Grading The Recruiting Classes, Pt. 1
Perhaps the biggest returning star in the Western Division is Tommy Armstrong, who threw for almost 2,700 yards (and ran for another 700) in his sophomore season. Armstrong might not be thought of as a prolific passer - or even, really, much of a star in the same way as Connor Cook or J.T. Barrett - but he is without question the best quarterback the West has. There were only three 2,000-yard passers in his division, and Tommy was the only 2,500-yard passer. The East, meanwhile, featured four quarterbacks who passed for at least 2,800.
It was a little more ground and pound in the West, a little more old-fashioned, and more one-dimensional. The to-do list is pretty simple for teams like Minnesota and Wisconsin: find good quarterbacks and receivers for next year. The 2015 class could have injected some immediate upgrades, but the results were mixed.
Minnesota Golden Gophers (#50 nationally): B
All of their defensive backs - yes, all six of them - are good-looking prospects, though none have much press experience. There are only two linebackers in this class, but one of them is Jaylen Waters, a low-three-star according to Rivals who has a college-ready body (6'1", 228), great play diagnosis, good focus and athleticism. He's a very good-looking player. There's also a pair of commits on the defensive line, including All-Name First Team Winston DeLattiboudere III.
The Gophers have an intriguing quarterback prospect out of Illinois, Demry Croft. The rail-thin, 6'5" dual-threat quarterback is a better passer than a runner, with a smooth release and good accuracy. I was reminded of a good point guard, who sees the play unfold before others do and throws to where his receivers will be.
I also liked their running back commits, especially Shannon Brooks and Jonathan Femi-Cole. There's speed, strength, and body control; they look like modern Big Ten backs. There's also a very good two-star, pass-catching tight end (Bryce Witham, 6'4", 240), and two possession receivers with good hands and height - one at 6'4", the other 6'5".
Nebraska Cornhuskers (#31 nationally): B+
The first sixty days that Mike Riley has been at Nebraska were mostly consumed with forming this class. And while Riley admitted he would have preferred spending more time bonding with the team already in Lincoln, those efforts went a long way to shoring up weaknesses on his team.
Firstly, this class upgrades the athleticism on the defensive side. Under Pelini, the linebackers and safeties tended to be weight room products - a little stronger and slower. During Pelini's seven-year tenure, only one Nebraska linebacker or safety got drafted in the first three rounds of the draft. With this class, there are linebackers with speed who will need to add some muscle, safeties who are good downhill hitters, and a fairly polished cover corner (four-star Eric Lee, Jr.) whose position coach in high school was an NFL All-Pro. The line is also very solid and athletic.
On offense, four-star guard Jalin Barnett is perfectly heavy and nimble for pulling on running plays, and receiver Stanley Morgan is a marvel at concentration and snatching the ball even on ricochets. There isn't a lot of offensive firepower, and Riley passed on signing a quarterback. But he did a very good job at turning this class into a solid foundation on short notice.
Wisconsin Badgers (#36 nationally): B+
This is a class built to maintain their running attack. Great backs, very great linemen. They also have two mobile, accurate, pro-style quarterbacks, both of whom are three-star recruits. Their pass-catching is a little more suspect, as Chryst got only one wide receiver commitment in the form of Andrew James, a small, scrappy burner with a history in track. They also have two good tight end prospects they can lean on.
There's a scary amount of talent at linebacker, however. Dave Aranda is collecting a wide array of impressive athletes there, and that's not even including Arrington Farrar, a four-star out of Georgia who could play either safety or linebacker. The rest of the defense - just one corner and three linemen - are decent prospects, but obviously it's not good for a lot of depth.
Wisconsin, like Minnesota, has gotten mileage of taking two-way players in high school and putting them on the defensive side. Athletic players are more commonly put on offense than on defense, but the quality of offense has forced coaches to dedicate more speed and strength to the other side or risk getting run out of town. The Badgers and the Gophers are lacking a little in speed on the outside, although they're getting athletes who could help them there and plugging them in to an athletic defense.
Illinois Fighting Illini (#44 nationally): C+
There's a case to be made that Illinois shouldn't have hired Tim Beckman originally. But his Illini have been steadily growing - slowly - and there's enough things to like in this class to see more growth.
On offense, there's athleticism at running back, and not just in the form of four-star Red Mamba Ke'Shawn Vaughn. Beckman grabbed a juco prospect who looks like a decent backup and special teams guy, and Dre Brown is a very nice player. They signed a very good wide receiver, Sam Mays, and three solid-looking tight ends. Tight end hasn't been a big feature of Illinois' offense, but Bill Cubit likes to use them in the red zone, and the Illini need a way to get those short yards without relying on their offensive line.
There's also a nice amount of depth for the offensive line, with six guys who are all at least 6'4", 275. Tim Beckman seems to be eschewing any lateral mobility for potential bulldozers, and that's a reachable goal for Illinois to help them find another level with their rushing attack. All those guys will need time in the weight room, but there's potential even outside of four-star Gabe Megginson.
The downside of those six offensive linemen, three tight ends, and four running backs is that there's very little room for defensive recruits. There are seven to nine total, and there are some nice pieces on that small list. Justice Williams, a 6'4", 205-pound linebacker, is the kind of athletic project that you might see at Wisconsin. Sean Adesanya is a good fit for the Leo position - someone who can rush the passer, be physical against the run, but isn't a hand-in-the-dirt lineman. There's only one true defensive line commit, which hurts.
The defensive backfield gets a nice infusion of depth. Patrick Nelson is a high-three-star with impressive speed, Frank Sumpter V has decent speed at 6'0" and a polished skill set, and Cameron Watkins is 6'1" with a history in track. Only Nelson was ranked highly, but there could be a few starters out of this underrated group.
Iowa Hawkeyes (#56 nationally): C-
Linebacker seems to be getting a bit more athletic (and smaller), which will help. There's almost no help for the defensive backfield, with just a pair of safety/linebacker hybrids in Nick Wilson and Michael Ojemudia. Ojemudia plays a good game; he's not strong or blazing, but he diagnoses plays and has fantastic instincts. The game moves a little slower for him.
This is a good class on both sides of the line. In fact, this is probably one of the better offensive line classes in the Big Ten. At the skill positions, the most exciting prospects are Adrian Falconer, a nice-looking receiver, and Drew Cook, who fits the same mold as Jake Rudock or C.J. Beathard. The rest of the skill talent is uninspiring but decent. With some time on campus, a couple other good players might emerge. But it will take some time to polish up their games, and, really, the same could be said for this entire class.
Northwestern Wildcats (#53 nationally): C+
This is an underrated class. Northwestern needed new blood on the offensive line, and they got three good prospects. Adam Lemke-Bell has the tools to be a good left tackle, and Jared Thomas is a mobile, powerful pile driver. All of them need to gain some weight. There's also speed at the skill positions. John Moten is a good downhill runner who turned down Notre Dame. Their quarterback, Lloyd Yates, is mobile, smooth, and has a live arm. Northwestern definitely could've used some of this last year.
Tommy Vitale is a great, athletic prospect on defense. With another ten pounds and some comfort with the playbook, he's not far from being a Big Ten linebacker. Another good linebacker recruit is Simba Short, who played out on the perimeter in high school and showed an ability to sniff out plays. At 6'2", 210, he'll need to gain some weight, but hopefully he'll keep the athleticism.
There are a lot of two-star commits at defensive back, but they're underrated players. Fitzgerald added three guys on the defensive line, two of whom are near-four-star commits. The class is a little bit small at twenty, and not as star-laded as earlier classes. One or two more offensive linemen would've been really nice. But there's a lot to like.
Purdue Boilermakers (#63 nationally): D+
There are some decent prospects. DT Eddy Wilson looked like a WWE bully against lesser competition. Evyn Cooper is exciting with the ball in his hands, though he's apparently switching to defense. Two-star DT Fred Brown gets off the ball quickly and has some agility. There's a good two-star tight end in Brycen Hopkins. The offensive line, by and large, looks fine.
But it's tough to find a whole lot of nice things to say about this class. More than half are two-star players, and the nicer pieces are on the line, where it will be tough to mine immediate dividends. Perhaps some of these will be immediate successes. But another season at the bottom of the Big Ten would put a lot of pressure on Darrell Hazell.
Hitting the Links Is Unsatisfied
Of course, Meyer was going to get the best he could. Tony Alford provides Florida recruiting, good relationships with recruits, and solid production as a position coach.
Interestingly, this is one of three coaches to leave South Bend. Brian Kelly's quarterbacks coach is off to the NFL, and his co-DC and cornerbacks coach is headed to Oklahoma, where Mike Stoops, Bob's brother, is still trying to get the 3-4 defense to stick.
The Ducks also add a high-four-star freshman to campus, as well. With the other weapons on that team and the coaching staff intact, they'll be able to replace Marcus Mariota.
The four-star signal caller never stuck in Champaign. With Reilly O'Toole graduating, that leaves Wes Lunt in the driver's seat for the starting job. Lunt split time with mostly O'Toole but put up better numbers, including a 14/3 touchdown ratio.
A challenging off-season continues for Les Miles and the Tigers.
Drew Hallett got there first, but Andy Staples has some interesting things to say about the top prospects signing the NLI, which he calls the worst contract in sports. Also, Staples talks about Michigan hiring Gwen Bush, the mother of Wayne Lyons, and gives valuable background information to the hire.
Dantonio classes have a certain feel. He likes sons of former players and especially former Spartans; he takes chances on players who were injured for long periods and thus didn't get quite the same attention during the recruiting process; and he goes for versatility either within the game of football or across other sports or high school activities.
Hunt, a 6'6" defensive end who committed on Signing Day, will join the Spartans in 2017 after a two-year church mission. He will need to build plenty of muscle to have an impact - he's only 215 pounds - but has plenty of time to do it.
BHGP's recruiting summary sees itself looking up at Illinois and Indiana.
The Tennessee hype train is steadily chugging along, but there will be plenty of bumps and bruises once the season starts. More than this recruiting class, though, what's encouraging about 2015 is the savvy coaching Butch Jones has shown at the helm. He's a good coach, and working with good players.
The old LSU/Alabama/Georgia/Florida hierarchy is a bit splintered, with a pesky Missouri taking its share of SEC East titles and Texas A&M pulling in prodigious amounts of talent. The LSU/Alabama contests have been red letter dates, but Alabama and A&M may take a front seat as the de facto conference showdown of the year.
It's interesting to consider, but there's a game like that in every conference. Stanford/Oregon in the Pac-12, LSU/Bama in the SEC, MSU/OSU in the Big Ten, and now Baylor/TCU in the Big 12.
This piece from Inside NU is just a series of punches at Tim Beckman, but it's also proof that Illinois is getting better, whatever this piece says to the contrary.
Illinois also just announced that they'll be moving their home games against the Wildcats in the years 2015, 2017, and 2019 to Soldier Field. That's a brilliant statement, if you think about it.
Days Since Michigan Beat Ohio State