Charboneau: MSU winner, UM loser on Signing Day

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Incoming freshman running back LJ Scott has drawn comparisons to former Michigan State great Le'Veon Bell.

The Big Ten was college football's whipping boy all season long.

That is, right up until the time Ohio State tore through the College Football Playoff to a national championship.

Did that suddenly make the Big Ten the best conference in the country? Probably not, but it sure proved it wasn't as bad as many were pushing throughout the season.

But even a bit of a reprieve from criticism offered by the Buckeyes' championship was a distant memory on the day that is becoming far bigger than it should be — National Signing Day.

Some like to capitalize that, as if it were a national holiday. Sorry, I'm not gonna be one of them. But there is no doubt how big it has become with all-day coverage of teenagers putting on hats — only briefly in some cases — and fans proclaiming greatness before any of these players even set foot on the field in a college game.

And on Feb. 5, 2015, the Big Ten was again lagging behind the other conferences.

According to Scout.com, the SEC, Pac-12 and Big 12 all rated higher. In fact, the Big Ten didn't land a single five-star player according to both Rivals.com and Scout.com. Ohio State managed one — linebacker Justin Hilliard — according to 247sports.com.

This isn't a bash-the-ratings column. There is no doubt that to be successful teams need good players. But that doesn't mean just pile up "stars" and everything will be just fine.

Just ask Michigan, which under Brady Hoke routinely landed highly rated classes. And just ask Michigan State, which has finished in the top five in the country each of the last two seasons and usually brings in classes rated somewhere in the 30s.

And the conference as a whole was rated by Scout.com better than fifth overall just once in the last five years — second in 2013.

But regardless of star ratings, the Big Ten must be doing something right. The success of Ohio State and Michigan State prove that, as does the continued presence of Wisconsin and Nebraska, the emergence of Minnesota and the likely resurgence of Penn State. Even Illinois brought in some better players this year and Rutgers and Maryland are proving to be players in the Big Ten.

Then there is the Jim Harbaugh effect. It's a mixed bag on how he fared with his first Michigan class. The Wolverines signed 14 players and managed to flip a few guys, but they also missed out on some, too.

Does it mean Harbaugh won't have recruiting success in the future? No way. In fact, some virtually guarantee it.

"I know Jim Harbaugh from Stanford," CBS analyst Tom Lemming said, "and I almost guarantee Michigan will wind up in the top 10 next year."

Maybe they will, maybe they won't, but there is little doubt Michigan is headed in the right direction. Combine that with the already impressive recruiting by Urban Meyer at Ohio State, the early impact James Franklin has made at Penn State and the nearly flawless talent evaluation from Mark Dantonio at Michigan State, and it adds up to a conference that could be telling the college football world "I told you so," much like it did this season.

With that, here is a look at some of the winners and losers from signing day in the Big Ten.

Winners

Ohio State – The Buckeyes were riding the wave of a national championship and Meyer once again has a top-10 class. Athlete Torrance Gibson and linebacker Justin Hilliard are the jewels of the class, but the Buckeyes did their best and winning battles with Big Ten foes. Guard Matt Burrell was a head-to-head win over Penn State and keeping Detroit Cass Tech running back Mike Weber in the fold and away from Michigan might have been Ohio State's biggest win.

Michigan State – Dantonio has built the Spartans' program on finding hidden gems, but he brought in a top-20 class this season, on that was rated No.17 by Scout.com. Getting running back LJ Scott from Ohio State's backyard, and keeping him, was a huge win for the Spartans and his commitment effectively led Weber to decide between Michigan and Ohio State. Quarterback Brian Lewerke was also highly sought after and getting twins Andrew and David Dowell to flip from Kentucky a week before Signing Day helped Michigan State make a late push in the rankings.

Honorable mention: Penn State, Illinois

Losers

Michigan – This won't fit the narrative of Harbaugh fixing everything immediately, and he certainly had his highlights on Signing Day, including added four-stars Tyrone Wheatley Jr. and Shelton Johnson late in the process. But getting three-star running back Karan Higdon to flip from Iowa might have been the final reason Weber needed to stick with Ohio State and not return to Michigan, where he had originally committed. The Wolverines also lost out on tight end Chris Clark, a five-star and one-time commit, as well as four-star linebacker Roquan Smith and three-star cornerback Jarius Adams.

Iowa – Since playing in the Orange Bowl after the 2009 season, the Hawkeyes have lost at least five games in each of the next five seasons. That steady decline was evident once again on Signing Day as Iowa ranked 10th in the Big Ten, and that was its best rating. The Hawkeyes were 12th at 247sports.com and 13th with Rivals. Iowa managed to land just one consensus four-star player — offensive lineman James Daniels — and lost its top running back —Higdon — to Michigan on signing day.

Dishonorable mention: Purdue, Northwestern

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

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