QB Denard Robinson: Michigan
Ultimate ESPN 300 Rank: 103
QB J.T. Barrett: Ohio State
Ultimate ESPN 300 Rank: 254
Barrett makes this list because of the way he took hold of Ohio State's offense so early in his career. Starter Braxton Miller went down with an injury before the 2014 season started, and fans were worried about what losing a Heisman candidate quarterback would do for the Buckeyes' campaign. Little did they know Barrett was up for the task and surprised everyone but the Ohio State coaches with his performance. He still has two years of eligibility left and is now part of a three-headed quarterback monster for Ohio State in the upcoming season. He lands on this list because of what he has done and what he might do in the future for the Buckeyes.
DE J.J. Watt: Wisconsin
Ultimate ESPN 300 Rank: 271
Watt lands on this list because of how he got to where he is. He started off at Central Michigan as a tight end, was asked to move to offensive tackle and then transferred to Wisconsin where he later played defensive end. He wasn't highly touted out of high school, but he beat the odds and has become one of the NFL's best players. Watt's story is unique and unusual in how he found success, so it should be celebrated and revered.
The junior class at IMG Academy features a whopping eight prospects in the ESPN Junior 300, headlined by No. 2 Shavar Manuel and No. 3 and Florida State quarterback commit Malik Henry, along with No. 19 Saivion Smith and Florida State commit Isaac Nauta. Add in cornerback Khalil Ladler, outside linebacker Rahshaun Smith, No. 128 and Clemson wide receiver verbal Tavares Chase and Ohio State pledge Tyler Gerald and the quickly growing football program is officially among the nation's elite.
On Monday, RecruitingNation spent a few hours on campus to get the latest.
Purdue is lowering season-ticket prices for nearly 90 percent of the seats at Ross-Ade Stadium in 2015. You can get a ticket to seven home games for less than $100 after attendance dropped in 2014 by 28 percent to 35,269 per game -- the lowest figure since 1951, according to the Lafayette Journal and Courier.
The university issued a news release Wednesday, quoting athletics director Morgan Burke, who opened with this: "We want our fans back."
Hey, at least he's not sugar-coating it.
The Boilermakers have won four games since Darrell Hazell took over two years ago, including one in Big Ten play – and it came on the road at Illinois last year.
If you wondered about the importance of next season for the third-year coach, wonder no more.
Meanwhile, at Ohio State, they're dropping ticket prices, too, though not quite like Purdue. The national champs are rolling prices to 2010 for the April 18 spring game to $5 per seat.
Five bucks to see the Bucks -- that's the best deal in the Big Ten. Apparently, this is happening in response to last year, when OSU tried to charge $20 a seat for the spring game, only to slash prices at the last minute.
Or maybe Ohio State is just preparing its fans for the letdown of a scrimmage without Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett.
I admit, if I followed Dwayne Haskins Jr., the nation's No. 2-rated pocket-passer quarterbacl, on Twitter, I would not have understood his reference to Maryland's tribute to a Drake album cover.
I thought Drake was an FCS program in Des Moines. So yeah, I'm out of touch with some of these kids. Fortunately, people exist in the media out there who can explain this stuff to me.
If you're reading this it's too late.. pic.twitter.com/6GYsHk0Kik— Dwayne Haskins, Jr (@dh_simba7) February 17, 2015
Now, Jameis Winston and Bryce Petty are talking up Michigan's facilities and coach Jim Harbaugh in a part-genius, part-propaganda campaign by the Wolverines with two of the nation's premier quarterback prospects for the NFL draft.
If you didn't already notice, Winston and Petty visited Ann Arbor this week to work out at Al Glick Fieldhouse and meet with Harbaugh in advance of the NFL combine.
They attended a basketball game, and Winston gushed over Harbaugh on camera for the school-run website, saying, "I wish I could have played for" the former 49ers coach.
Harbaugh and George Whitfield, personal coach for Winston and Petty, have some history together; Whitfield served as an intern with the 49ers last year.
Curious minds want to know: What do Jimbo Fisher and Art Briles think of this little exercise?
On with the rest of the links:
- Remember that business mogul and Rutgers booster, Jeff Towers, who was up for the job to lead the Scarlet Knights' recruiting operations? Yeah, that's not happening.
- Did Penn State seriously want to hire 70-year Bill Parcells to replace Joe Paterno? No surprise, they noticed this story in New Jersey.
- Place-kicker Rafael Gaglianone highlights this look at the Wisconsin special teams in 2015.
- Nebraska announces details for its April 11 spring game. Tough times for former Husker defensive back Rickey Thenarse.
- Defensive end Khalid Kareem backs away from his early commitment to Michigan State.
- Former Iowa offensive tackle Andrew Donnal met Wednesday with the Texans at the combine -- no surprise, considering the strong connections already formed between the Houston franchise and the Hawkeyes.
- Former Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams is a popular guy in Indianapolis.
Brian Bennett: It's a good time to review this process, since things will be different with the College Football Playoff in the 2015 season. Because the Rose Bowl is not a semifinal host -- that distinction this season belongs to the Orange and Cotton bowls -- the Big Ten is guaranteed to have a team in Pasadena, California, on Jan. 1, 2016. If the Big Ten champion does not make the playoff, it will go to the Rose Bowl. But if the Big Ten champ is in the four-team field, then the Rose Bowl gets to pick "the next best team." That doesn't necessarily mean the next highest-ranked team in the selection committee rankings, as the Rose will have some discretion on who it selects to replace from the Big Ten (and the Pac-12, as the Rose is assured of a traditional matchup).
@BennettESPN If a B1G team goes to CFP, does Rose Bowl take runner up? How does Rose Bowl fill spot if B1G Champ is playing in CFP? Thanks— John Caldwell (@John_Caldwell) February 18, 2015
Two things here. One, losing in the Big Ten championship game could be a real detriment to a team, as bowls traditionally don't like teams coming off a loss. And two, I'm still interested to see whether the Rose holds the same appeal if/when a conference runner-up makes it there. It's not unprecedented, of course, and teams still seemed excited to play in the New Year's Six games this year (well, maybe not you, Ole Miss). But I wonder if fans will gobble up tickets and travel to California -- which isn't exactly cheap -- the same way they once did if the Rose Bowl is basically a consolation prize.
Bennett: Ooh, I love this question.
I'm going to rule out Jim Harbaugh. As I wrote in last week's edition of the ol' mailbag, I think some people are being overly optimistic about the Wolverines this fall and that it will take Harbaugh some time to sort things out. I still believe he can get Michigan to, say, 8-4, but that's not going to be good enough to win this particular contest.
So that leaves Riley vs. Chryst. I admit I'm not quite sure what to make of the 2015 Cornhuskers and what Riley will bring to Nebraska. Will his more veteran hand help Big Red avoid the dramatic ups and downs we saw under Bo Pelini? Or will we learn that Pelini was underappreciated for his nine-wins-a-year consistency?
The safest choice among the three, then, is Chryst. Wisconsin will miss Melvin Gordon but brings back the nucleus of an outstanding defense. There won't be a dramatic change in systems with Chryst on offense and with Dave Aranda returning as defensive coordinator. Sure, the opener against Alabama is daunting, but the rest of the schedule is very manageable, with cross-division games again against Rutgers and Maryland. I could easily see the Badgers going 9-3 or 10-2 in Chryst's first year, so he's my pick.
Bennett: Well, let's first of all agree that none of the position groups were bad last year, obviously, or else the Buckeyes wouldn't have won it all. And with so much veteran talent returning and more young studs on the way, Urban Meyer's 2015 team should be scary good with very few weaknesses.
@BennettESPN What position group at Ohio State do you think will improve the most next year, and which will take the biggest step back?— Mark Walker (@MarkovWalker) February 18, 2015
But if there's a group I see making a leap, it's the linebackers. We already saw that position make a major jump forward in the postseason, and another year of experience for Darron Lee can only help him become one of the top defensive playmakers around. Joshua Perry should be the leader of the group as a senior, and it will be time to unleash the crazy potential of sophomore Raekwon McMillan at middle linebacker. Five-star incoming freshman Justin Hilliard should contribute as well.
I don't see many position groups ripe for a backslide, but one I'll be paying attention to is receiver. Devin Smith was so special at being a deep-ball threat that it could be hard to replicate, and Evan Spencer was one of the team's MVPs with his do-it-all versatility. Ohio State still has plenty of young talent and speed to burn, though, so receiver shouldn't be too much of a problem.
Bennett: $10k, eh? Well that's novel, if not exactly something I could see the NCAA getting behind. Not to mention the fact that some position coaches might have to take out loans to make that work. I believe you're overthinking things here, Ed. It's a difficult proposition to limit anybody's ability to change jobs, because so many factors go into that. The simplest solution is to let players exercise an out clause in their letter of intent if the head coach, their coordinator and/or position coach leaves before they arrive on campus. That's a rule that needs to happen, especially with a proposed early signing day in December.
You might be wondering: Does this really matter? The answer is yes, especially for a certain group of Big Ten schools. We answer that question and others relating to these topics below.
Why is this so important for the Big Ten?
Several Big Ten teams face a major disadvantage in recruiting because their campuses are located far from the concentrations of top prospects. The challenge is amplified by a recruiting environment where players are making their college choices earlier and most likely will soon having a chance to sign earlier. If the official visits calendar doesn't change, certain Big Ten programs won't be able to pay for prospects from recruiting concentrations to visit their campuses, forcing the prospects to make long trips on their own dime. Bottom line: an already tenuous situation could become much worse.
Which programs are affected most by the proposed recruiting calendar?
The West Division teams located farther from recruit concentrations. Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin seem particularly vulnerable. Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez told ESPN.com that the school doesn't have trouble getting prospects to visit unofficially, even those from far-flung locations. But some of these programs could fall further behind in the recruiting race if early official visits don't accompany an early signing date.
What must happen for early official visits to gain traction?
The Big Ten schools who need the change must push for them, and Nebraska is best positioned take the lead. Although leagues such as the SEC, Big 12 and ACC likely won't support early official visits, the Big Ten could drum up some support with the Pac-12, which has several members located far from recruit concentrations. Every FBS conference votes on the recruiting calendar, so the Big Ten also could find allies with Group of 5 leagues such as the Mid-American. A proposal for early official visits wouldn't go to a vote until spring 2016 at the earliest, so it wouldn't be in effect until the 2017 recruiting cycle.
Why isn't there more support for early visits nationally?
It's pretty simple. Schools and conferences look out for their own interests. Even within the Big Ten, good luck convincing Rutgers and Maryland that it's a good idea to provide a new edge in recruiting for league rivals. In the SEC -- and parts of the Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC -- many of the top recruiting targets can simply drive to campus in the spring or summer for unofficial visits. Official visits, at some schools, have become an afterthought. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith raises some interesting points about the importance of vacation time for coaches in the summer. But that's not a major obstacle. With June set aside for camps and official visits, coaches could still take plenty of vacation time in July -- not that many of them would take it.
Realistically, what would happen if the early signing period passes without early visits?
In the short term, probably not much. Coaches at the most impacted Big Ten West schools would work harder during the season to secure official visits. They'd load up on visitors in the short time in December before the signing date and make the best of a bad situation. Over the long haul, though, damage would be noticeable in the workload placed on coaches and the quality of recruiting classes. It's hard to imagine a scenario in which the December period, if passed, would not grow in popularity among recruits. Some administrators point to basketball, which offers an early signing period in November and still makes use of an April period. Football recruiting is a different animal, though; the hype around signing day ensures it.
Envision the next frontier in recruiting. It's 2017. An early signing period -- likely to receive approval this year from the FBS conference commissioners -- has been in place for two cycles in recruiting.
Now check the pulse of your program.
How much can change in two years? What's the potential impact of two compromised classes for a group of schools that don't enjoy the advantages of the elite programs in recruiting?
As the Big Ten throws its support behind a three-day December window for prospects to sign letters of intent -- without an accompanying change by the NCAA to institute earlier official visits -- geographically isolated schools like Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and others nationally must consider a painful reality that strikes at the heart of the rich-getting-richer debate central to college football.
In advance of the June vote of conference commissioners on whether to have an early signing period to supplement the existing February date, Big Ten coaches and administrators met this month to discuss the proposal. The plan is designed to ease financial and time burdens on coaches and to keep pace with the accelerated recruiting cycle. If passed, it would allow prospects, on a two-year trial basis, to sign Dec. 16-18.
Commissioner Jim Delany said a "strong majority" to support the proposal exists among Big Ten schools, which form one of the wealthiest and most influential conferences nationally, yet offer a study in contrast amid the game's recruiting subculture.
And out of the meeting, a second conversation emerged, perhaps more integral to the Big Ten's competitive balance than an early signing period: the need for early official visits, which appears much less likely to pass.
We're all about the Big Ten here, so in the next three days we'll debate how the Ultimate ESPN 300 factors into this corner of college football.
Wednesday's roundtable topic: Which player had the biggest impact on a Big Ten program?
Adam Rittenberg: Chris Borland, Wisconsin linebacker, No. 143
Impact can be hard to quantify, as there are so many factors involved. I nearly went with former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who impacted Ohio State both positively (fans often forget how good he was in bowl games and big games) and negatively during a wild career. I also tried to find players who seemed like he played college ball for seven or eight years. Borland was one of those players. He was so good for so long, winning Big Ten freshman of the year in 2009 and Big Ten defensive player of the year in 2013. He overcame adversity, missing most of 2010 with a shoulder injury. He earned All-Big Ten honors -- coaches or media -- in all four full seasons he played.
Borland also is the quintessential Wisconsin star: an undersized, freakish athlete who grew up playing soccer and was overlooked in recruiting. He contributed from the moment he arrived in Madison and played in four bowl games and three Big Ten championship games. Although Wisconsin had more nationally famous players on the Ultimate 300 list -- J.J. Watt (No. 271), Russell Wilson (No. 187), Melvin Gordon (No. 53), Montee Ball (No. 136) -- Borland's overall legacy as a Badger trumps them all.
Brian Bennett: Christian Hackenberg, Penn State quarterback, No. 71
My choice is a little unorthodox and not entirely based on what the player has done -- yet -- on the field. I'm going with Penn State's Hackenberg. He committed to Penn State after the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke and stayed with the Nittany Lions even after the NCAA tried to decimate the program with scholarship reductions and a bowl ban. He could have easily gone somewhere else, but his faithfulness in Bill O'Brien and the program signaled to other players that it was OK to stick things out with Penn State.
Hackenberg was the Big Ten's freshman of the year in 2013 and, despite some struggles as a sophomore, still helped lead the Nittany Lions back to a bowl last season. He's got at least one more year in State College to show off his talent. Penn State fans should already be thankful for what he (and let's not forget No. 294, Michael Mauti) did to keep the entire program afloat.
Mitch Sherman: Joey Bosa, Ohio State defensive end, No. 58
What more could one guy do from his position than Bosa in helping lead the Buckeyes romp to a Big Ten title and the first College Football Playoff championship? Sure, the Ohio State quarterbacks and running back Ezekiel Elliott got many of the headlines – and deservedly so – during the 2014 championship run. But Bosa dominated from the first game of the season at defensive end, collecting 13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
His Big Ten-best four forced fumbles led directly to 30 Ohio State points. And he did it, as a true sophomore, without fellow bookend Noah Spence, dismissed after All-Big Ten season in 2013. Opponents feared Bosa. His presence changed games. And nothing seemed to bother him. He was simply the best player on the best team in the country for the longest portion of last season.
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Such was the implication when it was revealed on Tuesday that the new Michigan coach was in Ann Arbor helping former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston and ex-Baylor star Bryce Petty prepare for this week’s NFL combine.
QBs Jameis Winston (FSU) & Bryce Petty (Baylor) are preparing for the NFL Combine at Schembechler Hall. pic.twitter.com/2ICM9XMVrc— Michigan Football (@umichfootball) February 17, 2015
It turns out that Winston and Petty were directed to Michigan via quarterback guru George Whitfield after training in San Diego in order to get acclimated to the time zone and weather and throwing in an indoor facility before they head to Indianapolis. (Though why they'd need to adjust to the weather is a mystery). Harbaugh and Wolverines quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch met with both players on campus.
Though it was a bit odd to see players from other schools get advice from Harbaugh, it was also brilliant in many ways. Harbaugh has a great and well-deserved reputation for developing quarterbacks and understanding the position, given his playing career and previous players he has coached. This will merely enhance the perception of him as a teacher of quarterbacks, especially given that Winston could be the No. 1 player taken in the draft.
And what's Michigan's biggest need right now? Developing a quarterback, naturally. Despite getting a very late start in recruiting this year, Harbaugh was able to flip Zach Gentry away from his Texas commitment based no doubt largely on Harbaugh's track record. The Wolverines are in hot pursuit of more star quarterbacks in the 2016 class. It sure doesn't hurt for prospects out there to see these images of Harbaugh bestowing his wisdom on future NFL quarterbacks. (And it was probably also no coincidence that Petty and Winston were at the Michigan State-Michigan game in Crisler Arena at the same time as a bunch of important in-state recruits).
Of course, the guy who Harbaugh will be chasing, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, is viewed as one of the best developers of quarterbacks in the business. If there was ever any doubt about that, Meyer showed it last season with how both J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones were able to take over at a moment's notice.
Two other new head coaches in the Big Ten, Nebraska's Mike Riley and Wisconsin's Paul Chryst, have earned praise in the past for their ability to teach quarterback play. That's a great harbinger for the league's future, since the most important position on the field seemed to slide a bit in recent years throughout the conference. Now, though, the Big Ten might just be flush with quarterback whisperers.
Around the league ...
- Another wrist surgery could make Ezekiel Elliott even better next year. J.T. Barrett has a couple of screws loose, and that's a good thing.
- John Settle is the leading candidate to be Wisconsin's new running backs coach, a job he previously held. Previewing the Badgers' special teams unit for 2015.
- Penn State saw an attendance increase at Beaver Stadium in James Franklin's first year.
- An injury will keep Indiana's Tevin Coleman from working out at the NFL combine.
- Could Michigan State's Trae Waynes go in the top six of the NFL draft?
- Minnesota offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover offers some updates before spring practice starts.
- A New Jersey quarterback is becoming a regular on Rutgers' campus.
- Some Big Ten spring storylines to watch.
Many believe ESPN Junior 300 defensive Nick Bosa will be an even better college football player than his brother. That’s saying a lot because his brother is Joey Bosa, star defensive lineman for national champion Ohio State and one of the top projected picks for the 2016 NFL draft.
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Ohio State declined to comment on the details of Elliott's surgery.
Elliott initially required surgery on the wrist in August after suffering an injury over the summer.
It did not cause him to miss any game action as he burst on the national scene during the Buckeyes' 14-1, championship season. The sophomore from St. Louis rushed for 1,878 yards and 18 touchdowns.
He rushed for 696 yards in the Buckeyes' final three games -- wins over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game and Alabama and Oregon in the College Football Playoff. In Ohio State's title-clinching, 42-20 victory over the Ducks, Elliott gained 246 yards on 36 attempts and scored four touchdowns en route to offensive MVP honors.
Up next: the Ohio State Buckeyes
2014 record: 14-1 (8-0 Big Ten)
Three-year record: 38-3
Coaching situation: How many teams wouldn't trade head coaches with Ohio State right now? Maybe Alabama, and that's pretty much the entire list. Urban Meyer proved he's one of the best ever to wear a headset in the 2014 season and especially so in the postseason, when the Buckeyes were underdogs in the Big Ten title game and two playoff contests but won all three in convincing fashion.
Roster situation: Ohio State returns an absurd amount of talent from its championship team, which won it all despite having nearly half the depth made up of freshmen and sophomores. A few seniors, like Michael Bennett and Devin Smith, won't easily be replaced. But there is so much talent on hand and still coming into the program that the Buckeyes shouldn't miss a beat. And we haven't even mentioned that the quarterback room is as stuffed with superstars as any college team in history.
Recruiting situation: No one in the Big Ten has recruited as consistently well as Ohio State, especially under Meyer. The Buckeyes thrive from their own talent-rich state and can also dip into other areas of the country, notably the Southeast. Meyer is one of the best finishers in the country, and has reeled in multiple Top 10 classes. His entire staff is devoted to recruiting at an elite level, and the program is always flush with talent.
Trajectory: Up. OK, it's hard to go up much higher than a national championship. But many, including Meyer, thought all along that 2015 would be the best team seen in Columbus in a long time. The Buckeyes will start the season ranked No. 1 and should be favored in every game they play. Just three years removed from probation, Ohio State is a budding dynasty and a safe bet to make repeat visits to the College Football Playoff.
Easiest Path To The 2015 College Football Playoff
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
TBD Kent State Illinois TBD Southern Illinois Indiana TBD Illinois State Iowa TBD Richmond Maryland TBD BYU Nebraska TBD Norfolk State Rutgers TBD Penn State Temple TBD Stanford Northwestern TBD Wisconsin Alabama