling out of Terre Haute, IN, and from running back Keyante Green out of McDonough, GA, a coveted prospect by a slew of SEC schools. Purdue also added a great deal of depth to the defensive backfield, and along the defensive line, most notably strongside defensive end Antoine Miles, who they flipped from Nebraska. They also added some numbers to the receiving corps., led by DeAngelo Yancey out of Atlanta, GA.
Headliner: Quarterback Danny Etling was a participant in the Elite 11 competition and hopes to join college football's "Cradle of Quarterbacks" at Purdue. Fortunately for Etling, the quarterback situation in West Lafayette is wide open, and he will compete for the starting job against junior Rob Henry and redshirt freshman Austin Appleby.
Bottom Line: Going into 2012, the Boilermakers' biggest concern was at wide receiver. Coming out of 2012, their biggest concern is everywhere. Luckily the coaching change from Danny Hope to Darrell Hazell didn't result in a massive loss of commitments as some feared, and the overall haul from 2013 features bodies added across the board. There were two shortcomings, however. Linebacker was a glaring weakness of the defense, and Purdue fans were hoping the new coach could snag a talented, highly rated prospect at that position to give them some optimism. Also, offensive line does not face immediate depth issues, but Hazell will need to take at least four in 2014.
DB 5, DE 2, LB 2, OL 3, QB 1, RB 1, TE 1, WR 2
Overview: Although most of this class committed to Bret Bielema, Gary Andersen did a good job keeping those commitments while adding a few of his own. The most notable late addition was Tanner McEvoy, the highest rated dual-threat quarterback among junior college ranks. Before Bielema's departure for Arkansas, Wisconsin did a decent job shoring up the needs at defensive back. They nabbed four-star DB Keelon Brookins from rival state Minnesota, as well as Rob Wheelwright out of Columbus, OH, a tall (6'3"), shifty wide receiver. Bielema's efforts also locked down a great deal of reliable in-state talent like defensive ends Alec James and Chikwe Obasih out of Brookfield, WI, who look to anchor the defensive line in the coming years.
Headliner: Four-star running back Corey Clement out of Glassboro, NJ was a high-value target by Bret Bielema and has the look and feel of another typical Wisconsin ball carrier. Clement was a featured tailback in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl and was named a Lemming Top High School Player of the Year according to MaxPreps.
Bottom Line: Considering that Wisconsin won their third consecutive Big Ten title in 2012, it's a little disappointing that their recruiting class is ranked 11th in the conference by Rivals.com (Scout, however, has them ranked at No. 4, but 37th overall). The late addition of McEvoy, a dual-threat QB who looks like he's built for the spread option, also raises questions about what kind of offense Gary Andersen will run. Will it be a traditional Wisconsin power running offense, that begins and ends with the running backs? Or will it be more of the spread offense that Andersen utilized to win at Utah State?