For the most part, recruiting stays pretty on brand. Ohio State recruits like Ohio State, Nebraska recruits like Nebraska, Rutgers recruits like Rutgers. Range-bound recruiting, they call it. There are highs and lows, but it's generally hard for a program to change its lot in life when it comes to who it can convince to come play football.
The Big Ten as a whole got a little off script, however, by turning in a second straight strong year and you can thank the West Division for many of those continued gains. The classes for five of the seven teams on that half of the conference ranked in top 35 nationally as of Friday morning (and Northwestern was 38th). As recently as two years ago, the Big Ten West had one team in the top 35.
Maybe that two-year rise is just a blip. Maybe it coincides with particularly strong years talent-wise in the areas those schools typically recruit. Or, maybe it's a reflection of that BTN money––which also allows for coaching and staff upgrades in addition to increased recruiting budgets––being put to use.
We'll see. That's the thing with recruiting. You almost always have to wait.
But here are some players we might not have to wait long to see. Let's take a look at the top player, per 247 Composite, each Big Ten school signed. More likely than not, these are names you need to know for Nebraska's conference opponents in the near future.
And it's there, as you'll see, that we get back on brand pretty quickly.
ILLINOIS (65th nationally, 13th Big Ten) – WR James Frenchie, .8860
The Illini had the smallest early signing day haul in the league with 12 players signed. Frenchie, a 3-star from St. Louis (of course), leads the way, but Illinois has a commitment from 4-star wide receiver Jadon Thompson. Lovie Smith went hard on defensive linemen, signing five.
IOWA (31st, 8th) – DE Logan Jones, .9155
If I had asked you to guess what position Iowa's top-rated signee played, would you have guessed defensive line or started on the offensive line? Both are reasonable picks, but it's d-line this time. The Hawkeyes class is headlined by two 4-star defensive ends, Jones and Deontae Craig. Both are among the top 20 at their position. Next highest? A tight end.
MINNESOTA (33rd, 9th) – OLB Itayvion Brown, .8982
Brown is a nice get for the Gophers from ultra-competitive St. Louis. He's one of two 4-stars in the class. The other, Daniel Jackson, is a wide receiver from Kansas. P.J. Fleck, the former receiver, does pretty well with wideouts.
NEBRASKA (20th, 4th) – OL Turner Corcoran, .9800
You're already up-to-speed on Nebraska's class, so no need to restate it all here. Just worth noting that the Huskers are one of 16 teams nationally so far with double-digit 4-stars.
NORTHWESTERN (38th, 10th) – OL Peter Skoronski, .9468
Not a bad class for the Wildcats. Skoronski, listed as a center, leads the way as Northwestern's lone 4-star. Boulder, Colorado, quarterback Aidan Atkinson would've been the top-rated player here, but he didn't sign after he was arrested on sexual assault charges in November.
PURDUE (30th, 7th) – TE Maliq Carr, .9197
What does Jeff Brohm do when he gets tired of landing the receiver that will win the conference freshman-of-the-year award (as he's done in 2018 and 2019)? Apparently he goes and gets a different kind of pass-catcher. Carr, a 4-star, is rated as one of the top five tight ends in the country. The Boilermakers also landed 4-star pro-style quarterback Michael Alaimo from New Jersey.
WISCONSIN (26th, 5th) – OL Trey Wedig, .9667
It's so Wisconsin-y it comes with cheese curds. Wedig, a 4-star tackle, is 6-foot-8, 320 pounds, and a home-state product. Jack Nelson (6-7, 273), another 4-star tackle from Wisconsin, is the Badgers' signee with the second-highest rating. Third? Kaden Johnson, the player a lot of Husker fans hoped would be wearing scarlet rather than cardinal.
INDIANA (50th, 12th) – WR Rashawn Williams, .8930
The Hoosiers have signed 17 so far, highlighted by Williams. Indiana is also adding former Stanford guard/center Dylan Powell. Would you have liked to see the Hoosiers make a bit of a move following their strng season? Yeah.
MARYLAND (27th, 6th) – WR Rakim Jarrett, .9910
Recruiting is Mike Locksley's strength, but this Maryland class isn’t really out of the range where the Terps have ranked in the past. Maryland did pull one of the biggest signing-day flips when Jarrett, a 5-star, chose turtles over tigers (LSU). Locksley's 23 signees so far include five junior-college players.
MICHIGAN (12th, 2nd) – WR A.J. Henning, .9580
Are you starting to get a feel for just how many highly rated wide receivers there are out there? The 4-star Henning topped a Michigan class that was very much business-as-usual in Ann Arbor. Of the 13 4-stars the Wolverines signed, eight of them are on defense.
MICHIGAN STATE (42nd, 11th) – OLB Darrius Snow, .8863
The Spartans' results under Mark Dantonio have always outpaced their recruiting rankings, but Michigan State has typically been a little higher than this. Snow, the lone 4-star signee, was a nice pull from Texas, but this class ranks between Northwestern and Indiana. It just feels like Michigan State lacks a little momentum of late.
OHIO STATE (3rd, 1st) – WR Julian Fleming, .9990
The Buckeyes landed the two top-rated players in the conference, Fleming and offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr., both 5-stars. Then they added 14 4-stars on top of that, including four wide receivers ranked in the top 15 at the position. Rinse, repeat.
PENN STATE (13th, 3rd) – OLB Curtis Jacobs, .9781
Linebacker U is led by a 4-star linebacker. The Nittany Lions also landed the top-rated tight end in the Big Ten, 4-star Theo Johnson. Penn State, with 27 signees, was really close to overtaking Michigan for second in the conference.
RUTGERS (68th, 14th) – ATH Tyreem Powell, .8628
Powell, a high 3-star, was a nice early win for Coach Greg Schiano. The New Jersey native was committed to Virginia Tech six days before early signing day, but Rutgers was able to flip him. At 6-4, 205, Powell could play about anything but offensive line. He likely starts out at receiver or linebacker. The Scarlet Knights are also getting former Baylor quarterback Peyton Powell, a former 4-star dual-threat.
The Grab Bag
- Change of plan: Bellevue West wide receiver Zavier Betts is a part of Nebraska’s early signing class after all.
- Nebraska has bolstered its depth at wide receiver in the last two classes. Is that group ready for takeoff or still a work in progress? (Premium)
- Greg Smith takes a close look at the Huskers’ strong December on the recruiting trail. (Premium)
- Jacob Padilla on what Nebraska needs to get from the JUCO signees in the 2020 class. (Premium)
Today’s Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.