- Craig Haubert, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Big Ten did itself a huge favor this bowl season by playing well and notching some much-needed big victories. Those wins can go toward helping to repair a tainted image on the national stage and possibly help the conference as whole on the recruiting trail. No one in the conference is legitimately vying for the top spot in the class rankings nationally, but the conference as a whole could see four teams crack the top 25 in the final rankings with the usual suspects leading the way. Penn State and Ohio State are battling for the top class in the conference, followed by Michigan, which does not have a great class by its standards.
Commits: 12 | ESPNU 150: 0
Ron Zook and Illinois grabbed people's attention with their strong 2007 class. Zook, known as a strong recruiter, then followed that class up with another top-25 finish. Last year, the Fighting Illini missed the top 25, but still assembled a solid class that landed in the top half of the conference. However, there seems to be a sharp decline this year from those three previous classes and in particular that 2007 haul. The class to this point is not very big and is heavy on offensive help. Chandler Whitmer (Downers Grove, Ill./South) is a good in-state grab at quarterback. He has good physical tools including a live arm and also comes across as a feisty competitor. Projected wide receiver Ryan Lankford (Jacksonville, Fla./Paxon School) has great top-end speed and is a potential playmaker on offense.
Top prospect: The defense struggled in 2009 and while there is not a lot of projected help on that side of the ball coming in at this point, there are two good linebackers committed, including the top-rated prospect in the class, Jonathan Brown (Memphis, Tenn./Christian Brothers). The No. 11-rated inside linebacker has a good nose for the football and is a physical downhill presence between the tackles. He needs to keep fine-tuning his technique, but is a tough kid with good ability and has the tools to be a productive presence in the heart of the defense.
Don't be surprised if: Illinois has its worst finish in the conference rankings under Zook and contends for last place in the Big Ten class rankings.
Commits: 25 | ESPNU 150: 0
Overall, it continues to be tough sledding for Indiana on the field and on the recruiting trail. While the Hoosiers may not be lighting up the headlines with their commitments, they have assembled a large class with some solid talent. A good out-of-state grab is tight end Paul Phillips (Bethesda, Md./Georgetown), who with some development could really contribute as an in-line blocker. Logan Young (Muncie, Ind./Delta) is a big target with a nice catching radius, sneaky speed as a receiver and should be a good addition to the passing game -- especially once he fills out his 6-foot-5, 190-pound frame. Athletes Kofi Hughes (Indianapolis/Cathedral) and Jack Denton (Zionsville, Ind./Community) will give the Hoosiers some options in how they use them.
Top prospect: Two of the Hoosiers' top three prospects are linebackers, which is a good thing because youth is needed there and Indiana finished near the bottom in the conference in most key defensive categories. Ishmael Thomas (Detroit/Renaissance), the top-ranked player in the Hoosiers' class, has a good blend of size and speed and while we project him to outside linebacker, he could also possibly play inside or develop into a defensive end.
Don't be surprised if: The Hoosiers finish in one of the last two spots in the conference recruiting rankings, despite having a big class.
Commits: 19 | ESPNU 150: 1
It was a good season for the Hawkeyes as they contended for a conference title and won the Orange Bowl versus Georgia Tech and it looks as though Iowa has been able to parlay that success into a very good recruiting class. The Hawkeyes have assembled a solid class with one ESPNU 150 prospect and four total prospects who rank amongst the top 25 at their position. With the talent pool not very deep within the state, they have been busy out of state landing prospects from Florida, Maryland, Texas and Ohio, where they got offensive tackle Andrew Donnal (Whitehouse, Ohio/Anthony Wayne). Despite the ground attack being more productive than fans could have hoped for entering the season, Iowa smartly is still bringing in good talent at the running back position. Marcus Coker (Hyattsville, Md./DeMatha Catholic) is a load-carrying, powerful, downhill runner who looks like a good fit. A huge hometown pickup was A.J. Derby (Iowa City, Iowa). Listed as an athlete, Derby is a versatile prospect who could help Iowa in many ways, but will likely get a chance to prove himself at quarterback first.
Top prospect: C.J. Fiedorowicz (Johnsburg, Ill./Johnsburg) is one of the top tight ends in the country because he can use his size smartly to be a weapon in the passing game. Two reasons come to mind why this pickup was big for the Hawkeyes. First, they have proved they will throw the ball to their tight ends and Fiedorowicz can be a productive target, and secondly they were able to lure him away from a fellow Big Ten program because he was committed to Illinois at one time.
Don't be surprised if: Derby ends up having a great career at Iowa, but at a position other than quarterback.
Commits: 26 | ESPNU 150: 1
This class may not be what Michigan fans are used to, but at this point it is a top 20-caliber class. A strength of this class is that several prospects are already on campus and all are on the offensive side of the ball. This is good news as Rich Rodriguez continues to try to develop the Wolverines' offense in his vision. A key early enrollee is Ricardo Miller (Ann Arbor, Mich./Pioneer), who is a tough and productive wide receiver. While the talent on campus now favors the offense, the Wolverines have done a solid job of also landing defensive talent. Some good defensive pickups include safety/outside linebacker Marvin Robinson (Winter Haven, Fla./Lake Region) and No. 18 cornerback prospect Cullen Christian (Pittsburgh/Penn Hills), who is a savvy player with good size and quickness for the position. Special-teams commitments may not be something that get fans fired up, but with punter Zoltan Mesko moving on the Wolverines smartly landed one of the top punters in this class in Will Hagerup (Whitefish Bay, Wis./Whitefish Bay).
Top prospect: Quarterback was a need a year ago and Michigan went out and tried to address it by signing two quarterbacks that fit its system. With this class, the Wolverines are still at it by landing Devin Gardner (Inkster, Mich./Inkster), who is one of the top quarterback prospects in the country. The Under Armour All-American is a fine athlete and a promising passer. He will immediately bring added depth to the position and as a prospect with great tools and upside he likely will be pushing for the starting job before long.
Don't be surprised if: The Wolverines add more talent to their secondary by signing day. Two possibilities are safeties Sean Parker (Harbor City, Calif./Narbonne), who is considering the Wolverines among his final choices, and in-state prospect Earnest Thomas III (Orchard Lake, Mich./St. Mary's), who was committed to UCLA.
Commits: 18 | ESPNU 150: 1
After a somewhat disappointing regular season and postseason, which included mass suspensions and a tough bowl loss, the Spartans can look toward national signing day as a chance to start fresh in 2010. This class is a solid one and was built from the Spartans' recruiting base because the majority of the class hails from Michigan or Ohio. A key in-state grab for Michigan State is Max Bullough (Traverse City, Mich./Saint Francis), the No. 4-rated inside linebacker prospect in this class. He is an overall good football player with good size and a physical nature. Adding to a class with some good defensive talent are three–star prospects defensive end Marcus Rush (Cincinnati, Ohio/Moeller) and corner Mylan Hicks (Detroit/Renaissance), who could see action early for a secondary that struggled some.
Top prospect: Arguably the biggest land for Mark Dantonio and his staff defensively since their arrival in East Lansing is William Gholston (Detroit/Southeastern). The monster in-state prospect is a defender with great raw tools and exciting upside. He has size (6-7, 250 pounds) and good athleticism and in time could be a dominant presence at the defensive end position.
Don't be surprised if: Gholston actually signs with Michigan State. Despite persistent rumors that the Spartans' top prospect will be swayed to SEC country, expect the Spartans to keep and sign the Under Armour All-American.
Commits: 25 | ESPNU 150: 0
With a new on-campus stadium and two straight bowl appearances, the Golden Gophers have something to sell recruits, but despite some positives it does not look as though Minnesota will make a return to the top-25 class rankings. While not among the elite, the class is deep with solid three-star talent, including wide receiver Chris Hawkins (Channelview, Texas/Channelview) and top-20 guard Jimmy Gjere (New Brighton, Minn./Irondale). The Golden Gophers have been active in the state of Florida, landing several prospects including some from good programs like Tyrone Bouie (Sanford, Fla./Seminole), a savvy corner who could play early as a nickelback.
Top prospect: Minnesota's ground attack ranked last in the conference in 2009, so help coming in at the running back position is a good thing. The Golden Gophers have several running back prospects committed, including Devon Wright (Coral Springs, Fla./J.P. Taravella), the No. 21-rated back. He has a good size-to-speed ratio and is also a productive receiver. As a runner he hits the hole quickly and can make people miss. Wright is a player with good ability and could produce early on for Minnesota.
Don't be surprised if: Minnesota is not done landing talent from the Sunshine State in this class. Keep an eye on athlete Toby Durham (Sanford, Fla./Seminole), a high school teammate of current commit Bouie.
Commits: 16 | ESPNU 150: 0
Two things stand out about the Wildcats' 2010 class -- one is the addition of a promising quarterback prospect and the other is a solid haul of defensive line talent. Trevor Siemian (Orlando, Fla./Olympia) is the 19th-rated quarterback and while he is a prospect who could use some further development he does display good overall physical tools, a high ceiling and looks to be a good fit for the Wildcats' offense. A solid in-state pickup is Chance Carter (Wilmette, Ill./Loyola) and two good out-of-state recruits are Sean McEvilly (Orange, Calif./Lutheran), a blue-collar defender from a good program, and Will Hampton (Houston/Cypress Creek), an active player in the trenches. In total, the Wildcats have four defensive line commits.
Top prospect: Paul Jorgenson (De Witt, Mich./De Witt) is a big prospect who could make a case for playing defense, but we think his best fit in college will be at offensive tackle. He displays good flexibility and athleticism for a big man as well as the toughness to finish blocks. You can't rule out defense, but with some work we feel the Wildcats could have themselves a potentially fine left tackle.
Don't be surprised if: Some of that defensive line help coming in works its way into the rotation this season.
Commits: 17 | ESPNU 150: 4
The Buckeyes currently trail Penn State in the class rankings, but still remain a force on the recruiting trail within the conference. This class is currently not as strong as their previous two, but is still a good haul. They have four ESPNU 150 prospects on board, including two Under Armour All-Americans in wide receiver James Louis (Delray Beach, Fla./Atlantic Community) and the versatile Corey Brown (Springfield, Pa./Cardinal O'Hara). The Buckeyes are also bringing in a quartet of defensive linemen led by the physically impressive Darryl Baldwin (Solon, Ohio/Solon) and David Durham (Charlotte, N.C./Christian). Durham is a versatile and physical defender who could develop into a Thaddeus Gibson-like player for the Buckeyes.
Top prospect: Despite landing one of the top running backs in last year's class, the Buckeyes' 2010 class is once again headed by a running back. Roderick Smith (Fort Wayne, Ind./Harding) is a big back with an impressive size-to-speed ratio. While he is a physically impressive back he is athletic and can hit the cutback lane, make defenders miss and create big plays.
Don't be surprised if: The Buckeyes' class makes a run at the top spot within the conference. Linebacker Jordan Hicks (West Chester, Ohio/Lakota West) may be a bit of a long shot, but top offensive line prospect Seantrel Henderson (Saint Paul, Minn./Cretin-Derham Hall), offensive tackle Matt James (Cincinnati/Saint Xavier) and safety Christian Bryant (Cleveland/Glenville) remain strong possibilities.
Commits: 18 | ESPNU 150: 6
The Nittany Lions have suffered some bumps down the stretch on the recruiting trail, like losing Dominique Easley (Staten Island, N.Y./Curtis) to Florida and being eliminated in the race for Marcus Lattimore (Duncan, S.C./Byrnes), but all things considered the 2010 class has turned out well for Penn State. The Nittany Lions currently have a top-10 class, which features six ESPNU 150 prospects. A key pickup is quarterback Robert Bolden (Orchard Lake, Mich./Saint Mary's Prep), who could contend for early playing time because Daryll Clark is done and options are limited at the quarterback position. While the loss of Easley had to sting, Nittany Lions fans can't be mad at the overall talent haul along the defensive line. Dakota Royer (Manheim, Pa./Central) is simply an excellent football player who could play linebacker or end in Happy Valley, while defensive tackle Evan Hailes (Chesapeake, Va./Oscar Frommel Smith) is a big body who can clog up running lanes and C.J. Olaniyan (Warren, Mich./Warren-Mott) is a promising prospect at the end position.
Top prospect: Not shocking that the top-rated prospect for the school known as Linebacker U is in fact a linebacker. Khairi Fortt (Stamford, Conn./Stamford) physically looks the part with a tall, thickly built frame. He has explosive power, good strength and can be tough defending the run.
Don't be surprised if: Bolden sees serious playing time as a freshman. Penn State does not seem like the place where a true freshman quarterback would play, but he may end up being the Nittany Lions' best option.
Commits: 23 | ESPNU 150: 0
Under Danny Hope, the Boilermakers continue to be active in the state of Florida and thus far have eight commitments from there. Their time in Florida has netted them four defensive backs, including three-star corner Jhony Faustin (Naples, Fla./Lely), a well-rounded and tough corner. The class also includes a quarterback with nice upside in Sean Robinson (Rochester, Ill./Rochester). He has a pocket passer's build and a big arm, but also is athletic and can play in a spread attack. At this point, he is best as a runner and needs to keep developing as a passer, but has good potential at the position.
Top prospect: O.J. Ross (Daytona Beach, Fla./Mainland) is a nice grab for Purdue's offense out of Florida. He is undersized as a receiver, but is also very fast. He can attack vertically and is dangerous with the ball in his hands. He runs good routes and despite lacking ideal size is tough as a receiver. Ross also has upside as a return man and is someone who could contribute quickly for the Boilermakers.
Don't be surprised if: The Boilermakers contend for their highest finish in the conference rankings over the last five years.
Commits: 23 | ESPNU 150: 0
Coming off a 10-win season, the Badgers are on their way to signing a good-sized, deep class with solid three-star prospects. A good pickup from enemy territory is defensive tackle Beau Allen (Shorewood, Minn./Minnetonka) out of Minnesota. He is a nice addition to a defense which was tough versus the run because he is a stout run defender himself. He has good size, can be tough to block and plays with a physical attitude. Wisconsin has produced some good college running backs and the Badgers have two good prospects in this class. Jeff Lewis (Brookfield, Wis./Central), an in-state grab, and James White (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Saint Thomas Aquinas) from one of the top high school programs in the country are both good, well-rounded backs. Quarterback Joseph Brennan (Cherry Hill, N.J./Camden Catholic) is a tall, lean pocket passer with a good arm. Some development time would aid him, but he has good tools and upside.
Top prospect: The Badgers' No. 1 recruit hails from Maryland and is a physical player at the safety position. Frank Tamakloe (Olney, Md./Good Counsel) has good size and speed and can be tough versus the run or pass. He could also be a heck of a special-teams player for the Badgers and is capable of contributing quickly.
Don't be surprised if: The Badgers are not done yet at Saint Thomas Aquinas in Florida. After landing two prospects from there last year and another this year, Wisconsin could still add linebacker Vincent Mauro (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Saint Thomas Aquinas) to this class.
Craig Haubert is the recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. and has more than a decade of coaching experience.
Penn State continues its tradition with a top class led by LB Khairi Fortt.