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Big Ten Recruiting Rankings: Arms Race

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Ohio State Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
#14. Illinois Fighting Illini (ã: #11) (?)

Hey! Congratulations, Purdue! You did it! No longer in last place!

Needless to say, this hasn’t been a great recruiting start for Lovie Smith. However, that’s not to say that he can’t turn it around - the biggest issue right now is numbers, with only six commitments right now for Illinois, the fewest in the Big Ten. The quality of those commitments doesn’t exactly match the upper half of the Big Ten, either, but Lovie is drawing in some solid three-star athletes.

Illinois Fighting Illini Commitments: 6 Avg. Stars: 3.0

We’ll wait and see what he’s got in store from here. It takes a lot of time to build relationships with high school coaches and re-acquaint oneself with the college game. And, not many first-year coaches are trying to repair their locker room - or the program’s relationship with high school coaches - in the aftermath of a scandal and a pair of firings. Let’s see what Lovie Smith can do in his second act.

#13. Purdue Boilermakers (ã: #14)

Thank goodness; I was getting tired of talking about Griffin Alstott. Purdue is up to seven commitments now after getting six guys in a span of eleven days in June.

And not only that, some of these guys are quite solid. Three-star defensive end Tijaun Mason deserves a highlight; at 6’6”, 205, he can rush the passer, but it’s his heads-up play and surprising strength that impressed me the most.

Purdue Boilermakers
Commitments: 7 Avg. Stars: 2.86

I should also highlight Nick Sipe, another quarterback prospect who brings more of a pro-style alternative to Griffin Alstott’s athleticism. Sipe is a legitimately good prospect, and I’m excited to see what he can do at the next level.

Moving forward, I’ll want to see Purdue shore up the offensive and defensive lines in a big way. The team resorted to adding a JUCO two-star offensive lineman in 2016 (good size but deservedly a two-star), and still only brought in three offensive linemen total alongside three defensive linemen. There’s some talent built up at running back, and Hazell’s staff has shown they can develop the front seven fairly well. But they need to upgrade their physicality and depth as much as possible.

#12. Indiana Hoosiers (ã: #12)

Indiana is still trudging along; they have nine commitments total, some of whom I like a lot. Bryant Fitzgerald is a very exciting running back prospect; Tyler Knight is fun to watch at offensive tackle.

What’s most encouraging for Indiana fans is that Kevin Wilson, a maestro at finding diamonds in the rough on the offensive side of the ball, is starting to get some intriguing players on the defensive side too. There are four defensive linemen committed in this class, led by a high school teammate of Chris Evans named LeShaun Minor, and the most recent Indiana verbal, 6’0”, 183-pound cornerback LaDamion Hunt, is flat-out exciting.

Indiana Hoosiers
Commitments: 9 Avg. Stars: 2.89

Indiana has spent the last couple classes stocking up on safeties, corners and defensive linemen as they switch from Brian Knorr’s 3-4 to Tom Allen’s 4-2-5. However, they haven’t taken anyone classified as a linebacker in two years, so the 2017 class will need to fix some of that. At the moment they have a pledge from a single two-star MIKE ‘backer, Thomas Allen, who’s an underrated guy with good feet and a lot of physicality.

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

If Minnesota continues to fill out this class with comparable guys to what they’ve gotten, this will be a class worth mentioning in the top twenty in the nation. Now, it’s very possible that that won’t happen, because as always, Minnesota seems to find the underrated guys, guys who are three-stars but impressive nonetheless. Currently, Minnesota is stuck at #72 in the country, directly behind Rice and Northern Illinois.

Leon Halip/Getty Images

Let me highlight, then, a few of Minnesota’s current commits. There is three-star linebacker Kyrei Fisher, a 6’2”, 230-pound outside linebacker from Oklahoma. He has all the athleticism you’d want from an outside linebacker - he’s fast, great lateral speed, good in coverage, etc. - and, if I didn’t mention, he’s 230 pounds already in high school.

Another great prospect is Dominik London, a three-star running back who reminds me of all the previous three-star Minnesota running backs. Then there’s Nathan Bursch, a tight end who’s supremely comfortable catching passes and has both speed and strength.

Then there’s Grant Ryerse, a three-star kicking prospect who’s one of the top five at his position in the entire country. All in all, this is not a bad start for Tracy Claeys and the Gophers.

Minnesota Golden Gophers
Commitments: 8 Avg. Stars: 2.88

#10. Wisconsin Badgers (ã: #9)

Wisconsin recruiting has been fairly quiet the last few months. Two defensive backs have joined the class - one of whom I’m excited about, Ke’Shan Pennamon - but that’s been it. I would like to see Wisconsin add a couple blue-chips or an underrated weapon on offense, but things seem fairly quiet on that front, too. Wisconsin is at least competing with Michigan for newly minted four-star receiver Oliver Martin, and they are also in great shape with an exciting three-star linebacker, James Houston IV.

However, for some reason, Wisconsin hasn’t cashed in its chips from the success of Melvin Gordon and being “Running Back U,” nor have they found a top receiver to add to the fold. There comes a point for teams who make their name off of development to learn how to chase some blue-chips, and Wisconsin hasn’t managed that switch as well as Michigan State and TCU have done. This isn’t to say Wisconsin can’t still do well, but there is a lower ceiling.

Even worse than it being an issue of strategy, though, athleticism at the skill positions remains the team’s biggest weakness. If they don’t find a game-breaking tailback in this cycle, it will mark two straight years without a real answer at the most important position of Wisconsin’s offense - after taking only one tailback, the physical but not particularly athletic Sam Brodner, in the last cycle.

Wisconsin Badgers
Commitments: 11 Avg. Stars: 3.09
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
#9. Penn State Nittany Lions (ã: #5)

Penn State is sitting at nine commitments, which is one of the lowest numbers in the Big Ten. Still, there’s some top talent in those nine. I mentioned C.J. Thorpe in the last rankings, but he deserves another mention for being all-around amazing. Fellow offensive guard Michael Miranda is nearly as good.

However, since May there has only been one additional recruit. Brelin Faison-Walden committed this week; he’s a three-star safety/linebacker hybrid who will be taking over the STAR linebacker position for James Franklin. Brelin is a very solid pick-up, and bolsters the Nittany Lions’ area of greatest need in this cycle - the back seven.

Penn State Nittany Lions
Commitments: 9 Avg. Stars: 3.44

One more footnote about this class: James Franklin is in the thick of it with a host of blue-chip prospects, from IMG Academy’s Jordan Anthony to Pennsylvania natives D’Andre Swift and Lamont Wade and several more. This class is solid now, but it could end up being very good pretty quickly.

#8. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (ã: #10)

This might make Rutgers fans upset (there’s a joke in there somewhere), but the quality of Rutgers’ Big Ten-leading twenty commitments is a notch below a lot of other teams. The bottom third of the class, at least, is a little underwhelming.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Commitments: 20 Avg. Stars: 3.1

However, for a lot of reasons this doesn’t really matter. The ‘17 class will give Chris Ash depth and something of a clean slate. It will also give him better prospects than Kyle Flood was typically pulling in, and it does so at the positions that Ash needs. This class has a great distribution of offensive skill players and some exciting physicality on the front lines. This is exactly what this team needed, basically.

#7. Nebraska Cornhuskers (ã: #8)

Mike Riley has done a very impressive job securing great players and reaching out into California, Florida and Texas. Nebraska is sitting at eleven commitments right now, four of whom are blue-chips.

Like Jim Harbaugh, though, Riley has struck gold with some of his three-stars. I’m a big fan of IMG product Broc Bando, an offensive guard, as well as Ohio native Matt Sichterman, an offensive tackle. In fact, all five of Nebraska’s linemen - none of whom are blue-chips - are exciting prospects in various ways.

Nebraska Cornhuskers
Commitments: 11 Avg. Stars: 3.36
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Moving forward, Nebraska is poised to possibly add a fullback out of Baton Rouge with an LSU offer, a California wide receiver with offers from Stanford, Notre Dame and Cal, a defensive end out of Miami with offers from FSU, Georgia, Miami and Alabama, and a shockingly underrated corner out of Florida in O.J. Tucker.

The Huskers are also scratching and clawing for a gold-chip receiver, and they’re in the hunt for Joseph Lewis, Tyjon Lindsey, Devonta Smith, and two-way player Darnay Holmes.

#6. Iowa Hawkeyes (ã: #3)

There are two particular strengths to Iowa’s recruiting class: the secondary and the linemen. I’ve talked before about Kirk Ferentz’s ability to scout and land intriguing talent along the front lines, but this is also turning into a great class for the defensive backfield.

Four-star corner Chevin Calloway - all 5’10”, 180 of him - is the star here. He’s the 100th-ranked player in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite. I’m also a big fan of Matt Hankins, another Texas player who’s got great footwork and the ability to mirror whoever he’s guarding.

Iowa Hawkeyes
Commitments: 15 Avg. Stars: 3.2

Ferentz has a couple great running back commitments from Ivory Kelly-Martin and Eno Benjamin, and I’m also a fan of wide receiver Brandon Smith. Iowa could be poised to land another good Texas player, 6’3” wide receiver Shamond Greenwood out of Garland.

#5. Northwestern Wildcats (ã: #4)

Northwestern has had one of the top recruiting classes in the Big Ten thanks in part to its size; in that regard, the blue-bloods are steadily catching up, which might result in a small dip for Fitzgerald & Co.

Still, this class is going to be rock-solid at the end of the day. Outside of a two-star kicker, every single commit here is a three-star prospect, and not only that, the distance between the “best” one committed and the “worst” is not very big. It also helps that these guys skew toward the upper echelon of three-star prospects.

Northwestern Wildcats
Commitments: 17 Avg. Stars: 2.94

In 2016, too, Fitzgerald signed 20 guys, all of them three-stars. Given the underrated quality of a lot of these guys, this is a good sign for Northwestern’s depth and sustainability going forward - much better than when Fitzgerald would land a few blue-chips and also quite a few two-stars. I’m excited to see how these guys develop and gel into a team in future seasons.

#4. Maryland Terrapins (ã: #7)

As many Michigan fans expected, D.J. Durkin knows what he’s doing. Durkin has turned a fertile recruiting area, hometown loyalty and some fancy helmets into the 20th-ranked class in the nation, and he hasn’t even coached a game in College Park yet.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The superstar, of course, is five-star defensive end Joshua Kaindoh, who performs exactly how you’d expect a five-star player to perform. In fact, each of the five committed defensive players indicate that Maryland is going to be a problem in the years to come. There’s the space-eating, athletic defensive tackle in Camaron Spence, the long, lean, athletic space-backer in Ayinde Eley, the turnover-creating press-man corner in Fofie Bazzie, and the raw but high-ceiling athlete with great footwork in Deon Jones. Pick your poison.

Maryland Terrapins
Commitments: 11 Avg. Stars: 3.45

On offense, the group is led by four-star quarterback Kasim Hill, who might be my favorite quarterback committed in the Big Ten. Hill has a great all-around skillset, and I’d be surprised if he’s not starting for two or three years for the Terps.

Durkin hasn’t gotten a running back to commit yet (the house money is on Anthony McFarland, Jr., but Alabama and Miami are making a push), but they do have a trio of very skilled wide receivers and a great tight end. This offense, also, will be dangerous in the years to come.

#3. Michigan State Spartans (ã: #6)

Michigan State has gotten ambitious. They’re trying to wrestle all the top in-state talent out of Michigan’s hands, and they’re reaching into Ohio, as well, to compete for blue-chips with ol’ Brutus. This might be a bad year for it; Ohio State hasn’t gotten stopped by anyone on the recruiting trail, and Michigan is steam-rolling through the 2017 class in their own right.

Michigan State Spartans
Commitments: 15 Avg. Stars: 3.2

Still, MSU has held their own so far. This is a very good class already, and the sheer number of top targets remaining (yeah, Dantonio has bought in to chasing blue-chips) almost guarantees that Sparty lands a few punches to make the effort worthwhile.

This offensive line is particularly strong, led by the pancake maker and occasional offensive line participant Kevin Jarvis. So is the offensive skill positions, led by Matt Dotson and quarterback Rocky Lombardi. They could use a couple more defensive backs, which means the fight for Ambry Thomas or Amir Riep isn’t dying down anytime soon.

#2. Michigan Wolverines (ã: #2)

Most Michigan fans will be well aware of these eighteen commitments, but let’s review. The face of the offense is Dylan McCaffrey, while three-star running back Kurt Taylor is probably also a fan favorite (not to mention the fastest running back out of the three committed). But for me, the duo of O’Maury Samuels and A.J. Dillon is probably the most exciting part of this class.

O’Maury has elite change of direction, great speed, good hands and elite acceleration, and A.J. is tremendously physical with great balance and acceleration as well. I could see both of these guys being All-Americans some day; though, they’ll have to fight for playing time first.

Michigan Wolverines
Commitments: 18 Avg. Stars: 3.5

On defense, half of the commits reside on the defensive line; Aubrey Solomon is the star of the show, with Luiji Vilain a close second. Benjamin St-Juste and Josh Ross lead the back seven, which needs to get filled in quite a bit.

With another six months remaining until Signing Day, Michigan will be trying to make a clean sweep of the state’s top talent by landing Donovan Peoples-Jones, Ambry Thomas and Jaylen Kelly-Powell. They’ll also be going after some top out-of-state talent, shoring up the wide receiver and linebacker positions while also adding one more tight end.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
#1. Ohio State Buckeyes (ã: #1)

Ah, yes, the Beast. I remember a while ago watching film of five-star guard Wyatt Davis and being blown away, and now, having reviewed all of Ohio State’s offensive line commits, I can’t even say he’s their best one. That would be Josh Myers, another five-star.

The Buckeyes will be looking at a small class size this year, so they’re concentrating their efforts even more than usual on the top talent available. And they’ve gotten it: Isaiah Pryor can do anything from cornerback to linebacker, Antjuan Simmons is great as both an inside and outside linebacker, they have a pair of pass-rushing defensive tackles comparable to Aubrey Solomon, and Shaun Wade is staggering as a pure athlete.

Ohio State Buckeyes
Commitments: 14 Avg. Stars: 4.07

There’s some great talent on the offensive side as well, but that will be the focus of the rest of their recruiting cycle. Quarterback, offensive line, and everything in the defense is pretty well sown up. And it’s kind of a bad sign when “offensive weapons” is the only box Ohio State hasn’t checked off.

**

I usually like to offer a few takeaways at the end of these pieces; obviously, the Big Ten is doing exceedingly well right now, and they’ve also managed to blend the occasionally tricky art of chasing after blue-chips while keeping true to their roots of development and scouting. We won’t see the effects of these classes for a few years, but the message is clear: the Big Ten is finally buying in.