Michigan Wolverines: Michael O'Connor

Big Ten recruiting roundtable

February, 3, 2014
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National signing day is just 48 hours away. To get you ready, we checked in with our ESPN.com recruiting experts for their take on how the Big Ten is faring.

Senior national recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill and Big Ten recruiting reporter Tom VanHaaren spared time from their busy schedules to answer these questions:

Ohio State and Michigan again lead the way in the Big Ten recruiting rankings. How much late drama do you expect with those two programs?

[+] EnlargeMalik McDowell
Tom Hauck for ESPNDE Malik McDowell, No. 60 in the ESPN 300, could come down to a signing day decision between Ohio State and Michigan.
Tom VanHaaren: Probably not much for Michigan as it is really only targeting ESPN 300 defensive lineman Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield). McDowell visited Ohio State Jan. 31 and has hosted every head coach in his top four of Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Florida State.

He will take his decision out to signing day, so there is a battle going on there, but there's still a chance he ends up at Michigan State or Florida State. He has kept everything close to the vest and it's anyone's guess as to where he ends up. Ohio State could have a little drama, but that happens when you land top ranked prospects.

Tom Luginbill: I really just expect to see where McDowell falls.

What other Big Ten programs have impressed you?

TL: Penn State and Wisconsin. Badgers coach Gary Andersen is adding more speed and athleticism to this class, including QB D.J. Gillins (Jacksonville, Fla./Ribault). They would love to close with CB Chris Lammons (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Plantation).

TVH: Michigan State has put together a good class. I really like ESPN 300 defensive back Montae Nicholson (Monroeville, Pa./Gateway) for the Spartans defense. I think Northwestern has put together a really good class as well with three ESPN 300 commitments. The Wildcats added in-state defensive back Parrker Westphal (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook), which was a big get for them. Illinois did a lot to help fill immediate needs as well. The Illini lose four receivers and brought in some junior college prospects to compete right away.

How much impact has James Franklin made on Penn State's recruiting in a short time?

TVH: It seems to be all positive for now. It's not surprising that he has flipped so many Vanderbilt commitments to Penn State, because he was the coach who recruited them. The recruits, however, that have flipped will all tell you that he is the guy they want to play for. There is already some excitement in the 2015 class and in the Pennsylvania area, so I think Penn State fans are going to be very happy with what Franklin and his staff does in the near future.

TL: Significant, but it should be noted that Michael O'Connor (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy), De'Andre Thompkins (Swansboro, N.C./Swansboro) and Chris Godwin (Middletown, Del./Middletown) all enrolled early prior to his hire, but after Bill O’Brien departed, which tells you of their commitment to the program. Since his hiring, Penn State has added seven verbal commits, including flipping Rutgers commit WR Saeed Blacknall (Manalapan, N.J./Manalapan) this past week.

How much of an effect, if any, has Michigan State's on-field success had in its recruiting so far?

TL: Minimal. They do what they do. The biggest myth is that they are made up of 2- and 3-star players, which is not true. It has been 4- or 3- star players the past three to four classes The Spartans develop players as well as anyone. They don’t give in to external pressures to recruit anyone and they identify not only good players, but the right players for them.

TVH: It had some impact in the 2014 class, but because that class was already almost over by the time the Spartans won the Rose Bowl, the real affect will likely be on 2015 and 2016 prospects. Michigan State already has one of the top in-state prospects committed with Kyonta Stallworth (St. Clair Shores, Mich./South Lake) and there is a realistic chance the Spartans could land most of the top prospects from the state of Michigan. They have already heard from some prospects that they otherwise would have been out of the running for, so I think 2015 could be where you see some of those affects.

How have Maryland and Rutgers done in recruiting, and are their efforts up to Big Ten standards?

TVH: Rutgers has suffered a lot of decommitments in the 2014 class. It seems like this is a whole new class from what it used to be. The most recent was Blacknall, who flipped to Penn State. Maryland has had a better time recruiting in this class, but is still outside the top 40 in the class rankings. The Terrapins have had a lot of injuries to deal with, so I think once they get healthy and get back on track they will start to see a little more success. Now that they're in the Big Ten they can tell local recruits that they can stay close to home and still play in big stadiums and on national television, which will be a big draw.

TL: Rutgers is crumbling. At one time they had four ESPN 300 prospects and all have decommitted. This is not a good start for the Knights heading into the Big Ten. We very much like the top third of Maryland’s class, and the middle third has upside, but there is a significant drop off in talent in the bottom third, in our opinion.

What teams do you view as disappointing with this class?

TL: Rutgers. The rest have essentially been as expected for the most part.

TVH: Can I cop out and give everyone a trophy? I don't think anyone has a really disappointing class. I imagine Rutgers' coaches aren't thrilled with the way things have gone, but for the Big Ten teams from this season I think most of them have done a really nice job filling needs and getting a few big recruits in the class.

Finally, name a few players who we can expect to have an immediate impact in the 2014 season.

TVH: Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic) is probably the first name that sticks out. He is the No. 2-ranked prospect in the country for a reason and could end being an outstanding college football player once he's done. I expect him to play early in some capacity. Potentially, a guy like Dominique Booth (Indianapolis/Pike) at Indiana at receiver, running back Jeff Jones (Minneapolis/Washburn) if he sticks with Minnesota, Johnnie Dixon (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla./Dwyer) at Ohio State and maybe juco defensive lineman Joe Keels (Kenosha, Wisc./Highland (Kan.) Community College) at Nebraska.

TL: Peppers, (Ohio State LB) Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County) and Jones, if he sticks.

Big Ten class rankings analysis 

January, 22, 2014
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There have been commitments and decommitments across the board in the Big Ten, which means there has been movement among the class rankings.

As signing day approaches, teams will be looking to fill the final spots in their class. Here is a look at trends and a few items to watch within the conference:

Trending up: No Big Ten teams moved up in the class rankings for this week, but that doesn’t mean schools aren’t improving.

Penn State has been on a tear recently with James Franklin and his staff on board. Despite losing ESPN 300 defensive tackle Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln) to Florida and defensive back Troy Vincent Jr. (Baltimore/Gilman) to NC State, the Nittany Lions have added some big pieces as well.

The most recent was three-star athlete Trace McSorley (Ashburn, Va./Briar Woods), who flipped his commitment from Vanderbilt to Penn State. McSorley was originally recruited as a defensive back by Franklin at Vanderbilt, but then the offer was switched to quarterback while he was committed to the Commodores.

McSorley will add some depth and competition at the quarterback spot for Penn State, as Christian Hackenberg and early enrollee Michael O’Connor are the only other quarterbacks on the roster.

Indiana has also been on a nice run, picking up five commitments in the past week, from linebacker Tegray Scales (Cincinnati/Colerain), running back Tommy Mister (Chicago/St. Rita), athlete Waynedriko Smith (Orlando, Fla./Orangewood Christian) and defensive backs Zeke Walker (Cayce, S.C./Brookland-Cayce) and Tony Fields (Tallahassee, Fla./Godby).

Trending down: Michigan hasn’t lost any commitments in the 2014 class, but the Wolverines lost ESPN Junior 300 running back Damien Harris (Berea, Ky./Madison Southern) over the weekend.

Harris is the No. 1-ranked running back and No. 17 overall in the 2015 class. Losing Harris and fellow ESPN Junior 300 member George Campbell (Tarpon Springs, Fla./East Lake) is a big blow to the 2015 class.

Add in the fact that Michigan’s main remaining target for the 2014 class, Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield) could end up not picking Michigan and could end up at rival Michigan State or Ohio State, that’s more bad news for Michigan.

The Wolverines haven’t landed a commitment since August and steadily have been moving down the class rankings. If the coaches miss on McDowell, that would mean they missed on three major targets: McDowell, five-star defensive end Da’Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge) to Alabama and in-state defensive end Jhonathon Williams (Berrien Springs, Mich./Berrien Springs) to Notre Dame.

Big Ten class rankings analysis 

January, 8, 2014
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Ohio State has been on a roll on the recruiting trail in the past few weeks. The commitments the Buckeyes have landed, along with a few other happenings in the Big Ten, have impacted the class rankings.

Here is a look at the most recent trends within the Big Ten.


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Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

January, 6, 2014
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Despite the dead period there was still plenty of action within the Big Ten on the recruiting trail. Here is a look at what happened throughout the conference this past week.

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O'Connor's PSU decision in doubt 

January, 3, 2014
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When Penn State quarterback commit Michael O’Connor (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy) found out coach Bill O’Brien was leaving the program to join the Houston Texans, O’Connor didn’t know how to react.

O’Connor, the No. 5 pocket passer in the ESPN 300, was supposed to be an early enrollee at Penn State but without a head coach in place, his recruitment is up in the air. His former high school coach, Victor Tedondo, said O’Connor isn’t quite sure whether he will still enroll early at Penn State.


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Big Ten recruiting storylines: Dec. 19 

December, 19, 2013
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As the calendar year winds down, there is still plenty to talk about within recruiting. Big Ten teams have been on a roll on the recruiting trail as of late, and each program is hoping that continues into signing day.

Here are five things for fans to watch as we head into the holiday season.

Under Armour Game

There are six Big Ten teams represented in the Under Armour All-America game this year with Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State and Penn State all having commitments scheduled to play in the game.

The game will be played Jan. 2 in St. Petersburg, Fla., but there will be plenty to watch before the big game. The participants will go through tough practices and skill competitions leading up to the event, which always has some interesting storylines.

The practices put the best players in the country against each other, so it’s a good measuring stick of top prospects.


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Big Ten signing day storylines 

December, 17, 2013
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Signing day is only 50 days away and there are plenty of questions surrounding the big day. Big Ten programs still have a ton of top prospects on the board, which means there could be some impactful decisions coming in the near future.

Here is a look at some of the top storylines in the conference leading up to signing day.


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Big Ten recruiting storylines: Dec. 12 

December, 12, 2013
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This is the last week before a dead period, which means coaches will be hosting important targets and visiting as many schools as they can.

There is plenty to discuss within the Big Ten, so here is a look at this week’s storylines.

Waiting for Raekwon

The No. 12 ranked prospect in the country, linebacker Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County), is scheduled to annouce his decision Dec. 16.

The No. 1 ranked linebacker has Ohio State in his top three with Alabama and Clemson and will receive an in-home visit from the Buckeyes’ coaching staff.

The interesting part about this is there are plenty of rumors swiring around Alabama coach Nick Saban and Texas. Those rumors have likely made their way to McMillan. Whether they impact his decision, or not, is a question that remains.

Booth picking up interest


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Under Armour game storylines: Big Ten 

December, 5, 2013
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The Under Armour All-America game is fast approaching and plenty of participants still have questions surrounding their recruitment.

The Big Ten has quite a few of those recruits in the game, so here is a look at five of the bigger storylines heading into the prestigious game.

Will Jabrill Peppers take visits?


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In their own words: Big Ten QB commits 

October, 23, 2013
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With so many different styles of offense within the Big Ten, each school has needed to find the right fit at quarterback. Here is a look at the Big Ten quarterback commits for the 2014 class and how they fit in with their future offense -- in their own words.

Illinois:
Chayce Crouch (Newark, Ohio/Newark Catholic)
Vitals: 6-3, 207

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B1G high school performers 

October, 14, 2013
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Here are this week's top performances from Big Ten commits and targets:

Illinois

Mike Dudek: Seven receptions, 97 yards, one touchdown, 103 kick return yards and a touchdown in a 40-25 win over Waubonise Valley.

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Big Ten's 2014 impact freshmen 

September, 25, 2013
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Who’s the next Johnny Manziel? For that matter, who has an opportunity to start for a Big Ten team? Is there a Heisman Trophy candidate in the mix in this year’s Big Ten recruiting class?

Recruiting writers Brad Bournival and Tom VanHaaren tackle those questions in this week’s version of The List:

Current 2014 QB prospect that could start immediately:

Tom VanHaaren: Most schools either have a returning starter, or younger quarterbacks who will likely be ahead of the 2014 prospects so there likely isn’t anyone.

If I had to pick a few that could see playing time I would say Northwestern commit Clayton Thorson (Wheaton, Ill./Wheaton North), potentially Chris Durkin (Youngstown, Ohio/Ursuline) if Michigan State can’t figure out the offense and maybe Wilton Speight (Richmond, Va./Collegiate) if there is an injury to Devin Gardner.

Brad Bournival: The problem with most of the Big Ten QB signees is that there’s already a big name QB in front of them. Iowa could make a case here with Jay Scheel (La Porte City, Iowa/Union), but the fact it has three signal-callers returning kind of ends that talk. Like VanHaaren, I’m going with Durkin at Michigan State. The Spartans are hardly set at the position and Durkin comes in with the athleticism and arm strength needed to succeed at the next level. If he can shore up his reads, Durkin could be the guy in East Lansing.

Program changing 2014 recruiting class:

VanHaaren: Michigan is filling a lot of holes with its 2014 class and there is a good chance it continues to add to it. The Wolverines have landed nine ESPN 300 commitments and could still add more. The biggest piece, though, is five-star defensive back Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic) who is Michigan’s highest-rated prospect since the inception of ESPN’s rankings.

Bournival: Ohio State loses four offensive linemen and is light at linebacker and wide receiver. This class has three linemen already as well as three 'backers, and the Buckeyes are the favorite to land the top-rated 'backer in ESPN 300 standout Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County). Where the Buckeyes shine is at the wide receiver/athlete position as six standouts with 4.5 40-yard dash speed or better make up the class.

Current 2014 prospect with Heisman potential:

VanHaaren: The only Big Ten commit I would feel somewhat comfortable in this category is probably Peppers. Even for him that’s going to be a stretch, but he is the only commit who I think could fall in this category.

Bournival: Like VanHaaren said, this is a tough one as the top-ranked players are Da’Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge), McMillan, Peppers and Damon Webb (Detroit/Cass Tech) coming in. That said, defense isn’t that sexy to Heisman voters. If Marshon Lattimore (Cleveland/Glenville) picks a Big Ten team and IF he plays offense, he might be the best bet. But that’s a lot of ifs.


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Big Ten recruiting mailbag

September, 20, 2013
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It’s time to dip into the Big Ten recruiting mailbag and answer some of your questions. We’ll try to give everyone a chance to get their questions answered. We encourage you to send your questions by Twitter to @bbournival or @TomVH.

@buckeyefan686: With so many wide receiver/athlete commitments in the last two years, where does Braxton Berrios stand with Ohio State and vice versa?

Brad Bournival: More than likely, the four-star wide receiver is on the outside looking in. The fact the Buckeyes have so many players who can play the slot position leaves Berrios in a tight situation. The four-star wide receiver has been on official visits to Oregon, Miami and South Carolina already. He’s got one more lined up for Tennessee on Oct. 4 and wants to make his decision a few weeks after that.

At this point, I would scratch Ohio State off the list unless the Buckeyes can talk the 5-foot-9, 181-pound Berrios into taking a greyshirt year.


[+] EnlargeDa'Shawn Hand
Courtesy John HarrisDa'Shawn Hand loved his trip to Michigan, but what would the Wolverines do if he decided to go elsewhere?
@Kaylen2009: If Michigan misses out on Da'Shawn Hand and Malik McDowell, is there a backup plan or with they save those scholarships for 2015?

Tom VanHaaren: I think they need help along the defensive line, so if they miss on those two it would probably behoove them to look for help.

I don’t think your scenario is very likely. I think Michigan will land those two, but anything can happen in recruiting. Hand had to change his visit schedules, which I believe helps Michigan even more. He has never been out to Florida and won’t have much time to really digest his visit from that time until he decides.

If Hand were to choose a different school, Michigan is still technically in the top group with Garrett Dickerson (Oradell, N.J/Bergen Catholic). He has Stanford No. 1 and Northwestern in there, too, so he’s not likely. That late in the game the coaching staff would likely have to evaluate some prospects and reach out to prospects to gauge interest before figuring out who to target.

It just doesn’t seem likely, though, at this rate, that they will miss on those two.


@shermez07: Are the Penn State misses on potential pledges due to the sanctions or just normal recruiting reasons (playing time, coaching staff, etc.)?

Bournival: With only 65 scholarships things can be tough in the recruiting world and it would be silly not to think the sanctions haven’t played a role in the decision-making process.

Bowl games aren’t just big business for colleges, they’re a measuring stick for players as well. The fact the Nittany Lions are still dealing with that issue makes it a hard sell, although that part of the penalty becomes easier and easier with each class.

That said Bill O’Brien hasn’t completely whiffed with the two classes he’s been in charge of so far.

This year he grabbed ESPN 300 athlete De'Andre Thompkins (Swansboro, N.C./Swansboro), quarterback Michael O'Connor (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy) and wide receiver Chris Godwin (Middletown, Del./Middletown). In the 2013 class, quarterback Christian Hackenberg (Fork Union, Va./Fork Union Military Academy), tight end Adam Breneman (Camp Hill, Pa., Cedar Cliff) and offensive guard Brendan Mahon (Randolph, N.J./Randolph) were big gets.

@Cyan220 What is the feeling regarding Northwestern? Are they likely to get Parrker Westphal, Dickerson or Brandon Lee?

VanHaaren: Linebacker Brandon Lee (Indianapolis/Lawrence Central) cancelled his visit to Northwestern on Thursday night. He tweeted that he wouldn’t be taking any questions as to why he cancelled the visit either.

That’s rather strange since he had been planning to take that trip on Wednesday. There is obviously more to this story, so it will be interesting to see what ends up happening.

The Wildcats do have a shot with Westphal and Dickerson, but it might be safe to say that Stanford leads for Dickerson. He has ties to Northwestern, so there is still a chance.

Westphal is a closed book as far as what he’s thinking and what might be next. He and his family do that on purpose, so it’s a guess as to where he ends up. Northwestern and Vanderbilt were thought to be the leaders for Westphal, but Michigan State might sneak in there as well.


l.fousie@sbcglobal.net: With the addition of Noah Brown to Ohio State’s 2014 class, do they still have room for Marshon Lattimore? I have been reading they only have 18 spots for 2014, they have interest/needs in the offensive and defensive line, and they now have 18 commits. Do you think this helps Michigan’s chances with Lattimore and do the Wolverines have room with the potential for Hand and McDowell added to this class?

Bournival: Ohio State’s max right now is 18, but remember that number is fluid and should the likes of Devin Smith, Bradley Roby and Ryan Shazier decide to go pro at the end of the season, numbers open back up. The number of scholarship athletes can change from one day to the next, so the Buckeyes would make room for someone like Lattimore.

While Ohio State does need offensive linemen, the Buckeyes are loaded at defensive line, so that part of the equation really doesn’t apply. Many insiders believe it’s only a matter of time before Lattimore says yes to Ohio State. Cleveland Glenville athletes are hard to pull away from the Buckeyes, so it would be an extreme uphill battle to land him. That could change if there’s an official visit lined up to Ann Arbor, but for right now things lean towards Ohio State.

Best Big Ten classes by position 

September, 10, 2013
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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.

Quarterback
Strongest class: Penn State


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B1G High school games of the week 

September, 5, 2013
9/05/13
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Each week Big Ten recruiting reporters Tom VanHaaren and Brad Bournival outline a few big high school games involving Big Ten recruits and commits. Here is this week’s list:


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