USA TODAY Sports’ Paul Myerberg breaks down the latest Amway Coaches Poll. USA TODAY
The Big Ten, like most conferences, didn’t make much of a splash Wednesday on national signing day.
Most football programs signed the bulk of their classes during December’s three-day early signing period.
Ohio State still has the top class in the conference, as well as one of the best in the nation.
Michigan and Penn State finished with the second- and third-best classes, respectively.
Nebraska displayed impressive reach by signing several prospects from across the country.
Michigan State struggled to close out its class, exacerbated by Mark Dantonio’s abrupt retirement as coach less than 24 hours before signing day.
Here’s where each school ranks in the Big Ten after Wednesday:
1. Ohio State
The Buckeyes locked down four-star athlete Cameron Martinez after hiring Kerry Coombs as defensive coordinator, putting the finishing touch on yet another top-5 class. Ohio State compiled one of the greatest receiver classes of all time. All four receivers rank in the top-100, with Julian Fleming (No. 2 overall) joining Jaxon Smith-Njigba (No. 28), Gee Scott Jr. (No. 65) and Mookie Cooper (No. 91). Ohio State also landed the nation’s No. 1 offensive tackle (Paris Johnson Jr.) and added four-star quarterback CJ Stroud in December — one of the nation’s top-risers who ended the cycle ranked No. 41 and could take over for Justin Fields in 2021.
The strength of the Wolverines’ class lies on defense, where seven of their 10 top-ranked signees project. But offensive coordinator Josh Gattis also added speed on offense and replenished the cupboards with dynamic playmakers such as receivers A.J. Henning (an accomplished sprinter), Roman Wilson (who ran an electronically timed 4.37 40-yard dash) and Eamonn Dennis (an explosive two-way playmaker) and running back Blake Corum, a bowling ball of a back with 4.4 speed. Michigan mostly stood pat after December, adding a January commitment from four-star cornerback Darion Green-Warren (who silently signed in December).
3. Penn State
The Nittany Lions have done an excellent job recruiting rangy, athletic linebackers in recent cycles (Micah Parsons, Lance Dixon and Brandon Smith come to mind) and Curtis Jacobs, their top-ranked commitment, continues that tradition at “Linebacker U.” Running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider also did a great job in his home-state of Florida, helping land four-star athlete Caziah Holmes and four-star running back Keyvone Lee
The Cornhuskers have excelled with smaller, speedier receivers like Wandale Robinson and JD Spielman, and Miami Northwestern four-star Marcus Fleming could be next in line. Nebraska also added a couple bigger, rangier outside receivers with this class in four-stars Zavier Betts and Omar Manning. This is a superb recruiting job by Scott Frost, especially considering the lack of on-field success. Linebacker Keyshawn Greene, who ran a 4.49 40, is one of the nation’s most athletic prospects for his position.
Four-star running back Jalen Berger, who committed to the Badgers at the All-American Game, could be the next great Wisconsin running back from New Jersey. That was a major recruiting win for the Badgers, who must replace Jonathan Taylor. Wisconsin signed a well-rounded class that included offensive tackle Jack Nelson, ranked as a five-star by 247Sports. The Badgers also brought in six linebackers, including Kaden Johnson, from Minnesota, Nick Herbig, from Hawaii, and Malik Reed, from Arizona.
The Hawkeyes dug deep to land nine players on the offensive or defensive lines. Four-star defensive tackle Logan Jones and three-star defensive end Deontae Craig replenish the cupboard with A.J. Epenesa leaving for the NFL after this season. And in keeping tradition, Iowa landed a pair of tall, rangy tight ends in Ohio three-star Luke Lachey and Texas three-star Elijah Yelverton. It’s a typical Kirk Ferentz class: Low on star power, high on upside.
Brycen Hopkins had a hugely successful senior season, and Oak Park tight end Maliq Carr could be the Boilers’ next weapon in the passing game. Carr, one of two four-star recruits in Purdue’s class, was one of four players the Boilers plucked out of Michigan, along with defensive tackle Bryce Austin, athlete Anthony Romphf and four-star receiver Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen, who flipped from Northwestern. One sleeper pick: Marcellus Moore, a high school track star, has the to be an explosive playmaker.
The Terrapins made waves in December by flipping five-star receiver Rakim Jarrett from LSU. Mike Locksley had been struggling to recruit in-state, which made signing Jarrett a statement recruiting victory that could pay off with future classes. Jarrett is the third-highest ranked signee in the Big Ten, after Ohio State’s Julian Fleming and Paris Johnson. The Terrapins also landed four-star linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II out of Florida and added two junior college players — three-star defensive tackle Almosse Titi and three-star offensive lineman Amelio Moran — in late January and early February.
Minnesota’s best season in a generation produced a solid but not stellar class. Fleck, a former receiver and receivers coach, brought in a deep and talented group that should help supplement Rashod Bateman, the Gophers’ third-team All-American receiver. Four-star Daniel Jackson leads the receiver class, and St. Louis outside linebacker Itayvion Brown looks like a player who could contribute early. The Gophers’ defense got a boost when three-star defensive end Jah Joyner flipped to Minnesota from Boston College.
247Sports bumped offensive lineman Peter Skoronski up to five-star status in their final rankings update, further cementing his status as the jewel of Northwestern’s class. He could be a mainstay up front for years. Pat Fitzgerald won some other impressive recruiting battles for players such as guard Josh Priebe and linebacker Cullen Coleman.
The Hoosiers received big news on National Signing Day when three-star offensive guard Kahlil Benson signed with Indiana over Mississippi State. It’s an impressive recruiting win considering Benson is from Southaven, Mississippi. He’s one of several potential difference-makers in this class. Rashawn Williams, a four-star prospect who starred at Detroit King, could make an immediate impact at receiver. Indiana did a great job of going south to build its class — defensive tackle Damarjhe Lewis should help beef up the interior of the defensive line.
12. Michigan State
The Spartans struggled to recruit in-state and didn’t land a single four-star prospect this cycle. And Mark Dantonio’s abrupt departure could hurt their chances with three-star running back Jordon Simmons, who said he will take more time with his recruiting process. Receiver and linebacker are the strengths of this class, which features plenty of under-the-radar prospects who will make an impact down the road. Angelo Grose is a speedy defensive back who could be a star at cornerback. An ESPN recruiting analyst called it a “typical class.” And that feels about right.
Greg Schiano didn’t waste time, essentially putting together a full class between the day he returned as head coach and National Signing Day. It’s a big class that doesn’t have much star power, but Rutgers was aggressive in the transfer portal and added several big names — including former four-star athlete Peyton Powell, who could get a shot at quarterback. The early signing period makes it difficult for new coaches to close out recruiting classes. Schiano could have better luck locking down New Jersey’s top recruits in 2021.
The Illini took a hit when four-star receiver Jadon Thompson did not sign in December and flipped to Cincinnati. This is a somewhat small class with a few impact players at the skill positions: receiver James Frenchie and running back Reggie Love are the top prospects.
The addition of former Trinity Catholic coach Cory Patterson continues to pay dividends, as he helped land Frenchie and Love, who both attend that school. Illinois, though, did not land a single in-state prospect.