NCF On The Trail: Purdue Boilermakers

Unlike the ACC or SEC, the Big Ten hasn't taken an official position on an early signing period. Many Big Ten coaches see the benefits, but there has been no united front.

Here's a bit of advice: The Big Ten coaches should band together about an urgent recruiting item, but not the early signing period.

The Big Ten must campaign for official visits to be moved up. No other league is affected more by population shifts that have created dense pockets of top recruits located far from its footprint. The Big Ten is expanding its recruiting reach, especially to the Southeast, but its proximity to many talent bases remains a significant obstacle.

If the Big Ten can't get prospects to its campuses before decisions are made, it will continue to fall behind in the recruiting race.

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
AP Photo/Nati HarnikEarlier official visits would be a boon to Bo Pelini and Nebraska, as the Cornhuskers have to recruit nationally because of a limited local talent base.
"The first thing we have to do is get kids on campus earlier," Michigan coach Brady Hoke told ESPN.com. "I'm sure our friends in the Pac-12 and the SEC would rather not that be the case. They'd rather have kids come in to Ann Arbor if it's winter.

"But I think it would help the guys from distance and the guys from those climates to come on campus to see what it is like."

NCAA rules state that prospects can't begin taking their five official visits -- paid for by the schools -- until the start of their senior year in high school. But many recruits make their college choices much earlier.

The accelerated recruiting cycle has minimized the significance of official visits. Many prospects commit after taking unofficial visits, for which they pay their own way. But the distance between Big Ten schools and the highest concentrations of elite prospects makes it challenging for recruits and their families to fund long, expensive trips.

"Since the trend is for early commitments, it makes sense that it favors schools located in population bases that produce a lot of players," said Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo, a former coach at Indiana, LSU and Vanderbilt. "So how do you combat that? How does a kid from Atlanta get to Lincoln, Nebraska, in the summer on their own expense?"

DiNardo views Nebraska as the FBS school most impacted by accelerated recruiting cycle. Nebraska always has recruited nationally because of its small local population base, but former coach Tom Osborne -- "a tireless recruiter," DiNardo said -- capitalized on the fact that recruits made their choices after an official visit to Lincoln.

Huskers coach Bo Pelini acknowledges earlier official visits "would help us."

"When you take official visits away from the equation, it really hurts a place like Nebraska," DiNardo said. "So early signing day has to be partnered up with official visits in a prospect's junior year.

"If just the date moves up without official visits, it sets the Big Ten even further behind."

DiNardo notes that a program such as Ohio State is less affected by the official visits timetable because it has a large local talent base that can easily reach its campus. But other Big Ten programs must cast a wider recruiting net.

It's especially true for programs in the western part of the league: Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

"It gives some of the schools that aren't surrounded by a lot of schools or a lot of places, it gives us a chance," Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. "But I don't know if that's going to happen or not. People in Texas aren't going to vote for that because they never have to leave Texas."

Most Big Ten coaches interviewed by ESPN.com favor earlier official visits but want clear guidelines. One question is timing.

Several coaches mention late May or early June as the ideal time because many recruits already are touring schools unofficially and most staffs are conducting on-campus camps.

"With the way people are traveling around right now, it might be good to afford a prospect to take a couple of visits in June," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Also, I think it'd be great to afford at least a parent the opportunity to join that prospect and make it part of the official trip."

Coaches say the parental component is critical.

"Sometimes kids just don't have the means to be able to get here, and they definitely don't have the means to have their parents come," Pelini said. "Hopefully, they'll change that. It's too big of a decision for a 17-year-old or 18-year-old kid to make without his parents or somebody being there."

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesMark Dantonio wants an early official-visit period, but would prefer for it to be in a limited window instead of spanning the entire spring and summer.
Both Pelini and Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio want a limit on the number of official visitors schools could have in the spring. FBS teams can provide up to 56 official visits, but Dantonio rarely uses more than half of the allotment.

"It's not just carte blanche," Dantonio said. "I would make it a two-week window and cap those numbers."

Allowing 10-20 early official visits could work. Dantonio and Pelini also think prospects should be allowed to take multiple official visits to the same school.

Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen favors an earlier signing date in December, but he needs more clarity on official visits -- when they would take place, and for how long.

"I have to look at quality of life for my coaches," Andersen said. "Are we willing to take 4-5 weeks away in the summer? I don’t want to do that."

Added Purdue coach Darrell Hazell: "You lose your life. The month of July, you need a little bit of decompression time."

The first two weeks in June makes the most sense. Create a dead period in July so coaches can take time off.

It also doesn't mean official visits in September and October will stop. Andersen can talk about Wisconsin's "Jump Around" and show videos, but, he said, "there’s nothing like being there."

Big Ten teams still will have the chance to showcase their stadiums, facilities and campuses during football season. But they can't afford to wait that long for far-flung prospects to arrive, especially when they can afford to bring them in sooner.

"It would help everybody," Hoke said. "The other conferences aren’t just staying in their region, either."

That's true, but the Big Ten has the most to gain, and pushing for change won't be easy.

"If that thing ever goes to a vote, everybody is going to say is that the Big Ten is just complaining," Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said. "They'll keep rallying their troops because they want to keep those kids at home."

The Big Ten coaches must rally, too. Otherwise, the recruiting gap will widen.
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.

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.
In the coming days, I'll take a closer look at whether the Big Ten would benefit from having prospects take official visits earlier, such as at the end of their junior years in high school. It's an idea Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo has championed, and one that makes since because of the accelerated recruiting cycle and the far-flung locations of some Big Ten schools.

Some Big Ten teams might not benefit from earlier official visits. They have no trouble getting recruits to campus and piling up early commits. Others must play the waiting game and make strong pushes before national signing day. Coaching changes can make an impact when teams get verbal commits, as Penn State has learned in recent weeks. Recruits also have been more likely to flip pledges leading up to signing day, forcing some teams to scramble to fill spots.

We're a day away from the big day, and while there are a few key undecided recruits who will make their choices Wednesday, most of the hay is in the barn, so to speak.

When did Big Ten teams get their 2014 recruits to verbally commit? Here's a closer look (as of Monday night):

ILLINOIS

Total commits: 18 (four already have signed)

March-May 2013: 4
June-July: 8
August-September: 0
October: 1
November: 0
December: 4
January: 1
February: 0

INDIANA

Total commits: 25 (six have signed)

March-May 2013: 0
June: 5
July: 4
August: 0
September: 1
October: 3
November: 0
December: 2
January: 6
February: 4

IOWA

Total commits: 21

January-April 2013: 2
June: 5
July: 3
August: 2
September: 1
October: 1
November: 2
December: 1
January: 4

MICHIGAN

Total commits: 16 (seven have signed)

August 2012: 1
February 2013: 3
April-May: 7
June: 3
July: 1
August: 1
September-February: 0

MICHIGAN STATE

Total commits: 21 (two have signed)

August 2012: 1
September 2012: 1
April-May 2013: 5
June: 4
July: 1
August: 1
September: 2
October: 0
November: 1
December: 3
January: 1
February: 1

MINNESOTA

Total commits: 19 (two have signed)

February-April 2013: 3
May: 0
June-July: 3
August: 0
September: 1
October: 1
November: 2
December: 1
January: 6
February: 2

NEBRASKA

Total commits: 26 (two have signed)

March 2013: 1
April-May: 0
June: 7
July: 3
August: 1
September: 0
October: 1
November: 2
December: 2
January: 6
February: 3

NORTHWESTERN

Total commits: 16 (one has enrolled)

March-April 2013: 4
May: 5
June: 1
July-November: 0
December: 3
January: 1
February: 2

OHIO STATE

Total commits: 22 (seven have signed)

December 2012: 1
January-February 2013: 3
March-May: 4
June: 5
July: 2
August: 1
September: 1
October-November: 0
December: 2
January: 3
February: 0

PENN STATE

Total commits: 25 (five have enrolled)

October 2012: 1
February-April 2013: 5
May: 2
June-July: 3
August-September: 0
October: 3
November: 1
December: 1
January: 8
February: 1

PURDUE

Total commits: 20 (two have signed)

May 2013: 2
June: 3
July: 1
August-September: 0
October: 1
November: 1
December: 8
January: 3
February: 1

WISCONSIN

Total commits: 27 (four have signed)

April 2012: 1
August 2012: 1
September 2012: 1
May 2013: 2
June-July: 5
August: 0
September: 2
October: 3
November: 5
December: 3
January: 2
February: 2

Notes/comments
  • The James Franklin effect certainly can be seen in Penn State's class, as all nine recruits who committed in January or February did so after Franklin's hiring on Jan. 11. Franklin flipped several prospects from his former team, Vanderbilt, and also brought in some surprises during a furious push down the stretch.
  • Early recruiting has been a hallmark for Brady Hoke at Michigan, and it's no surprise to see the Wolverines basically done with their 2014 class before the season. Michigan had 21 of its 27 recruits in the 2013 class verbally commit before the 2012 season.
  • Iowa's commit pattern was the steadiest in the league, as the Hawkeyes received at least one pledge every month between June 2013 and January 2014.
  • Nebraska has accelerated its recruiting pace in each of the last two years. The Huskers had just five verbal commits before the season in the 2012 class but doubled that total in the 2013 class and have 12 in the 2014 crop. Nebraska is one of the Big Ten schools that seemingly could benefit from earlier official visits because of its location in relation to recruiting hotbeds.
  • Gary Andersen's first full recruiting class at Wisconsin is a huge one, and Andersen and his staff did much of their work both during and after the 2013 season. Seventeen of Wisconsin's 27 pledges came after the games began.
  • Northwestern stockpiled commits early on and would have been done in mid-December after Parrker Westphal's pledge, but two prospects (Noah Westerfield and Jordan Thomas) decommited last month, forcing the Wildcats to make some late additions.
  • Ohio State's recruiting is following a somewhat familiar pattern under Urban Meyer: strong winter and spring, a few summer pickups, relatively quiet during the season and then a nice push from mid-December to early January. The Buckeyes have landed some of their best prospects late in the process, from 2013 recruits Mike Mitchell and Vonn Bell to 2014 standout Raekwon McMillan.
  • Purdue and Minnesota tend to add the bulk of their commits later in the process. The Boilers added 12 commits in the 2013 class following Darrell Hazell's hiring in early December, and 12 of their 20 commits in this year's class came after Dec. 1. Minnesota picked up nine of its 19 commits in the current class after Dec. 1 -- a similar ratio as it had in the 2013 class.

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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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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Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

January, 20, 2014
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As usual there is a ton of action happening around signing day. The Big Ten has had commitments, decommitments, offers and everything in between.

Here is a look at what took place within the conference on the recruiting trail this past week:


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Most important targets: Big Ten 

January, 8, 2014
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As we approach signing day, there are plenty of big targets left on the board for Big Ten teams.

Here is a look at some of the most important prospects left for each program.

Illinois
DL Daniel Cage (Cincinnati, Ohio/Winton Woods)
6-foot-3, 290 pounds
Four-star
Cage is a bit of a long shot for Illinois, but he would be a big get if the Illini can get him. Louisville was very much in the picture for Cage, but with coach Charlie Strong taking the Texas job, there might be opportunity to move in. Illinois will have to fight off Michigan State for the defensive tackle.


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Midyear signings:  Purdue

December, 23, 2013
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According to ESPN's Jared Shanker, the following players have signed with Purdue:

David Blough, QB-PP, Carrollton, Texas/Creekview
HT: 6-1 WT: 187
Positional Rank: No. 33 QB-PP
Stars: 3

Kirk Barron, OG, Mishawaka, Ind./Marian
HT: 6-3 WT: 297
Positional Rank: No. 45 OG
Stars: 3

Big Ten class rankings analysis 

December, 18, 2013
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The Big Ten was on fire after landing eight commitments this week. Based on that, here was sure to be movement in the class rankings so here is a look at how the Big Ten stacks up.

Trending up

To say it has been a good week for Ohio State would be an understatement. The Buckeyes landed two top-50 prospects in the 2014 class with linebacker Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County) and receiver Johnnie Dixon (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla./Dwyer).

Ohio State had already moved up to the No. 8 class in the country, and it is now sitting with the No. 5 class overall after the outstanding additions.

Purdue also needs some recognition as the Boilermakers have landed nine commitments in the month of December. Defensive back Ladarius Wiley (Los Angeles/Cathedral) is one of the most recent, and he could end up being a steal for Purdue.

The Boilermakers quickly went from having very few commitments to only having one spot remaining in their class.

Penn State is another team who rose in the rankings, moving up to No 24 from 26 with the addition of ESPN 300 defensive tackle Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln).


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Big Ten class rankings analysis 

December, 11, 2013
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There has been quite a bit of movement on the recruiting trail within the Big Ten. A few commits, decommits and decisions nearing which means it's time to take a look at the latest class rankings and trends for the conference for the Class of 2014.

Trending up:

Nebraska has been on a roll in recent weeks, picking up four commitments in December. Juco prospects Terrell Clinkscales (Dodge City, Kan./Dodge City Community College), Byerson Cockrell (Columbus, Miss./East Mississippi Community College) and Joe Keels (Kenosha, Wisc./Highland community college) will all add immediate depth and competition at their position.

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Most important targets: Big Ten 

December, 10, 2013
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The 2014 recruiting cycle is winding down toward signing day, which means teams will pick up the heat on their top remaining targets.

Here is a look at the most important prospects left for each team in the Big Ten.

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Big Ten class ranking analysis 

December, 4, 2013
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The end of the regular season means coaches will have more time to focus on recruiting and closing out their recruiting class. The Big Ten has seen plenty of movement within the last week, so here is a look at where the conference stacks up in the recruiting class rankings.


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Big Ten recruiting storylines: Nov. 21 

November, 21, 2013
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The Big Ten has seen plenty of action recently with commits, decommitments and offers being sent out. Here is a look at the latest story lines within the conference.

MOVING ON FROM HAND

Michigan missed out on five-star defensive end Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge) on Thursday. Hand told the coaches Wednesday night, which gave them time to consider an offer to fill his spot.

The staff then promptly offered in-state prospect Jhonny Williams (Berrien Springs, Mich./Berrien Springs), who is currently committed to Missouri. Williams has now said he will visit Notre Dame, who also recently offered, and will most likely take a trip to Ann Arbor as well.

This could be interesting, as Williams only lives 30 minutes from South Bend and his father is a Michigan fan.

The Wolverines also offered three-star Cal running back commit Vic Enwere (Sugar Land, Texas/Fort Bend Austin), who has said he will likely take a visit as well.

[+] EnlargeTyler Wiegers
Tom Hauck for ESPNFour-star QB Tyler Wiegers decommitted to Rutgers and might take a trip to Iowa this weekend.
HAWKEYES UP

Quarterback Tyler Wiegers (Beverly Hills, Mich./Country Day) decommitted from Rutgers this week, something that’s starting to be a trend with its class.

The four-star quarterback is now considering Iowa, and could take a visit to see the Hawkeyes this weekend. If Wiegers does make the trip, a decision could come shortly after.

If he picks Iowa, Wiegers would be the second four-star commit for the Hawkeyes.

TRANQUILL FLIPS FOR IRISH

Linebacker Drue Tranquill (Ft. Wayne, Ind./Carroll) had been mulling a Notre Dame offer for quite some time, despite being committed to Purdue.

In a text message sent on Monday night, Tranquill made the decision to flip his commitment to Notre Dame.

“I’ve decided to play my next four years at the University of Notre Dame,” the text message said. “I have so much respect for Coach (Darrell) Hazell. I’ve never met someone with such high character. However, I’m ecstatic to go play for Coach (Brian) Kelly at the University of Notre Dame.”

RECRUITING OUT FRONT FOR WESTPHAL

Now that his season is over, ESPN 300 defensive back Parrker Westphal (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook) is once again focused on his recruitment.

After much deliberation, the No. 96-ranked prospect is down to Michigan State, Northwestern and Vanderbilt.

He will be taking an unofficial visit to Northwestern on Saturday for its game against Michigan State and will then return again for an official visit in the first week of December.

That’s a huge opportunity for the Wildcats to seal the deal on one of the top remaining targets in this class.

SYKES SET TO RELEASE TOP LIST

Four-star linebacker Nile Sykes (Lombard, Ill./Montini Catholic) has been receiving major interest as of late. His most recent offer comes from Notre Dame, which has sparked interest.

Sykes has been focusing on his season, but tweeted this week that he will release a top-five list next week. He is a major target for Illinois and he also holds a Purdue offer.

With the loss of Tranquill, the Boilermakers could really use some help at linebacker.

MINNESOTA ROLLING

The Minnesota coaching staff has seen a spark in interest from prospects they have been in contact with in recent weeks. Winning typically cures all, and that’s the case with the Golden Gophers right now.

In-state target Frank Ragnow (Victoria, Minn./Chanhassen) says that Minnesota’s play on the field has definitely been something he’s taken into consideration.

“It’s huge, because I came into this fall, the one thing that Minnesota was lacking was winning,” Ragnow said. “I would’ve ruled them out if they weren’t winning. They always talked about winning and actually seeing it happen is huge.”

The Gophers are facing off against Wisconsin this weekend and will have running back target J'Vonte Herrod (Kennesaw, Ga./North Cobb) on campus for the game.

Herrod isn’t quite sure when he will make a decision just yet, but the Gophers are likely his current leader.


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