Detroit Cass Tech's Damon Webb signs up to play for Ohio State on Wednesday. (David Coates / Detroit News)
Teams are listed in order of Scout.com’s rankings.
1. Ohio State
Overview: A top-five class nationally, rated as high as No. 2 by some. The Buckeyes loaded up at linebacker and on the offensive line. Meyer had the No. 3 class (Scout) nationally last season and validated it with another stellar class this season. Scout national recruiting editor Scott Kennedy said their outside linebackers — Sam Hubbard, Kyle Berger and Dante Booker — are three of the top four in the country. That’s filling needs with depth. ESPN’s Tom Luginbill said Urban Meyer went for that “Percy Harvin” effect, and nabbed receivers Johnnie Dixon and Curtis Samuel to do just that.
Top player: Raekwon McMillan, LB, 6-2, 248, Liberty County High, Hinesville, Ga. McMillan enrolled early, thus getting a jump on his freshman year. He’s the No. 1 player out of Georgia and is another example of Meyer’s ability to sign top recruits from SEC country.
Notable: In a down year for Ohio high school prospects, Meyer signed just nine instate recruits. Seven enrolled early including quarterback Stephen Collier (Leesburg, Ga.) whom Tom Lemming called a “sleeper.”
2. Michigan State
Overview: Another three-star studded group, one coach Mark Dantonio is accustomed to signing and winning with. Looking to fill needs the Spartans went after linebackers (3), offensive (4) and defensive (5) linemen. Dantonio’s staff worked through the recruiting season, nabbing defensive tackle Craig Evans (Sun Prairie High) out of Wisconsin on Tuesday. No quarterbacks in this group but Dantonio got a bruising running back from Ft. Lauderdale in Madre London.
Top player: Montae Nicholson, Monroeville, Pa. Nicholson is the top player from Pennsylvania. He took October visits to Oregon and Florida State after committing to MSU and the Spartans held on to him.
Notable: The best is yet to come. The Rose Bowl victory will pay dividends in the future, and if the Spartans continue to beat U-M on the field, they might pass them by in recruiting as well.
3. Penn State
Overview: If the Nittany Lions can have this type of class with coach James Franklin in charge for just four weeks, the future looks bright for a program many thought would go under in the wake of the sex scandal and subsequent NCAA sanctions. Who needs a bowl game to use as a carrot to lure recruits? As soon as Franklin was hired offensive tackle Chance Sorrell (Middletown, Ohio) de-committed from Vanderbilt and went with Franklin. In addition to Sorrell, seven others committed to Penn State since Franklin’s arrival.
Top player: De’Andre Thompkins, ATH, 5-11, 176, Swansboro, N.C. Thompkins was said to be wavering in his commitment before Franklin was hired. Likely used as a slot receiver, Thompkins (4.46 in the 40-yard dash) is a receiver who get yards after the catch.
Notable: NCAA sanctions limit Penn State to signing 20 this class, so it should be interesting to see how it gets the other four in the program. It’s possible one or two could be convinced to enter as a grayshirt or as walk-ons.
Overview: Low numbers, high quality. Scout rated last year’s class No. 2 in the country and Kennedy said coach Brady Hoke did well with the lack of available scholarships. Hoke, like Meyer, is trying to upgrade the athleticism. Players like receiver Freddy Canteen (4.4 in 40-yard dash) and defensive back Brandon Watson (4.5 in the 40), who were high school teammates, should help. Depth at linebacker was addressed but conspicuously missing is a running back and the Wolverines lacked any semblance of consistency at that position in 2013.
Top player: Jabrill Peppers, DB, 6-1, 210, Paramus (N.J.) Catholic. Rated No. 2 player in the country by Rivals, Peppers has overcome personal tragedy (brother was shot and killed). Listed as a defensive back, Peppers also played receiver and returned kicks.
Notable: The 16 recruits came from nine states. The player many have their eyes on is receiver Drake Harris. He missed his senior season (hamstring). Will that inactivity slow his development?
Overview: To move forward the Badgers looked to improve team speed. Luginbill said Wisconsin added playmakers at receiver and went outside Wisconsin to “upgrade its athleticism.” It went to South Carolina to sign running back Caleb Kinlaw. It went to Florida for defensive back Derrick Tindal. It went to Ohio to sign Dareian Watkins, who can play receiver and defensive back. All three run the 40 in 4.5 seconds. And on Tuesday it received a commitment from receiver George Rushing from Ft. Lauderdale.
Top player: Jaden Gault, 6-7, 290, OT, Monona Grove, Wis. Despite his size Gault is agile. He runs the 40-yard dash in 5.3 seconds and is flexible in his movements.
Notable: A strong year for talent in Wisconsin. In addition to Gault the Badgers signed six in-state recruits. Look for quarterback D.J. Gillins (Jacksonville) to press for playing time early.
Overview: The bowl victory over Georgia didn’t hurt recruiting but the Huskers still gave up too many points and, smartly, went after defensive players. They signed five defensive linemen and six in the secondary. They signed the best player from Nebraska (guard D.J. Foster) and landed three junior college players, the best being defensive end Joe Keels out of Highland (Kan.) Junior College, originally from Kenosha (Wis.).
Top player: Peyton Newell, 6-3, 280, DT, Hiawatha, Kan. Newell is just what Nebraska needs to shore up its run defense. Last season he had 32 tackles for loss, 12 sacks and forced four fumbles.
Notable: The Cornhuskers still haven’t figured out a way to recruit since entering the Big 10. They got three players from Texas, the best being defensive back Trai Mosley, but Baylor and Oklahoma were the only notable schools they beat out for him.
Overview: The Hawkeyes rarely wow anyone with their classes. Analysts lump Iowa with Michigan State and Wisconsin as Big 10 programs that do more with less than any of the others. In good years, Northwestern could be thrown in the mix. What stands out in this class is coach Kirk Ferentz’s hunger for speed. Team speed is one area most Big 10 teams lack. Six of Iowa’s recruits run the 40 in 4.5 seconds, four others are at 4.6 Of these, three are defensive backs and five others are listed as athletes, one being Jalen Embry of Detroit King. The best is Jay Scheel, a dual-threat quarterback from La Porte City, Iowa. It’s likely Scheel will have a new position at Iowa, receiver or defensive.
Top player: Tyler Wiegers, Detroit Country Day, 6-4, 215, QB. Wiegers originally committed to Rutgers, then opened his recruiting shortly after the end of the high school season. Luginbill said Wiegers “is an excellent pocket passer. He’s good at the play-action play. That’s a nice steal for Iowa.”
Notable: Luginbill said recruiting is a tough sell at Iowa. There aren’t that many good recruits in the state, or in neighboring states. Additionally, the Hawkeyes lost the top two recruits in state, one to Iowa State (receiver Allen Lazard, Urbandale High) and one to Alabama (offensive lineman Ross Pierschbacher, Cedar Falls High).
Overview: Narrow losses to Navy (41-35) and Minnesota (42-39) cost Indiana their first bowl bid since 2007. Offensively Indiana was explosive. Its defense was porous and the Hoosiers addressed this by signing 12 for the defense, plus four listed as athletes who could be used defensively.
Top player: Dominique Booth, Indianapolis Pike, 6-0, 190, WR. Booth is the No. 3-ranked player in Indiana according to Scout and received a plethora of scholarship offers, including from Alabama, Florida State and Michigan State.
Notable: The Hoosiers were busy on signing day. They got commitments, and signatures, from two recruits from Georgia, one from Chicago and a fourth from South Carolina. The most intriguing late catch is 6-3, 245-pound linebacker Robert McCray III from Conyers, Ga. McCray turned down scholarship offers from Boise State, East Carolina and Georgia Tech.
Overview: Coach Jerry Kill and his staff were busy as their list of recruits grew from 19 to 28 in the last two days. Three weeks ago Minnesota had 13 commitments. On Wednesday eight players committed, then signed with the Gophers. The best of this bunch is cornerback Craig James of Edwardsburg, Ill. Iowa, Iowa State and Missouri all offered James a scholarship. Tom Lemming said Kill got the best running back in the Midwest (Jeff Jones) and Kill runs an old-fashioned offense. Not many four-star recruits in this class but Kill did get one of the top centers out of Texas in Connor Mayes (6-5, 330) from Van Alstyne High.
Top player: Jeff Jones, Minneapolis (Washburn High), 6-0, 190, RB. Jones was Kill’s first recruit (Feb. 2, 2013) for this class. He took an official visit to Iowa State in December but remained firm with Minnesota. Jones is the back that will excel in Kill’s offense. He rushed for 34 touchdowns as a senior and averaged 9.1 yards per carry.
Notable: Difficult to evaluate this class. Many of the players aren’t rated by Scout, some are two-star recruits by Rivals. Tom Luginbill said Kill is one of the best at evaluating talent and added that winning eight games last season was above what the talent level was on the field.
Overview: The Scarlet Knights got the vast majority of their top recruits to commit before Jan. 1. Rutgers’ recruiting must change now that it’s joining the Big Ten. Of the 25, 23 are from the east coast or Pennsylvania (1). Rutgers’ offense is not much different from that at Minnesota. The Knights want to run and they filled needs here, getting running backs Robert Martin of Harrisburg, Pa., and Jacob Kraut of Neptune Beach, Fla. At 235 pounds, Kraut’s a bruiser. They signed five offensive linemen and all are solid. The best could be tackle Logan Lister of Katy, Texas.
Top player: Marcus Applefield, Weeki Wachee, Fla, 6-6, 275, OT. Applefield is made for this offense. He’s quick off the ball and is big enough to fill out to a 300-pounder. He took official visits to Purdue, Maryland and Virginia but Rutgers won out.
Notable: Rutgers took a hit when quarterback Tyler Wiegers decommitted and went to Iowa. Give the Knights credit, they found another in Giovanni Rescigno of Warren DeLaSalle. He’s a two-star recruit, but that’s because he never went to a summer camp. At 6-4 and 239 pounds, Rescigno just might be the right player at the right time.
Overview: Even though this is a small class, like U-M’s, the Wildcats signed quality players, particularly in the Chicago area. From Illinois the Wildcats got one of the country’s top safeties in Parrker Westphal (Bollingbrook). Out of Wheaton North they landed Clayton Thorson, who Luginbill said is a cross between Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian. His “athleticism creates mismatches,” Luginbill said. At 6-4, Thorson is taller than many of Northwestern’s recent quarterbacks. Another fine Illinois player is running back Justin Jackson from Carol Stream.
Top player: Parrker Westphal, Bollingbrook, Ill., 6-1, 186, DB. Westphal runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds. He’s strong, too. Could play either safety spot. He was offered a scholarship by big time schools, like Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. This is a big catch.
Notable: Lemming said if you just counted the top 15 recruits from each of the Big 10 teams Northwestern’s class would be in the top five. The low number will keep this class hidden from most of the top-rated ones but there’s quality throughout.
Overview: Low numbers but the Terps have four players who might make an impact this fall. Three big offensive tackles, Damian Prince of Forestville, Md., Derwin Gray of Fort Union, Va., and Larry Mazyck of Iowa Western JC, are the face of this group. Mazyck is 6-foot-7 and weighs 350 pounds. He’s originally from Council Bluffs, Iowa. Offensively, Juwann Winfrey of Englewood, N.J., is the best recruit.
Top player: Damian Prince, Forestville (Bishop McNamara), Md., 6-5, 295, OT. This is a find. Prince waited for the last day to decide and he turned down Florida and Florida State to stay home. A big prize for the Terps.
Notable: The switch to the Big 10 will change recruiting but Maryland did sign two good players from Big 10 country, one from Ohio (tight end Andrew Gray, Chardon High) and one from Pennsylvania (defensive tackle David Shaw from Spring Grove). The Terps will need to make more inroads further west in the future.
Overview: The Boilermakers were not competitive on a consistent basis last season. Luginbill said they have a big hole to dig themselves out of. Defensively Purdue made strides signing a big linebacker in Jawhaun Bentley from Hyattsville, Md., defensive back Juan Jenkins of Gainesville, Fla., and end Will Colmery from La Grange, Ill. Analysts are high on quarterback David Blough of Carrollton, Texas. Purdue is waiting on two junior college offensive line prospects (Corey Clements and Miguel Machado), both of whom committed but have yet to sign.
Top player: Gelen Robinson, St. John, Ind., 6-1, 231, DE. A tad on the small side for an end but he’s a rush end, a playmaker on the defensive side of the ball, a player who can make an impact on a team desperate for one.
Notable: Locally, the move for Dearborn lineman Bearooz Yacoobi from Northern Illinois to Purdue shows how some recruits, if they wait long enough, can get an opportunity at a Big 10 school. Yacoobi was named to the Dream Team this past fall.
Overview: No way to paint this any different. Illinois got one player after Dec. 20 and that was Chris James, a rather nondescript cornerback from Orange, Texas, on Tuesday. The Illini didn’t do well in their home state, landing just five. Offensively there is some talent. Chayce Crouch is a big and strong quarterback from Newark, Ohio, and Matt Domer from Chicago Mt. Carmel is one of the top running backs in the state.
Top player: Jihad Ward, Globe Institute, N.Y., 6-7, 285, DE. This should tell it all for this class. Illinois had to go to the junior colleges to land one of its top recruits.
Notable: Illinois couldn’t beat Northwestern for some of the better in-state recruits so it signed six from junior colleges.