Scouts Inc. breaks down and grades the recruiting classes of each team in the Big Ten, including three top-25 classes.
The Buckeyes did a good job of retaining most of the state's top players and landed a few key out-of-state prospects. Landing the explosive Jaamal Berry (Miami/Palmetto), the No. 3-rated running back, softened the blow of Chris "Beanie" Wells' leaving early for the NFL. The Buckeyes also signed three top-30 linebacker prospects, highlighted by Dorian Bell (Monroeville, Pa./Gateway), the No. 4-rated outside linebacker who can run and hit as well any backer in this class. His presence will help Ohio State ease the pain of losing linebackers James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman.
The Buckeyes signed several good receivers, including ESPNU 150 prospect Duron Carter (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla./St. Thomas Aquinas). Ohio State has a solid class that filled up quickly, but we question the future impact of some of OSU's lower signees. The failure to sign athlete Justin Green (Louisville, Ky./Male), who will play for Illinois, was significant as well.
Although Michigan had a disappointing first season under head coach Rich Rodriguez, fans have to be pleased with the team's successful signing day. The Wolverines got their much-needed second quarterback in Denard Robinson (Deerfield Beach, Fla.), who is a difference-maker with the ball in his hands and has deceptively good passing skills. They also were able to sign QB Tate Forcier (San Diego/Scripps Ranch). Snagging top-10 receiver Je'Ron Stokes (Philadelphia/Northeast), who had considered attending Tennessee, was huge because he will make the Wolverines faster.
Michigan also signed some prospects with great upside, including DE Anthony LaLota (Princeton, N.J./The Hun School) and OT Taylor Lewan (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chaparral). LaLota is fairly new to football but has the tools to be a good college defensive end, while Lewan has a great frame and wonderful potential. The addition of No. 6 guard Quinton Washington (Saint Stephen, S.C./Timberland) will improve offensive line. The Wolverines' defense will get a boost from disruptive edge rusher Craig Roh (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chaparral) and 6-foot-1 safety Isaiah Bell (Youngstown, Ohio/Liberty).
Joe Paterno has taken a lot of heat for his age, but continues to prove he can win and recruit, as reflected in this top-15 class. Penn State didn't make a lot of significant noise on signing day, but the addition of top-25 wide receiver Justin Brown (Wilmington, Del./Concord) was huge. He brings great size (6-foot-3) to a position in need of some talented youth. WR Shawney Kersey (Woodbury, N.J.) also was a solid pickup down the stretch, but we thought PSU could have done better to help compensate for the loss of its three key playmakers. Paterno hopes he found Daryll Clark's successor in Kevin Newsome (Hargrave Military Academy), especially now that Pat Devlin has transferred.
The Nittany Lions' incoming class also features some talented offensive linemen, including top-25 tackle prospects Eric Shrive (Scranton, Pa./West Scranton) and Mark Arcidiacono (Philadelphia/St. Joseph's Prep), and the No. 5-rated center, Ty Howle (Bunn, N.C.). The defense and special teams also needed to be replenished because several upperclassmen are manning the secondary and accomplished kicker Kevin Kelly moved on. Adding No. 6 corner Darrell Givens (Indian Head, Md./Lackey) and No. 2 kicker Anthony Fera (Houston/Saint Pius X) were crucial signings.
Head coach Mark Dantonio led the Spartans to a 9-4 record this past season. Now he has led them to their first top-25 recruiting finish in the Scouts Inc. era. The Spartans boast two ESPNU 150 prospects and a key in-state prospect, top-five tight end Dion Sims (Orchard Lake, Mich./Saint Mary's Prep). Michigan State has lost Javon Ringer, one of the nation's top rushers, but two top-25 running backs will come aboard: Larry Caper (Battle Creek, Mich./Central) and Edwin Baker (Oak Park, Mich.), the No. 11-rated back in the nation.
The Spartans signed four offensive-line prospects, including ESPNU 150 offensive tackle David Barrent (Clive, Iowa/Valley), who will help open holes for their incoming running backs. Michigan State also signed top-20 quarterback prospect Andrew Maxwell (Midland, Mich.), who's a poised and talented pocket passer.
Coming off a Rose Bowl appearance following the 2007 season, Illinois had a disappointing 2008 but bounced back with a solid recruiting class. The Fighting Illini lost ESPNU 150 Kraig Appleton (East St. Louis, Ill.) to Wisconsin but picked up top-20 athlete Justin Green (Louisville, Ky./Male) from Ohio State. The Illini did well in-state, led by their top overall prospect, WR Terry Hawthorne (East St. Louis, Ill.). Hawthorne is an Under Armour All-American who has great hands and route-running skills.
The defensive line will get big help from tackle Lendell Buckner (Chicago/Leo). Coach Ron Zook also has been busy in Ohio, where he landed Bud Golden (Cincinnati/Sycamore), a tough north-south runner.
The Badgers had big expectations in 2008, but things did not unfold the way Wisconsin fans had hoped. Yet signing day had its bright spots, one of them being the addition of ESPNU 150 WR Kraig Appleton, a prospect who should make an immediate impact for the Badgers. Wisconsin also is looking to replace some key departing players. The program is losing a good receiving target at tight end in Travis Beckum, and although Brian Wozniak (Cincinnati/Loveland) might not be able to match Beckum's skills, he is a solid receiver and a good blocker. The fullback position is far from glamorous, but Wisconsin does employ one. Because both its fullbacks are moving on, the addition of Tyler Dippel (Slinger, Wis./Union), the No. 1-rated player at the position, is a good one.
With Allan Evridge gone and Dustin Sherer going into his senior season, the Badgers wisely brought another quarterback into the mix in top-20 signal-caller Jon Budmayr (Woodstock, Ill./Marian Central Catholic). Although most of the Badgers' recruiting focus is in the Midwest, they did sign a few key prospects from Florida, led by Conor O'Neill (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Saint Thomas Aquinas), a good prospect at the outside linebacker position.
Although the Golden Gophers ended their 2008 season poorly, they still can sell recruits on a fine overall turnaround in which they improved from one win in 2007 to seven in 2008. Coach Tim Brewster is known as a tireless recruiter and has really upped his game in-state. The Golden Gophers lost out on the state's top overall prospect but landed Nos. 2 through 4, including big tight end Ra'Shede Hageman (Minneapolis/Washburn) and defensive end Matt Garin (Apple Valley, Minn./Eastview). They also signed a pair of good safeties, led by Kerry Lewis (Lancaster, Texas), an undersized but good player. Plus, Kendall Gregory-McGhee (Aurora, Colo./Cherokee Trail) is a promising tight end prospect.
The Golden Gophers are hoping they found their signal-caller of the future in Moses Alipate (Bloomington, Minn./Jefferson), a big, strong-armed passer who is the lone ESPNU 150 member of the class and should have a bright future at Minnesota. Stealing great cover corner Michael Carter (Pompano Beach, Fla.) from West Virginia on signing day will really improve the defense.
The Wildcats surprised many with their 9-4 finish and a near upset of Missouri in the Valero Alamo Bowl. Coach Pat Fitzgerald signed a solid class off that strong season that can keep the program on an upward swing. With senior quarterback C.J. Bacher leaving, the Wildcats inked Evan Watkins (Carol Stream, Ill./Glenbard North), a top-30 quarterback prospect with a strong arm.
The linebacker position was filled with upperclassmen this season, so Northwestern has added three linebackers, led by No. 25-ranked inside linebacker Will Studlien (Sunbury, Ohio/Big Walnut). Thinking special teams, Northwestern has brought aboard kicker Jeff Budzien (Hartland, Wis./Arrowhead) to try to replace Amado Villarreal. Northwestern landed the state of Illinois' top offensive tackle prospect, Patrick Ward (New Lenox, Ill./Providence Catholic). Ward should be able to contribute early. The class is solid, even though it doesn't have any ESPNU 150 prospects. The biggest hole, however, is a lack of needed youth along the defensive front and at wide receiver.
More than half the Boilermakers' class hails from either Florida or Georgia, and they also signed two players from Texas and Kentucky. They have been especially busy and successful in the Sunshine State. Purdue inked a productive and well-rounded tight end out of a successful program in Gabe Holmes (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Saint Thomas Aquinas), as well as Antwon Higgs (Pompano Beach, Fla.), a versatile defender who has good speed and an attacking style. The class also consists of defensive tackle prospect Brandon Taylor (Miami/Dr Krop), who's the son of Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor. Fellow defensive tackle Eric McDaniel (Calhoun, Ga.) is the Boilermakers' top prospect and, along with Taylor, should help improve a run defense that finished last in the Big Ten in 2008.
The Hawkeyes were able to rebound from a subpar 2007 season by going 9-4, spoiling Penn State's national title hopes and making it to a New Year's Day bowl. They also signed some significant prospects. The class has two solid running backs in the speedy and exciting Brandon Wegher (Sioux City, Iowa/Bishop Heelan Catholic) and Brad Rogers (Toledo, Ohio/Central Catholic), but it remains to be seen whether they can help fill the void left by the departure of Shonn Greene, who led the Big Ten in rushing in 2008.
The Hawkeyes have added a trio of receivers to help boost the passing attack. One is Jordan Cotton (Mount Pleasant, Iowa), a high school running back who projects as a receiver in college. The other is their top prospect, Keenan Davis (Cedar Rapids, Iowa/Washington). The Under Armour All-American is a key in-state keep, as the Iowa passing attack could use a little punch.
After snapping a 13-year bowl drought in 2007, the Hoosiers quickly fell back to Earth and finished last season with a 3-9 record. After a disappointing season, there is not a whole lot for Hoosiers fans to get excited about in this class, because Indiana's top-rated prospect is a kicker. Although this may not elicit cheers, Mitch Ewald (Aurora, Ill./Waubonsie Valley) is a top-five kicker prospect and a need with Austin Starr graduating.
The Hoosiers have been busy in-state, and more than half their class hails from Indiana or Ohio. They signed the No. 3-rated player in Indiana, Edward Wright-Baker (Jeffersonville, Ind.), who is listed as an athlete but is an underrated dual-threat quarterback. With some development, Wright-Baker could fit the mold of Hoosiers QB Kellen Lewis. The team also inked another in-state quarterback, Dustin Kiel (Columbus, Ind./East), as well as a pair of solid receivers, Jamonne Chester (Redford, Mich./Covenant) and Kiel's teammate, Duwyce Wilson (Columbus, Ind./East).