Ohio State Buckeyes: Johnnie Dixon
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Kenny from Cincy writes: I was comparing on-the-field accomplishments of the past two Ohio State QBs and I feel like Terrelle Pryor has had a better career (you know, despite crippling the program the next year but I feel like most in Buckeye land have forgiven him). Pryor: 3 Big Ten championships, a Rose Bowl win, and a Sugar Bowl win over a SEC team in three years (I know the games were vacated, but it did happen). Braxton Miller: 0-2 in bowls and 0 Big Ten championships, but two Silver Footballs and 24 wins in a row are nice. My question is, due to the expectations that QBs like Troy Smith and Pryor elevated, do you think Miller has to win a Big Ten championship or more this year or will the Braxton Miller years be seen as a failure in Buckeyes fans' eyes?
Adam Rittenberg: Kenny, this is a really interesting debate regarding each quarterback's legacy. There's no doubt Miller has accomplished more individually than Pryor. He could be the first Big Ten player to win three offensive player of the year awards. He likely would have won a Big Ten championship in 2012 if Ohio State had been eligible for postseason play, but when you look at macro team accomplishments -- league titles and BCS bowl wins -- Pryor definitely gets the edge. He likely was an ill-timed blitz away from having a third BCS bowl win in the 2009 Fiesta Bowl against Texas. One big difference is Pryor played on teams with much better defenses. Miller had several reasons to return for his senior season, and winning a Big Ten title certainly is one of them.
Adam Rittenberg: Joe, I hear you and it definitely increases the likelihood of a rematch in the Big Ten championship, but I also see the league's viewpoint. It wants a greater schedule rotation to enhance your product week after week. It wants players to face every league team at least once in a four-year period. I also think it's tricky to demand another quality nonleague game in place of the ninth Big Ten contest. Some schools would step up, but you need teams from other power conferences to play ball, too, which is no guarantee. I also think some schools would schedule cupcakes. Bowl committees rarely care about strength of schedule.
Adam Rittenberg: Joe, I'm very impressed with James Franklin's staff. They're very sharp guys who know how to keep the energy level high and relate well to a group of new players. Everyone knows that Franklin operates in fifth gear, but his assistants do, too, and there's tremendous cohesion with the staff. It would have been much harder if the staff lacked familiarity as it tried to get to know the players. My big takeaway: Penn State's defense is much further along than the offense, and the Lions likely will need to win low-scoring games this fall. Coordinator Bob Shoop has a good plan and inherits some good pieces. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg is a once-in-a-generation type quarterback, but he'll face more pressure this year because of the issues with the offensive line.
Adam Rittenberg: Kevin, it's a good point to raise, especially because I think Michigan State is being overlooked heading into 2014 just because it hasn't been a traditional power. You hear a lot about Ohio State making a run for the College Football Playoff, but Michigan State dominated the Big Ten last year (nine wins by 10 or more points), won the Rose Bowl and brings back quarterback Connor Cook and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, among others. Wisconsin has gained national respect in the past 20-plus years, but the Badgers also recently lost three consecutive Rose Bowls, which hurt their cause. Iowa has had its moments but lacks the consistency of Wisconsin. Michigan State, meanwhile, really has it rolling under Mark Dantonio. At some point, the Spartans need to be viewed as elite for what's happening now, not in the past.
Adam Rittenberg: There are potentially quite a few this year, Charlie. Early enrollees have an advantage, so keep an eye on players such as Ohio State LB Raekwon McMillan, Michigan WR Freddy Canteen, Ohio State WR Johnnie Dixon and Penn State WR De'Andre Thompkins. Other potential impact recruits arriving in the summer include Michigan CB Jabrill Peppers (the Big Ten's top-rated recruit in the 2014 class), Illinois DE Jihad Ward (junior college transfer), Minnesota RB Jeff Jones and Michigan State DT Malik McDowell, whom Mark Dantonio gushed about Wednesday after he finally signed.
A different number made for a decent disguise. The blinding speed, though, was a dead giveaway.
Dontre Wilson reported for spring practice with a new digit on his jersey, bumping up from No. 1 to No. 2 as part of his new look for camp at Ohio State as he tries to build on a solid debut season as a hybrid weapon in the spread offense. His first season might not have been quite as spectacular as anticipated, given the way he wowed his teammates and the coaching staff during training camp as a freshman, but it still provided glimpses of what he’s capable of doing as both a rusher and receiver thanks to his incredible natural ability.
Based on the early returns during the first week of camp, it appears the Buckeyes are intent on getting Wilson involved more frequently as a receiver, and he was almost impossible to defend on the perimeter during team drills during the open practice last week.
Wilson isn’t the only blossoming threat on a roster who has been successfully acquiring the kind of speed Meyer craves to run his system, and redshirt freshman Jalin Marshall and early enrollee Johnnie Dixon both look like legitimate options for the Buckeyes as they look to take the passing game to a higher level with some new faces involved.
A familiar one is still around to lead the way, and Devin Smith is still the safe bet to be Braxton Miller’s top receiver. But Wilson is already building a compelling case to become a more frequent target in the passing game, and it probably won’t take long for Miller or the healthy quarterbacks this spring to get used to looking for No. 2.
Illinois:The Illini might not be exceptional in the kicking game, but they're in better shape than they were when coach Tim Beckman arrived. Punter Justin DuVernois returns after a solid junior season, while Taylor Zalewski looks for a bit more consistency in his second full season as the placekicker. Zalewski made 12 of 17 field-goal attempts last fall. The return game is the real plus, as V'Angelo Bentley provides a major threat, especially on punt returns.
Indiana: Like Illinois, Indiana brings back a dynamic returner in Shane Wynn, who averaged 14 yards on punt run-backs despite limited work. Punter Erich Toth also is back for his third season as the starter. Toth placed 18 of 52 attempts inside the opponent's 20-yard line. IU suffers a big loss at kicker as Mitch Ewald, the team's career field goals and field-goal percentage leader, departs. Aaron Del Grosso and Griffin Oakes will compete at kicker, and Jake Shake (shake and bake!) could enter the mix this summer.
Iowa: Here's another Big Ten team that looks very strong on returns, as Iowa boasts the Big Ten's most dynamic tandem in Kevonte Martin-Manley (punts) and Jordan Cotton (kickoffs). Martin-Manley had two punt-return touchdowns in 2013. Punter Connor Kornbrath ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten in average, but placed 27 of 65 attempts inside the opponent's 20. Iowa loses kicker Mike Meyer, a four-year starter. Junior Marshall Koehn seems likely to step up, but could be pushed by incoming freshman Mick Ellis and others.
Maryland: Notice a theme so far? Most Big Ten teams are strong in the return game, and Maryland is no exception. If Stefon Diggs returns at full strength from his leg injury, he'll be a dangerous man with punts and kickoffs in his hands. Will Likely performed extremely well in Diggs' spot, averaging 26 yards on kickoff returns and 12.8 yards on punt returns. Maryland brings back an excellent kicker in Brad Craddock (21-for-25 on field goals last year), and punter Nathan Renfro enters his third season as the starter.
Michigan: Matt Wile has done a bit of everything for Michigan, but could settle into the starting placekicker role this fall. Wile handled kicking duties late last season and also served as Michigan's punter after Will Hagerup was suspended for the season. Hagerup, the Big Ten's punter of the year in 2012, will reclaim the role if he can avoid off-field problems that have surfaced throughout his career. Wile then could focus on kicking, as Kenny Allen is the only other option there. Michigan is still waiting for big things from kick returner Dennis Norfleet and must find someone to handle punts. Top recruit Jabrill Peppers could help.
Michigan State: Special teams once again should be a strength for MSU, which returns All-Big Ten punter Mike Sadler, a Ray Guy award semifinalist who will contend for All-America honors in 2014. Kicker Michael Geiger also is back after connecting on 15 of 16 field-goal attempts as a true freshman. Macgarrett Kings Jr. and Andre Sims Jr. both put up good numbers on punt returns. Michigan State had by far the fewest kick returns (18) in the Big Ten last year and will look for a boost from R.J. Shelton and others.
Minnesota: After an above-average year on special teams in 2013, Minnesota again should be good in the third phase. Punter Peter Mortell didn't get as many accolades as Sadler or Purdue's Cody Webster, but he had an excellent sophomore season, averaging 43.3 yards per attempt with 15 of 50 yards or longer. Marcus Jones is a major threat on returns after bringing back both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns last fall. Redshirt freshman kickers Ryan Santoso and Andrew Harte will compete as the Gophers lose Chris Hawthorne.
Nebraska: The Huskers are looking for some upgrades on special teams, particularly on punt returns, as Nebraska ranked 123rd in the FBS last fall. Primary returner Jordan Westerkamp is back, but he'll face some competition. Nebraska brings back punter Sam Foltz, who had a solid freshman season, averaging 41.6 yards per boot. Mauro Bondi is set to step in at kicker as Pat Smith departs. If Bondi struggles, incoming freshman Kris Brown could get a look this summer. Kenny Bell, who led the Big Ten in kick return average (26.5 yards per return), is back.
Northwestern: The Wildcats lose a huge piece in Jeff Budzien, named the Big Ten's top kicker in each of his final two seasons. Hunter Niswander can handle both kickoffs and punts but seems likely to slide into Budzien's spot. Northwestern's punting was a mess in 2013, ranking 118th nationally in net average (33.2 ypp). Brandon Williams departs and Chris Gradone or Niswander will take over. The big news is Northwestern brings back Venric Mark , an All-America punt returner in 2012. Primary kick returner Matt Harris is back after a solid freshman season.
Ohio State: Aussie, Aussie, Aussie. Indeed, the Aussie is back at punter as Cameron Johnston returns after an excellent debut season (I refuse to call a 21-year-old a freshman). Ohio State hopes for similar results from another first-year specialist in kicker Sean Nuernberger, an early enrollee expected to step in for the departing Drew Basil. Sophomore Dontre Wilson will continue to have a big role on returns after handling kickoffs last year. Ohio State must replace Corey Brown on punt returns and could look to redshirt freshman Jalin Marshall or true freshmen Curtis Samuel and Johnnie Dixon.
Penn State: The kicking game continues to be an area of concern.Sam Ficken owns the team record for consecutive field goals (15) and started strong last season but ended with just 15 of 23 conversions, including four misses inside 40 yards. Penn State needs a new punter after losing Alex Butterworth, and will turn to Chris Gulla. Jesse Della Valle did a good job on punt returns, but Penn State needs a boost on kickoffs after finishing last in the league (19.1 yards per return). The Lions could stick with Geno Lewis or look for a newcomer such as De'Andre Thompkins to emerge. PSU also must shore up its coverage units.
Purdue: As if the Boilers didn't have enough to address on offense and defense, the kicking game needs attention. Punter Cody Webster finished his spectacular career with All-America honors, and the Boilers finished second nationally in net punting (41.7 yards per punt). Incoming freshman Austin McGehee will take over for Webster. Paul Griggs and Thomas Meadows continue to work at kicker, as Griggs made only 50 percent of his attempts (6 of 12) last season. The kick return game is strong with Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert, but Purdue must replace punt returner Ricardo Allen. B.J. Knauf could be a good fit there.
Rutgers: The kicking game historically is a strength for Rutgers, which has a knack for blocking kicks and pulling off fakes. Rutgers loses a productive piece in punter Nick Marsh, who also handled kickoffs. The Scarlet Knights will turn to Joseph Roth as their replacement. Kicker Kyle Federico finished the season well, particularly in the Pinstripe Bowl, and returns for his junior season. Rutgers has a major weapon on returns in Janarion Grant, who brought back both a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown during his freshman season.
Wisconsin: The kicking game has held back Wisconsin in the past, so it's definitely an area to watch during the offseason. Kicker Jack Russell converted 9 of 13 field-goal attempts after taking over for Kyle French. He'll try to hold off incoming freshman Rafael Gaglianone. Andrew Endicott, who handled kickoffs last fall, also returns. Wisconsin is looking for more from punter Drew Meyer, who averaged just 38.6 yards per attempt in 2013. Top returner Kenzel Doe is back and should handle both punts and kickoffs, although Wisconsin could look to others for help, such as newcomers Serge Trezy and Natrell Jamerson.
More position breakdowns
After going down to the wire with one of his most important targets, the Ohio State coach made it clear that the one he was sporting on signing day on Wednesday was genuine and not the fake one he thought he might need if Jamarco Jones spurned his program.
Instead Jones delivered some good news on the phone, and the rest of the committed recruits all faxed in signatures without incident, Ohio State tacked on one unexpected addition and Meyer didn't need to force any grins after again putting together the best class in the Big Ten.
Missing out on Jones after he flirted late in the process with Michigan State might have changed Meyer's tune, though there still would have been plenty of talent coming to campus even if the talented offensive lineman hadn't decided to stick with his pledge to the Buckeyes.
But in the end, Meyer had little to complain about after putting the finishing touches on his third batch of signees with Ohio State. Now the real work begins for the Buckeyes, but not before taking a look at what they accomplished on national signing day.
Biggest need filled: Offensive line
- The Buckeyes notably came up short on the recruiting trail last year in an effort to add depth to the offensive line, and with four senior starters departing after the Orange Bowl, they couldn't afford to miss out on big bodies again. Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman got exactly what they needed to bolster that critical position group, and they're expecting at least two of the five linemen they signed this year to at least be in the two-deep by the fall. Kyle Trout and Marcelys Jones are already on campus, but it was Jamarco Jones who drew the most mentions from Meyer on Wednesday and was hailed as the make-or-break player in the class. Throw in Demetrius Knox and Brady Taylor and the future should be in good shape again up front.
- Around noon, Meyer left the door open to potentially add one more player to the class, despite coming up short in a head-to-head battle with Michigan State for Malik McDowell and already having signed letters from the rest of the anticipated class. A couple hours later, Meyer once again unveiled a late surprise, swooping in for defensive lineman Darius Slade, a 6-foot-5, 240-pounder who had been committed to the Spartans before his change of heart. Meyer gave all the credit to new defensive line coach Larry Johnson for that final addition, and an already deep, talented group added one more talented piece.
- The crown jewel of the class was already on campus for the Buckeyes, and after catching a glimpse of Raekwon McMillan working out on Wednesday morning, Meyer suggested he could easily be confused with an upperclassmen given how mature he already appears physically. But he's not the only linebacker Meyer is counting on to lend a hand as quickly as possible at the thinnest position on the roster, and the other three options all seem to be just as appealing for the Buckeyes. Sam Hubbard, Dante Booker Jr. and Kyle Berger won't have the benefit of going through spring practice like McMillan, but the foursome collectively had praise heaped on them -- and Meyer vowed there were "no redshirt plans for those players at all."
- The handy guide for predicting the likelihood of a freshman making a big splash, per Herman: The further away a player lines up from the snap, the better the chances. Given both the need for more playmakers on the perimeter and the speedy guys they signed, the search for new Buckeyes who might leave the biggest mark this fall starts with the wide receivers and another potential hybrid weapon. Noah Brown, Parris Campbell Jr., Johnnie Dixon and Terry McLaurin all bring the kind of game-changing athleticism Ohio State covets so desperately, and there should be playing time to be had at receiver. But it's the dual threat Curtis Samuel could pose as both a target in the passing game and as a rusher that really seemed to have the coaching staff fired up, and like Dontre Wilson a year ago, he could become a factor in a hurry.
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?
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.
Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County). This is a significant area of need, maybe even the most thin group on their roster, so McMillan will be involved from the get-go. McMillan, who has already enrolled at Ohio State, is the type of player who is physical and mentally prepared for the jump to the next level. He’s a rugged, inside thumper who will be able to set the tone and he also has some leadership qualities that stand out. I wouldn’t be surprised to see wide receiver Johnnie Dixon (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla./Dwyer) get in the mix on offense, as he adds an explosive element to their skill positions that is needed as well.
But no spot matches up a pressing need with an elite newcomer quite the way five-star linebacker Raekwon McMillan does, and his official confirmation as a member of the program looms largest out of a group of seven unveiled by the Buckeyes on Friday.
Having the No. 1 inside linebacker in the ESPN 300 on campus in time for that competition should be a benefit, particularly if it allows McMillan to get a jump on a transition that can be difficult at his position as the coaches try to find a way to tap into a combination of size and speed that made him so coveted as a recruit.
He's not alone in bringing impressive measurable athleticism to Urban Meyer's third recruiting class, and McMillan isn't the only one of the early enrollees who the Buckeyes could find a use for quickly. Offensive linemen Marcelys Jones and Kyle Trout might find their way into the two-deep chart quickly. Wide receiver Johnnie Dixon and hybrid Curtis Samuel don't have many veteran players to try to hurdle for playing time. Kicker Sean Nuernberger could leave camp with the starting job. Quarterback Stephen Collier has generated excitement from the staff as well, but Braxton Miller is back along with two other quarterbacks, and that depth will allow him some time to develop.
McMillan probably won't have that same luxury, though Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson both were brought along slowly by the Buckeyes after their heralded signings a year ago. Now that McMillan has officially arrived, the Buckeyes can judge for themselves how long it will take to get him and the rest of the newcomers on the field.
But at least for the moment, McMillan's reputation and Ohio State's needs appear to match up perfectly.
Raekwon McMillan, ILB, Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County
HT: 6-foot-2 WT: 249 pounds
Position rank: No. 1
ESPN 300: No. 13
Johnnie Dixon, WR, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla./Dwyer
HT: 5-11 WT: 197
Position rank: No. 5
ESPN 300: No. 34
Curtis Samuel, ATH, Brooklyn, N.Y./Erasmus
HT: 5-11 WT: 186
Position rank: No. 20
ESPN 300: No. 153
Kyle Trout , OT, Lancaster, Ohio/Lancaster
HT: 6-6 WT: 301
Position rank: No. 26
Marcelys Jones, OT, Cleveland/Glenville
HT: 6-4 WT: 325
Position rank: No. 49
Sean Nuernberger, K, Buckner, Ky./Oldham County
HT: 6-2 WT: 220
Position rank: No. 9
Stephen Collier, QB-PP, Leesburg, Ga./Lee County
HT: 6-3 WT: 205
Position rank: No. 41
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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There are plenty of players leaving after this season, but Ohio State’s recruiting class will help fill a few holes.
Key losses: OL Jack Mewhort, OL Andrew Norwell, OL Corey Linsley, OL Marcus Hall, RB Carlos Hyde, RB Jordan Hall, WR Philly Brown, DB Corey Brown, DB C.J. Barnett, DB Bradley Roby, K Drew Basil.
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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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The Big Ten was on fire after landing eight commitments this week. Based on that, here was sure to be movement in the class rankings so here is a look at how the Big Ten stacks up.
To say it has been a good week for Ohio State would be an understatement. The Buckeyes landed two top-50 prospects in the 2014 class with linebacker Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County) and receiver Johnnie Dixon (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla./Dwyer).
Ohio State had already moved up to the No. 8 class in the country, and it is now sitting with the No. 5 class overall after the outstanding additions.
Purdue also needs some recognition as the Boilermakers have landed nine commitments in the month of December. Defensive back Ladarius Wiley (Los Angeles/Cathedral) is one of the most recent, and he could end up being a steal for Purdue.
The Boilermakers quickly went from having very few commitments to only having one spot remaining in their class.
Penn State is another team who rose in the rankings, moving up to No 24 from 26 with the addition of ESPN 300 defensive tackle Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln).
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Baker’s recruitment heats up
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Coach Bill O’Brien at Penn State was first to unwrap his present when No. 87-ranked Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln), the nation’s No. 7 defensive tackle, committed to the Nittany Lions early Tuesday morning.
Holley had been leaning for a while toward the Nittany Lions over Ohio State, Florida and around 30 other scholarship offers, and his pickup was important.
O’Brien has talked at length about adding more depth along the defensive line, and Holley is the type of impact player who could help Penn State become instantly better. With Penn State losing defensive tackles DaQuan Jones and Kyle Baublitz, it was important to land Holley. That’s why O’Brien pulled out all the stops to get him, including making an appearance at Yankee Stadium for Lincoln's 28-27 win over Tottenville in the PSAL City Conference Championship on Dec. 10.
Later in the afternoon, it was coach Les Miles’ turn to get a new toy as Clifton Garrett (Plainfield, Ill./South), the nation’s No. 3 inside linebacker, announced he was heading to LSU. Garrett, who is ranked No. 37 in the ESPN 300, also visited Florida, Tennessee and Ole Miss and was offered by virtually every school in the nation. He became enamored with the Bayou Bengals’ vaunted defense.
The addition of Garrett was key for the Tigers because inside linebacker was one of the few areas of need it hadn’t addressed yet with their 2014 class. LSU does have four-star prospect Donnie Alexander (New Orleans/Edna Karr) already on board, but he projects as an outside linebacker on the next level. If you review his scouting report, it reads like Garrett was meant to play in the LSU defense.
Tennessee certainly would have liked to have Garrett in its class as it continues to overhaul its roster. But the Vols already have commitments from eight other prospects projected at the linebacker spot, including No. 10 inside linebacker Gavin Bryant (Jackson, Ala./Jackson). Garrett wasn’t going to make or break Tennessee's class. Ole Miss is also not fretting too much missing out on Garrett, because the Rebels are also deep with commitments at the position and No. 1 junior college linebacker Christian Russell out of East Mississippi Community College should be a star in Oxford.
It wasn’t Santa Claus who delivered Urban Meyer’s present on Tuesday, it was the nation’s No. 4 receiver Johnnie Dixon (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla./Dwyer). Dixon, who is ranked No. 39 in the ESPN 300, was the center of one of the nation’s most intense recruiting battles between Alabama, Ohio State and Miami.
It’s not often you see a prospect turn down Alabama, and there was tremendous pressure on Dixon to stay local and play for the Canes, but in the end, he thought he was the best fit in the Ohio State offense.
Dixon is right. His game -- highlighted by polished route running ability and the strength to out muscle defenders -- complements Buckeyes receivers Devin Smith, Evan Spencer and Michael Thomas, who are coming back in 2014.
For Ohio State, it was the second day in a row it landed an elite player from the South. Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County), the nation's top linebacker and the No. 12 overall recruit, committed to Ohio State on Monday afternoon.
Alabama put the full-court press on Dixon because he would have been a nice complement to already-committed receivers Cameron Sims (Monroe, La./Ouachita Parish) and Derek Kief (Cincinnati/La Salle). But the cupboard isn’t exactly bare in Tuscaloosa and four-star Travis Rudolph (West Palm Beach, Fla./Cardinal Newman) is still on the target board.
Miami has four receivers committed so far, but none of them are the home run that Dixon is. Yes, Darrell Langham (Lantana, Fla./Santaluces) and Braxton Berrios (Raleigh, N.C./Leesville Road) are quality receivers and will add needed depth at the position, but Dixon is the type of player from South Florida you just can’t let get away.
You can never have too many pass-rushing defensive ends in the SEC, which is why Steve Spurrier surely was elated with the gift of Dante Sawyer (Suwanee, Ga./North Gwinnett), the nation’s No. 9 defensive end. Sawyer committed to the Gamecocks on Tuesday, giving them a much-needed boost from a need that hadn’t been filled yet.
With South Carolina having few scholarships available for its 2014 class, there’s not a lot of room for swings and misses, so it was vital for the Gamecocks to make sure they got their guy at the position. With Jadeveon Clowney likely bolting for the NFL and Chaz Sutton graduating, there’s gaping holes at both defensive end spots and Sawyer, the No. 91 player overall, has the talent to step in and compete with other younger players like Gerald Dixon, Mason Harris and Darius English to fill the spots.
Missouri finished runner-up for Sawyer, and landing him would have sent a significant message to the rest of the SEC that the Tigers are now major players for the top talent in the region. In reality, they already are, even with the miss. The Tigers have pledges from nine players in Florida and Georgia, and that trend is only going to continue to tick upward after the success of the 2013 season.
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