Certain coaches in college football have made their name by taking those pieces you didn't want, assembling them in a way you didn't see, and shoving them down your mouth en route to championships. Chris Peterson, Art Briles, Kirk Ferentz and even our old pal Rich Rodriguez have made a living off taking lowly touted prospects and putting them in just the right place to succeed beyond what any of us had pictured before. It's the reputation that Michigan State (and especially Pat Narduzzi) have really begun to develop, as well.
The funny thing about these fellows, though, is that eventually success begets successful players. You send 400 (approximately) 2* WRs to the NFL, and all of the sudden guys like Robbie Rhodes, Davion Hall and KD Cannon want a piece of the pie. You go to one ACC Championship and all of the sudden Duke is beating out USC for TE prospects from California. While Michigan State hasn't ever quite suffered the recruiting doldrums that the aforementioned teams have, this year was finally the year where their recruiting was pushed to the next level.
The obvious headliner, especially if you are reading this as a Michigan fan, was MI DL Malik McDowell. Although his final signature was delayed through several months of family fighting, it's a signature that defines this class. After their recent successful development of prospects like Jerel Worthy, Shilique Calhoun and Will Ghol- well, Calhoun and Worthy, it's no wonder an in-stater as talented as McDowell wanted to join up. He'll need every bit of coaching that Narduzzi and his staff can provide, but the fact is there aren't many 300 pound players who move as well as he does in high school, college, or even the NFL.
State has made a habit of pulling in top tier in staters before, though, whether that's the aforementioned Gholston or someone like Lawrence Thomas. What makes this group different is the next tier in this group. Going along with the trend of players that Michigan fans should be familiar with is PA S Montae Nicholson. UM was in strong position with him for a while, but things slipped going into last summer. Here's what I wrote about him as a prospect..
Nicholson is another prospect in the line of rangy athletes Michigan has recruited for the safety position in recent years. He can cover the field sideline to sideline like Jarrod Wilson, but he also has a little more physicality to his game. His exceptional versatility is likely what brought Michigan to Nicholson's door.
in addition to McDowell, State bolstered their front 7 with the additions of FL LB TJ Harrell and WI DT Craig Evans. Harrell is another nightmarishly quick linebacker who chose Sparty over offers from the likes of Louisville and Georgia; an impressive pull from the Sunshine State. Evans is a bit undersized, but the Wisconsin flip has upside on the nose. Lastly, there's IL DL Enoch Smith Jr, who I was not that high on. Here's what I said about him in November of 2012.
... At 6'2, 265, size is going to be a bit of an issue for him. Is he a tweener? Or does he truly fit either of the positions? The problem is he doesn't even have the elite explosiveness that gets most tweeners looks. Will probably end up at a lower tier B1G school, or perhaps the MAC.
Since this is an MSU class, I do have to pick a few lowly touted guys that I think will be rocketing up draft boards in a few years. At CB, my man is OH CB Vayante Copeland. Although he slipped a bit in the rankings (likely because he committed early), he has the speed and physicality to thrive in their system. At DE, my man is OH DE Robert Bowers. Although he's got a very skinny build right now (6'5, 210), the athleticism is there for him to add on 30-40 pounds and be a terror off the edge.
THAT was the fun part. However, we do have to shift a bit of focus over to the offensive side of the ball as well. After losing QB Chris Durkin to Virginia Tech, State ended up not signing a quarterback in this class. As a result, Russell Bellomy will start their game against Nebraska next year and oh god the blood. They did add FB Gerald Owens and RB Madre London to their backfield, an imposing duo that combines to weigh almost 500 pounds. Speaking of heft, they also brought in four offensive linemen, the most highly touted of the group being C Brian Allen.
All in all, this is the figurative next step up. It's crucial that State continues to show dominance on the field, if they wish to continue recruiting at this level. As long as Narduzzi is there, and as long as he has this kind of talent to work with, that shouldn't be a problem.