All-Two Stars & Under
Michigan has pledges from two two-star players at the moment: Andrew David, a kicker in the 2015 class, and Brady Pallante, a defensive tackle from Florida who'll be arriving to Ann Arbor this summer. When Channing Stribling committed, he was also a two-star, but he shot up the boards and was a high three-star recruit in the final services. Of course, Graham and Ryan Glasgow have done pretty well for themselves, but one guy tops them all. Jordan Kovacs went from a complete unknown to starting at Michigan 46 times, and saved a lot of wins with his play in the secondary.
This got me thinking about what an all-two star team would look like. The conference is known for developing its players, after all. What I ended up with was a team that looked a lot like Iowa or Minnesota - a running team, with limited but effective quarterbacks and some good tight ends. It seems the hardest position to surpass a two-star ranking is at wide receiver, but it's pretty darn easy for a running back. It's also not too hard for linemen, which probably doesn't surprise many.
What caught my eye, though, were the cornerbacks and safeties. They're not all all-stars, but this would probably be the best unit in the Big Ten, hands down. Eric Murray is a rising star for Minnesota, and Lowdermilk is a lot of fun to watch. Trae Waynes could be the best cornerback in the Big Ten, and the depth is fine, also.
Another thought from this is how impressed I am at the job Tracy Claeys and Jeff Phelps have done on the Minnesota defensive line. They made Ra'Shede Hageman a star, but they also shaped a good B1G unit out of mostly two-star commits. They have some young three-stars in the program (if you show that you can coach, you're going to get some more talent), but six of the eight returning players from last year qualified for this list.
Of course, if I had chosen to set the threshold for low three-star guys and below (Rivals: 5.5), I could have added names like David Cobb, starting Indiana LT Jason Spriggs, Tyler Marz, Zac Epping, Maxx Williams, and Shilique Calhoun. Desmond Morgan and Collin Ellis would be filling up the linebacker depth chart, another position that seems to be more closely linked to recruiting rankings. Josh Ferguson would bolster the passing game, as running backs at schools that recruit two-star players tend to do. If I had gone further and added middle-of-the-rung three stars (Rivals: 5.6), it explodes even more: guys like Jake Ryan, Willie Henry, Frank Clark, Jeremy Langford, Rob Havenstein, Kurtis Drummond, Carl Davis, Tre Roberson, and Jack Allen. Where's that crystal football, anyway?
Basically, the take-away is to not be married to either way of thinking. Recruiting rankings do matter a decent bit and they're pretty good indicators of general success. More three-star recruits pan out than two-star recruits, and more four-stars pan out than three-stars. Also, teams who rely on lower-star recruits need to give them time to polish out their flaws. But it's nothing more than a probability estimate. Players who work hard, and players who understand schemes, will maximize their physical abilities. Connor Cook (✮✮✮, 5.7) isn't as mobile as Terrelle Pryor (✮✮✮✮✮, 6.1), but he might last a lot longer playing football.
|QB||Joel Stave, Wisconsin||6'5", 225 lbs.||✮✮ (5.4)||2494 yards, 22 TD / 13 INT|
|-||Mitch Leidner, Minnesota||6'4". 233 lbs.||✮✮ (5.4)||619 yards, 55.1%, 477 rush yards|
|RB||Treyvon Green, Northwestern||5'10", 215 lbs.||
||736 yards, 8 TD's, 5.3 ypc|
|-||Jordan Canzeri, Iowa||5'9", 192 lbs.||
||481 yards, 6.5 ypc|
|-||Brandon Ross, Maryland||5'10", 210 lbs.||
||776 yards, 4.7 ypc|
|FB||Mark Weisman, Iowa
||6'0", 236 lbs.||
||974 yards, 8 TD's, 4.3 ypc|
|WR||Kevonte Martin-Manley, Iowa||6'0", 205 lbs.||
||388 yards, 9.7 ypc
|-||Isaac Fruechte, Minnesota||6'3", 204 lbs.||
||154 yards, 11.8 ypc|
|-||Kenzel Doe, Wisconsin||5'8", 170 lbs.||
||57 yards, 8.1 ypc|
|TE||Dan Vitale, Northwestern||
6'2", 225 lbs.
||382 yards, 11.2 ypc
|-||Justin Sinz, Purdue||6'4", 251 lbs.||
||340 yards, 8.3 ypc|
|-||Kyle Carter, Penn State||6'3", 243 lbs.||
||222 yards, 12.3 ypc|
|RT||Peyton Eckert, Indiana||6'6", 310 lbs.||✮✮ (5.4)|
|RG||Kyle Costigan, Wisconsin||6'5", 315 lbs.||
|C||Jon Christenson, Minnesota||6'4", 306 lbs.||--|
|LG||Jake Cotton, Nebraska||6'6", 305 lbs.||
|LT||Jack Conklin, Michigan State||6'6", 330 lbs.||--|
|G||Connor Kruse, Michigan State||6'4", 317 lbs.||
|G||Graham Glasgow, Michigan
||6'6", 308 lbs.||--|
|T||Ben Lauer, Minnesota||6'6", 302 lbs.||✮✮ (5.2)|
|CB||Trae Waynes, Michigan State||6'1", 183 lbs.||
||3 interceptions, 5 pass break-ups|
|-||Eric Murray, Minnesota||6'0", 194 lbs.||✮✮ (5.4)||48.0 tackles, 10 pass break-ups|
|-||Tim Bennett, Indiana||5'9", 186 lbs.||--||67.0 tackles, 20 pass break-ups|
|FS||Zane Petty, Illinois||6'1", 200 lbs.||✮✮ (5.4)||51.5 tackles|
|SS||John Lowdermilk, Iowa||6'2", 210 lbs.||
|SB||Travis Perry, Iowa||6'3", 232 lbs.||
|MB||Damien Wilson, Minnesota||6'2", 254 lbs.||
|WB||Cole Farrand, Maryland||6'3", 245 lbs.||
|LB||Joe Burger, Ohio State||6'2", 230 lbs.||
|-||Joe Schobert, Wisconsin||6'2", 230 lbs.||--|
|NT||Scott Ekpe, Minnesota||6'4", 281 lbs.||
|DT||Cameron Botticelli, Minnesota||6'5", 290 lbs.||
||5.5 tackles for loss|
|DE||Theiren Cockran, Minnesota||6'6", 238 lbs.||
||10.0 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks|
|DE||Bobby Richardson, Indiana||6'3", 288 lbs.||
||29.5 tackles, 3 pass break-ups|
|T||Austin Teitsma, Illinois
||6'2", 290 lbs.||
|-||Ryan Glasgow, Michigan||6'4", 297 lbs.||
|-||Adarius Rayner, Indiana||6'2", 309 lbs.||
|E||Ryan Russell, Purdue||6'5", 275 lbs.||
|-||Alex Keith, Minnesota||6'3", 237 lbs.||
Texas: A Recruiting Monster No More
The day was September 25th, 2010. The Texas Longhorns, under Mack Brown with eventual successor Will Muschamp serving at defensive coordinator, took the field in their home stadium for an important game that, it turned out, swung the fate of the Longhorns program in a completely opposite direction. Brown's Longhorns were out to exact revenge against their opponent, 1-2 UCLA, for a loss thirteen years prior, a famous drubbing known as "Rout 66" where John Mackovic's Bruins walked into that same Longhorns stadium and handed them their worst home loss in history, by a score of 66-3.
"We had a quarterback, Marty Cherry, who had spent all summer modeling for Polo," said former Texas wide receiver Wane McGarity. "He took a beating that day and never played in a game again.
"They beat him back into modeling. That's what UCLA did; they turned us all into models."
Texas fans remembered it well. It was the last losing season they had had before Mack Brown came to town, and ended with the fans tearing down the goal posts to protest losses to Oklahoma State, Missouri, and Baylor. This time, of course, would be different. They had Mack Brown. It would be revenge. The Longhorns were 3-0, eight months removed from a championship game appearance, had back-to-back 12-win seasons and nine straight 10-win seasons, were ranked #7 in the country, and they were led by a coach whose school record, at that moment, was 131-27.
UCLA beat them again, 34-12.
"It was a rear-end kicking," said Mack Brown afterward. "This one's embarrassing for me. As a head coach, I'm responsible for everybody in this program, from the trainers to the managers to the walk-ons, to the kids to the coaches - everybody."
The loss sent them on a tailspin, the first of 7 in the next 9 games that brought a 5-7, losing season back to Austin. In the off-season, Will Muschamp agreed to become the head coach at Florida. Despite agreeing in principle to a five-year head coaching deal for whenever Mack Brown decided to step down (Brown was under contract for another six years), Muschamp saw the opportunity at Florida as one he couldn't pass up. Though he went to school at Georgia, he was raised in Gainesville, and shared memories of hanging out in the stadium at his introductory press conference.
Texas went 8-5, 9-4, and 8-5 after that, but it was never enough to regain what was lost from that 2010 season. Texas A&M joined the SEC and competed against the conference's best, and a man named Art Briles started winning at Baylor - going 15-21 from 2008-10, and 29-10 from then on. Robert Griffin III won the Heisman Award for Baylor, and Johnny Manziel won it for A&M the year after that. Just like that, Texas was now a third-string program in its own state.
Realizing a little too late that something needed to be done, they made a change. It was too late to promote Muschamp, so they went for another guy just like him in Charlie Strong. Charlie built his reputation at Florida under Ron Zook and Urban Meyer, coordinating a strong defense for six years, three of them with Greg Mattison. In the 2013 Sugar Bowl, he led the Louisville Cardinals against his old team and beat them, 33-23.
It didn't feel like a perfect match for either side, but both were getting desperate. Texas wanted to make a splash, going after Kevin Sumlin, Nick Saban, Jim Mora, Mike Gundy, Art Briles, and even Mark Dantonio. All of them turned Texas down. Strong, meanwhile, had been waiting for years to lead a big-time program, and despite being a preeminent coordinator, wasn't given a chance. Yet he was tagged as too reserved for Texas boosters, and a bad fit for the Longhorns program. But neither one was going to say no to the other.
Strong will take the field this fall for his first game as the Longhorns coach, and if he wins all his games all woes will be cured. But this recruiting season was his first chance to start making up ground against the Aggies, the Bears, and the rest of the country, and so far it hasn't happened. Eight of his ten recruits hail from the state of Texas, but they are also the 32nd, 34th, 43rd, 70th, 76th, 79th, and then outside the top 100 recruits within the state. Baylor, A&M, and Texas Tech have all grabbed four-star QB recruits from within the state, and one of the two five-star players is committed to LSU while the other - Malik Jefferson - is choosing between A&M and Alabama.
This comes after a 2014 cycle that saw 28 blue-chip recruits sign with 13 schools. Texas was listed as having the #20 recruiting class last year, and have followed it up with the #19 class this year. This is a big problem for UT, which has long maintained itself on in-state talent. In 2003 and 2004, every single one of its recruits was from inside the state. And from the earliest Rivals rankings in 2002 to 2013, 91% of their blue-chip signees were in-state pledges... yet only two of the 22 committed, blue-chip players in Texas this year are UT commits. A&M has eight. Another eight are to teams they'll play this year.
For Strong to implement a bruising defense that brought him this opportunity, he would have one of two options. The first is to get some good athletes to hold the field against the Big 12's offenses. There are fourteen defensive blue-chip players in the 2015 class scattered around the state, and not one of them has committed yet to Strong. The second option would be a drastic shift from UT's tendencies. Just as he did at Louisville, Strong would have to coach up mostly three-star players and implement his defense that way. Then, he'd have to go into other schools that out-recruited him - as three programs in Texas are doing right now - and beat them. When the Longhorns fired their coach after winning eight games, this probably wasn't what they had in mind.
Hitting the Links Needs a Hammock
This is the last of all the Big Ten previews. I think the writer is a little absorbed in Braxton going out in a blaze of glory, but oh well. I think non-Ohio State fans should be worried about Curtis Samuel and Jalin Marshall, and their passing attack would be more potent if Devin Smith was a third (home run) receiver. Still, this is probably closer to the offensively dominant 2013 team than the 2012 version, and for all their potential flaws they have great coaches trying to minimize and disguise them. That still doesn't mean the November 8th date with MSU is the only thing keeping them from 12-0.
Bill, I said you'd be one of the top 25 playmakers in the Big Ten! Don't save my article.
Here's where Athlon Sports ranks all the teams - peruse all 128 at your leisure. And yes, FBS added a few more teams this off-season, so we're up to 128 now.
I pulled it out for you. Full respect to James Franklin and Penn State, but I'll be bitterly disappointed if they have a better record than us this year.
Fun fact: Ameer Abdullah is from Alabama, Tommy Armstrong is from Texas, Jake Rudock, Trevor Siemian, and Carlos Hyde are from Florida, and Randy Gregory grew up in Indiana but was born in Jacksonville. If the Big Ten only recruited Midwest players, none of those players would be making their mark in the conference. Go to where the talent is.
I'll make it a regular thing to include a highlight play in every HtL. DeAnthony Thomas had actually been committed to USC at one point, but ended up terrorizing them for a few years.
This will get you all caught up on a Washington transfer that might have a big impact next season. I haven't brought this up here yet but it's been in and out of the news for a week or two.
Bill O'Brien went from the NFL to college, but used it as a building block en route to being the head coach at Houston. Greg Mattison and Cam Cameron jumped from the NFL to college, as coordinators at both levels, probably because they get comparable pay and better job security. But mostly the talent drain is pointed upwards, and even with failures like Nick Saban's at Miami, head coaches are often drawn to succeeding in the NFL. Of course, NFL success brings a lot of cache to the college game, as well. An undercurrent of this would be if John Harbaugh ever wanted to come back to Michigan.
Hutson Mason is leading the team now at QB - he's a senior and more of a game-manager. The top three teams of the East have lost their quarterbacks, so it's a pretty wide-open race - and that includes Florida, who return Jeff Driskel (22 of 33 for 291 yards against Miami, 17 of 22 for 153 against Toledo in two full games last season).
In college football, five years is a very long time. Here, Muschamp is just settling into his first spring practice at Texas and talking about what he hopes to accomplish.
This story is a little old, but I have to give a shout-out to Purdue's Raheem Mostert who won the Big Ten 60-meters and 200-meters during the off-season and should make a lot of waves on the field this fall. He led the FBS with a 33.5 kick-off return average as a freshman, but he's switched positions in college from slot receiver to running back, and also suffered a knee injury.