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Big Ten recruiting capsules


The Buckeyes signed the No.-1 rated class in the Big Ten. It’s also considered by many as the No. 2 in the nation behind Alabama. Defense highlights the 2014 class with 247Sports top-ranked recruiting group of linebackers. Five-star ILB Raekwon McMillan of Georgia, who coach Urban Meyer plucked out of SEC country, joins four-star LBs Dante Booker (No. 2 ranked OLB) and Kyle Berger. An offensive line that graduated four starters was also addressed with the No. 2 class in the nation.


At 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, ILB McMillan is ready to step in immediately especially as a run stopper. WR Johnnie Dixon gives OSU a deep threat. DBs Marshon Lattimore and Erick Smith continue the Cleveland Glenville High School pipeline, and with Damon Webb form 247 Sports top-ranked secondary.


The Wolverines’ class has earned mixed results depending which rankings you like. 247 Sports has the Wolverines No. 2 in the Big Ten, but a glaring 14 spots behind Ohio State. doesn’t have coach Brady Hokes’ bunch among its top 25. Keep in mind the Wolverines had a pair of top-five classes the two previous years (totaling 52 players) so this smaller class shouldn’t cause alarm. This group does have its gems. Jabrill Peppers is touted as the No. 1 cornerback in the nation and the No. 2 player overall. Wide receiver help is also on the way with Drake Harris.


CB Peppers doesn’t want to be the next Charles Woodson at Michigan. He wants to be better, saying, “I want them to say Jabrill Peppers then Charles Woodson.” With four WRs gone from 2013, Harris, a top-10 receiver, could step in right away. DT Bryan Mone should also contribute.


The Nittany Lions signed the No. 3-rated group in the conference, including five four-star prospects, according to 247Sports composite. New coach James Franklin has flipped six of his former Vanderbilt commits, including Middletown TE/OL Chance Sorrell, since taking the job in Happy Valley on Jan. 11. The defensive secondary was one of the biggest needs for the Nittany Lions and they addressed that by signing five players, including top safeties Marcus Allen (6-2, 190) and Koa Farmer (6-0, 210).


Four-state wide receiver Saeed Blacknall de-committed from Rutgers to commit to Penn State on Jan. 26. Blacknall (6-3, 210) also held offers from Alabama, LSU, Ohio State, Florida State, Notre Dame and Nebraska, among others. PSU signed two other four-star skilled position players — WR Chris Godwin and TE Mike Gesicki — who had several BCS offers. All three could be impact players in an offense led by QB Christian Hackenburg.


The Spartans are a lock not to match their final No. 3 ranking following last season. But that’s OK; MSU is used to making the most out of what Ohio State and Michigan don’t sign. Posting a 13-1 record, winning the Big Ten championship in an upset of OSU and trumping all that with a Rose Bowl defeat of Stanford is the new norm in East Lansing. Getting the most out of less than five-star athletes is standard stuff for head coach Mark Dantonio. “Michigan State does as good of a job of evaluating and developing talent as any team in the nation,” said JC Shurburtt, National Recruiting Director for 247Sports. The wild card is DE Malik McDowell, a 6-7, 290-pounder from Southfield who might pass on Michigan for MSU.


Speedster Vayante Copeland of Thurgood Marshall is being recruited as a RB, but also is a knockout DB and home run returner. “Athlete” Byron Bullough of Traverse City (Mich.) St. Francis is the younger brother of Spartans LB’s Max and Riley Bullough.


This smaller recruiting class ranks in the middle of the Big 10 at No. 7, but this could be coach Pat Fitzgerald’s best class ever. Fitgerald has made strides in bringing top recruits like New Jersey DE Garrett Dickerson and Texas RB Auston Anderson, who turned down the Longhorns, to Chicago. Still, the Wildcats landed their top three players without going far from the Windy City. QB Clayton Thorson, ranked as the nation’s No. 7 pocket passer, highlights the local group along with CB Parrker Westphal and all-purpose Justin Jackson.


CB Westphal is the program’s first early enrollee, which should pay dividends this spring. Expect to see him at corner or safety and on special teams. Jackson is ranked as one of the top all-purpose backs in the nation.


The Badgers are known for their strength in the trenches. And they got stronger. As many as 11 of the commitments come on the offensive and defensive lines. But is a change coming? Known for its power running game, coach Gary Andersen recruited another dual-threat QB with D.J. Gillins. Andersen kept the top two players in Wisconsin at home with OT Jaden Gault and DT Craig Evans. The class ranks No. 4 in the Big Ten (behind Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State)


DT Evans is a top-20 prospect and could get reps early on a line that saw key losses after last season. DT Gault, the No. 15 tackle in the nation, brings size at 6-7 and 305 pounds. WR Dareian Watkins, a de-commit from Northwestern, can be a playmaker.


Nebraska has some catching up to do if the Huskers hope to break out of their No. 5 ra nking in the Big Ten, as determined by 247Sports recruiting rankings. Top priority is finding a successor to QB Taylor Martinez. That could come from versatile A.J. Bush of Alpharetta Norcross (Ga.) or Zach Darlington of Apopka (Fla.). DE Blake McClain of Ponte Vedra Beach Sandalwood (Fla.) is a major signee. He decommitted from Florida State late last month. Huskers head coach Bo Pelini couldn’t make a recruiting dent in his native Ohio.


Certainly McClain should be counted upon to make a sudden impact. OL Tanner Farmer of Hiland (Ill.) and Nick Gates of Las Vegas Bishop Gorman (Nev.) will be counted upon to uphold a strong tradition of Cornhuskers’ linemen.


The Hawkeyes will need some Signing Day surprises to break out of the bottom tier of the Big Ten recruiting class, which most national recruiting services have Iowa anchored. It’s not encouraging. Why? Kicker Dillon Kidd of El Camino College (Calif.) is the only early enrollee. And there’s more bad news: OT Ross Pierschbacher of Cedar Falls (Iowa) was the first to verbally commit to Iowa, but has since ponied up with Alabama. Head coach Kirk Ferentz has spent 15 seasons getting the Hawkeyes back into annual Big Ten contention. Iowa loses just three seniors on offense and five on defense, which should bode well for surpassing the 8-5 team last season.


Athlete Jay Scheel of La Porte City Union (Iowa) is equally impressive at QB and WR. Markel Smith, an RB from St. Louis St. John Vianney (Mo.) could be a difference maker offensively. QB Tyler Wiegers of Detroit Country Day brings a traditional drop-back style.


The Gophers didn’t do themselves any favors by dropping their final three games last season to finish 8-5 overall and 4-4 in the Big Ten. After four seasons as head coach, Jerry Kill also hasn’t been able to do what any other Minnesota coach has: keep the best in-state talent home or from heading to Wisconsin. Of immediate concern is finding a replacement for QB Philip Nelson, who took most of the snaps last season but has since transferred to Big Ten rookie Rutgers.


QB Dimonic McKinzy of Kansas City Wyandotte (Kan.) is considered equally adept at running and passing. OL Jared Weyler of Centerville, 6-4, 280, should contend for considerable playing time. ILB Cody Poock of Iowa Western CC brings experience.


The Boilermakers signed one of the lowest rated groups in the conference, including no four- or five-star prospects, according to 247Sports composite. Nearly half of their class is linemen, including two of Indiana’s top players — DE Gelen Robinson (ninth in Indiana) and center Kirk Barron (14th in Indiana). That’s not a surprise considering Purdue’s struggle running the ball (last in Big Ten) and stopping the run (10th in Big Ten) en route to an 1-11 mark in 2013.


QB David Blaugh enrolled in January with an eye toward competing for the starting spot. Robinson and Barron could be in the mix as well.


The Scarlet Knights signed the 11th-ranked group in the conference, including no four- or five-star recruits, according to 247Sports composite. Rutgers signed four of the top 30 players in the state of New Jersey, but none in the top 15. The Scarlet Knights also suffered a huge blow when Blacknall, their lone four-star recruit, landed at Penn State. The Scarlet Knights join the conference July 1.


All-purpose back Josh Hicks (5-11, 180) of Palmetto, Fla. committed to the Scarlet Knights in 2012. Hicks figures to vie for playing right away in Piscataway.


The Terrapins got a huge boost on Signing Day when five-star offensive tackle Damian Prince signed. Prince is the second-ranked tackle in the country and ranked 29th overll by 247Sports composite. Maryland, which officially joins the conference on July 1, has two other standout offensive linemen — Derwin Gray (6-4, 291) and Larry Mayzck (6-7, 340) — already in the fold. Both enrolled early.


In addition to Prince, Jesse Aniebonam (6-4, 230), the second-ranked player in Maryland, and athlete Juwann Winfree, one of the top players from New Jersey, are four-star recruits who figure to vie for playing time right away.


The Illini signed one of the lowest rated groups in the conference, including no four- or five-star prospects, according to 247Sports composite. Seven of the eight players they signed on defense were defensive lineman/linebackers, including Centerville defensive tackle Tito Odenigbo and massive defensive tackle Jihad Ward, the second-ranked JUCO defensive tackle and sixth overall by 247Sports composite. Ward (6-7, 286) had offers from Tennessee, West Virginia, Texas Tech and Washington before choosing Illinois. Strengthening the front seven is vital for a team that finished last in the Big Ten in rushing defense (238.6).


In addition to Ward, another top-25 JUCO prospect — wide receiver Tyrin Stone-Davis — should make an immediate impact for Illinois. Stone-Davis is one of six early enrollees, including Chayce Crouch, a 6-4, 215-pound quarterback who led Newark Catholic to the Division VI state title game in 2012.


The Hoosiers signed the eight-ranked group in the conference, including one-four star prospect, according to 247Sports composite. IU’s class is split nearly 50-50 between offense and defense, a bit surprising considering how poor the Hoosiers were on defense last season. IU allowed 527.9 yards and 38.8 points per game last season, both of which ranked last in the conference. Six of the 12 defensive players the Hoosiers signed were defensive backs. IU signed seven players from Ohio, including Beavercreek LB Airius Moore and Milton-Union OL Wesley Martin.


WR Dominque Booth is the lone four-star recruit and should fit in immediately in Hoosiers’ high-octane offense (38.4 points per game). Booth (6-0, 205) is the fourth-ranked player in Indiana. He’s one of six early enrollees.

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