- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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National signing day is just one week away. Before the big day arrives, we thought we'd check in with a pair of ESPN.com recruiting experts to get their take on how the Big Ten is faring.
Senior national recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill and Midwest recruiting writer Jared Shanker were kind enough to take some time out of their frenzied schedules to address a handful of recruiting topics related to the league. Here's is Part I of that discussion; look for Part II on Thursday:
Michigan and Ohio State are obviously the headliners among Big Ten teams right now. Are they recruiting at a level where fans can expect them to contend for national titles in the near future?
Tom Luginbill: Possibly. The challenge for both OSU and Michigan will be whether they can pool the type of defensive front player that can contend with SEC competitors, because that is the difference right now, and both Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke know it. Both coaching staffs are recruiting very well and at a level that should set them apart from the rest of the conference at this time. Michigan continues to lay down its blueprint of what they want their identity to be, which is why the commitment of running back Derrick Green is so pivotal. He embodies what they want their program to be about -- physical, tough, wear-you-down type of roster. Ohio State's focus is clearly on defense in the front with the 2012 class and again in this class, but with more of an emphasis on the defensive secondary and offensive-skilled weapons.
The reality is that if Michigan or Ohio State are undefeated or one-loss teams, which both are capable of being in the coming years, then yes, they will be able to contend for the title. Winning it means they will have to lure top defensive lineman likely out of the South and away from the SEC and ACC.
Jared Shanker: I think so. Florida and Alabama, we have them as No.s 1 and 2 in in the country right now. Ohio State, if you look at some of their remaining targets, there's a chance -- I don't know if they can get all the way to No. 1, but they could crack at least the top three. I like what they've been able to do defensively, especially in the defensive backfield, with five-star Eli Apple, Gareon Conley and Cam Burrows. I like what Michigan's been able to do, especially offensively, with Shane Morris at quarterback and Derrick Green at running back. There might not be another offensive line haul as good in the country as Michigan's.
If you look at both classes, this is the second year both of them are going to finish among the highest in the country. You have to believe they're going to continue to do that. These recruiting classes should be able to help close that gap and translate into at least competing for a spot to play in the national championship at some point.
Outside of the Wolverines and Buckeyes, what other Big Ten schools have impressed you?
TL: Penn State and Indiana. Say what you will, but Penn State has been able to hold firm. Of course they had some early defections, but quarterback Christian Hackenberg and tight end Adam Breneman have been true ambassadors for the Nittany Lions as much as any coach has been. The class will not be large, of course, but the caliber of player is quality, and better than most would expect. The question is whether they can do it over the next three years as well. The numbers will dwindle, and likely so will the wins, so what is the caliber of player going forward that they will truly have a legitimate shot at?
Kevin Wilson has some buzz right now. It actually started last year with the likes of quarterback Nate Sudfeld who was way under the radar and from California, and has continued with this class with more of an emphasis on the South. The state of Georgia has proven to be quite fruitful with the additions of athlete Rashard Fant, outside linebacker Kristopher Smith, and cornerback Noel Padmore. In-state defensive tackle Darius Latham is a huge get at a critical need position.
JS: I like what Michigan State's done. They don't have huge numbers in this class, but they have a lot of quality there. I especially like what they're doing at linebacker, with ESPN 300 guy Shane Jones. Delton Williams, he's a bit of a tweener, but I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up at linebacker. Four-star Jon Reshcke, he's a Michigan State legacy; Michigan came after him a little bit late but he's sticking with the Spartans. So three of their four top commits are likely all going to be playing linebacker, and the one guy that isn't a linebacker in that group is quarterback Damion Terry. I've seen him play and really like what he's done. He brings a dual threat to Michigan State, and I think in a couple of years he can be the next big quarterback there.
Northwestern, they've done pretty well on the offensive line, and once again they've been able to get one of the better recruits in the country with quarterback Matt Alviti, Obviously, they're not going to get a staggering class, but they've got two four-star guys and some pretty good offensive linemen. So I like what they've been able to do.
How have the new staffs at Wisconsin and Purdue fared in recruiting after getting a late start?
JS: I think they're doing what you'd kind of expect, maybe a little bit better in terms of keeping guys on board. I believe Wisconsin has only lost one commitment. Four-star Alec James is wavering, but I believe he's going to end up sticking with Wisconsin at this point. They're making a run at a couple of other guys they wanted, but they're going to keep the class intact for the most part. They might add a couple of juco guys, or a couple guys late. You have to at least like that Gary Andersen has been able to hold the class, and if they can get a guy like Tanner McEvoy, the juco quarterback out of Arizona, I think you'd have to be really happy. But I think Badger fans should be satisfied that Andersen kept the class together for the most part.
Purdue has done pretty well with some big recruiting weekends recently. They've had to scramble a little bit and go for some guys who were maybe looking at the MAC level before. But I like what they've done. Offensive tackle Jason Tretter, he's 6-foot-7 and had a pretty bad injury his junior year, and that might have prevented him from getting a little more attention. Evan Panfil, they were able to flip from Illinois. Dan Monteroso, they flipped him from Boston College. I think all things considered, coming in late and Purdue not being the easiest place to recruit to, there are a lot of positive signs in what coach [Darrell] Hazell's been able to do. You have to like that he was able to keep the two biggest recruits on board as well: quarterback Danny Etling and running back Keyante Green.
TL: There has not been much movement. For the most part the classes have held firm from commitments to the prior staff. Purdue seems to continue its presence in the Southeast, which Danny Hope started.
1hBrian Bennett and Austin Ward