NCF On The Trail: Illinois Fighting Illini

Big Ten's top recruiting visits 

September, 19, 2014
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There aren’t many big, exciting home games for the Big Ten this week, but the few that are playing at home are making the most of it. Nebraska, Illinois and Michigan will all have big recruiting visitors for their game.

Here is a look at who is visiting and why they’re important.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- It was just two years ago that current Ohio State star freshman Joey Bosa was a top national prospect coming out of St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale.

Now there is another budding star at the high school that produced three 2014 NFL draft picks, and the last name remains the same.

Class of 2016 defensive lineman Nick Bosa has been a standout the past two years for the Raiders, and like many who have come before him at the talent-rich school, he will be a national recruit with a quickly growing offer list.


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The state of Florida has always been known for producing some of the top athletes in the country. The term "athlete" is sometimes looked at as a negative term, but it really means our scouts believe these talented prospects could play more than one position in college. Here is a closer look at some of the top athletes from the Sunshine State in the 2015 class.

ESPN 300 athletes from Florida

No. 8 Torrance Gibson: Gibson is a skilled athlete who can make plays on offense. The five-star athlete led his high school, Plantation American Heritage, to the state championship game. In the game, he had a touchdown run of 80 yards and also a long touchdown pass that was among the "SportsCenter" Top 10 plays. He wants to play quarterback on the next level, but he’s the most talented wide receiver on his South Florida Express 7-on-7 team. Whatever position he chooses, Gibson has a bright future ahead of him.


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The Big Ten is rich and getting richer in the coming years. So how is the investment translating with football programs?

Not surprisingly, recruiting expenses are on the rise throughout the league. The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette's Scott Dochterman recently outlined Big Ten recruiting costs for the last three fiscal years, which shows that the league's 11 publics schools spent $6.47 million in recruiting in FY 2013, up from $4.1 million in FY 2011. Northwestern, a private institution, does not have to publicly report its expenses.

What stands out about these numbers?
  • Nebraska has spent more on recruiting than any Big Ten team in the past two seasons: $818,509 in 2013 and $752,681 in 2012. Bo Pelini's program is trying to boost its presence in Big Ten territory, maintain a presence in Texas and California, and scoop up prospects from the fertile Southeast. That costs money, and Nebraska's geography doesn't help.
  • Illinois is second in recruiting expenses for the second consecutive year, devoting $791,972 in FY 2013. I'll say this for Illinois: It invests enough in football. The program shelled out for former coordinators Paul Petrino and Vic Koenning. Tim Beckman shouldn't complain about his recruiting budget. But the investment needs to start showing returns very soon.
  • If asked which Big Ten school spends the least on recruiting, few folks likely would select Wisconsin. Like Nebraska, Wisconsin faces geographical challenges in recruiting and, under former coach Bret Bielema, ramped up its efforts in Florida for players such as James White and Aaron Henry. But these numbers show Wisconsin spent by far the least on recruiting in FY 2013 ($256,967) and, unlike other Big Ten programs, hasn't had dramatic increases the past two years. Assistant salaries were an issue for Bielema, who lost quite a few top aides in his final two seasons. I wonder how the recruiting budget impacted his decision to leave for Arkansas, and how the investment could change for coach Gary Andersen.
  • Penn State has had the biggest increases in recruiting investment, going from $258,800 in FY 2011 -- the second-lowest total in the league -- to $443,022 in FY 2012 and then to $736,739 in FY 2013, the third-highest total in the league. The program spent much more under Bill O'Brien than it did during the end of the Joe Paterno era, and the investment should continue to increase under James Franklin, one of the more aggressive recruiters in the country.
  • Although Ohio State spent about $200,000 more on recruiting in FY 2013 than FY 2012, the Buckeyes are in the bottom half of the league in expenses. Geography is a big reason, as they don't have to travel nearly as far as other league programs to scout some of the top players in the Big Ten region.
  • It's interesting that Michigan's recruiting costs actually went down from FY 2011 to FY 2012 before going up to $664,492 in FY 2013. The Wolverines signed top-10 recruiting classes in 2012 and 2013.

A lot of interesting numbers here. Recruiting costs will continue to rise around the FBS, and it will be interesting to see which Big Ten teams invest more in non-coaching, recruiting-specific staff. Programs in other leagues -- cough, SEC, cough -- have been on hiring sprees, causing a lot of national discussion about limiting staff size.
CLIFTON, Va. -- Five-star defensive tackle Tim Settle, No. 10 in the ESPN 300, will not be making an early commitment, that much has been known from the start. What is also known about Settle is that he intends to go through the entire process and take all five of his official visits.

What wasn’t known is that Settle has started to think about what schools will make the cut.

“I’m going to trim it down in August to 14,” said Settle, who earned an invitation to The Opening Saturday after a stellar performance at the Nike Football Training Camp at Centreville High School in Clifton, Va. “The reason I’m going to trim it down in August is two-a-days and getting ready for the season. I don’t want a lot of pressure on me. I just want to play and have fun my senior season.


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SUGAR HILL, Ga. -- With the world’s busiest airport down the road, quarterbacks from across the country flocked to the Atlanta Elite 11 regional camp on Friday at Gary Pirkle Park, including several highly regarded passers from outside the Southeast.

Part of that group was Indianapolis Decatur Central’s Tommy Stevens. The 6-foot-4, 190-pound Stevens traveled more than 500 miles, but it was worth every mile because he proved he has the tools to compete with the best of the best.


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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Monday’s offerings: After a few weeks to recover from the holiday that was signing day, it’s always interesting to analyze the data to get a better understanding of what really happened. This past Friday, I took a look at the teams that saw the biggest gains from 2013 to 2014. But what were some of the teams that were on the other end of the spectrum?

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More than 250 players signed with Big Ten football programs last Wednesday. That got me to thinking: Where is all the talent coming from?

I analyzed every team's class and the hometowns of each signee to figure out which states produced the most Big Ten 2014 recruits. That yielded a list of 17 states from which Big Ten schools landed at least three players in this year's class. Some thoughts on the results:
  • Not surprisingly, Ohio leads the way with 37 signees. The Buckeye State has long been the main feeding ground for Big Ten schools. Every team except Iowa and Nebraska had at least one signee from Ohio, while Ohio State led the way with nine. Indiana was next with six.
  • Another expected result was that Florida finished second among the states producing signees, with 27. The Sunshine State is so talent-rich that it's almost impossible not to recruit there, even if Big Ten schools aren't always getting the top players out of the state. Wisconsin had more Florida signees than any Big Ten school with seven. Northwestern and Minnesota were the only schools not to sign a Florida player this year.
  • Illinois had 26 signees, and it was the only state to produce a signee for all 12 Big Ten schools. Tim Beckman's Illini signed five home-state players, while Northwestern, Penn State and Michigan State reeled in four apiece.
  • Georgia was also a popular place for Big Ten coaches, as 17 signees hail from the Peach State. Indiana remained active in Georgia, signing five players from there. Who says SEC country is off limits for the Big Ten? Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Louisiana combined to produce 29 Big Ten recruits this year.
  • Texas ranked fifth with 16 signees, and a quarter of them went to Nebraska. Texas and California are two huge recruiting pipelines, but the Big Ten landed only three players out of the Golden State.
  • Talent varies from year to year, but I was surprised to see only 15 Big Ten signees from Michigan. Of those, nine went to either Michigan State or Michigan. Pennsylvania, another traditional Big Ten hotbed, produced only nine league recruits, with a third of them staying home to go to Penn State.
  • Just how important are the additions of Rutgers and Maryland to Big Ten recruiting? Big Ten schools signed 14 players out of New Jersey and New York combined, and 19 out of Maryland/Virginia/Washington, D.C. You can probably expect those numbers to increase in the future.
  • Speaking of Maryland and Rutgers, I didn't include the new schools in this study. Rutgers made hay in New Jersey (eight signees) and Florida (seven), while Maryland signed seven players out of its own state and D.C. The two schools also combined to bring in five players from Pennsylvania.
  • Minnesota produced eight recruits, and all eight signed with the Gophers. Similarly, all five Iowa prospects cast their lot with the Hawkeyes, and eight of the nine Indiana signees went to either Purdue or the Hoosiers.

Top 2015 targets: Big Ten 

February, 6, 2014
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Now that the 2014 class is wrapped up, it's time to shift our attention to 2015 prospects. Big Ten programs have had plenty of success already with the rising seniors, but there are some major targets a lot of teams will battle for within the conference.

Here is a look at the top five targets within the Big Ten.


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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.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

February, 3, 2014
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The final weekend before signing day saw a lot of movement within the Big Ten. Here is a look at what took place on the recruiting trail over the weekend.

Biggest commitment: Nebraska went on a frenzy this past weekend, landing six total commitments. The biggest came from ESPN Junior 300 defensive back Eric Lee (Highlands Ranch, Colo./Valor Christian), the No. 217 prospect, and ESPN Junior 300 athlete Avery Anderson (Colorado Springs, Colo./Pine Creek), ranked No. 235 in his class.


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Key recruiting visits - Big Ten 

January, 31, 2014
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The last visit weekend before signing day and there are some big visits scheduled within the Big Ten.

Here is a look at some of the more important trips scheduled within the conference.

1. OL Jamarco Jones (Chicago/De La Salle)
Visiting: Michigan State



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Most important targets: Big Ten 

January, 28, 2014
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There is limited time left for programs to secure their top targets before signing day. With last efforts being finalized, Big Ten teams are still scrambling to finish out the classes.

Here is a look at some of the most important targets remaining within the conference.


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ESPN 300 commit sticking with Kansas 

January, 21, 2014
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An official visit just before signing day had Charlie Weis sweating, but he can now rejoice as he will hold on to one of the highest-rated commitments of his Kansas tenure.


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Recruiting notebook: Core 6 Showcase 

January, 21, 2014
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CHICAGO -- Some of the top prospects in Illinois and the Midwest were in Chicago on Monday for the Core 6 Showcase. The event featured some of the top junior, sophomore and even freshman recruits from all over.


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