National Signing Day preview: Big Ten

This is part one in a series of conference profiles that looks at some of the current recruits for the respective schools. National Signing Day is Wednesday, February 3. As of now, these are verbal commitments, which are non-binding. The order of the teams reflects the strength of the class based on the points system applied by Rivals.com, which gives a certain amount of points to five-star, four-star, three-star prospects, etc.

Big Ten

Penn State: The Nittany Lions currently have six commitments on the ESPNU 150 list, giving them a good chance to finish with a top-10 class nationally. However, the team suffered a setback when DT Dominique Easley opted for Florida and RB Marcus Lattimore did not include PSU on his list of finalists. With Daryll Clark graduating and not many solid options at the QB position, Robert Bolden could see playing time at some point in 2010. Some feel that he would benefit from playing in a more wide open scheme, but the general consensus is that Bolden is both a sound quarterback and a great athlete. Defensive line help will come in the form of Dakota Royer, who could end up playing linebacker or end, DT Evan Hailes and DE C.J. Olanivan. And, of course, Linebacker U needs its next BMOC. The school’s top-rated prospect is Khairi Fortt, a tall and thick prospect who should be stout against the run.

Michigan: Is Rich Rodriguez disappointing Wolverines fans in the recruiting game as well as on the field? While it may not be the typical headline-grabbing crop, with only five four-star commitments, the current list still ranks as a top-20 class. Many of Michigan’s top offensive prospects, like WR Ricardo Miller, are already on campus — which is huge as Rodriguez continues to try to make the spread offense work in Ann Arbor. Under Armour All-American QB Devin Gardner is one of the top QB prospects in the country, and Rodriguez hopes he could be the right signal-caller to run his offense. Defensively, S/OLB Marvin Robinson, CB Cullen Christian, DE Ken Wilkins and DT Richard Ash look to help a defense whose confidence was shattered all too often in 2009. Can the team add some late recruits by Signing Day to help in the secondary?

Ohio State: The Buckeyes may not have quite the class as Penn State and doesn’t look to be as strong as the ’08 and ’09 haul, but they do boast four ESPNU 150 prospects — including two Under Armour All-Americans in WRs James Louis and Corey Brown. In addition, top OL prospect Seantrel Henderson remains a possibility, which could allow the Buckeyes to surpass the Nittany Lions in overall class strength. RB Roderick Smith is the gem of this year’s class, as the physically imposing back possesses an intriguing blend of speed, size and athleticism. Darryl Baldwin and David Durham lead a group of defensive linemen who should be able to cause havoc inside, like so many other great OSU defenders.

Michigan State: Michigan State needs a strong class to replenish a roster beset by suspensions and dismissals. The biggest get is DE William Gholston, a 6-7, 250-pound rusher with great athleticism. One of many in-state products in this class (Ohio is also well represented), the Under Armour All-American is rumored to be SEC-bound. Mark Dantonio cannot lose Gholston, who could be joined by ILB Max Bullough, DE Marcus Rush and CB Mylan Hicks. The secondary should be of primary concern for the Spartans, who also have a commitment from CB Isaiah Lewis.

Iowa: The Hawkeyes never get enough credit for their recruiting, but all they do is find solid players for a sound system. Coming off of their dominant Orange Bowl win over Georgia Tech, the Hawks have four prospects ranked amongst the top 25 at their position. Per usual for an Iowa head coach, Kirk Ferentz has gone out of state, landing OT Andrew Donnal and TE C.J. Fiedorowicz. Fiedorowicz is one of the best pass-catching TE prospects in the nation, and we have seen how Iowa utilizes the TE in its offense over the years. And in case the Hawkeyes don’t get great production out of a backup running back — as they do seemingly every year, Marcus Coker will bring his downhill running game to Iowa City. Finally, at what position will Iowa City’s own A.J. Derby play by the end of his career?

Minnesota: I’m still not entirely sure why the university gave head coach Tim Brewster a contract extension, but that’s a conversation for another day. On the recruiting trail, the Gophers have a class boasting depth, including WR Chris Hawkins and top-20 G Jimmy Gjere. The Gophers were awful running the football in 2009, so a batch of committed RB prospects should help, including Devon Wright, who is one of several players from the state of Florida the Gophers were able to land. CB Tyrone Bouie should help the pass defense early, and his high school teammate Toby Durham could still be in play. Durham is an athlete who could see time as a kick returner and as a change-of-pace back.

Purdue: It’s Florida, Florida and more Florida for the Boilermakers, who currently have eight commitments from the Sunshine State. WR O.J. Ross is a small but speedy receiver who runs good routes and should contribute as a kick returner, as well. CB Jhony Faustin and S E.J. Johnson are two of four DB’s from Florida, which should help as the Boilers often find themselves in shootouts. QB Sean Robinson from Illinois is athletic enough to play in the spread and also has a live arm. Could this turn into a favorable top-5 Big Ten class?

Illinois: Shockingly the Fighting Illini are still led by head coach Ron Zook, but this is the time of year when he is at his best, so fans and alumni can be upbeat for a little while — at least until the 2010 season begins. But after a strong initial class in 2007 and solid classes in ’08 and ’09, Zook and his staff seemed to have taken a step back in their recruiting efforts this year. Could back-to-back disappointing seasons be to blame? And how could there not be more of a focus on the defensive side of the ball? While highly rated ILB Jonathan Brown and OLB Mark Wilson will help, Zook focused primarily on offense. A nice crop of offensive linemen are coming in, along with WR Ryan Lankford, but I expected Zook to bring in more help on the defensive side of the ball.

Northwestern: Coming off of an impressive 2009 season, Pat Fitzgerald looked for defense — and more defense, specifically on the line. DT Will Hampton is one of four DL commits, and Sean McEvilly has the speed and toughness to be a factor inside. OT Paul Jorgenson could be a fit on the defensive side of the ball but may be too intriguing to pass up at left tackle. QB Trevor Siemian should be a good fit for NU’s offensive scheme, as he displays good tools that will need to be developed.

<strong>Wisconsin: I thought the bowl victory over Miami would help a little more, but the Badgers still have compiled a class filled with three-star talent. RBs Jeff Lewis and James White hope to continue the trend of very good Badgers backs, and QB Joseph Brennan looks to have the tools to be a productive pocket passer. S Frank Tamakloe is the team’s top recruit and could get reps early in 2010 as he is adept against both the run and pass. A solid run defense could get better with DT Beau Allen. Finally, Saint Thomas Aquinas in Florida has been good to the Badgers in the recent past, so they still could be in play to nab LB Vincent Mauro by Signing Day.

Indiana: By Big Ten standards, this class won’t overwhelm you, but the Hoosiers did a nice job of getting some skill and depth, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Logan Young is a 6-5, 190-pound WR who is a big target with nice speed and should be able to contribute in the passing game. TE Paul Phillips has pass-catching abi lity but should fill out as a better blocker. Kofi Hughes and Jack Denton are athletes who will find their way onto the field at least initially on special teams. The Hoosiers struggled mightily on defense, so LB prospect Ishmael Thomas, IU’s top-ranked commit, could help either inside or as an OLB.

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