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Big Ten Recruiting Rankings: Knocking On Michigan's Door

The rest of the Big Ten has been busy.

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#14. Purdue Boilermakers (ã: #14) (?)

Here's a fun fact: the #1 quarterback in the 2017 class, Hunter Johnson, lives just about an hour away from West Lafayette. (In fact, if Johnson hadn't transferred to Brownsburg High, he actually would have been competing with Brandon Peters for a starting spot at Avon.) Purdue, of course, has been called the cradle of quarterbacks. In an alternate universe, the Boilermakers could have had a very exciting class right now.

But no matter how much I could praise Griffin Alstott's dual-threat athleticism, Purdue's one commit hasn't produced a Shane Morris-style resurgence or even, really, a pulse in this recruiting cycle. It is shaping up to be another year of adding mostly MAC-level talent to the roster, barring something dramatic.

#13. Minnesota Golden Gophers (ã: #12)

If you like linemen, there are two good ones committed to Minnesota: Eric Abojei is a 6'4", 310-pound guy who, if he's smart, has signed up for summer dance classes to help refine his athleticism, and Blaise Andries, a 6'6", 290-pounder who, if he's smart, is auditioning to be a bodyguard for Keanu Reeves. (Translation: he's a bad-ass dude.) Abojei and Andries are currently the only commits for the Gophers.

We'll see what kind of speed Minnesota adds to supplement the big bodies, but it's worth noting that Minnesota is one of the favorites to land cornerback speedster Demetrius Douglas out of Portland, Oregon.

#12. Indiana Hoosiers (ã: #9)

Really bad news for Indiana this week - Lynn Bowden, proclaimed by this guy to be the face of the class, has opened up his commitment due to "unforeseen circumstances." This drops Indiana's class down to three. Best of luck to Bowden figuring things out; Kevin Wilson, meanwhile, will be trying to add some athletic defenders like R.J. Potts or Noah Jones.

#11. Illinois Fighting Illini (ã: #11)

Lovie Smith hasn't found the kind of 'momentum' that would make for good headlines, but his four prospects are sturdy, underrated types that give more depth to the offensive playmaking.

Mike Epstein RB 6'0", 185 Missed junior year due to injury
Ryan O'Malley DT 6'4", 251 Staunch in run defense but also fast and flexible
Ricky Smalling WR 6'0", 185 Great combination of speed and physicality
Kendall Smith WR 6'2", 170 Good speed, long frame, twitchy change of direction

All of these guys are three-stars, but Smalling has drawn offers from Wisconsin and Michigan State, among others. From a Michigan fan's perspective, Smalling would be effective (and fun to watch) as a blocker/slot receiver in a Jim Harbaugh offense, but he'll probably end up outside for Illinois.

#10. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (ã: #13)

Rutgers' 2017 class has blown up in size, and they've made a definitive statement about New Jersey: every single one of their seven commits are from the home state. This includes Johnathan Lewis, a 6'3", 205-pound dual-threat quarterback out of Jersey City. He's an intriguing weapon for the offense they want to run.

However, I also want to draw attention to the big guys, OT Micah Clark and OG Jamaal Beaty. Clark is the higher rated of the two, but Beaty will be important as a guy who's capable of playing smash-mouth ball on the inside. Solidifying the trenches will be pivotal for Chris Ash if he wants to win more Big Ten games than his predecessor. (Kyle Flood won four.)

Also important to note: Clark has not exactly shut down his recruitment, and Michigan is one of the teams in the hunt.

#9. Wisconsin Badgers (ã: #8)

Still not a lot of love for Wisconsin in these rankings, despite the nine commitments. To be clear, this is a very solid group of players - it's essentially a prototype Wisconsin class - but there isn't enough speed and a lot of these guys are projects that will require the right scheme and good coaching to be effective.

Take, for example, Kayden Lyles. He's a big, strong dude at 6'3", 290 pounds, but his body simply doesn't have the quickness to keep up with and fend off opposing defensive linemen. So, he either has to play in a phone booth (which Wisconsin often does) or switch over to defense and try to make the field as a run-stuffing defensive tackle. As a nose tackle, I like his potential a lot - in fact I've been waiting and hoping for Wisconsin to get a dominant interior D-lineman for a while - but this kind of potential-despite-barely-enough-speed is a common feature with this class. If Paul Chryst can land a blue-chip running back or a bona fide stud receiver, the Badgers would be in much better shape, in my opinion.

Credit: Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel along with USA Today

I should also point out that the most recent commit, Izayah Green-May, does bring the juice on the defensive side of the ball. Green-May is a 6'6", 205-pound defensive end who almost looks like a basketball player in pads. He's a great athlete with the length to pass rush, cover and take on blocks. With the right coaching he can be a very, very good player - possibly at defensive end, possibly at linebacker.

#8. Nebraska Cornhuskers (ã: #7)

Since we last ranked the Huskers, Mike Riley has earned pledges from DT Deontre Thomas (a Michigan target), TE Austin Allen, OT Brenden Jaimes, and linebacker Avery Roberts, bringing his total up to eight. Of these, the one worth immediate recognition is Roberts, who's both a missile and a cold-hearted general for his defense. Deontre Thomas is another talented commit, a big guy with enough quickness to cause problems.

Neither Brenden Jaimes nor Austin Allen bring a lot of speed to the table, but Allen is intriguing (and potentially un-guardable) as a 6'8" tight end with great hands.

#7. Maryland Terrapins (ã: #10)

Joshua Kaindoh committed to Maryland this weekend, and that's a big deal. Even more crazy, another five-star defensive end is strongly considering the Terps as well. D.J. Durkin is going mano-a-mano with Urban Meyer for that commitment.

Highlights: Jordan McNair, Ayinde Eley

But it's not just Kaindoh & The Somebodies. Jordan McNair is brilliant at offensive tackle. Quarterback Kasim Hill is technically polished and could see the field right away. Ayinde Eley is the kind of weaponized linebacker that D.J. Durkin can plan his defenses around. All seven of these guys carry their weight.

Under Durkin, Will Likely will try to earn back-to-back All-American honors. Credit: Matthew Holst, Getty Images

#6. Michigan State Spartans (ã: #5)

The Spartans have remained in good shape, adding RB Weston Bridges, RB Darien Clemons, and OG Matt Carrick in the last few weeks. Bridges is a star in the making for a team that didn't need one. Clemons is another guy with terrific speed, and Carrick is a svelte 270-pound guard who moves like an athlete - something that bodes well for his effectiveness as he continues to add weight.

Going forward, I'll want to see who Michigan State adds on the defensive line. All eight of Mark Dantonio's commits right now are on the offensive side of the ball; however, the linebackers and secondary are well-stocked with young talent. Dantonio will also be looking around for another offensive lineman, and he's currently in the hunt for Robert Hainsey, an offensive guard at IMG Academy who is considering Michigan, MSU, Penn State and Notre Dame.

L.J. Scott is a terrifying, terrifying man. Credit: Mike Carter, USA Today

#5. Penn State Nittany Lions (ã: #6)

According to the 247Sports Composite, the only Big Ten club with as many blue-chip prospects as Penn State is the Buckeyes. Penn State has four (eight overall). Ohio State has ten (thirteen overall). Still, while Penn State isn't recruiting at a nationally dominant level (they rank fifteenth in the country in the composite rankings, and haven't landed in the top ten since 2006), James Franklin has to be happy with who he has gotten so far. Throw out the star rankings, throw out the total number of pledges - Penn State's commits are a cut above a large majority of the rest of the Big Ten.

Highlights: C.J. Thorpe

This includes the position that has lately defined Penn State - the offensive line. Since mid-April the Lions have added three very good prospects, led by the 6'3", 318-pound C.J. Thorpe. The Nittany Lions have taken four offensive linemen every year since 2013.

#4. Northwestern Wildcats (ã: #4)

Not a whole lot has changed for the Wildcats, though the highlight in the last few weeks was snagging pro-style quarterback Andrew Marty out of Cincinnati, Ohio. Marty has a big arm and makes good decisions on the football field. Interestingly, this marks the second straight year that Fitzgerald has taken a pro-style quarterback. Meanwhile, another recent commit, Peter McIntyre, Jr., is also a good pick-up - he's a stud at both wide receiver and linebacker.

All twelve of these commits might be of the three-star variety, but this is a deep group of fast, skilled players. Depth is an underrated part of winning, and Fitz's roster has more of it right now than the rest of the Big Ten West.

#3. Iowa Hawkeyes (ã: #3)

Iowa has added just enough in the last few weeks to maintain its spot in the rankings - a speedster in RB Eno Benjamin and an underrated terror in DE Levi Duwa, pulling their total number of pledges up to ten. Half the class is in-state talent, but Kirk Ferentz hasn't been afraid to reach into Illinois and Texas to get guys like A.J. Epenesa, Ivory Kelly-Martin and Benjamin.

#2. Michigan Wolverines (ã: #2)

Michigan has gone without a commitment since getting O'Maury Samuels on April 3rd, a period of almost a month. Deontre Thomas had flirted with a Michigan pledge, but ultimately decided on Nebraska.

This is by no means bad news - Michigan is in fabulous shape with its eleven pledges and will continue to build foundations with coaches and elite prospects around the country. Recruiting will heat up to about 120º this June when Harbaugh starts his Summer Swarm Part Two, this time in conjunction with Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Baylor, and Georgia. The full schedule isn't known, but expect Harbaugh to be busy.

Satellite camp dates
June 2nd Maynard Jackson High, Atlanta, Ga. (with Georgia)
June 4th USF campus, Tampa, Fla.
June 5th ODU campus, Norfolk, Va.
June 6th Bob Jones High, Madison, Alabama
June 7th Prattville High, Ala.
June 7th South Alabama campus, Mobile, Ala.
June 8th Pearl High, Miss. (with UM, MSU)
June 9-10th SMSB, Detroit
June 12th Baylor campus, Waco, Texas
June 13th Greenhill High, Addison, Texas

#1. Ohio State Buckeyes (ã: #1)

No movement here either with Ohio State's thirteen commitments, but their lead on the majority of the Big Ten is still considerable. Urban Meyer has been chasing some more depth along the defensive line, a couple of wide receivers (they currently have none) and possibly another couple linebackers. Meyer will also have to deal with some decommitments between now and February, and there has been speculation that QB commit Danny Clark and RB commit Todd Sibley will end up heading for greener pastures.

But, this is an 'Ohio State' kind of problem. There are some five-stars the Buckeyes are currently chasing to (potentially) replace those players. Needless to say, the Buckeyes' number one ranking seems secure.

Out with the old, in with the new - but the talent level has stayed about the same. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas, USA Today

So, any takeaways? Michigan is recruiting better than the rest of the conference, save Ohio State. They are also at the forefront in other ways, with satellite camps just around the corner. But the other Big Ten coaches have learned a thing or two from watching Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh work. From Ohio State at the top, down to Minnesota at #13, I feel good about teams' ability to gain talent. And this is a talent-driven world.