It seems as though once a recruiting cycle, we witness one B1G team out-recruit our expectations, often times in a fairly drastic manner. Last year, this site talked extensively about the impressive haul Indiana brought in for their 2013 class. In this upcoming year, it looks like Penn State will strongly outperform expectations (even if you knew James Franklin was going to be good, I don't think anyone expected him to be this good, this fast). For the 2014 class, that one group was Northwestern, and it wasn't even close.
In one year, the Wildcats signed as many four stars as they had between 2002 and 2013, according to 247Sports. A year after turning in a 10-3 season, I'm sure plenty of NU fans had hoped to capitalize on the momentum, but I'm not sure any of them expected it to be so drastic. From SBNation site SippinOnPurple's National Signing Day Summary
But this year's Northwestern recruiting class is different for so many reasons. It's different in that it resembles classes from around college football much more than any other Northwestern class we can recall, both in terms of talent and in terms of the strange way the final few weeks developed.
The class, which was knocked by most recruiting sites due to its size, features four very legit four star prospects. The one player Michigan fans are likely most familiar with is IL CB Parrker Westphal, a highly touted prospect that many had long assumed would end up at Michigan (myself included). Here's what I wrote about him in October of 2012.
Not the fastest or most explosive CB I've ever seen, but he makes up for it with excellent instincts. Physical run defender, really like his use of hands and punch in dealing with WRs. Looks like a prototypical boundary CB with size and physicality. Don't like how he seems to attack more than defend when trying to break up the ball...could get him in PI trouble down the road. Fluid hips combined with instincts should make him a pretty good cover guy, but I'd never wanna put him on the O's #1 guy unless he's 6'3+ and you've got Jourdan Lewis on the other side. Will never be mistaken for a ball hawk.
Overall, he looks like he'll be a mid to high level four star. Might get a couple national looks but seems like it'll end up being a regional heavyweight fight. Not sure he has the explosiveness to be truly elite, but could have an NFL future down the line.
Northwestern does not often feature that type of prospect in their defensive backfield. However, he wasn't the only player that ended up at Northwestern in spite of a Michigan offer. Superback (per NU's website) Garrett Dickerson ended up choosing the Wildcats, with a little help from his friends..
It's not just the coaches, though. Dickerson is the brother of current NU wide receiver Cameron Dickerson. He was also high school teammates with freshman safety Kyle Queiro and 2014 linebacker recruit Cameron Queiro. That's now four players from New Jersey's Bergen Catholic High School that will play for NU next year, forming quite the pipeline.
Even when one factors in those connections, it's not often that an elite prospect will choose Northwestern over the likes of Stanford, Michigan, Florida State, Ohio State and Alabama, all of whom offered him at some point. The offensive side of the ball was also bolstered by 4 star RB Justin Jackson, who looks like he'll fit in just fine academically..
Education has always been a big part of Jackson's life thanks to his parents, his father is an engineer and his stepmother is a forensic scientist. But the senior wants more than to just do well in school - he wants perfection.
"One of my goals throughout high school was to keep a 5.0 GPA," he said. "Accomplishing that gets me just as excited as accomplishing the other things I do in football."
Jackson doesn't blow me away on film, but his quickness, vision, and strong leg drive should make him a very productive back in college. Finishing up the four star mafia was another steal out of Illinois in QB Clayton Thorson. The ultra-athletic quarterback just looks like a Northwestern signal caller. His arm strength is likely what prevented him from ascending further up in the rankings, but he displays quick wits and pretty good intangibles. Like all of the aforementioned guys, he chose the Wildcats over some pretty heavy hitters including Penn State, Ole Miss and of course hometown Illinois. This is the second straight year Northwestern has brought in a four-star QB after getting the signature of Matt Alviti last year; it looks like they'll be just fine once Trevor Siemian leaves.
The big name guys weren't the only ones that should be familiar around these parts, though. Like Westphal, MI OL Tommy Doles ended up signing with Northwestern after having long been assumed a Michigan lean. Although there's plenty to like about Doles' potential, he has a lot of weight to gain before he'll be playing in the Big Ten. Because of that, it might be a good two years before Fitzgerald can even consider placing him in the two-deep. And Doles wasn't the only three star to pick the Wildcats over a (formerly...oof) premier hometown program. RB Auston Anderson committed in May of last year over offers from TCU, Texas Tech and TEXAS. Again, another statement on the sad decline of the Longhorns.
Overall, it's a historic effort for Pat Fitzgerald and his staff, and it's not likely he's at an easy school to pull such a thing off. Additionally, it seems as though he's already well on his way to another strong 2015 class with the commitments of twins Andrew and David Dowell from Ohio, a pair of dynamic four-star athletes. However, if he wants this to be a sustainable trend, he'll desperately need to show that this past year was an aberration, not regression to the mean.