Michigan Wolverines: Damian Prince
You can read the first installment here. To recap, the participants included Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson, ranked No. 157 in the 2014 class; Penn State WR Chris Godwin, one of the top 25 receivers in the class; Michigan LB Jared Wangler, one of 11 linebackers invited to the UA Game; Iowa WR Jay Scheel, one of two four-star players in the Hawkeyes’ class; and Maryland LB Jesse Aniebonam, the second-best prospect in the state behind OL Damian Prince.
Here’s what the freshmen had to say:
Outside of your team, what B1G freshmen are you most looking forward to watching and/or playing against?
Thorson: Hmmm. Trying to think. So there’s obviously Raekwon McMillan at Ohio State. I know we don’t play them this season, but I heard he’s a great player, so it’ll be fun going against him in future years. And it’s just guys like Zack Darlington; he’s at Nebraska at quarterback and I’ve gotten to know him over the past the few months, so it’ll be cool to go against him. And, at Michigan State, Madre London and I played at the Semper Fi [All-American] Bowl together, and he’s a great athlete.
Wangler: I want to watch Byron Bullough for Michigan State. We played in this Michigan all-star game [‘Border Classic’ on June 14], and we got along pretty good. So I’m excited to see how he does. I know he’s got a good history -- his father and brother were successful for Michigan State -- so I feel like Byron is going to be successful, too.
Aniebonam: Big Ten-wise, that one guy -- Peppers, Jabrill Peppers -- he’s a solid athlete. I want to see how he does. He was in the Under Armour Game; we watched it right before our game [U.S. Army All-American Bowl] and he did pretty well. So, let’s see how he does at Michigan.
Why did you decide to commit to your school, and what do you think separates it from others in the conference?
Thorson: I always knew I wanted to play in the Big Ten. My family is from Ohio and Illinois, so I always just wanted to be around them so they could see me play – so that’s kind of how I narrowed it down. And then visiting different schools like Penn State, Illinois, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa – after looking at all those schools, I decided Northwestern was the best fit for me. I jelled with the guys on the team, and the coaching staff is just awesome. I thought that was the best fit for me both academically and athletically.
Godwin: I chose Penn State because I felt really comfortable on campus and with the team. It was also the right fit for me academically and socially, and I think the tradition and fan base really separate it from other teams in the conference.
Wangler: Michigan has always been my dream school to go to, and there aren’t many universities out there that offer such a great degree and a great football experience. Plus, I feel really comfortable with Coach [Brady] Hoke and Coach [Greg] Mattison. It’s a great fit. It’s close to home, my dad played there. ... It’s almost too good to be true.
Scheel: Well, personally, it’s just been a dream to play there. So, really, any other school that decided it was going to offer me was nice, but it was always my dream to go to Iowa. I’ve only heard good things about them. Playing for Iowa is really an honor. And what makes them different is they’re not known for getting big recruits -- I know that -- but they take two- and three-star recruits and turn them into NFL players.
Aniebonam: Maryland just really stood out to me. Not just because it’s my hometown team and all my friends and family will be around me, but every time I went to the campus I was just pulled in and attracted to it more and more. If you asked me in the beginning of my junior season if I wanted to go to Maryland, I would’ve said, ‘Heck no.’ But it just grew on me; it just felt right. … [What separates Maryland] is they’re well-known -- but still underdogs. I think it’s a team that is going to be really watched because people want to know what happens here.
What are your expectations for this season -- and your career?
Thorson: The coaches always say to prepare each week as if you’re going to start the game, so I’m going to do that every week. I just want to get better at leading the team and knowing the playbook and everything. The Lord has a plan for me and, whether that’s starting this year or next year, whatever happens happens. I’m just really looking forward to getting on campus and playing with these guys.
Godwin: I would consider them goals more than expectations because I haven’t done anything yet. But, this season, my goal is to earn a starting spot by UCF then continually improve as a player and a teammate and, hopefully, be Big Ten freshman of the year. As a team, a goal of mine is to go undefeated, but who doesn’t want that, right?
Wangler: I expect to win. I think this next season we have a lot of people coming back and, after having kind of a mediocre season last year, I think we’re going to come out with a lot of hunger and the team is going to do a lot better. I think that’s going to set the pace for the four years after that. I feel like I’m going to have a successful career at Michigan.
Scheel: Personally, going in, I just want to get to know the playbook better and get to know the offense as soon as I can. I pretty much think I’m going to redshirt because starting right away might be difficult. If it does work, that’d be great. But I’m just trying to do my best. With my career, I’m trying to make a big impact on Iowa football, and I just want to have fun and get on the field.
Aniebonam: I just want to make a name for myself early. I want to get myself out there and really, really put my stamp on the school and into the minds of the coaches as early as I can. … Hopefully, that’ll come quick, but nothing is ever promised. You have to work.
Who'll end up as the most memorable player? And who'll see time right away? Adam Rittenberg, Brian Bennett and Josh Moyer joined Big Ten recruiting writer Tom VanHaaren in discussing the big questions surrounding the freshmen.
So let's get started ...
Based on talent, which freshman is too good to leave off the field?
VanHaaren: Peppers is the first name that comes to mind. Michigan doesn't really have anyone like him on the roster. His combination of size and speed, which he displayed at a recent track meet by running a 10.52-second 100-meter dash, is something that Michigan needs in the defensive backfield. I just don't see a scenario where a healthy Peppers doesn't see the field in some capacity.
Moyer: Everyone should be familiar with Peppers, so let's forget about him for a minute. Someone whom Buckeyes fans already know -- and whom other B1G fans should familiarize themselves with -- is linebacker Raekwon McMillan, who was rated as the top inside linebacker recruit in the nation. He's already enrolled, he's already impressed Urban Meyer, and he's already a physically imposing athlete. At 240 pounds, he's bigger than all but one of OSU's 10 other linebackers. Almost every scouting report you read on the guy describes him as a "thumper," and Meyer said three months ago that there'll be no redshirt for McMillan. He should make an impact early on.
Based on need, which freshman is a lock to start from Day 1?
Bennett: I'll go with Purdue's Gelen Robinson. He's following in the footsteps, sort of, of his dad -- Boilers basketball legend Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson. The younger Robinson was Purdue's most celebrated recruit in this class, but not just because of that name. He's also an outstanding athlete who should force his way onto the field from Day 1. He'll likely play outside linebacker, which is a position of need for Darrell Hazell's team. Heck, they need players everywhere, but particularly difference-makers on defense. Robinson will get every opportunity.
Rittenberg: It's hard for true freshman offensive linemen to step in immediately, but keep an eye on Maryland's Damian Prince, the nation's No. 26 prospect in the 2014 class. The recent suspension of potential starter Moise Larose creates a need at tackle, and both Prince and Derwin Gray both have a chance to win starting jobs this summer. Wisconsin will play several of its freshman wide receivers, and I could easily see a guy like Dareian Watkins entering the starting lineup. And let's not forget about Michigan State defensive tackle Malik McDowell. The Spartans lost a few pieces on the interior defensive line.
Moyer: Penn State wideout De'Andre Thompkins. In a normal year, he might be a redshirt candidate. He's incredibly athletic -- Bill O'Brien recruited him thinking he could be a two-way player and compete at nickelback -- but he's also a bit raw since he played mostly at running back in high school. He still needs to sharpen his routes but, between the scholarship reduction and the lack of experience at receiver this season, Thompkins will have to step up sooner rather than later. The early enrollee has already proven he's the fastest player on the roster, and he's taken reps as a return man. So he should play on Day 1, in some capacity.
When this freshman class graduates, who will be remembered as the best player?
Bennett: Peppers is the easy and safe choice here. Another possibility is Maryland's Prince. He's a mountain, and given the value of offensive tackles in the NFL, we could be hearing his name early in the 2017 or 2018 draft.
VanHaaren: It could very well be either Peppers or McMillan. It's tough to argue against those two just based off of talent and ability, and I would probably go with Peppers here. I saw him at the Under Armour All-America Game and coach Herm Edwards told me Peppers was the best high school prospect he had coached in the few years he had been coaching at the event. That's high praise for a former defensive back.
What redshirt freshman should fans keep an eye on?
Bennett: I trust the player development program at Michigan State. Guys there just seem to get better and better throughout their careers, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive end Demetrius Cooper turned a lot of heads this spring and forced himself into the rotation, even with standout returning starters Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush ahead of him. Cooper was just a three-star recruit, according to ESPN, but the Spartans have made a living turning moderately-rated recruits into true college stars.
VanHaaren: I don't know if this is cheating or not because he's a sophomore, but I'm really interested to see what quarterback Wes Lunt does for Illinois. I put him here because he transferred and had to sit out the last season. I think he could be a big boost to that program if he can get things rolling offensively for the Illini.
Rittenberg: Iowa wide receiver Derrick Willies. Not only did he have a breakout spring for the Hawkeyes, but he's the type of receiver Iowa has lacked for a while: tall, fast and explosive. Iowa wants to ramp up the offensive tempo even more this season, which likely means the ball will be spread around more. Expect some big plays from Willies in his first game action.
Moyer: Minnesota running back Berkley Edwards. If it wasn't for an ankle injury early last season, he probably would've played. As it is, he'll definitely see the field this fall -- and he might see it quite a bit. Jerry Kill was asked earlier this spring if Edwards might get five to seven carries a game. "We'll see," Kill said, chuckling, to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "He might need more touches." Edwards is an exciting player who has a chance to break it anytime he touches the ball, and he could end up being an important change-of-pace back for the offense. Definitely worth watching.
Illinois: This is another group that appears to be in significantly better shape now than at the start of coach Tim Beckman's tenure. The Illini lose only one full-time starter in tackle Corey Lewis, as four other linemen who started at least eight games in 2013 return. Senior tandem Michael Heitz and Simon Cvijanovic are two of the Big Ten's most experienced linemen, and guards Ted Karras also has logged plenty of starts. Right tackle appears to be the only vacancy entering the spring, as Austin Schmidt and others will compete.
Indiana: The Hoosiers have somewhat quietly put together one of the Big Ten's best offensive lines, and the same should hold true in 2014. Everybody is back, and because of injuries before and during the 2013 season, Indiana boasts a large group with significant starting experience. Jason Spriggs should contend for first-team All-Big Ten honors as he enters his third season at left tackle. Senior Collin Rahrig solidifies the middle, and Indiana regains the services of guard Dan Feeney, who was sidelined all of 2013 by a foot injury.
Iowa: The return of left tackle Brandon Scherff anchors an Iowa line that could be a team strength this fall. Scherff will enter the fall as a leading candidate for Big Ten offensive lineman of the year. Iowa must replace two starters in right tackle Brett Van Sloten and left guard Conor Boffeli. Andrew Donnal could be the answer in Van Sloten's spot despite playing guard in 2013, while several players will compete at guard, including Tommy Gaul and Eric Simmons. Junior Austin Blythe returns at center.
Maryland: Line play will go a long way toward determining how Maryland fares in the Big Ten, and the Terrapins will make the transition with an experienced group. Four starters are back, led by center Sal Conaboy, who has started games in each of his first three seasons. Tackles Ryan Doyle and Michael Dunn bring versatility to the group, and Maryland should have plenty of options once heralded recruit Damian Prince and junior-college transfer Larry Mazyck arrive this summer. Prince is the top Big Ten offensive line recruit in the 2014 class, according to ESPN RecruitingNation. New line coach Greg Studwara brings a lot of experience to the group.
Michigan: The Wolverines' line is under the microscope this spring after a disappointing 2013 season. Michigan loses both starting tackles, including Taylor Lewan, the Big Ten's offensive lineman of the year and a projected first-round draft choice. The interior line was in flux for much of 2013, and Michigan needs development from a large group of rising sophomores and juniors, including Kyle Kalis, Kyle Bosch, Jack Miller, Graham Glasgow, and Patrick Kugler. Both starting tackle spots are open, although Ben Braden seems likely to slide in on the left side. Erik Magnuson is out for spring practice following shoulder surgery, freeing up opportunities for redshirt freshman David Dawson and others.
Michigan State: The line took a significant step forward in 2013 but loses three starters, including left guard Blake Treadwell, a co-captain. Michigan State used an eight-man rotation in 2013 and will look for development from top reserves such as Travis Jackson (Yes! Yes!) and Connor Kruse. Kodi Kieler backed up Treadwell last season and could contend for a starting job as well. Coach Mark Dantonio said this week that converted defensive linemen James Bodanis, Devyn Salmon and Noah Jones will get a chance to prove themselves this spring. It's important for MSU to show it can reload up front, and the large rotation used in 2013 should help.
Minnesota: For the first time since the Glen Mason era, Minnesota truly established the line of scrimmage and showcased the power run game in 2013. The Gophers return starters at four positions and regain Jon Christenson, the team's top center before suffering a season-ending leg injury in November. Right tackle Josh Campion and left guard Zac Epping are mainstays in the starting lineup, and players such as Tommy Olson and Ben Lauer gained some valuable experience last fall. There should be good leadership with Epping, Olson, Marek Lenkiewicz and Caleb Bak.
Nebraska: Graduation hit the line hard as five seniors depart, including 2012 All-American Spencer Long at guard and Jeremiah Sirles at tackle. Nebraska will lean on guard Jake Cotton, its only returning starter, and experienced players such as Mark Pelini, who steps into the center spot. Senior Mike Moudy is the top candidate at the other guard spot, but there should be plenty of competition at the tackle spots, where Zach Sterup, Matt Finnin and others are in the mix. Definitely a group to watch this spring.
Northwestern: Offensive line struggles undoubtedly contributed to Northwestern's disappointing 2013 season. All five starters are back along with several key reserves, and coach Pat Fitzgerald already has seen a dramatic difference in the position competitions this spring as opposed to last, when many linemen were sidelined following surgeries. Center Brandon Vitabile is the only returning starter who shouldn't have to worry about his job. Paul Jorgensen and Eric Olson opened the spring as the top tackles, and Jack Konopka, who has started at both tackle spots, will have to regain his position.
Ohio State: Like Nebraska, Ohio State enters the spring with a lot to replace up front as four starters depart from the Big Ten's best line. Taylor Decker is the only holdover and will move from right tackle to left tackle. Fifth-year senior Darryl Baldwin could step in at the other tackle spot, while Pat Elflein, who filled in for the suspended Marcus Hall late last season, is a good bet to start at guard. Jacoby Boren and Billy Price will compete at center and Joel Hale, a defensive lineman, will work at guard this spring. Ohio State has recruited well up front, and it will be interesting to see how young players such as Evan Lisle and Kyle Dodson develop.
Penn State: New coach James Franklin admits he's concerned about the depth up front despite the return of veterans Miles Dieffenbach and Donovan Smith on the left side. Guard Angelo Mangiro is the other lineman who logged significant experience in 2013, and guard/center Wendy Laurent and guard Anthony Alosi played a bit. But filling out the second string could be a challenge for Penn State, which could start a redshirt freshman (Andrew Nelson) at right tackle. The Lions have to develop some depth on the edges behind Nelson and Smith.
Purdue: The Boilers reset up front after a miserable season in which they finished 122nd out of 123 FBS teams in rushing offense (67.1 ypg). Three starters return on the interior, led by junior center Robert Kugler, and there's some continuity at guard with Jordan Roos and Justin King, both of whom started as redshirt freshmen. It's a different story on the edges as Purdue loses both starting tackles. Thursday's addition of junior-college tackle David Hedelin could be big, if Hedelin avoids a potential NCAA suspension for playing for a club team. Cameron Cermin and J.J. Prince also are among those in the mix at tackle.
Rutgers: Continuity should be a strength for Rutgers, which returns its entire starting line from 2013. But production has to be better after the Scarlet Knights finished 100th nationally in rushing and tied for 102nd in sacks allowed. Guard Kaleb Johnson considered entering the NFL draft but instead will return for his fourth season as a starter. Rutgers also brings back Betim Bujari, who can play either center or guard, as well as Keith Lumpkin, the likely starter at left tackle. It will be interesting to see if new line coach Mitch Browning stirs up the competition this spring, as younger players Dorian Miller and J.J. Denman could get a longer look.
Wisconsin: There are a lot of familiar names up front for the Badgers, who lose only one starter in guard Ryan Groy. The tackle spots look very solid with Tyler Marz (left) and Rob Havenstein (right), and Kyle Costigan started the final 11 games at right guard. There should be some competition at center, as both Dan Voltz and Dallas Lewallen have battled injuries. Coach Gary Andersen mentioned on national signing day that early enrollee Michael Deiter will enter the mix immediately at center. Another early enrollee, decorated recruit Jaden Gault, should be part of the rotation at tackle. If certain young players develop quickly this spring, Wisconsin should have no depth issues when the season rolls around.
You've heard from us. Now it's time for you to pick the player most likely to impact his team this season.
Here are the choices:
Chris Godwin, WR, Penn State: Godwin and other incoming wideouts have a chance to contribute right away, as Penn State brings back only one receiver (Geno Lewis) who had more than 15 receptions in 2013. Has good size and strength to transition to the college level.
Jeff Jones, RB, Minnesota: Has a proven player in front of him in 1,200-yard rusher David Cobb, but Jones is the most decorated recruit of the Jerry Kill era and adds another weapon to an offense that needs more of them.
Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State: The top-ranked inside linebacker in the 2014 class (No. 13 overall), he plays a position of significant need for the Buckeyes, who lose All-American Ryan Shazier.
Jabrill Peppers, CB, Michigan: Highest-rated Big Ten player in the 2014 class (No. 2 overall by ESPN RecruitingNation). Could contribute on both sides of the ball as well as on special teams, and brings a playmaking presence to the Wolverines secondary.
Damian Prince, OT, Maryland: True freshmen rarely make an impact on the offensive line, but Prince isn't an ordinary freshman. Highest-rated offensive line recruit in the Big Ten -- No. 26 overall in the 2014 class -- and could help a Maryland offense transitioning to a more physical league.
Those are the choices. Time to vote.
Brad Bournival: I won’t speak for the Ohio State staff, but I’m almost firmly convinced the Prince-to-the-Buckeyes ship has sailed. In fact, I would put it at 95 percent right now that he signs with Maryland in February.
That’s how confident I am that Prince (Forestville, Md./Bishop McNamara) he stays in-state at the end. When a program tells you it wants you to be the face of the program like the Terrapins have, it’s hard to argue against it.
@dannograef: Who is the biggest sleeper commit in the Big Ten?
Tom VanHaaren: It’s no secret that I think highly of Minnesota running back commit Jeff Jones (Washburn, Minn./Washburn), who completed his regular season with 39 touchdowns. I think he’s a candidate, I also like Illinois commit Mike Dudek (Naperville, Ill./Neuqua Valley), Michigan commit Noah Furbush (Kenton, Ohio/Kenton) and Northwestern commit Dareian Watkins (Galion, Ohio/Galion). Penn State commit De'Andre Thompkins (Swansboro, N.C./Swansboro) is in the ESPN 300, but doesn’t get talked about enough. He’s going to do big things for the Nittany Lions.
@HoosierHolmes: How much would making a bowl help Indiana’s recruiting efforts?
Bournival: To answer that question, I send you over to Penn State where recruits have gone on record to say they won’t choose the Nittany Lions because of the inability to go to a bowl for the next two seasons.
To be more precise, winning breeds winning and attracts more attention from bigger names. The proof is in the fact the same schools in the Big Ten stay on top of the recruiting rankings for that very reason. Kevin Wilson is slowly turning the program around. If he can end the five-year bowl absence this season, don’t be surprised to see a boost in recruiting as well.
@mike_albach10: I really like Malik McDowell's size and intangibles. What do you think his ceiling is?
VanHaaren: He is ranked No. 67 overall and the No. 4 defensive tackle. He is a giant, first of all. He has slimmed down some this season, but he is still head and shoulders bigger than everyone on his team. I think McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield) would make an excellent 3-technique defensive tackle for any team in a 4-3 scheme. In Michigan’s defense, he would be able to slide outside to the strongside end spot in running situations and inside to tackle on passing downs. I think he is yet to tap a lot of his potential no matter where he ends up.
@WWEFan20134: Who do you think the final six will be for the class of 2014 for Ohio State football recruiting?
Bournival: With Mike Gesicki (Manahawkin, N.J./Southern Regional) picking Penn State I only see five. The others I feel much stronger about are Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County), Chad Mavety (Garden City, N.J./Nassau Community College), Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln) and teammates Marshon Lattimore (Cleveland/Glenville) and Erick Smith.
@Collin_Stauder: Could the play of Michigan State’s defense this year be enough to possibly sway (Parrker) Westphal or McDowell?
VanHaaren: Michigan State always plays good defense, so that’s not something new for those guys. I think that’s part of what attracted them to the Spartans in the first place, so I don’t think that’s a bonus at this point that will tip the scales.
I think the Spartans probably have a better shot with Westphal (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook) than McDowell at this point, but at the same time I still think Northwestern has a lot to say in Westphal’s recruitment as well.
The play on the field has definitely helped attract some top prospects lately, but Michigan State needs to build on the Indiana win and show more than defense to some of their targets.
@buckeyefan686: Since the Buckeyes missed out on Gesicki who do you believe they land at tight end, or would they just not take one in this class?
Bournival: I think getting a tight end is an absolute must as I’m not convinced moving Sam Hubbard (Cincinnati/Moeller) over is the solution. Even though Ohio State doesn’t utilize the tight end much, there’s not a plethora of depth at the position. Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett will be back next season, but Blake Thomas’ career is likely done with the Buckeyes and Marcus Baugh is unproven at this point. Expect them to make a harder push for DeAndre Goolsby (Derby, Kan./Derby), who took an official visit for the Wisconsin game.
@hartley_nick: Any negative recruiting vibes with Michigan’s struggles on the field?
VanHaaren: Not yet. It was only one game and Michigan still only has one loss. It was an emotional loss for the fans because of how deeply they dig into things and diagnose the issues in specific games.
Recruits don’t tend to go that far into things like fans do. If you were to ask a recruit what they saw in that game, they would probably tell you two teams who fought hard into four overtimes and one came out on top.
If that type of play continues, though, and Michigan doesn’t show progress, then I think you could start to see some noise. I don’t think would be any issues with the 2014 class or even the 2015 kids that have already committed. If the season goes downhill, I think you’d see the most impact on uncommitted 2015 targets, but still that doesn’t seem too likely at this point.
@darkknight1093: Will the 63-0 beat down of Maryland by FSU end up swaying Damian Prince away from Maryland and toward FSU or OSU?
Brad Bournival: Losses usually don’t carry much weight with potential recruits, as the focus is on the future. Maryland is still very much a player -- if not the leader -- for the ESPN 300 Prince. The fact the Terrapins have told the 6-foot-5, 286-pound Forestville (Md.) Bishop McNamara offensive tackle they want him to be the face of the program moving forward carries a lot of weight. I don’t think it hurt Maryland’s efforts much at all.
That said Prince does like Florida State, and Urban Meyer never gives up without a fight. I still think Prince winds up at Maryland.
@HammerJr5: Simple, but still important, does Ohio State or Michigan finish with a higher ranked class? And is it because of numbers or talent?
Tom VanHaaren: That’s a good question. Both programs are in on some top prospects and both already have some big commits.
If you look at where they’re at right now, Michigan is ranked ahead of Ohio State and has nine ESPN 300 commits to Ohio State’s seven.
Michigan has a realistic shot of landing Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge) and Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield), which would then give Michigan 11 ESPN 300 commits and two commitments in the top-five overall, with Hand and Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic).
That would be pretty tough for Ohio State to overtake, despite the fact the Buckeyes still have a shot with a few ESPN 300 prospects themselves. So I would have to go with Michigan if Hand and McDowell jump on board. If they don’t, then it could be close.
email@example.com: It’s about halfway through the high school regular season, are any Ohio State commits potential big risers in their ESPN rankings?
Bournival: The biggest name here is four-star athlete Curtis Samuel (Brooklyn, N.Y./Erasmus). He wowed everyone at The Opening in July when he ran a 4.36 40-yard dash and hasn’t shown any indication that it was a one-time deal. With a 40.7-inch vertical jump and the ability to create mismatches, he could be one of the biggest movers when the next round of ESPN 300 rankings is updated. His versatility and unbelievable speed make him one of those to watch moving forward.
Q: Chris, Chicago: It seems like Parrker Westphal could end up anywhere at this point. Where do you think he ends up?
VanHaaren: That’s a good question. Westphal has kept everything very close to the vest his entire recruitment, but we know he is down to Michigan State, Northwestern and Vanderbilt.
He has taken a visit to Vanderbilt, will be in East Lansing this weekend and is planning to schedule a visit to Northwestern before deciding.
I think all three schools legitimately have a shot, and it’s tough to tell where he’s leaning because he does keep things close. I tend to think he will stay closer to home, because he is very close to his family. I know some of the Michigan State commitments, including Enoch Smith (Chicago/Mt. Carmel), have been trying to recruit Westphal so that could help.
I believe Northwestern has a legitimate shot as well, especially since they’re the closest to home. He’s a closed book, though, so we’ll see what happens.
@buckeyefan686: Do you see OSU signing a class that appears to be too large at first in anticipation of transfers like we saw this past summer?
Bournival: The second Ohio State picks up another commitment, that will be the case, as it is at its limit right now. That said, the Buckeyes don’t appear done by any stretch of the imagination. They are in it for inside linebacker Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County), Cleveland Glenville teammates Erick Smith and Marshon Lattimore at safety and athlete, respectively, and are actively recruiting Mike Gesicki (Manahawkin, N.J./Southern Regional) as well as an offensive lineman. That would put them at 23 commitments.
Remember, the number of student-athletes under scholarship needs to be at 82 by August of next year. Transfers, medical hardships and players leaving for the NFL have an effect on that. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see this class up to 23 or 24 by the time things are done.
There are still a ton of prospects on the board for Big Ten teams, so conference recruiting reporters Tom VanHaaren and Brad Bournival take a look at the best and worst case scenarios remaining for each team.
Best-case scenario: Illinois picked up an offensive line commit on Monday with Peter Cvijanovic (Great Barrington, Mass./East Coast Prep), which gives the Illini two offensive line commits. Despite having four wide receiver commits on board, it looks like the staff would take another receiver in this class.
@HoosierHolmes: What positions are Indiana most focused on to finish up its class?
Brad Bournival: A look at who the Hoosiers are targeting shows it’s still very much on defense -- at linebacker and in the secondary more specifically. Indiana picked up a tremendous hybrid outside linebacker/safety in Dameon Willis Jr. (Cleveland/St. Ignatius) on Wednesday. With defensive backs Micquell Cotton (O'Fallon, Ill./O'Fallon) and Craig James (Edwardsville, Ill./Edwardsville) out there, as well as linebackers Tegray Scales (Cincinnati/Summit Country Day) and Nile Sykes (Lombard, Ill./Montini Catholic), expect the Hoosiers to turn up the heat defensively on the recruiting front.
@GabeJasinski: What big time recruit do you think Michigan State has a chance at getting?
Tom VanHaaren: The Spartans are in on some big prospects still and have put themselves in the top group of a few ESPN 300 targets. Defensive backs Montae Nicholson (Monroeville, Pa./Gateway) and Parrker Westphal (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook) both have Michigan State in their top group.
I think it might be difficult to pull both, but it seems as though there is a shot.
Nicholson took an unofficial visit to East Lansing, and there is a chance that Westphal will take a visit soon, as well. It’s probably a long shot, as Virginia and Pitt appear to be the leader, but wide receiver Jamil Kamara (Virginia Beach, Va./Bishop Sullivan) might be an option, as well.
Kamara visits Michigan State on Nov. 3, so who knows what can happen once he's on campus.
@buckeyefan686: After Raekwon McMillan and Marshon Lattimore, which uncommitted recruit do you think is the most important for Ohio State to land?
Bournival: It's not one specific player as much it is a position. Ohio State swung and missed last year along the line and needs to fix that this year. Now, they’re doing fantastic with four already in the fold. That said, it is imperative for the Buckeyes to land either Damian Prince (Forestville, Md./Bishop McNamara), Alex Bookser (Pittsburgh/Mt. Lebanon) or top junior college tackle Chad Mavety (Garden City, N.J./Nassau Community College).
PSUlions1121: Any chance Penn State could get back in on Dravon Henry now that the sanctions are reduced?
Bournival: Henry's father Roland was reached the day the sanctions were reduced, but his son's stance didn't change. "It's more the postseason ban than the scholarship restrictions," Roland told ESPN.com recruiting writer Jared Shanker. Some have said that Henry just didn't get the feeling at Happy Valley like he did at West Virginia. While Henry remains uncommitted, the favorite seems to be the Mountaineers, but Pitt looks like it will be in it until the end, as well.
@pinkelman9876: Where do you think Nebraska will end up in Big Ten recruiting rankings? Is the perception of Nebraska hurting their chances at projected top talent?
VanHaaren: Nebraska currently has the No. 37 overall recruiting class in the country, which is good for No. 6 in the conference. The problem for the Cornhuskers is that there aren’t many big name targets still on the board that would move the dial too much.
Michigan, Ohio State, Northwestern, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Penn State are all currently ahead of Nebraska and have targets still on the board that would keep them ahead of the Cornhuskers.
Something that I see as a problem has to do with the location relative to the rest of the Big Ten. Once Nebraska joined the Big Ten, they left their footprint in the Big 12 behind. Trying to land Midwest prospects from 12 hours away is very difficult, and it has proven to be hard for this coaching staff. The coaches try to recruit nationally, but there isn’t one area where they have a home base to secure top prospects year in and year out.
@kholmes147: Regarding 2015 Michigan quarterback recruiting ... since it's clear [Josh] Rosen has no interest, who do you think is most likely to get the second offer?
VanHaaren: Rosen is currently the only 2015 quarterback with a Michigan offer, and as you mentioned likely will stay on the West Coast.
The coaching staff has been in contact with plenty of other prospects, though, including Kyle Kearns (Pleasanton, Calif./Foothill), Kevin Dillman (LaMirada, Calif./LaMirada), Alex Malzone (Birmingham, Mich./Brother Rice), Sheriron Jones (Moreno Valley, Calif./Rancho Verde), Riley Neal (Yorktown, Ind./Yorktown).
It's tough to say who will get the first offer, but much like the 2014 class, the coaches can stand to be a little picky for now. They can take some time to evaluate the right prospect, gauge interest levels and see who is the right fit.
Each class within the Big Ten has its strengths and weaknesses, but there is a lot of talent joining the conference. Here is a look at the top classes in the Big Ten by position.
Strongest class: Penn State
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Brad Bournival: The first part of that question is tricky as the Nittany Lions are still in on Dravon Henry (Aliquippa, Pa./Aliquippa), Ricky Walker (Hampton, Va./Bethel), Alex Bookser (Pittsburgh/Mount Lebanon), Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln) and Mike Gesicki (Manahawkin, N.J./Southern Regional) but may not be the favorite for any of them. As far as Ollison goes, I fully expect him to be part of the 2014 Penn State class by Monday afternoon. The fact he’s visiting the Nittany Lions just before his announcement bodes well for Penn State. As far as Nicholson goes, the jury is still out on that one. He’s visiting Michigan State this weekend, but Pittsburgh is in his backyard and don’t count out Oregon or Florida State. The safety wants to set official visit dates soon so that could be telling.
Tom VanHaaren: That’s a pretty relevant question right now as Nicholson (Monroeville, Pa./Gateway) is visiting Michigan State this weekend and West (Lima, Ohio/Central) just recently took a visit to East Lansing.
I think you could probably even throw defensive back Parrker Westphal (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook) in this question because he recently told me that he would like to get out to Michigan State for a game.
It was believed that Northwestern and Vanderbilt had the best shot with Westphal, but if he makes it out to East Lansing that might be an interesting situation. He was originally going to make a decision before his season, but it looks like he could take a few visits.
As for West, he is still committed to Kentucky and publicly is saying the visit to Michigan State wasn’t a big deal. I don’t think a prospect takes a visit this late in the game if it’s not a big deal. If Kentucky continues to struggle that could be something to watch.
Nicholson has had an interesting recruitment recently with Michigan telling him they aren’t recruiting him anymore. I believe he is open at this point, so this visit could help Michigan State. It’s too early to tell with him, though.
@DukeLukeofJuke: Do you see any dark horse recruits that few are connecting to Ohio State at the moment that could end up in Columbus by national signing day?
Bournival: The names are pretty standard at this point in recruits like Noah Brown (Sparta, N.J./Pope John XXIII), Chad Mavety (Garden City, N.Y./Nassau Community College), Damian Prince (Forestville, Md./Bishop McNamara), Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County), Erick Smith (Cleveland/Glenville) and Marshon Lattimore (Cleveland/Glenville). If you’re asking me to go out on a limb, maybe someone like Gesicki or Alex Bookser (Pittsburgh/Mount Lebanon) winds up with the Buckeyes. While it’s not much of a stretch, those two aren’t getting a lot of play lately in recent Ohio State news.
@ssullie71: Has Malik McDowell given a timeline when he will make his decision on colleges?
VanHaaren: He is saying going into this weekend that he plans on waiting to make a decision. This has been a hot topic, because I do believe there is a chance he makes a decision sooner than later.
McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield) has been somewhat quiet about all this and doesn’t share much, so he could do anything. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him wait things out, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him make a decision soon.
He initially had been saying he was going to wait until the Army All-American game, but I don’t think that will happen anymore.
Bournival: Early signs point to someone with a familiar last name. While there aren’t a ton of offers out there just yet to 2016 stars, I don’t think it will much matter as defensive end Nick Bosa (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./St. Thomas Aquinas) has all the tools to carry the flag if he picks the Buckeyes down the line.
We all know is brother Joey is already making a name for himself as a freshman at Ohio State, but Nick could be even bigger. St. Thomas Aquinas coach Rocco Casullo has already said he thinks everyone will know all there is about the sophomore by the time he finishes with the Raiders. Buckeyes assistant Mike Vrabel is high on Nick already, but not just because of his play. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound defensive end’s character and maturation at such a young age is what many are talking about.
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's latest feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: Success recruiting receivers might be the most overlooked reason for Alabama’s recent run; what one Big Ten recruiter said about Michigan’s 2015 class; and how Maryland landing Jesse Aniebonam was huge for in-state recruiting efforts.
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@UMKirwin12: Which teams are in place to pull in the best group of recruits at each position?
Tom VanHaaren: If I can use my own criteria, then I’ll give you a few answers. Right now Michigan has the No. 1-ranked cornerback in Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic) and is still in the conversation with three ESPN 300 defensive backs, so I would give the secondary narrowly to Michigan because of Peppers.
Ohio State is right there with the commitment of Damon Webb (Detroit/Cass Tech) and the potential to add Cleveland Glenville teammates Marshon Lattimore and Erick Smith.
I think Ohio State takes the cake for offensive linemen, but I’m going to throw a few curveballs for a few other groups. I like Northwestern’s running back haul with the 31st- 36th- and 51st-ranked backs already in the class. That’s two four-star running backs and one who's close.
I also like Penn State’s wide receiver haul led by No. 6 ranked athlete De'andre Thompkins (Swansboro, N.C./Swansboro) and Chris Godwin (Middletown, De./Middletown), the No. 21-ranked receiver.
Michigan’s wide receiver class is also very good, so I’d include the Wolverines on the list.
There is a reason Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Northwestern are all ranked higher than the other Big Ten teams, though. They have the best classes in the conference, which means they have the best players.
@buckeyfan686: If a highly rated offensive tackle commits to Ohio State, do you think they still go after Chad Mavety since he is more likely ready to play next year?
Brad Bournival: That is an excellent question and one that really depends on the numbers. If the Buckeyes can grab ESPN 300 tackles Damian Prince (Forestville, Md./Bishop McNamara) or Alex Bookser (Pittsburgh/Mt. Lebanon), that would give them a force up front for the next four years with ESPN 300 guard Demetrius Knox (Ft. Worth, Texas/All Saints Episcopal) and ESPN 300 tackle Jamarco Jones (Chicago/De La Salle) in the mix already.
Add Marcelys Jones (Cleveland/Glenville) and Kyle Trout (Lancaster, Ohio/Lancaster) and the 2014 class is versatile as well. That said, if Ohio State can massage the numbers and still stay under the NCAA sanctions, getting an attractive piece like Mavety might be too good to pass up. He’d essentially have three seasons to play two, so yes if the piece is there and the Buckeyes can work some magic, they could still take six offensive linemen in this class.
@MeechignAdbug1: Who is winning the recruiting battle right now (for 2014), Urban Meyer or Brady Hoke?
VanHaaren: If you are judging strictly by which team gained a commitment from a prospect that held an offer from the opposing school, then it’s a tie. Both teams have seven commitments from prospects that held offers from the other team.
If you look at the rankings of those players, then it’s Michigan. Peppers is the biggest at No. 2 overall.
Ohio State has seven ESPN 300 commitments, but five of them held Michigan offers. Michigan has nine ESPN 300 commitments and six held Ohio State offers. There are still some prospects out there who have yet to make commitments, which could swing it in either direction. Defensive end Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge) still has Michigan in it, and could very well end up a Wolverine. We’ll have to wait until signing day for the final answer, but right now I would say Michigan is leading the race.
firstname.lastname@example.org: Who rounds out Ohio State’s recruiting class?
Bournival: First let’s go through the locks, who I believe to be four-star athletes Curtis Samuel (Brooklyn, N.Y./Erasmus) and Lattimore. After that, I really think inside linebacker Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County) is part of this class, as is Erick Smith. Then you have to start looking at the numbers crunch. I think they miss on Prince and Bookser and nab Mavety. That leaves room for maybe two more, though I don’t know if the Buckeyes will use them. I still think defensive tackle Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Abraham Lincoln) picks Ohio State, and the Buckeyes could take either tight end Mike Gesicki (Manahawkin, N.J./Southern Regional) or wide receiver Noah Brown (Sparta, N.J./Pope John XXIII) to round it out, though don’t be surprised if either comes to Ohio State.
@bmartinez51: Peyton Newell is deciding Aug. 30. Does he seem Nebraska bound?
VanHaaren: As you mentioned, the defensive tackle is announcing his decision on Aug. 30 and will be deciding at his high school at 2:30 p.m. local time.
The finalists on his list are Kansas, Kansas State, Nebraska and South Carolina. Nebraska fans think they have a good chance, but a few other schools have put up a good fight.
South Carolina would be a tough school to say no to, but Nebraska would be a good fit for Newell.
@BeerTheDeer: What are Wisconsin’s chances with Joe Mixon and Damien Mama? If the Badgers can pull them both, does that do anything to raise Wisconsin’s recruiting pull?
Brad Bournival: Absolutely. You have to consider that seniors only get five official visits, so the Badgers are already way ahead of the game when it comes to landing the duo. Wisconsin’s offensive line legacy and strong education isn’t lost on Mama. The Badgers’ ability to turn running backs into stars isn’t lost on Mixon either. As far as what it would do to help Wisconsin in the recruiting scene, history shows that teams on a roll stay on a roll, especially on a year-to-year basis. Once a team gets hot with top recruits, others start taking a look.
@McArthurMatt: Will Michigan State start putting the pinch on Michigan’s Detroit Cass Tech pipeline with the commitment of Jayru Campbell?
Tom VanHaaren: It depends on what you mean by pinch. Campbell didn’t have a Michigan offer, so I don’t know if you can consider that in your question. I think Michigan will still land players from Cass Tech, but Michigan State hiring Curtis Blackwell will certainly make for more competition.
Blackwell was involved with a lot of prospects in Detroit, so his relationship with the prospects and their families is a big bonus. I do think Michigan State has a shot with Cass Tech defensive end Joshua Alabi, who does have an offer from the Wolverines.
If Michigan State lands Alabi, then this is an argument that can be talked about. That would be a big win for the Spartans if they were to land him, but that’s yet to be seen.
Michigan State will be a player for a lot of the local prospects now, but I don’t think it will have a huge impact overall on Michigan’s recruiting efforts.
@roberthendricks: What do you think about Damian Prince? Where is he headed?
Bournival: The three teams that look to be separating themselves are Florida State, Maryland and Ohio State, but I think this is a two-team battle between the Terrapins and Buckeyes. Maryland might be selling the in-state angle, but it’s more than that as the Terrapins wouldn’t mind having him be the face of the program. With 13 offensive linemen under scholarship next season and four starters leaving after this season, the Buckeyes can sell playing time and depth chart to the ESPN 300 offensive tackle. In the end, I think Prince stays home and becomes a part of Maryland’s 2014 class.
@Paul_Zinn24: Overall, how is the Big Ten stacking up in recruiting to other major conferences?
VanHaaren: Not great. Michigan and Ohio State are holding the fort down with the No. 6 and 12 ranked classes, respectively and Penn State (20) and Northwestern (24) are in the top 25.
Outside of those four teams it doesn’t look good. The Big Ten has 25 commitments in the ESPN 300 and 20 of those come from Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Northwestern. If you don’t feel like doing the math, that means that the other eight teams have five ESPN 300 commitments combined.
The SEC has 77 ESPN 300 commits and the ACC has 35, so the Big Ten is behind significantly.
With that being said, there is still plenty of time left and there are a lot of ESPN 300 prospects that could pick Big Ten schools. Northwestern, Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State are all in on some top targets, so that number could still go up.
@dcarey71: Is it true because of early enrollments that Penn State will be allowed to offer 17 scholarships instead of 15 this year?
Bournival: That is correct with a couple of stipulations. The Nittany Lions need to stay at 15 scholarships a year, but it can also count early enrollees toward the class before it. So, since there’s some wiggle room in the 2013 class, Penn State can sign 17 prospects in the 2014 class -- as long as two enroll early. Those numbers would meet the NCAA requirements under the sanctions, including the 65-maximum scholarship stipulation as well.
Incidentally, quarterback Michael O’Connor and defensive tackle Antoine White have both stated they want to enroll in January.
With movement happening across the board, there are trends and stories developing, so Big Ten recruiting writers Brad Bournival and Tom VanHaaren give you a look at what to watch within the conference:
Tom VanHaaren: The number of ESPN 300 prospects committing to Big Ten schools. The number hasn’t started to increase yet, but there is a good chance it will. As it currently stands the Big Ten has 25 ESPN 300 commitments within its teams. That number is low compared to the 77 committed to SEC schools and 35 to ACC programs. However, there are roughly 18 ESPN 300 prospects still listing Big Ten programs, including No. 4 ranked Da’Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge) with Michigan, No. 1 inside linebacker Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County), Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield), Montae Nicholson (Monroeville, Pa./Gateway) and more.
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They’ll want to know that at one point the “Pac” in Pac-12 (then eight) stands for the Pacific Ocean and that the conference held teams that were near that body of water, and that Arizona and Arizona State, being in deserts, isn’t just irony for the sake of conference humor. Or that the “East” in Big East didn’t initially imply “east of the Mississippi.” Or that something as simple as the Big Ten once truly had 10 teams.
But it’s a sign of the times, and conference realignment is a constant reality for today’s athletes. While the “Ten” in Big Ten is now a misnomer, it still lives up to the “Big” part, and the conference’s territory keeps growing bigger and bigger.
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Gardner Feeling Comfortable With Offense
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
12:00 PM ET Western Kentucky Illinois 12:00 PM ET McNeese State 19 Nebraska 12:00 PM ET Akron Penn State 12:00 PM ET Central Michigan Purdue 12:00 PM ET Howard Rutgers 12:00 PM ET Western Illinois 18 Wisconsin 3:30 PM ET Northern Illinois Northwestern 3:30 PM ET Middle Tennessee Minnesota 3:30 PM ET Ball State Iowa 3:30 PM ET Maryland South Florida 6:30 PM ET 7 Michigan State 3 Oregon 7:30 PM ET Michigan 16 Notre Dame 8:00 PM ET Virginia Tech 8 Ohio State