NCF On The Trail: Big Ten

video Josh Sweat, the nation’s No. 1 prospect, has lined up all five of his official visits. Sweat said he turned down more than 50 scholarship offers to focus on Florida State, Georgia, Ohio State, Oregon and Virginia Tech. He also said Texas A&M and Auburn are also still under consideration.

The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings.

Today’s offerings: Josh Sweat was recently promoted to the No. 1 player in the country Insider and it looks like we won’t have to wait too much longer for the five-star defensive end to announce what schools will make the cut for his top five list. Plus, with an addition of another ESPN 300 prospect on Tuesday, Miami’s class continues to climb the charts.

Handling it the right way

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The ESPN 300 has been updated, and we are moving closer and closer to the college football season. Plenty of top prospects are uncommitted but could soon be off the board.

Here are five things to know about the ESPN 300 within the Big Ten.


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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Georgia fans have had to watch rivals Auburn and Alabama crow after recruiting victory after recruiting victory the past few months, but Bulldog fans got a chance to thump their chest some after landing two of the nation’s best 2016 prospects Saturday after its Dawg Night camp. But will those commitments stay true for the long haul? Plus, Penn State’s James Franklin remains hot on the recruiting trial.


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With 10 Big Ten commits in attendance at The Opening, the conference was well represented. Prospects for Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State competed with 153 of their peers.

The Nittany Lions had the most commitments on hand with four, including quarterback Brandon Wimbush, receiver Juwan Johnson, running back Saquon Barkley and defensive lineman Adam McLean.

Wimbush had an outstanding week and turned some heads with his performance. He found himself in the top 11 rankings for the quarterbacks all week and shined in the 7on tournament as well.

McLean hurt his hamstring early on in the event, so he wasn’t able to participate in most of the activities. He did represent the Nittany Lions well, though, with an outstanding haircut. He had Penn State and the logo cut into his hair.

Michigan had linebacker commit Darrin Kirkland Jr. and quarterback Alex Malzone. Both prospects performed well and both had their recruiting hats on too.

Kirkland showed up to the event saying he had his targets on running back Mike Weber, and he had all week to try to convince Weber to join him in Ann Arbor.

The Spartans also had a quarterback on hand with Brian Lewerke participating in the Elite 11. Lewerke had a quiet week, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing with this type of event. Lewerke didn’t make many mistakes and was part of the championship team for the 7on tourney.

Linebacker Justin Hilliard wasn’t so quiet as he made his presence known early, earning a top 15 SPARQ rating and being named to the all-tourney team in the 7on play.

That feat is impressive given the fact that 7-on-7 play isn’t geared towards linebackers and certainly not to 6-foot-2, 230-pound linebackers at that.

Hilliard was joined by fellow Ohio State commits Tyler Green and Jashon Cornell at the event.

It was a good test for the prospects to size up their future competition and gain some experience when they transition to college.
Maryland and Rutgers are entering their first season as members of the Big Ten Conference, and there are plenty of challenges ahead of both programs on the field. Joining the conference also means there will be new roadblocks on the recruiting trail.

Both programs have dealt with Big Ten schools invading their home states, but now that they are conference foes it becomes imperative they land their in-state recruiting targets.

Being able to fight off the competition means knowing who the competition is and the landscape for both programs. Here is a look at what Maryland and Rutgers are up against.


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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: While many people will be enjoying a little time off this week, college coaches chasing five-star linebacker Justin Hilliard and five-star defensive end Jashon Cornell are putting in overtime to convince them to come to their school before both prospects make decisions at 10 a.m. ET Wednesday on ESPN.com. Both players say they want to play together in college, so what are the chances one school ends up 10 stars better Wednesday?


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BRADENTON, Fla. — There were as many as 10 games going on at the same time at the IMG 7v7 National Championship over the weekend, and at times it was difficult to determine just who the top performers were. After all, there were more than 30 prospects in the ESPN 300 who participated. Here's a closer look at several seniors who stood out during the two-day event.

ATH Deon Cain
Committed to Clemson
ESPN 300 rank: 25
Cain helped lead his team, Unsigned Preps from Tampa, to the championship game with several acrobatic catches. The trio of Cain, Ray Ray McCloud III and junior-to-be wide receiver Nate Craig proved to be too much for teams to handle. Cain is solidly committed to Clemson and said he is not considering any other schools at this time.
S Derwin James
Committed to Florida State
ESPN 300 rank: 26
James is known for his physical play, but he showed he is more than just a big hitter. James broke up several passes and just always seemed to be around the ball. Like Cain, he is solid with his commitment, but in this case to the Seminoles.
CB Iman Marshall
Uncommitted
ESPN 300 rank: 20
Marshall played wide receiver and defensive back for his team, B2G, and excelled at both. The four-star prospect teamed with another ESPN 300 receiver, Trent Irwin, to form a dangerous pass-catching combo. Marshall is still narrowing his choices but knows he will take visits in the fall to Florida State and Notre Dame.

Notebook: IMG 7v7 Championship 

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- The IMG 7v7 National Championship held at IMG Academy over the weekend featured some of the top 7-on-7 teams from all over the country and even a few teams from Canada. The event, which included 12 prospects ranked in the top 50 of the ESPN 300, showcased some of the best talent you will find in a single tournament. Led by Alabama verbal commits Calvin Ridley and Shawn Burgess-Becker, the Florida Fire from South Florida defeated Tampa’s Unsigned Preps 20-18 in the championship game to take home the title.

Quarterbacks shine

There were several high-profile quarterbacks in attendance, and they lived up to the hype for the most part. Deondre Francois, who recently transferred to IMG Academy, made numerous impressive throws. The 6-foot-2, 188-pound signal-caller has a top three of Oregon, Auburn and Florida State and is planning to make his decision at the end of July.


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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: There are rivalries, and then there is The Big Game. Michigan and Ohio State are bitter competitors on the football field and also on the recruiting front. So it’s no surprise to see Michigan and Ohio State prospects taking pot shots at each other all the time on social media, and a Michigan Class of 2014 signee was rather talkative over the weekend after earning MVP honors in an all-star game. But it was Ohio State that created one of the biggest recruiting headlines this past weekend.

Future Wolverine fuels rivalry


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The Sound Mind Sound Body camp was full of top prospects from all over the country. The recruits, ranging from the 2015 to 2017 classes, came in for a two-day camp with on-the-field instruction and off-the-field speakers.

College coaches from nearly every Big Ten team, Stanford, Notre Dame and MAC schools were on hand to take in the event, and some were given the opportunity to speak to the prospects.

The coaches took advantage of the face time by spending time with top targets, including defensive end Jashon Cornell, running back Jacques Patrick, wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown and others.

Given the nature of the camp there was plenty of recruiting news and visit updates from those top recruits.

Patrick takes in Michigan
Michigan is still in pursuit of a top running back after losing Damien Harris to a decommitment earlier in the year. Mike Weber and Jacques Patrick have been two big targets, along with Harris, and Patrick made his annual trip up to Michigan to see the campus and take in the camp.


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Unlike other conferences, the Big Ten hasn't taken a formal position on an early signing period.

Many league coaches see the benefits but differ on when such a period would start and how exactly it would work. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and his colleagues will discuss early signing dates at the Conference Commissioners Association meeting this month.

Delany sees pros and cons both to the current national signing date (first Wednesday of February) and the proposed dates for a signing period in late November or December. He doesn't agree with the Aug. 1 signing date recommended by the ACC after its meetings last month.

"We have real, emerging, serious problems in the summertime," Delany told ESPN.com. "Camps, 7-on-7, it's starting to mimic men's basketball's summer, and I don't think that's been particularly healthy. What I think would be best, given that we're working through all the [NCAA] restructuring ... that we take an opportunity to study this and really look at what underlying regulations need to be changed.

"I don't think simply changing the date on a National Letter of Intent works without a fairly deep review."

The discussion about an early signing period in college football is hardly a new one. The American Football Coaches Association in 2008 drafted a proposal for a mid-December signing period, but the commissioners ultimately voted it down.

Since then, recruits are making their verbal commitments earlier and earlier. There is more flipping to different schools, and the number of transfers is rising. Coaches like Maryland's Randy Edsall and Nebraska's Bo Pelini have proposed ways to slow down the recruiting process.

"We know the consequences of what we're doing, and I don't think anybody's comfortable with the babysitting and the flipping and summer environment," Delany said. "I don't want to anything unless we take a real, hard look at football recruitment: what's working and what's not.

"I would be reluctant to jump into any quick fix."

Jabrill Peppers can fly

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Michigan signee Jabrill Peppers ran the 100 meter dash in 10.52 seconds at his state track meet last week. That time would have put him in the top 20 of the NCAA East preliminary round that also took place this past weekend.



The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Peppers beat out 2015 Alabama commit Minkah Fitzpatrick in the race, and he was flying.

Michigan fans are excited to see that kind of speed and size combination in the defensive backfield when Peppers gets to campus in a few weeks. He should be an early contributor, as he is coming in as the No. 2-ranked prospect in the country.
After taking a look at the most recent database of revenues and expenses in college sports, we’re putting the Big Ten under the microscope. Our four-part series -- the rest of which can be found here -- concludes with a look at recruiting expenses and why they've grown.

Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop can still remember sifting through thick stacks of manila recruiting folders in the mid-90s and reaching for a shelf of VHS tapes hanging above his desk.

There were no real recruiting support staffs to speak of. He'd pop a recruit's game tape into a VCR and then ready himself with a notepad. Fast forward, fast forward. There's the recruit. Fast forward, fast forward.

[+] EnlargeClayton Thorson
Tom Hauck for Student SportsDigital and online technologies are helping schools discover prospects like Clayton Thorson earlier and make more educated scholarship offers.
"Recruiting's changed a lot," Shoop told ESPN.com. "Our recruiting staff, they'll cut up tapes for me now. I don't have to sift through hours of recruiting tape anymore. Our interns will hand me 10 clips for a 2016 safety or something like that. You're investing to recruit good people."

As technology has evolved, so has recruiting -- and recruiting budgets. In just the past six seasons, according to a recent analysis from "Outside the Lines," recruiting budgets encompassing all sports have increased at 13 of 14 Big Ten schools and risen by at least 30 percent at eight of those. Higher gas prices, increased postage and other variables have undoubtedly played a role but several coaches and athletic directors also stressed how bigger staffs -- a result of newer technology -- have inflated those numbers.

At Penn State, Shoop can now rely on two full-time staff members, two graduate assistants and a team of 30 students/interns to help with recruiting. At Northwestern, the recruiting staff has tripled in just the last six to eight years. And, at Ohio State, one full-time position was recently added, in part, to help with recruiting presentations.

"Our technology has increased quite a bit," OSU athletic director Gene Smith said. "That's a big number for us."

That technology, such as online game film, has placed a bigger focus on immediacy. In an age where a top prospect's highlights can be filmed today and broken down by college coaches tomorrow, staffs can no longer wait until the offseason to evaluate players. And they can't drop everything on a Friday night in October, either, to give up game plan tweaks in favor of digesting film from a high school junior.

"Your coaches are doing this thing in the football season called coaching," said Chris Bowers, Northwestern's director of player personnel. "The time allocation a position coach would spend in March, he's not going to allocate that same amount of time in December or October. He can't. So, yes, there's been an increase in staff for sure.

"I would say at most universities -- I can't speak for everyone -- the recruiting staff is probably two to three times bigger than it was in '06."

In September of 2012, the Wildcats were able to jump early on the Clayton Thorson bandwagon because of that extra staff and technology. The ESPN 300 quarterback, who signed with Northwestern in February, hadn't started under center prior to 2012.

So, when he was due in Evanston, Ill., for a Saturday night game, Bowers noticed his high school coach uploaded his film to the Hudl website that Friday evening. Bowers contacted a GA, requested he cut-up some highlights -- and then forwarded the finished product to the coaching staff. Thorson received an offer that Saturday, partially based on something that was filmed less than 24 hours before.

And if this had all happened just a few years before, then how long would it have taken to make that same judgment call? Months?

"

You're investing to recruit good people.

" -- Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop
"Yes!" Bowers said. "… Even if you were an aggressive recruiting staff, the high school coaches would still need to bring you a DVD or mail it to you -- and they might not do it until the end of the season."

Nationally, recruiting budgets have risen across the board, so it's hardly limited to the Big Ten. Still, the conference seems to be outpacing the competition. Between 2008 and 2012, Big Ten teams placed within the top-10 nationally in recruiting spending on just five occasions. In 2013, four conference teams (Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska, Penn State) placed within the top 10 -- and Illinois wasn't far behind at No. 12.

But coaches and athletic directors were slow to label last season a turning point. After all, it's not as if the staffs had all doubled overnight. Instead, they cautioned, there were other variables that needed to be taken into account. At Wisconsin, for example, the budget is artificially low because the Badgers are provided a private plane and don't need to charter flights as much. At Iowa, a booster donation wasn't included in the recruiting numbers until a few years ago -- which could account for part of the jump. And at Minnesota, due to the campus location, increased flight and hotel expenses impacted the budget more than schools elsewhere.

"We can't drive as much as others," Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague added. "So we've got to keep building the budget and being aggressive."

Regardless, the trend of spending more on recruiting each season appears to be a difficult one to stop. Whether it's an increased staff or costs elsewhere, few universities take a step back in spending.

But, on the bright side, it could be worse -- at least the era of "Be kind; please rewind" is long gone.

"That required a significant amount of manpower hours," Shoop said with a laugh. "And in some ways, now, it's a pro model. It's not like you have an entire scouting department, but I'm sure we're getting closer to that model now than ever before now, as far as people whose sole responsibility is player evaluation. ... It's incredible how the process has accelerated."

The Big Ten has some excellent individual recruiters within the conference, but individual efforts are only as good as the program as a whole. So which are the top five best recruiting jobs in the Big Ten?

Here is a look at the list, and why each team ranks where they do.

1. Ohio State

Proximity to out-of-state talent: Geographically, Ohio State is in a good spot. It’s only a few hours from Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. It also isn’t too far from Illinois, so the campus is easily accessible for most Midwest prospects. That doesn’t always matter with Ohio State, though, as the Buckeyes typically have a lot of in-state talent and are recruiting the South heavily.


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