NCF On The Trail: Penn State Nittany Lions

BRADENTON, Fla. -- There were several ESPN Junior 300 members on hand at the IMG7v7 Southeast Regional Championship this weekend on the campus of IMG Academy. The event was headlined by prospects such as quarterbacks Dwayne Haskins and Jack Allison, wide receivers Sam Bruce, Trevon Diggs, Demetris Robertson, Eli Stove and Dionte Mullins, and defensive backs Jamel Cook, K.J. Sails and Tyreke Johnson. Bruce was one of several Miami commits in attendance and has been committed to the Hurricanes since last July. The 5-foot-8, 178-pound playmaker from Fort Lauderdale (Florida) St. Thomas Aquinas said his commitment to the Canes isn’t very solid. "I’m 60 percent committed right now,” Bruce said. "The other schools are kind of splitting up the remaining 40 percent. The big thing for me is that I want to major in communications and sports broadcasting so that's a really big thing for me with colleges.” The other schools Bruce is referring to, Florida and Florida State, are slated to get visits from the talented pass-catcher in the near future. "I’m definitely going to Florida State, Florida and Miami. I don’t know exact dates, but I know I’m going to Florida’s spring game,” he said. Trevon Diggs gets advice from older brother As Diggs' older brother and former Maryland standout, Stefon Diggs, prepares for the NFL draft, the younger Diggs has been taking his time with the recruiting process but plans to start to narrow things down in the near future. “I don’t have any leaders yet, but I plan on going back soon, though,” he said. "I plan on coming out with a list soon. Like maybe a top 10. I’ve only been to Florida, Maryland and Penn State really, but I’m planning to get to LSU, Auburn, FSU, Virginia Tech, Tennessee and Georgia over the summer.” Despite his brother’s success at Maryland, Diggs said his older brother hasn’t tried to push him to be a Terrapin. "He doesn’t really care if I go to Maryland or not really,” he said. "He just tells me to go wherever I feel like I want to play and wherever I feel like I will prosper and make it to the NFL, that’s where I should go.” Alabama offer a game-changer for Stove? The 63rd-ranked player in the ESPN Junior 300, Eli Stove, had every offer he desired except one, and that offer came Friday. “Since they were my favorite team since I was a little baby, the offer from Alabama is a special thing for me,” Stove said. “My dad is a big Alabama fan and my mom is an Auburn fan so it’s 50-50 in my house. I’m looking forward to visiting Alabama and meeting up with the coaches.” While the Crimson Tide have officially entered the race for the electric playmaker, it’s the rival of Alabama that remains in the lead. “Auburn, Florida and Georgia are my top three,” Stove said. "I would say Auburn is my top school. Every time I go there, it’s just a good environment. I feel comfortable and could talk to the coaches for hours.” FSU commit Cook will make official visits Chalk up the recruitment of Florida State commitment Jamel Cook as one to keep an eye on. The 6-foot-5, 188-pound safety has said in the past that he intends to make visits, and reiterated that Saturday. “Alabama, West Virginia, Clemson and Miami are coming after me,” Cook said. “I’m going to take all my official visits. Alabama, Florida State, West Virginia, Miami and Louisville are schools I think I’ll officially visit.” Alabama and Miami appear to be the main competition for the Seminoles. The next big thing in Miami? In a tournament featuring a number of top junior and sophomore prospects from the region, it’s a junior high player who may be the one to watch long term. Eighth-grader and brother of Florida State freshman running back Dalvin Cook, James Cook, is considered the top incoming freshman in the Miami area and is slated to attend Miami Central High next year. The 5-9, 180-pound running back was offered by LSU in the seventh grade during an in home visit by the Tigers' staff. LSU, however, will face a true uphill battle when it’s time for Cook to get serious about recruiting. He grew up a big fan of Miami, and of course the Seminoles will be the program the Hurricanes will be locking horns with. News and notes: -- ESPN Junior 300 No. 27 and South Carolina verbal Brandon McIlwain took the field in Bradenton Saturday following an unofficial visit to Columbia the day before. The visit was not only a chance to spend more time with the Gamecocks' football staff for the budding two-sport star, but also the chance to speak with South Carolina head baseball coach Chad Holbrook. Holbrook welcomed McIlwain to the baseball program with open arms, as long as he has the time to do both sports to the best of his ability. McIlwain is 100 percent with his commitment to South Carolina. -- Look for Miami quarterback commit Jack Allison to be a targeted quarterback by regional schools this spring and early next season. As of today, the 6-6, 195-pound smooth passer with arm power remains 100 percent committed to the Hurricanes and says he has no plans to visit other schools.

With spring practices under way, it was a big visit weekend in the Big Ten. A number of programs within the conference had some big visitors on hand, so here is a look at some of the top prospects who were on campus and what a few had to say about the visits.


The Nittany Lions had a ton of big visitors on campus and that included quite a few 2017 prospects.

Lineman Robert Hainsey was one of those recruits on hand, and Hainsey tweeted a picture of the visit.

Cam Spence was another 2017 target in Happy Valley and he too took to Twitter to show off his experience.

The Nittany Lions also had some 2016 prospects, including Damar Hamlin, Michal Menet and Khaleke Hudson to name a few.


The Cornhuskers also had some big visitors on campus in Lincoln. Offensive lineman Nathan Smith was one of the bigger targets on hand and Smith tweeted his thoughts on his time on campus.


The Buckeyes picked up a huge commitment in 2016 running back Demario McCall, but the coaches had quite a few other big visitors on hand outside of McCall.

ESPN Jr. 300 tight end Luke Farrell was one of those visitors and Farrell currently holds Ohio State very high on his list.

"It went well," he said. "I liked getting to see practice and I liked how they run the position meetings."

Farrell is still planning some other visits, but wants to decide before his season starts.

One of the more important prospects visiting was Texas quarterback Tristen Wallace, who tweeted out quite a few pictures of the visit and time spent with current Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller.


The Spartans were yet another Big Ten program with a lot of traffic on campus, including Georgia prospects Isaiah Pryor, Russell Halimon, Korey Banks and Jamyest Williams.

Their time spent with the coaching staff was memorable, especially for Williams, who is a defensive back.

"I was just thinking while Coach [Mark] Dantonio was talking, that he can turn two stars into first-round draft picks, imagine when he gets a four-star athlete and what he could do for me," he said.

Michigan State also had ESPN Jr. 300 receiver Justin Layne in for a visit, and Layne tweeted about his time with the coaches.

Layne got a chance to hang out with ESPN Jr. 300 quarterback Messiah DeWeaver, who took a return trip to see Michigan State. DeWeaver will be deciding at the end of April, so this could be an important visit for Michigan State in that race.

"I was there for a couple days," he said. "I saw the ins and outs of practice and had a great time with the coaches and players."

South Carolina was also well represented in East Lansing with Nick McCloud, Josh Wilkes, Greg Ruff, Quay Brown, Jamari Curren and a few others taking the trip.


The Wolverines and Buckeyes had the chance to host one of the biggest visitors of the weekend in ESPN Jr. 300 defensive lineman Rashan Gary as well as a few other New Jersey prospects.

ESPN Jr. 300 receiver Ahmir Mitchell was among that group and tweeted out some pictures from their time at Michigan, including one picture at breakfast with Jim Harbaugh.

Michigan coaches offered 2017 defensive lineman Corey Bolds on the visit, who happens to be teammates with Gary.

Athlete Korey Banks received an offer on his visit to Michigan this weekend, and the Georgia prospect came away very impressed with what the Wolverines have to offer.

"It's a Michigan offer. It's always exciting to get a Michigan offer, especially from coach Jim Harbaugh," Banks said. "Of course I'm going to keep them in the running, they pack 118,000 fans in the Big House. What kid wouldn't love that offer, that's a big achievement for me."

The linebacker position doesn't often receive much attention during 7-on-7 events, where quarterbacks, wide receivers and defensive backs dominate headlines. But with hundreds of players descending upon Las Vegas for the Pylon Elite 7v7 event this weekend, Caleb Kelly and Lokeni Toailoa -- the top outside and inside linebackers in the West region -- were among several must-see prospects on hand.

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Ultimate ESPN 300 roundtable: Most impactful B1G recruit

February, 18, 2015
Feb 18
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. 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.

Wednesday's roundtable topic: Which player had the biggest impact on a Big Ten program?

Adam Rittenberg: Chris Borland, Wisconsin linebacker, No. 143

Impact can be hard to quantify, as there are so many factors involved. I nearly went with former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who impacted Ohio State both positively (fans often forget how good he was in bowl games and big games) and negatively during a wild career. I also tried to find players who seemed like he played college ball for seven or eight years. Borland was one of those players. He was so good for so long, winning Big Ten freshman of the year in 2009 and Big Ten defensive player of the year in 2013. He overcame adversity, missing most of 2010 with a shoulder injury. He earned All-Big Ten honors -- coaches or media -- in all four full seasons he played.

Borland also is the quintessential Wisconsin star: an undersized, freakish athlete who grew up playing soccer and was overlooked in recruiting. He contributed from the moment he arrived in Madison and played in four bowl games and three Big Ten championship games. Although Wisconsin had more nationally famous players on the Ultimate 300 list -- J.J. Watt (No. 271), Russell Wilson (No. 187), Melvin Gordon (No. 53), Montee Ball (No. 136) -- Borland's overall legacy as a Badger trumps them all.

Brian Bennett: Christian Hackenberg, Penn State quarterback, No. 71

My choice is a little unorthodox and not entirely based on what the player has done -- yet -- on the field. I'm going with Penn State's Hackenberg. He committed to Penn State after the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke and stayed with the Nittany Lions even after the NCAA tried to decimate the program with scholarship reductions and a bowl ban. He could have easily gone somewhere else, but his faithfulness in Bill O'Brien and the program signaled to other players that it was OK to stick things out with Penn State.

Hackenberg was the Big Ten's freshman of the year in 2013 and, despite some struggles as a sophomore, still helped lead the Nittany Lions back to a bowl last season. He's got at least one more year in State College to show off his talent. Penn State fans should already be thankful for what he (and let's not forget No. 294, Michael Mauti) did to keep the entire program afloat.

Mitch Sherman: Joey Bosa, Ohio State defensive end, No. 58

What more could one guy do from his position than Bosa in helping lead the Buckeyes romp to a Big Ten title and the first College Football Playoff championship? Sure, the Ohio State quarterbacks and running back Ezekiel Elliott got many of the headlines – and deservedly so – during the 2014 championship run. But Bosa dominated from the first game of the season at defensive end, collecting 13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

His Big Ten-best four forced fumbles led directly to 30 Ohio State points. And he did it, as a true sophomore, without fellow bookend Noah Spence, dismissed after All-Big Ten season in 2013. Opponents feared Bosa. His presence changed games. And nothing seemed to bother him. He was simply the best player on the best team in the country for the longest portion of last season.
The Ultimate ESPN 300 list is loaded with intriguing stories. From unheralded players rising to the top to players not yet reaching their potential, the list has everything. To outline a few of those intriguing players, here is a look at the top five within the Big Ten:

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UPDATE: The video of the call has been posted online and it's every bit as good as you would imagine. Enjoy.

Original post: Feb. 4, 2015 -- 12:45 p.m. ET

Aleem Medley was on his way to work Wednesday morning when a FaceTime call lit up his iPhone. The ID read: Penn State Athletics.

Medley, a lifelong Penn State fan from Philadelphia, thought it was odd but accepted the call. He'll never forget what he saw next.

"It was Coach [James] Franklin," Medley told "They had all the balloons in the background. I'm like, 'Coach?'"

James FranklinJerry Lai/USA TODAY SportsPenn State's James Franklin reached out and made a fan's day -- albeit by accident.
Indeed, Franklin had called Medley, but not on purpose. The Nittany Lions coach, MCing the school's signing day festivities in State College, was trying to reach Shareef Miller, a defensive end recruit from Philadelphia who signed with Penn State on Wednesday and whose phone number nearly matches Medley's.

"I guess we were off a digit," Franklin told "This guy comes on the screen and we're trying to call Shareef Miller and I'm thinking, 'This must be Shareef's older brother or someone I haven't met yet,' and the guy's got a huge smile on his face. He goes, 'Coach Franklin!' And I'm like, 'Yeah! What's going on? Congratulations!'

"He's looking at me like I'm crazy. He goes, 'Coach, I think you've got the wrong number, but this is awesome! It's national signing day! Thanks for calling!'"

Franklin then asked Medley if he had any eligibility left.

Medley played quarterback at Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin High School and earned a scholarship to Shippensburg University. He eventually transferred to Millersville University, where he earned his degree.

Shippensburg and Millersville play in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference along with East Stroudsburg, where Franklin played quarterback.

"I was doing most of the talking," Medley said. "We just had a good laugh. [The call] was only about 58 seconds or so. I was just so stoked."

Medley's mother is a Penn State fan and Medley has always rooted for the Lions. He has never attended a game at Beaver Stadium but crafts his work schedule around when the Lions play. He's a case manager for an organization that helps at-risk youth in Philadelphia, some of whom have been incarcerated, and also coaches basketball and football at the YMCA and a local recreation center.

"I teach my kids now, 'We are Penn State. That's all we say,'" Medley said. I wish I could get to a game one day, but I love watching on TV and I like Coach Franklin as well."

He added of the call, "That was the best news I had in a while. I'm on cloud nine right now."

Franklin was just glad his misplaced FaceTime call went to a friendly face on the other end. What if it had gone to this guy?

"That was classic," Franklin said. "That's a story that will go down for the ages. It was so funny."

The longest days in Big Ten recruiting

February, 6, 2015
Feb 6
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.'"

Completed class: Penn State Nittany Lions

February, 4, 2015
Feb 4
Penn State has announced its 2015 class:

ESPN 300
Sterling Jenkins OT -- Baldwin High School, Pennsylvania
Ryan Bates OT -- Archbishop Wood High School, Pennsylvania
Garrett Taylor CB -- Saint Christophers High School, Virginia
John Reid CB -- St. Joseph's Prep School, Pennsylvania
Juwan Johnson WR -- Glassboro High School, New Jersey
Steven Gonzalez OG -- Union City High School, New Jersey
Manny Bowen OLB -- Barnegat High School, New Jersey
Jonathan Holland DE -- Bullis School, Maryland
Saquon Barkley RB -- Whitehall High School, Pennsylvania

Andre Robinson RB -- Bishop McDevitt High School, Pennsylvania

Paris Palmer OT -- Lackawanna College, North Carolina

Irvin Charles WR -- Paul VI High School, New Jersey
Daiquan Kelly ATH -- Union City High School, New Jersey
Kamonte Carter DE -- Gaithersburg Senior High School, Maryland
Shareef Miller DE -- George Washington High School, Pennsylvania
Robert Windsor DT -- Fond Du Lac High School, Wisconsin
Ayron Monroe S -- Saint John's College High School, Washington, D.C.
Brandon Polk WR -- Briar Woods High School, Virginia
Nick Bowers TE-H -- Kittanning Senior High School, Pennsylvania
Jake Cooper ILB -- Archbishop Wood High School, Pennsylvania
Tommy Stevens QB-DT -- Decatur Central High School, Indiana
John Petrishen ATH -- Central Catholic High School, Pennsylvania
Kevin Givens OLB -- Altoona Area High School, Pennsylvania
Ryan Buchholz DE -- Great Valley High School, Pennsylvania
Jarvis Miller S -- Suffield Academy, Connecticut

Watch: James Franklin on first full class at Penn State

February, 4, 2015
Feb 4
Penn State coach James Franklin joins ESPN's Britt McHenry to explain the difference in having a full year to build a recruiting class.
Signing day in State College used to be a non-event. Former Penn State coach Joe Paterno didn't even have a news conference. Just four years ago, the school sent out a release listing the new signees with no additional information.

Things have changed dramatically under James Franklin, who has completed his first full recruiting cycle as Penn State's coach. Franklin was all over ESPN and social media, and Wednesday night hosts "The Signature Event" for the second year at Penn State. The second-year coach, who pledged to "dominate the state" in recruiting at his introduction, signed a class that could end up in the top 15 of the final ESPN RecrutingNation rankings. caught up with Franklin on Wednesday to discuss Penn State's class.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
AP Photo/, Joe HermittJames Franklin has turned signing day into a celebration at Penn State.
How critical were the weeks and months after your hiring to put this class together?

James Franklin: This is truly our first class. This staff has a lot of connections and a lot of us are from this part of the country, so that was helpful. And we were able to get all these guys from Day 1, had some momentum early on, which was really, really important, and then we were able to finish strong as well. We've already got four of the top players in the country committed for 2016, and that's when you're able to really make an impact, when you've been recruiting guys for two or three years. You're able to develop relationships with the young man, the high school coaches, the families, the guidance counselor. But I think we've done a nice job, considering we've only been on campus for just over a year. Very pleased with the class.

What areas of the roster were your biggest priorities, given the scholarship situation?

JF: We played Michigan State last year with 41 scholarship players, so being able to get a few back was huge. Everybody knows O-line was a major concern for us. We had one scholarship offensive tackle in the senior, junior and sophomore classes. No seniors on scholarships, one junior and he came out early [Donovan Smith], and no sophomores. So we walked into an interesting situation. We were able to redshirt all those guys we signed last year and we have a group coming in for this year. That's important, but it's not something you're able to fix overnight. Those guys typically don't play until their redshirt sophomore year.

We were able to sign the No. 1 junior college tackle in the country in Paris Palmer. He's already on campus. That's big. We were able to get at one time the No. 1-ranked player in the state in Sterling Jenkins, and he graduated early. So we've got two 6-foot-8, 300-pound tackles on campus already. That's helpful. And then all those redshirts. We'll be better, but we've still got a way to go in terms of depth. But that was priority No. 1.

Could Sterling help you this coming season?

JF: I don't know. He's got the physical tools and the size to do it, but you really shouldn't play at a place like Penn State until your redshirt sophomore year. I remember Miles Dieffenbach telling me about some of the changes from when he first got here, how he could barely make the scout team roster. He says the freshmen we signed last year are in the two-deep, and we're hoping to be able to redshirt them. That's a great example of how the program has changed in the last five years. That's what we're working to get back to.

You had some young wide receivers and defensive backs contribute last year. Who among this group do you see making an impact?

JF: We were fortunate. You think about all the young players who were able to make an impact for us as true freshmen this year. That was exciting. We're real excited about some of the guys who redshirted, and then we've got guys coming in who we feel really good about. Corner Garrett Taylor is a big, strong physical guy, didn't play this year with a knee injury but was a highly recruited guy. You've got John Reid out of a great program, St. Joe's Prep in Philadelphia, a very mature, disciplined, driven guy. He's already asking for the playbook. And you look at the safeties we signed and I could make arguments for all of those guys. It's always easier to get on the field quicker at the receiver and DB position. You look at the wide receivers we signed, we've got speed and length, which is always important.

You picked up a quarterback with Tommy Stevens. Where does he fit in with your future?

JF: We love him. He's on campus as well, graduated early, and everybody has been so impressed with him. I talked to the strength staff, they love him. I talked to the academic people, they love him. Everybody I come in contact with is just raving about the guy in terms of how positive and appreciative and hard-working he is. He has the makeup that we're looking for, his demeanor, his attitude and his intelligence, so that's exciting. We want to have five quarterbacks on scholarship, one in every class, and we only have three, counting him. It's interesting but it also creates opportunity for guys to play early.

The class is definitely rooted in the state and the region. What struck you most about recruiting and competing here as opposed to the SEC?

JF: One of the big reasons we were so excited about coming here is you have some built-in advantages. You drive six hours in every direction and there's a lot of good players, a lot of good high school coaches. You have an opportunity to be strongly considered for any of those guys. There's not a whole lot of places similar to us in terms of the fan support with 107,000 people at games, with the academic reputation, the history and tradition and facilities. We have a lot of really good things going for us.

Do you sense how much signing day has changed in State College since you arrived?

JF: We want to have fun with it. This is a day for the staff to celebrate all the hard work, and to celebrate these young men and how excited they are about their futures. It's an opportunity to connect with the community and people on campus and allow people inside to see how we do things and get to know us. All of those things are really, really important. More than anything, it's just having fun. This is our future. You can be the best coach in the world. You need great players, great people to work with.
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


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
Feb 1
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.

Penn State has added a fourth ESPN Junior 300 commit. Cornerback Lavert Hill gave his verbal commitment to James Franklin, joining No. 21 Shane Simmons, No. 134 Miles Sanders and No. 265 Jake Zembiec in the Nittany Lions' 2016 class, which is off to a very impressive start.

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Big Ten's top recruiting visits 

January, 30, 2015
Jan 30

The last visit weekend before signing day means the last effort to sway recruits and land some final prospects. There are quite a few important visitors within the Big Ten this weekend, so here is a look at the most important visitors for each team.

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