There was no shortage of big happenings in the recruiting world of the Big Ten conference over the last year. As time winded down toward Signing Day, Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan closed on some big targets and made it quite a race.
If that wasn't enough, new coach Ron Zook at Illinois and the announced final season for Wisconsin legend Barry Alvarez certainly had impacts during the recruiting battles for the conference crown.
The Nittany Lions landed the top recruiting class in the Big Ten thanks to assistant coach Larry Johnson and his efforts in Maryland. The Nittany Lions cleaned up in the Mid-Atlantic region, and Johnson had his hand in at least eight of PSU's signings. Biggest recruit: Cornerback A.J. Wallace is the top-ranked corner and a five-star prospect. He could play early for the Lions. Defensive tackle Jared Odrick is ranked in the national top 35. Sleeper: Offensive tackle/defensive end Doug Klopacz impressed at a combine early and Penn State quickly jumped in with a scholarship offer. His coach calls him the best blocker he's ever had.
The Bucks reloaded on defense with monster commitments from three four-star linebackers, a five-star defensive end and three highly regarded defensive backs. Assistants Tim Beckman and Luke Fickell played a big role in OSU's success. Biggest recruit:Robert Rose is a five-star defensive end who could star, but running back Chris Wells is a monster running back who should see the field early. He might have been the real top player in the country. Sleeper: There's something about Tyler Moeller's play that says he'll be better than his three-star ranking. The outside linebacker/safety was a star for Cincinnati Colerain this year.
Coming off a disappointing season on the field, this year's Michigan recruiting class was hardly that. The Wolverines landed in the top 15 with a flurry of commitments from all over the nation. Erik Campbell, Ron English and Fred Jackson all landed high-profile recruits for the Wolverines. Biggest recruit: The Wolverines landed two five-star players in linebacker Brandon Graham and offensive lineman Stephen Schilling. Both should be absolute stars for the Wolverines because they fit perfectly with what UM likes to do on both offense and defense. Sleeper: Quarterback David Cone hardly got a chance to throw the football in high school, but the Wolverine coaches liked what they saw enough to offer him a scholarship.
Ron Zook has always been able to recruit successfully, so it's no surprise to see him land a class that finishes in the upper-half of the Big Ten. The Illini re-established some in-state dominance and went into other states had some nice success and also dabbled in the juco ranks for impact players. Biggest recruit: Quarterback Isiah Williams went back and forth between Illinois and UNC, but in the end he plans on being an early starter for the Illini, and he has the talent to do that. Credit Reggie Mitchell for landing him and many more in this class. Sleeper: Valley Forge Military Academy cornerback Dere Hicks is ranked as a two-star player, but his ability attracted a solid offer sheet. He drew rave reviews for his play in prep school.
Many people are talking about the volume of junior college players the Spartans took in this year's class, and even though the numbers are a little higher than normal it doesn't diminish the job that John L. Smith did in-state and with other prep players. Biggest recruit: Receiver Devin Thomas was one of the best juco receivers in the nation, and he should be an immediate impact threat for the Spartans offense. He's a solid route runner and his size makes him durable for the rugged Big Ten. Sleeper: Quarterback Connor Dixon committed to Michigan State in July with little fanfare, but after a stellar senior season it became clear the Spartans got themselves one heck of a player. The 6-foot-4, 175-pounder can do a little bit of everything.
Last season spoiled a lot of Hawkeyes fans. Iowa landed a top 15 class last year. This year's class was never going to be high in numbers, making it hard to match last year's production. But still there is plenty to be excited about in this group. Biggest recruit: The best in the class are defensive end Adrian Clayborn and linebacker Jeremiha Hunter. Clayborn was one of Missouri's best players, and Hunter was a nice victory over UConn, Florida, Penn State and Tennessee. Sleeper: Receiver Dominique Douglas was one of the biggest surprises in Michigan this season, blossoming from a MAC player to a Big Ten-level guy. Iowa steals a heck of a receiver with great upside.
The transition to Bret Bielema as the Badgers' head coach caused things to limp a little bit on the recruiting front during the season. But when Bielema took over things dramatically sped up, especially when he hired ace recruiters Kerry Cooks and Dave Doeren. Biggest recruit: Landing in-state stars Jake Bscherer and Lance Kendricks was huge, but word is the Badgers are pumped about four-star defensive tackle Brandon Hoey. Sleeper:Ricky Garner is the ultimate sleeper. The 6-foot-5, 225-pounder committed on the final recruiting weekend after Wisconsin discovered him late in the process. He had 13 sacks as a senior.
The Boilermakers went hard after junior college players, six after the first semester. Defensive ends Jeff Benjamin and Shaun Richardson are expected to make a solid impact early. Jim Chaney proved to be the most valuable recruiter for the Boliers this year, landing 10 recruits. Biggest recruit: Defensive tackle Kyle Sheehan was one of the top prospects in Minnesota, but the coaches expect big things from four-star athlete Jeff Lindsay of Macomb, Mich. Sleeper: Purdue coaches have to be thrilled to land cornerback Justin Scott from College of the Sequoias. While he might be ranked as a three-star player, Scott was heavily recruited by Iowa State, Minnesota, Missouri and Marshall. He could play early.
Glen Mason never recruits a ton of four and five star prospects, but the Gophers always seem to find quality players and develop them into high-level Big Ten players. This class does have plenty of firepower, and coaches Mitch Browning and Gordie Shaw took another step toward proving they are elite recruiters in the Big Ten. Biggest recruit: Defensive ends Robert McField and Sean McWhirter could give the Gophers an immediate and much-needed boost on the defensive line. McField was a nice pickup when the Gophers got him to flip from Missouri. Sleeper: Minnesota has a great tradition at running back and three-star juco rusher Brylee Callender wasn't a household name, but he could be a monster steal in the end.
The Wildcats always recruit throughout the Midwest, Texas and the Southeast with their academic situation allowing them to target only the finest student-athletes. They did sign a solid group locally with names like Carl Fisher and Corbin Bryan highlighting the list. Biggest recruit: Fisher is a nice steal locally. Going into St. Louis and landing Quentin Davie was also impressive. He was one of the most heavily recruited defenders in Missouri. Sleeper:Brad Phillips played quarterback in high school, but he should be a very good multi-dimensional athlete for the Wildcats.
Indiana might not have seemingly made strides in the Big Ten recruiting rankings, but the Hoosiers did sign a better class this year. Five three-star players highlighted the class, including several steals out of Illinois. Offensive coordinator Bill Lynch was probably Indiana's most valuable recruiter. Biggest recruit: The late addition of juco linebacker Vernon Smith was definitely a big deal. The former Pitt signee was one of the top linebackers in the junior-college ranks and he was a heavily recruited prospect out of Florida two years ago. Sleeper: To win in the Big Ten, you have to have speed, and that's where Carrollton (Texas) Newman Smith corner Richard Council fills in. The 6-foot-2, 170-pounder was a late offer and a late commitment, but he could be a steal.