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Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Most important targets: Big Ten

By Tom VanHaaren and Brad Bournival


As teams across the country get closer and closer to filling recruiting classes for 2014, every recruit becomes that much more important for each program.

Big Ten teams are still targeting some big names in this class and have the opportunity to fill some major needs. Here is a look at some of the most important prospects within the Big Ten.

Illinois
RB Madre London (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla./St. Thomas Aquinas)
6-foot-2, 202 pounds
Rank: Three-star
It looks like Illinois might trail a few other Big Ten teams, including Michigan State, for London. The Illini have a lot of pieces on offense in place, though, and adding a running back like London would be a huge deal for the 2014 class. The three-star recently took a visit to Illinois and came away impressed. He likely will take one more official visit and then decide, so there isn't a ton of time for the coaching staff to push its story.

Indiana
CB Craig James (Edwardsville, Ill./Edwardsville)
5-10, 186
ESPN 300 rank: Unranked
The cornerback has a top four of Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota and Syracuse, but he holds the Hoosiers high after an official visit in September. It should be noted the other three haven't received official visits but could down the road after James finishes his senior season with Edwardsville. Anyone who saw Michigan knock off Indiana 63-47 on Saturday while rolling up 584 yards of offense -- 503 passing -- knows the Hoosiers need help on defense and especially in the secondary. If Indiana can land the Illinois high school standout, it could go a long way toward improving the defense.

Iowa
OT Brian Wallace (St. Louis/Christian Brothers College)
6-5, 283
ESPN 300 rank: 151
Wallace has a final group of Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa and Nebraska, and he plans to wait on official visits until after his high school season. That said, he wants to take an official visit to each school before making a final decision. Former teammate and current Iowa freshman Jonathan Parker might be the X factor here, as he has been in Wallace's ear. The Hawkeyes' image of being an offensive line factory could help in recruiting him. Iowa lost former commit Ross Pierschbacher (Cedar Falls, Iowa/Cedar Falls) to Alabama, so getting Wallace would be a great pickup.

Michigan
DE Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge)
6-4, 245
ESPN 300 rank: 4
Hand is down to Alabama, Florida and Michigan for his final three. He still has visits scheduled to Alabama and Florida, and then will announce his decision Nov. 14. Hand would be a huge get for any team, but he would give Michigan its second five-star prospect in the 2014 class and an impressive haul along the defensive line.

Michigan State
DB Montae Nicholson (Monroeville, Pa./Gateway
6-2, 210
ESPN 300 rank: 252
This one was difficult, because the Spartans still have a lot of needs, including receiver and offensive line, and there are other quality defensive backs on the board. Parrker Westphal (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook) and Darius West (Lima, Ohio/Lima Central) are both in the mix, but Nicholson is a little different. He could be a really good safety for Michigan State's stout defense, or he could end up being a receiver. He has a lot of athleticism and could help the Spartans on either side. Westphal is probably more likely, but Nicholson's athleticism lands him here.

Minnesota
OL Frank Ragnow (Victoria, Minn./Chanhassen)
6-5, 296
Rank: Three-star
This in-state target would be a huge get for the Golden Gophers. Ragnow has been racking up offers and interest from across the country, so it will be very difficult to keep him home. Ragnow still lists Minnesota among his top schools, along with Florida State, Arkansas, Cal, Missouri, Vanderbilt, Wisconsin, Miami and Ohio State. Minnesota has its work cut out, but if he stays in state, it would be a major win for the Gophers.

Nebraska
OL Brian Wallace (St. Louis/Christian Brothers College)
6-5, 283
ESPN 300 rank: 151
As mentioned above, Wallace has Nebraska in his top group, so the Cornhuskers have a real shot. The only other ESPN 300 prospect in Nebraska's 2014 class is offensive guard D.J. Foster (Lincoln, Neb./Lincoln Southeast), so landing Wallace would be a nice complement at tackle. There is stiff competition here, but adding Wallace would be a huge deal for Nebraska.

Northwestern
DB Parrker Westphal (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook)
6-foot, 185
ESPN 300 rank: 92
The four-star defensive back is down to Michigan State, Nebraska and Vanderbilt as his top three. He already has been to Michigan State and Vanderbilt and is looking to set up his final visit to Northwestern soon. Once he takes that trip, a decision should come shortly. The Wildcats have some excellent offensive pieces in this class, but adding Westphal on defense would be an outstanding get. There is a real chance that he'll end up in Evanston, where he would be the second ESPN 300 commit for 2014.

Ohio State
ILB Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County)
6-2, 249
ESPN 300 rank: 14
The Buckeyes will get a chance to put their best foot forward when McMillan comes on an official visit this weekend. He already has taken an official to Georgia and has others lined up for Alabama (Nov. 8), Clemson (Nov. 22) and Florida (Nov. 29). While some think this is a five-team race, many believe it's down to just Clemson and Ohio State, with the Buckeyes still in the lead. Ohio State can do itself a huge favor with a big weekend when McMillan comes to Columbus. The Buckeyes need an inside presence at linebacker to help future potential starting outside linebackers Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson

Penn State
DT Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln)
6-4, 303
ESPN 300 rank: 86
Much like the race for three-star tight end Mike Gesicki (Manahawkin, N.J./Southern Regional), this one appears to be a two-school struggle between Penn State and Ohio State. The Nittany Lions won the fight for Gesicki, but this one appears to be still up in the air. Holley has a lot to take in after seeing Penn State beat Michigan in quadruple overtime and Ohio State knock off Iowa. It appears this one won't be over anytime soon, and it's as close as it comes in terms of a decision.

Purdue
OLB Drue Tranquill (Ft. Wayne, Ind./Carroll)
6-3, 207
ESPN 300 rank: Unranked
Tranquill has committed to the Boilermakers, but they are still in a fight with Notre Dame for the outside linebacker. Tranquill already has visited the Fighting Irish twice this season, including Saturday's 14-10 win over USC. He'll be back in West Lafayette, Ind., on Nov. 2 for Purdue's Big Ten tilt with Ohio State, which currently sits atop the Leaders Division. It could be the last time the Boilermakers get a chance to make an impression on Tranquill, as he would like to make a final decision shortly thereafter.

Wisconsin
RB Joe Mixon (Oakley, Calif./Freedom)
6-1, 209
ESPN 300 rank: 100
Mixon has an official visit to Florida State (Nov. 1) in the works after taking trips to California, Washington, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. He has said it's a two-team race between Oklahoma and Wisconsin, but he could commit to a school to which he hasn't taken an official visit. UCLA is still very much in the picture, and he likes the idea of Alabama and LSU -- probably Florida, as well, if the Gators still like him. That said, the Badgers like their chances with Mixon, and the cutback runner certainly fits their system.