NCF On The Trail: Nebraska Cornhuskers

By now, you've surely seen the Ultimate ESPN 300, a list of the 300 most impactful players based on both high school and college production since 2006. The list considered players whom ESPN evaluated at both levels, so while not all 300 players were highly rated in high school, they were all somewhat known commodities.

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.

Thursday's roundtable topic: Which Big Ten player not on the list is the most egregious omission?

Brian Bennett: Kirk Cousins, Michigan State quarterback (2008-11)

You can't blame ESPN Recruiting too much for missing out on Cousins. Before he signed with Michigan State, after all, some of his best other options were with schools like Northern Illinois, Western Michigan and Toledo. He looked kind of scrawny.

Yet Cousins finished his career as the all-time winningest quarterback in Spartans history, going 27-12 overall and 22-5 in his final two seasons. He also holds the school records for passing yards (9,131) and passing touchdowns (66) while being an exemplary leader on and off the field. Cousins has proved himself as a solid quarterback in the NFL as well. So while he may not have had the most stellar reviews coming out of high school, his college production demands complete respect. Michigan State should have more players in the Ultimate 300, anyway, and Cousins belongs in there.

Adam Rittenberg: Ricky Stanzi, Iowa quarterback (2006-10)

Perhaps more than any other Big Ten program, Iowa has taken the overlooked and developed them into overachievers at the college level. It's not surprising that the Hawkeyes, despite only one losing season during the targeted time period, have just one player in the Ultimate 300 (offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga, No. 117). There are several options of omitted Hawkeyes, including defensive end Adrian Clayborn, a first-round draft pick in 2011. But my pick is Stanzi, who engineered Iowa's rise at the end of the 2008 season and into 2009, when the Hawkeyes went 11-2 and won the Orange Bowl, falling just shy of a Big Ten title.

Rated as No. 76 quarterback in the 2006 class by ESPN Recruiting Nation, Stanzi went 26-9 as Iowa's starter and set a team record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass (21). The two-time captain became the first Iowa quarterback and just the third Big Ten quarterback to win three bowl games. He's also a damn fine American. Anyone who disagrees with the selection is just an America-hating hippie doing nothing on the Ped Mall. So Stanzi is my pick -- love it or leave it.

Mitch Sherman: Lavonte David, Nebraska linebacker (2010-11)

David sits one notch below Ndamukong Suh, ineligible for the Ultimate 300 as a 2005 high school graduate, on the list of greatest defensive players in the Bo Pelini era at Nebraska. In his lone year of Big Ten play, David earned first-team All-America honors and was named the Butkus-Fitzgerald Big Ten linebacker of the year. He was unranked out of high school because of academic issues but well known as a star among a dominant Miami Northwestern team that included linebacker Sean Spence (No. 125).

Others who attended David’s high school include Amari Cooper (No. 18) and Teddy Bridgewater (No. 82), though David is arguably the most accomplished of the group as a first-team All-Pro pick for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2013. At Nebraska, after transferring from junior college -- where he again went relatively underappreciated -- David recorded two of the five highest single-season tackle totals in school history.

Among his many memorable moments in 2011, David stripped Ohio State freshman quarterback Braxton Miller (No. 115) to spark the largest comeback win in Nebraska history.

 
The Ultimate ESPN 300 list is out and the Big Ten is well-represented from top to bottom. When it comes to re-ranking players, there are always surprises and sleeper players after the fact, which is why we put together our list of the top five surprises from the ultimate list.

Nebraska coach Mike Riley said he’s open to a discussion on possible recourse for recruits who lose a coach in the aftermath of signing day.

Secondary coach Charlton Warren left Nebraska on Friday for a similar position at North Carolina, the latest assistant at a major program to bolt in the wake of Feb. 4, when college prospects signed binding letters of intent.

“I think it is an issue,” Riley said Friday. “I think it is unfortunate for the student-athletes. I think they feel somewhat deceived, and I think that’s bad for our game in general.”

A key figure with several Nebraska recruits and the lone holdover from the staff of former coach Bo Pelini, Warren wanted to move closer to family in the South, Riley said.

Last week, Stan Drayton left his job as Ohio State running backs coach for the Chicago Bears, drawing criticism from the high school coach of Ohio State signee Mike Weber. Jeff Ulbrich departed UCLA as defensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons, prompting linebacker Roquan Smith to renege on his televised announcement to sign with the Bruins.

Smith, in fact, bypassed the letter of intent altogether, opting Friday to sign a financial-aid agreement with Georgia that binds the school to him, but allows Smith to remain on the market as a recruit.

Assistant coaches at Texas, Florida, LSU, Notre Dame and Georgia have also departed in the past week.

“There, frankly, is something there that I don’t feel comfortable about,” Riley said.

Some coaches and administrators have supported the inclusion of an out clause in the letter of intent that would allow prospects to leave without penalty under specified circumstances, such as the departure of a coach.

Riley, who left Oregon State in December, said it’s a worthy conversation. The coach said he planned to meet Friday with a group of Nebraska defensive backs to assure them “everything is going to be OK.”

“After signing date,” he said, “we need to talk about that -- what can be done, what are the kids' options? Can they be allowed to make another choice?”

The longest days in Big Ten recruiting

February, 6, 2015
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Recruiting can be a non-stop grind for the coaches who have to procure that talent. Some days are longer than others. We talked to several Big Ten head coaches this week and asked them to describe their longest days out on the trail. Here are their stories:

Nebraska's Mike Riley

"It seemed the whole thing was full of long, memorable days. But when recruiting reopened in January after the dead period, I’ve got our personnel staff and our coaches usually making my schedule, where I need to go. So my first day out, I visited North and Central High in Omaha. I did a home visit with Michael Decker. I went to the Outland (Trophy) banquet, and I did another home visit with Daishon Neal. And then it was 10 o’clock at night. It was a full day, and it was a great day, because I hadn’t been in those high schools before. I loved meeting the coaches and seeing our players at the high schools. I always like home visits. I think it’s a real important part of the process."

Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald

"My last week of recruiting, I started on Sunday, flew from Chicago to the Bay Area. Then Sunday night, flew down to L.A. I was in L.A. on Monday and then Monday night I flew to Dallas, spent Tuesday in Dallas, flew Tuesday night to Houston, spent Wednesday in Houston, flew to Atlanta, spent Thursday in Atlanta, and then spent Friday in Chicago. Spent a lot of time at Chick-fil-A. It was a long week and our staff did a great job."

Michigan State's Mark Dantonio

"It hit me when I came out of a hotel room one day. I stayed in the same chain of hotels, and I walked out of the room and down the hall and I couldn't remember what room I was in. I walked back and took a guess on which room I was in, just to check my key to make sure I was in the same room. I was basically going from place to place for two weeks and sometimes two places in a day. I think I was in Orlando. I got back in the room. There were three doors and I guessed the right one."

Penn State's James Franklin

"One day I remember from a previous year. I had just taken a job [at Vanderbilt] and I was flying around and my luggage got lost and I wore the same suit for five days. I'm a hugger, and my hugs got a little less intimate as the week went on. My luggage couldn't keep up with me. Every time I got to a city or a state, the next day the luggage would get there and I'd already gone to the next state. It wasn't real fun. I was going to Target and buying underwear and undershirts, all that kind of stuff, and kept dousing myself with deodorant and cologne. It didn't help that we were flying commercially."

Rutgers' Kyle Flood

"We had one day where we went from New Jersey to Chicago to Tampa and then back to New Jersey. We started at about 6 in the morning and I finished at about 2 in the morning. I was with Norries Wilson and Jim Panagos at different legs of the trip. Norries came with me to Chicago and then to Tampa. He stayed there and went to Jacksonville. And then I picked up Coach Panagos in Tampa and he came back with me. We were fortunate. Everything ran according to schedule, the way I like it."

Maryland's Randy Edsall

"One day, I was here in Maryland, I was down on the east coast of Florida, then to the west coast, and then all the way to Mobile, Alabama. Then the next day I was in Charlotte and then Virginia Beach. Got all that done, really, in a day and a half. You kind of think, 'hey, what day is it, what time is it,' all those sort of things. But those are the things you have to do."

Minnesota's Jerry Kill

"I've gone from Mobile to Mississippi to Texas, and back to Chicago. But the most unique story I can tell you is something that happened for the first time ever this year. I was on a plane that was starting to go down the runway when I had a kid commit. Seriously, we were going down the runway, I didn't think we'd hear from the kid and he calls me. I'm trying to get the pilot to keep the wheels down so I can talk to him."

Indiana's Kevin Wilson

"My longest day was when we finished up on Martin Luther King day. We had a team leadership program going on, we had recruits on campus and then we had to leave Bloomington and go to Shadyshide, Ohio. By the time we get back to Columbus, it's about 1 a.m. Shoot, there was one day where we had official visits going, I was interviewing a couple of guys for behind-the-scenes jobs, and we had a walk-on day. Those kinds of days wear you out, and you're like, "Who planned all this [stuff]? You're killing me?" And it was me. I'm the guy who planned it. Sometimes we all get screwed by travel and those days, and you're like 'hey, just got to get it done. I'm kind of tired. I want to put my feet up here for like 15 minutes and take a little nap.'"
Nebraska coach Mike Riley announced a 20-man recruiting class Wednesday with prospects from 13 states. And the Huskers assembled the group in two months – in many cases reaffirming commitments made to the staff of former coach Bo Pelini.

Riley joked on signing day that he should write a book, “Recruiting in 60 Days.”

The Huskers finished 31st in the ESPN RecruitingNation class rankings, fourth in the Big Ten. The coach took time Wednesday to answer our questions about the recruiting experience at Nebraska:

What stands out most to you about the work you’ve done in your first two months on the job?

Mike Riley: The individuals who have signed with us will be the most important part of what we’ve done in the job in the first 60 days, because that’s what we had to throw ourselves into immediately. I’m not necessarily a fan of that. What I would rather do is spend my first 60 days getting to know the football team and really feel a part of what’s going on here. But the reality of it is, for the good of this football program and the university, that’s where we had to go.

The other part of it is, I think, as we did this, we started formulating a philosophy for the future in recruiting. I think that, as a byproduct, might be the next most important [thing] that’s happened. We’ve got an idea of how things have taken shape. We’ve seen where these guys have come from. Now, what does that mean to our future, and how do we put that into an overall plan for recruiting down the road?

[+] EnlargeMike Riley
AP Photo/Nati HarnikAccording to the recruiting class rankings, Mike Riley had the best class among the Big Ten's new coaches.
How important has social media become in connecting with the players you recruit?

Riley: I think it’s another form of access that is legal that we have fully tried to be a part of. We can jump into that and have more ways to pass on information and to connect through the social media. And so, for us, in particular, in a short time period, I think it’s been really important.

How are your Twitter messages constructed?

Riley: The message comes from me. How it’s finally formulated, they’ll usually take what I have to say and make it better, so I’m good with that. That is fine with me. I’ve worked with Ryan Gunderson for a long time, so he understands the philosophy of messages that I want to put forth to young men we’re recruiting, to the parents and to our fans. So it’s actually pretty seamless. We talk about messages, and he kind of formulates it and puts it together.

Ryan’s got the keys to that car for sure. He knows way more about it than I do.

What did you find most challenging about keeping the commitments secure of players who chose Nebraska before you took over as coach?

Riley: We wanted to reconfirm Nebraska’s commitment to the guys who were already committed. Most all of them wanted to come to Nebraska. They just wanted to know in their mind that we were going to be a good fit for them as a coaching staff. One of the hurdles you run into – and it was pointed out by one of the parents – they know coaches of our opponents a lot better than they knew us. So we had to really introduce ourselves to these folks, tell them our intentions and let them decide if not only the school was a good fit, but if the coaching staff was a good fit.

What did you learn about Nebraska by representing the school on the recruiting trail?

Riley: I found it to be great recruiting for Nebraska. Doors were open right away. Take Jalin Barnett. We had been on Jalin (at Oregon State) for literally years, because we had two starters on our team from Lawton, Oklahoma. So we knew about Jalin, but the interest picked up because it was Nebraska. We were immediately more relevant to him, both in location and as a school.

You did not sign a quarterback in this class. Moving forward, what is your recruiting plan at the position?

Riley: We would like, over a period of time, to evaluate that position closely, rank them before we ever offer, offer the first guy that we rank and then go from there. From there, you’ve got to like the next guy or get out of it. You just don’t want to take them to take them. As with every position, you’re selective, but I don’t want that room to be too big. One in each class is OK, maybe a walk-on with it, but we’re not going to let it get to 10 guys. We want to get them practice. We will begin now to find that first offer and then also find the next three guys who are above the line.

Completed class: Nebraska Cornhuskers

February, 4, 2015
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Nebraska has announced its 2015 class:

ESPN 300
Jalin Barnett OG -- Lawton High School, Oklahoma
Eric Lee CB -- Valor Christian High School, Colorado
Stanley Morgan WR -- Saint Augustine High School, Louisiana

Four-stars
Avery Anderson ATH -- Pine Creek High School, Colorado
Carlos Davis DT -- Blue Springs High School, Missouri

Three-stars
Lavan Alston WR -- Saint Bonaventure High School, California
Christian Gaylord OT -- Baldwin High School, Kansas
Devine Ozigbo RB -- Sachse High School, Texas
Aaron Williams S -- Carver High School, Georgia
Khalil Davis DT -- Blue Springs High School, Missouri
Michael Decker OG -- North High School, Nebraska
Matt Snyder TE-Y -- California High School, California
Dedrick Young RB -- Centennial High School, Arizona
Mohamed Barry OLB -- Grayson High School, Georgia
Tyrin Ferguson OLB -- Edna Karr High School, Louisiana
Daishon Neal OT -- Central High School, Nebraska
Adrienne Talan S -- Flanagan High School, Florida

Ungraded
Alex Davis DE -- Dwyer High School, Florida
Antonio Reed S -- Southaven High School, Mississippi
Jordan Ober LS -- Bishop Gorman High School, Nevada

Watch: Mike Riley on first Huskers signing day

February, 4, 2015
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Nebraska coach Mike Riley joins ESPN's Rece Davis to discuss the hectic final weeks before signing day and his hopes for the first season in Lincoln.
LINCOLN, Neb. -- In an homage to their frantic and fruitful first few days on the job at Nebraska, Mike Riley’s coaches in future years may want to leave the comfort of their offices for a week every year at the height of recruiting season and drag their work to a conference room.

There, if linebackers coach Trent Bray and running backs coach Reggie Davis need to discuss a prospect, they can bypass cell phones and electronic messaging, forget even about walking down the hallway.

Sometimes, the most simple method to eliminate chaos is the most effective. And so it went for the Nebraska coaches in the days after Riley’s Dec. 4 hiring.

On the eve of signing day, with Riley set Wednesday to unveil his first recruiting class at Nebraska, the successes of the past 60 days in Lincoln can be traced to those two weeks of December madness.

The coach, four of his assistants and a core group of support staff uprooted their lives at Oregon State and immediately established a home base in that conference room amid the third-floor administrative offices at Memorial Stadium.

“We were all there, engaged with one purpose,” said Dan Van De Riet, Nebraska associate athletic director for football operations who worked with Riley at Oregon State for 14 years. “So it was actually really good.”

Their teamwork and efficiency proved vital in retaining the majority of commitments secured by the former staff and in laying the groundwork for a productive final recruiting stretch.

One floor below the makeshift nerve center in December, Nebraska’s departing assistants prepared the Huskers for the Holiday Bowl. Riley took his partially constructed staff, in their first hours together at Nebraska, straight to meet the outgoing coaches.

“They knew we were there,” Bray said last month. “We knew they were there, so why hide and pretend you’re not there?”

From those opening days, Riley attacked challenges. His first results of substance, on display Wednesday, are a testament to the coach’s skill as an executive and illustrative of the trust he places in hires at various levels of the football program.

Often, the first group of recruits signed by a coach after a postseason change is not indicative of his style or the game plan for future recruiting classes. The new guy gets a pass, more or less; it happened at Nebraska after moves that followed the 2003 and 2007 seasons.

No such luxury exists for Riley as Nebraska looks to improve on seven consecutive nine- or 10-win seasons.

Sure, he’ll get a grace period to learn of the culture and expectations.

How about until the end of spring practice?

The Huskers’ class ranks 32nd nationally and fifth in the Big Ten. Given more time, Riley and his recruiters figure to sign groups with more flash and bang. More important than its ranking, though, this class doesn’t feel rushed -- as so many do when built after a coaching change.

Riley and his coaches found fits. They kept key pieces, headlined by Colorado defensive backs Eric Lee and Avery Anderson, who enrolled in January, twin defensive linemen Carlos and Khalil Davis and defensive end Daishon Neal.

Nebraska added a four-star talent in offensive guard Jalin Barnett and scored a legitimate recruiting win over Michigan in keeping tight end Matt Snyder. They added pledges from the states of California, Florida, Texas, Georgia and Louisiana, which bodes well for next year and beyond.

On social media, the Huskers showed an innovative spirit.

They sought to address a potential weakness within the borders of their own state as not a single coach on Riley’s staff has recruited extensively in Nebraska. A call to Paul Limongi, president of the Omaha Metro Coaches Association, was among the first placed by Van De Riet, the administrator who flew to Nebraska with Riley on his first trip two months ago.

“Reaching out is key,” said Limongi, coach at Omaha’s Burke High School. “It was really refreshing to hear from him. It seems like they’re headed in the right direction.”

Scott Strohmeier, coach at Iowa Western Community College, said he, too, has engaged in preliminary conversation with Nebraska about growing the relationship between his program -- one of the nation’s most successful at the juco level -- and the nearby Huskers.

The new Nebraska staff won’t abandon its diverse recruiting strongholds for local kids. But a key to their success involves finding a balance.

“When you recruit local, the kids are a little more invested,” offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said. “I do think it’s important to start here and work out from there.”

It seems, so far, Riley and his coaches have done their homework -- aided, perhaps, by a two-week, conference-room session of mind-melding at the start.
Signing day is less than 48 hours away. While you breathlessly await your team's official unveiling of its class and chew your fingernails over late decisions, a great debate continues over whether recruiting rankings really tell us anything.

For a little more enlightenment, we decided to look at this year's first-team All-Big Ten honorees to see where each player ranked as a prospect. Any player on offense or defense who made either the coaches' first team or was a first-team pick by the media was categorized through their ESPN Recruiting rankings (we'll save kicker prospect rankings for another conversation).

Here's what we found:

Five-star recruits

None

Four-star recruits (7)
Three-star recruits (14)
Two-star recruits (2)
Not ranked (3)

* -- junior college recruits

Three-star recruits typically don't generate a lot of hype on signing day, but that's where the bulk of the Big Ten's top performers checked in out of high school. That includes 2014 Big Ten offensive player of the year and Doak Walker Award winner Gordon; Big Ten offensive lineman of the year and Outland Trophy winner Scherff; Coleman, who also rushed for 2,000 yards; Big Ten receiver of the year Lippett; Big Ten linebacker of the year Hull; Big Ten defensive back of the year Drummond; a possible first-round pick in Waynes; 2013 Big Ten defensive lineman of the year Calhoun.

Seven four-star prospects more than lived up to their rankings, especially Barrett, Bosa and Zettel in the 2014 season. But there were almost as many two-star and not-ranked prospects as there were four-star recruits on the All-Big Ten first team. Not surprisingly, Wisconsin and Minnesota were able to unearth those diamonds in the rough.

The All-Big Ten second teams are another eclectic mix. They include four-star prospects who fulfilled their promise such as Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett, Maryland receiver Stefon Diggs and Wisconsin center Dan Voltz. There are also a whole bunch of three-star guys who more than reached their potential, like Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook, Minnesota running back David Cobb, Ohio State offensive tackle Taylor Decker. Then there are the true overachievers, with two-star prospects like Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah and Northwestern's Nick VanHoose, and guys who were almost completely overlooked in Michigan State left tackle Jack Conklin and Minnesota defensive back Eric Murray.

The lesson here? Nothing is really guaranteed in recruiting rankings. While you may be focusing on the four- and five-star guys on Wednesday with good reason, sometimes the two- and three-star prospects become the ones you really have to watch on Saturdays.
New Year's Day and national signing day used to be the two most disheartening days on the Big Ten football calendar.

Make no mistake, New Year's Day had been much more of a buzzkill. The Big Ten's poor results on an afternoon where it clustered its top postseason games on big stages damaged the league's reputation and depressed its fans.

National signing day had been a different kind of downer. Unlike New Year's Day, when the Big Ten's collective struggles were front and center, national signing day pushed the league off to the side. The Big Ten went from being embarrassed on Jan. 1 to being largely ignored on the first Wednesday in February.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesOhio State raised a trophy in January and raised expectations for the Big Ten on signing day.
Of course, this was ESPN's fault, as all things were/are. ESPN's in-season obsession with all things SEC spilled into its recruiting coverage, Big Ten fans contended.

Two things to note:

1. Recruiting rankings are inherently subjective

2. The numbers don't lie. Every recruiting list shows more elite prospects in the South -- many of whom choose to play for SEC schools -- than in the Midwest

The bottom line is signing day had become more of an SEC and ACC event than a Big Ten exposition. There's a reason why every year around this time, I snarkily ask our friends in ACC country if they're ready for the biggest day on their football calendar.

But signing day 2015, arriving in just 36 hours, could have a different feel around the Big Ten. For the first time in a while, the Big Ten is the most talked-about league in the sport. Ohio State just won the first College Football Playoff national championship, securing its first title -- and the Big Ten's -- in 12 seasons. The Buckeyes capped a Big Ten bowl season that far surpassed expectations (6-5 overall, 2-0 in New Year's Six games).

Michigan made the top coaching move of the offseason by landing Jim Harbaugh. Two former Big Ten quarterbacks shined Sunday night in Super Bowl XLIX, with former Michigan signal-caller Tom Brady coming away with his fourth ring.

The Big Ten has tangible momentum that it wants to sustain through the offseason, beginning with national signing day.

How realistic is that goal?

Signing day is largely about hype, and the Big Ten undoubtedly will be discussed more this year than in the past.

Ohio State's class, ranked No. 7 nationally by ESPN RecruitingNation, will be examined as the Buckeyes bring in standouts such as Justin Hilliard and Jashon Cornell, and hope to keep Torrance Gibson. Unlike many Big Ten coaches, Ohio State's Urban Meyer eschews redshirting and has quickly turned young players into key contributors. Meyer's first full class in 2013 -- featuring Joey Bosa, J.T. Barrett, Ezekiel Elliott, Vonn Bell, Jalin Marshall and Darron Lee -- played a huge role in this year's title run.

Michigan's first class under Harbaugh also will be in the spotlight. It will be small -- the Wolverines have only nine verbal commitments -- but Harbaugh already has bolstered the quarterback spot with Zach Gentry, who had originally picked Texas. Michigan could finish strong with tight end Chris Clark, linebacker Roquan Smith and cornerback Iman Marshall, all of whom are announcing their decisions on signing day.

James Franklin's first full class at Penn State should get Lions fans excited for the future. Franklin and his staff put much of the group together last spring, landing 13 commitments before the end of May. They've upgraded their top problem unit, offensive line, with recruitsSterling Jenkins and Ryan Bates, to go along with junior college transfer Paris Palmer.

Michigan State is arguably the nation's top player development program. But after consecutive top-5 finishes, the Spartans' recruiting efforts are getting noticed. MSU is poised to sign a top-30 class and might have locked up its future offensive backfield with quarterback Brian Lewerke and running back L.J. Scott. Twin brothers Andrew and David Dowell, one-time Northwestern and Kentucky commits, recently switched their pledge to MSU.

Wisconsin and Nebraska also could end up among ESPN RecruitingNation's top 30 classes. Not surprisingly, the Badgers have seen attrition in their class after the surprising departure of coach Gary Andersen to Oregon State, but they've bolstered their offense with running backs Bradrick Shaw and Jordan Stevenson, tight end Kyle Penniston and quarterback Austin Kafentzis. Nebraska also went through a coaching change but has made a nice push under Mike Riley and his innovative recruiting approach, landing offensive lineman Jalin Barnett and holding onto defensive back Eric Lee and others.

As colleague Mitch Sherman wrote last week, Big Ten coaches had no consensus about whether the league's recent on-field surge would improve recruiting, especially for non-traditional powers. Maryland, despite losing two recruits to Indiana this past weekend, will be a program to watch Wednesday as linemen Austrian Robinson and Isaiah Prince make their decisions. Illinois hopes to upgrade its defensive line with Jamal Milan, who also is considering Minnesota and Indiana. Minnesota, Rutgers, Northwestern, Indiana and others look to lock up solid classes on Wednesday.

There will be Big Ten teams that don't move the needle regionally or nationally, as there are every year. But there's optimism about the league's overall recruiting efforts, fueled by the bowl/playoff momentum.

The Big Ten changed its fortunes on New Year's Day. National signing day looms, and league should gain a greater market share of the spotlight, providing a springboard to the offseason.

Best of the visits: Big Ten

February, 1, 2015
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The final recruiting visit weekend for the 2015 class was a last-minute effort to get prospects on board. A few Big Ten teams were hosting big visitors, so here is a look at the best of the weekend.

The Michigan State equipment staff opened the weekend by showing the fans what the locker room setup looks like for visiting prospects. This is where the jersey and helmet pictures come from and the recruits get a look at their potential future jerseys.


Ohio State is close to filling its 2015 class, but there are still some big targets on the board. Two of the bigger prospects happened to be on campus this weekend with defensive back Damon Arnette and linebacker Porter Gustin.

Gustin got a chance to see the new championship trophy and hang out on campus for his final visit.


The ESPN 300 prospect made the trip with most of his family, which gave everyone a look at what the Buckeyes have to offer.


While he wasn’t on a visit to Ohio State, Buckeyes quarterback commit Torrance Gibson was on a visit to Miami. Gibson has seen interest from the Hurricanes, Auburn and LSU in recent weeks and has Ohio State fans nervous about what he will do on signing day.


Penn State is also close to filling its 2015 class, especially after the commitment of defensive back John Petrishen on his visit.


Because the 2015 class is so close to being full, the Penn State coaching staff was able to hold a junior day of sorts and host some of the top targets in the 2016 class as well. That included all of the 2016 commits with Shane Simmons, Miles Sanders and Jake Zembiec.


Penn State added to that 2016 commit list over the weekend when Detroit defensive back Lavert Hill announced his commitment to the Nittany Lions on the visit.


What would a visit weekend be without a few cookie cakes, right? Illinois went with a giant cookie cake that looks to resemble a football for Cameron Watkins’ visit.


Michigan had a few big visitors on campus as well, including Washington State wide receiver commit Deontay Burnett.


The Wolverines are looking to add a receiver to this class, which is why Ole Miss receiver commit Van Jefferson was also visiting. Jefferson grew up in Michigan while his father, Shawn, was the wide receivers coach for the Detroit Lions until 2012.


Wisconsin hosted a somewhat new target this weekend in linebacker Jake Whalen. He has been on the Badgers’ target list for a while, but he was only recently offered a full scholarship.

Iowa had been looking good to land Whalen, but now with the Wisconsin offer, that decision could go for the Badgers.


Nebraska received some good news from a few of the visitors in Lincoln on Sunday. Defensive end Alex Davis tweeted he was decommitting from Georgia Southern and committing to Nebraska.

Kyler Murray isn't the only high-profile Texan who will shape the future of Lone Star State recruiting, as ESPN 300 defensive backs Kris Boyd and Holton Hill will announce their decisions together Friday.


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Nebraska and Michigan are next scheduled to play in 2018. If the past few days in recruiting serve as an indication, the game can't get here soon enough.

After a weekend in Ann Arbor in which Jim Harbaugh's staff flipped the commitment of Florida defensive end Reuben Jones from Nebraska to Michigan, Daishon Neal on Tuesday poured fuel on the warm embers of a budding Big Ten rivalry.

Neal, a defensive end out of Omaha (Neb.) Central, accepted a visit Monday from Michigan defensive line coach Greg Mattison. Committed to Nebraska since April, Neal wavered in his pledged after Bo Pelini was fired in November. As Neal worked to establish a relationship with Mike Riley's new staff in Lincoln, he flirted with Oklahoma and Oregon in recruiting, ultimately eliminating both.

This week, on the heels of his official visit to Nebraska, Neal received an offer from Michigan.

Then on Tuesday, he reaffirmed his commitment to the Huskers in a radio interview with Sharp & Benning in the Morning on Omaha's KOZN 1620-AM.

In the process, Neal and his father, Abraham Hoskins Jr., ripped the Wolverines.

"They made one bad statement," Hoskins said of the Monday visit with Mattison, "and it ruined them. They said without football, Daishon wouldn't be able to go to Michigan -- like we couldn't afford to send him there or we couldn't get him [academically eligible].

"Once he said that, we pretty much escorted him out of the house."

Neal said Mattison "basically tried to call me stupid in front of my face."

Listen to the full audio here.

A few things strike me:
  • Mattison and the Michigan coaches cannot respond until next week, when Neal signs with Nebraska. And by then, the Wolverines will have more important topics to address -- like their own class.
  • Interpret Mattison's purported comments as you wish. He wasn't necessarily insulting Neal. It's a fact Michigan is selective in the admission process and it helps a student's cause to receive a football scholarship. I doubt his statement was related to finances.
  • This feels a bit like Mattison walked into a trap in Omaha. Did Michigan really stand a chance here? Neal had an excellent visit to Nebraska over the weekend, by his own account, and the Huskers benefit from a victory -- perceived or real -- over Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines in recruiting.

Most notably, less than a month into the Harbaugh era, things are going just as well as hoped.

We all know Harbaugh is going to make a run at Urban Meyer and Ohio State in the way he targeted USC's Pete Carroll while at Stanford.

Of course, Harbaugh will get under the skin of Michigan State fans.

A little bad blood with Nebraska is an excellent side story. It makes sense, too.

Nebraska running backs coach Reggie Davis coached for Harbaugh with the 49ers for the past four years. Harbaugh's son, Michigan tight ends coach Jay, worked as an undergraduate assistant for Nebraska's Riley at Oregon State.

Harbaugh, in fact, played late in his NFL career for Riley with the Chargers.

The Huskers and Wolverines figure to coach with similar philosophies and covet many of the same recruits.

In fact, they're battling for another. Tight end Matt Snyder of San Ramon, California, a Nebraska pledge, visited Michigan last weekend.

Home visits from both schools to Snyder are scheduled for this week. Expect a little more sparring.

Now, if only the Big Ten could do something about that four-year wait until they play again.
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It’s not often a recruit commits to the same school twice, but that’s what happened with ESPN 300 receiver John Burt on Monday.


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Best of the visits: Big Ten

January, 25, 2015
Jan 25
12:05
PM ET
It was a huge recruiting visit weekend in the Big Ten, as eight commitments had taken place in the conference by Sunday morning. With a little more than a week left until signing day (Feb. 4), programs have put their recruiting efforts into overdrive to try to close out their classes strong.

These visits were crucial to help get some of those big targets to make final decisions, so here's a look at some of the best social posts from those recruiting visits.

PENN STATE:

The Nittany Lions had a ton of visitors on campus, mostly comprised of current commitments. Offensive line commit Steven Gonzalez took a picture with all the visitors and his future offensive line coach, Herb Hand.


The Penn State coaches did land a commitment from one of their visitors in defensive tackle Robert Windsor on Sunday morning. The staff had a few uncommitted prospects on hand, including defensive end Shareef Miller.

MICHIGAN:

The Michigan staff was hoping this weekend would produce a few commitments, and it did just that. The Wolverines had six 2015 commitments prior to the weekend but ended up flipping former Texas quarterback commit Zach Gentry during the Michigan basketball game.


Gentry is an ESPN 300 prospect and the No. 9-ranked pocket passer in the 2015 class. He joins fellow quarterback commit Alex Malzone in Michigan’s class and will help bolster much-needed competition at the position.

Florida defensive end Reuben Jones also committed to the Wolverines on his visit and happens to fill another need on the depth chart.


The Wolverines are still hoping the weekend produces a few more commitments from some of the visitors, including defensive back Chris Williamson.

ILLINOIS:

Illinois had some big visitors on campus, including defensive tackle Jamal Milan and running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn. Both prospects would be huge additions to the class, so it was only the finest ice sculptures and cake that came out for the visitors.

MARYLAND:

The Terps have been on a nice streak of landing commitments, and the coaches continued that this weekend by getting 2016 wide receiver D.J. Turner.

OHIO STATE:

The Buckeyes had an excellent weekend for big visitors, as the visit weekend coincided with the national championship celebration. It gave the recruits a chance to see all the trophies Ohio State won this season while seeing what else the Buckeyes have to offer.

Danny Clark, a 2017 quarterback commit for Ohio State, was on campus doing some recruiting for his future team.


The coaches were doing a ton of recruiting themselves, especially with the 2015 official visitors. Wide receiver K.J. Hill showed off the cookie cake he received on his visit.


Since the 2015 class only has a few pieces left to fill, Ohio State also had a junior day of sorts with some of the top 2016 targets on campus. ESPN Junior 300 receiver Austin Mack stopped to take a selfie with the head man himself on the trip.

INDIANA:

If you haven’t noticed that cookie cakes and desserts are a common theme of recruiting, then here's another reminder. Hoosiers quarterback commit Austin King tweeted a picture of his cookie cake on his visit to Indiana.

WISCONSIN:

The Badgers had a successful weekend of their own by landing two big commitments. The first was defensive tackle Kraig Howe from Ohio, who tweeted his announcement.


The second was 2015 running back Bradrick Shaw, who also took to Twitter to announce his decision.



Howe fills a need for the Badgers and Shaw gives Wisconsin three running back commits ranked as four-star prospects between the 2015 and 2016 classes. The Wisconsin staff is reloading at running back to continue the excellent tradition at the position.

MICHIGAN STATE:

The Spartans didn’t have a ton of big-name visitors on campus this weekend, but the coaches were hosting a very important target for the 2015 class. ESPN 300 linebacker Quart’e Sapp took his visit to Michigan State and took to Twitter to show off his time on the trip.


Sapp would be a huge get for the Spartans, who find themselves in his top four along with Miami, Missouri and Tennessee.

NEBRASKA:

Nebraska’s new staff has hit a groove in recruiting and hosted a big visitor list this weekend, including plenty of the Cornhuskers’ commitments. Offensive lineman Christian Gaylord shared a picture of some of the offensive linemen on the visit in uniform.


Linebacker Tyrin Ferguson also took to Twitter to show his time in Lincoln.


The staff did also have a few targets on campus who were not committed to Nebraska, including Kansas State commit Mohammed Barry.

Nebraska was also hosting a few commitments it is trying to hang onto and convince to stay on board come signing day. That included defensive lineman Daishon Neal, who became that much more important with the decommitment of Reuben Jones.

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