First, links to each school's official page introducing their new class:
Illinois: not a nice thing.
Indiana: sorry, no basketball.
Iowa: Iowa's athletics website is immensely confusing, designed by Ferentz himself I would imagine. Here's BHGP's stream, it's more entertaining anyway.
Michigan State: here.
Ohio State: today, the pizza is happy.
Penn State: we are! signing day!
Purdue: as you might guess, the official Purdue Signing Day page doesn't seem to exist. Go to H&R instead.
Rutgers: I'm a little surprised the webmaster didn't decommit and take the site with him, but it's here.
Now, as is February custom, let us discuss how these guys will DEFINITELY be the ones to [insert program goal here]. Who are you totally stoked about? Whether it's because of the guy's potential or his awesome name or beating a rival for his signature, which name gives you the fuzziest fuzzies to contemplate across your team's jersey?
MNWildcat: Parrker Westphal, DB, Bolingbrook, IL, and Justin Jackson, RB, Glenbard North HS, Illinois. Both are 4* recruits from the state of Illinois, making Northwestern one of only two schools (the other is Notre Dame, with a 5* and 4*) to get multiple 4*+ recruits from the state. This seems trivial, but to 'win' the state among B1G teams and have two local kids with the potential to make an impact, one on each side of the ball, is a good sign of the excellent recruiting being done by Fitz.
Green Akers: Landing Malik McDowell this morning was a pleasant surprise of the Really Big Deal variety. It was a bizarre story, with his parents being so dead-set against him coming to MSU, but Malik ultimately made his own decision. It's not even clear if his destiny is on the OL or DL, but a talent of his caliber should be hard to keep off the field either way.
Mike Jones: Matt Nelson, defensive end from Cedar Rapids Xavier. Nelson isn’t the highest touted prospect in Iowa’s class but he’s definitely the largest. Checking in at 6’7 (Scout even says 6’8), 240lbs, he already has the height to be a freakishly large defensive lineman. A couple years with the program and 25lbs or so of weight gained and I’m hoping this guy is the next JJ Watt (cause he’s white and tall).
Aaron Yorke: I'm totally stoked about defensive end Noah Beh for all the reasons you listed. Okay, Penn State didn't exactly beat a rival to sign him, but maybe in a few years Maryland (who is listed as a team that offered Beh) can be a PSU rival. The important thing though, is that Beh is a 6'7" defensive end who could be perfect for new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop's high pressure defense. His height could allow him to keep opposing tackle's hands off of his frame when he's not leaping into the air to swat away potential completions. Penn State's defense hasn't been very intimidating in the past few years, and players like Beh can change that.
Jesse Collins: Tanner Farmer. A) Because his name is Tanner Farmer and that might just be the best Nebraska-themed name ever. B) He's 6' 4", 305 lbs or Offensive Lineman potential. C) He killed it at the high school all-star game thing he was at. D) Did I mention his name is great? I'm ridiculously excited for him to one day start on a line with Chongo. We may win the all-name game by the end of this.
GoForTJ: Totally stoked: Raekwon McMillan. Standout LB from Gerogia who enrolled early. With the loss of Shazier, LB is a giant flashing ? in the lineup. The kid is a stud and in 2015 he'll be a beast.
Brian Gillis: Despite the fact that much of the attention Michigan has received over the past few months has focused on de-commitments and recruits choosing schools other than Michigan, the Wolverines still have a solid class coming in, roughly half of which has enrolled early, including WR Drake Harris and OL Mason Cole. If there is one player who appears to stand above the rest, however, it’s 6’1", 210-pound Jabrill Peppers. But don’t just take my word for it, when it was rumored that Peppers would re-open his commitment in light of uncertainty surrounding Brady Hoke’s future at Michigan, Athletic Director David Brandon issued a statement seemingly directed at Peppers, assuring the public that Hoke wasn’t going anywhere. While it’s risky putting too much stock into incoming freshmen (Michigan fans need look no further than Derrick Green for reason to exercise caution in this regard), Peppers looks like a good bet to deliver. Peppers saw action on both offense and defense in high school, and at times seemed like his team’s best offensive player, but he is being recruited as a defensive back at Michigan. The last time Michigan had a truly great defense, its driving force was Charles Woodson. With Woodson essentially shutting down one side of the field, Michigan was able to focus others’ attention elsewhere. Similarly, one of the keys to Michigan State’s defense last year was that the Spartans were able to leave its corners alone, without having to worry about providing much help, freeing up other resources. The hope in Ann Arbor is that Peppers develops into that kind of player. Such players are rare, and you don’t want to burden a young player with such comparisons, but Peppers certainly looks the part. A consensus five-star and top-five player nationally, Peppers has been the talk of the all-star game and camp circuit, receiving rave reviews at almost every stop. But of all I’ve seen and read, what most sticks with me is Sports Illustrated piece in which a USC assistant coach couldn’t stop gushing over Peppers. When Peppers’ high school coach suggested that USC must have plenty of guys who look like Peppers on its roster, the coach apparently responded, "We don't have anyone who looks like that."
Are there any under-the-radar types you think could become a JJ Watt or Le'Veon Bell caliber of player?
Green Akers: OL Nick Padla is a possible miss on the part of the recruiting services. He's unquestionably a redshirt this season- he's already said as much. But the comparisons to current OT Jack Conklin are obvious- an instate guy with very little fanfare who had to be very impressive in camps to get MSU's attention. I'd also keep an eye on Vayante Copeland, who most services list as a running back but is expected to play defensive back for MSU, as I believe he's one of Dantonio's handpicked guys, and having Mark Dantonio see your ability as a DB is a really, really good thing.
Mike Jones: As per unwritten rule, Iowa is all about the diamond in the rough. I’ll go with Ross Reynolds, offensive guard out of Waukee, Iowa. At 6’3, 283lbs he’s just 10 or 20 pounds shy of starting weight but will hopefully grow a couple more inches. However, even if he doesn’t Kirk Ferentz still knows how to put undersized offensive linemen into the NFL.
Aaron Yorke: Halfback Mark Allen is one of Penn State least heralded recruits. That probably has to do with the fact that he's 5'7" tall and that his only other offer is from Temple. However, not only is Temple plenty capable of churning out NFL-quality running backs (see Bernard Pierce), but football at all levels is trending towards smaller back who are assets in the passing game. Even if Allen doesn't have the speed of a guy like Darren Sproles, I can see him being a tough match-up for opposing linebackers in a few years.
Jesse Collins: This is a ridiculously 3* heavy class that is all about upside. I really think the biggest hype from those ranks, however, I do think Peyton Newell has potential to be pretty great at DE. His film seems to show a guy who gets in there and blows people off the line. That should be a nice add and could really end up being a staple off the outside.
GoForTJ: Stephen Collier, 3-star QB from Georgia who also moved north to start early. He's under the radar for sure and will be a backup this year, but if his views on work ethic are to be believed, he's got massive upside potential.
Who should we expect to see play right away, either because of their ability or because the guys ahead of them just aren't cutting the mustard?
MNWildcat: Fitz loves him the redshirt. But we're excited about Westphal, who spurned OSU, Michigan, and Florida to come to Northwestern. Not only that, but he's enrolled early in Evanston, meaning he can participate in spring practice, learn the playbook, and potentially augment a secondary that, while banged-up, wasn't the reason the Wildcats struggled in 2013 (OK, besides one play). Westphal might crack the lineup if the 'Cats need him, though this is a 4* recruit who Northwestern might hang onto as long as possible.
Green Akers: Hard to say...Many of MSU's more highly regarded prospects are linemen, who usually need a season to mature. There were only two early enrollees- ATH (projected as TE) Matt Sokol and LB Chris Frey Jr. All of MSU's tight ends will be back, but with three LBs graduating, it's possible Frey Jr. or one of the other LBs (Deon Drake and Byron Bullough) could see the field on special teams and as a reserve. There's also one JUCO addition to this class, OT David Hedelin, and with three starting OL graduating, there could be space for the Swede-by-way-of-California to step in immediately, like Fou Fonoti did three years ago. Also, with the recent news about Mark Scarpinato forgoing his remaining eligibility in favor of medical school, there's conceivably space for a true frosh to contribute at DT- Craig Evans, Enoch Smith and Malik McDowell are all possibilities there.
Mike Jones: Desmond King aside, it’s rare that Iowa starts true freshman unless absolutely necessary. I can’t think of any position hurting more than linebacker as Christian Kirksey, Anthony Hitchens and James Morris all graduated. That leaves guys like Reggie Spearman and Quinton Alston to step into starting roles. While I think Spearman and Alston will eventually become solidified starters I’m not sold on who will take the other outside linebacker position. That’s why I think Aaron Mends or Jameer Outsey could see some playing time this fall.
Aaron Yorke: Four-star wide receiver De'Andre Thompkins is a solid bet to see a lot of playing time in 2014. Thompkins is one of the highest rated members of the incoming Penn State class and he also plays in a position group that will need all hands on back after the departure of stud Allen Robinson. With Robinson heading to the NFL, redshirt sophomore Geno Lewis become the de facto number one receiver, but the depth chart is shrouded in mystery beyond that. Thompkins has an opportunity to become a breakout star right away.
Jesse Collins: Tanner Farmer and Nick Gates could both get looks on the O-Line. They're both talented enough and should compete for time on what will be a little bit of a retooled Offensive front. I'd also expect Joe Keels, Juco D-end out of Kansas to get some looks early and often.
GoForTJ: Kicker Sean Neuernberger or OL Kyle Trout. The kicker spot will be an open battle, and I think he's certainly the more likely choice. Lots of potential early players for OSU, though, even Raekwon at LB.
Any other Signing Day thoughts? This is probably our last (barring Fulmer Cup developments) football news until spring football, so. Make it count.
MNWildcat: I think that while I'm happy Northwestern's recruiting is improving, I'm more concerned to see what the coaches do with the offense, which was by all accounts pretty abysmal last fall. Cautious optimism that Fitz's style of giving players time to season here, along with cautious optimism that this squad should find at least 7 wins.
Green Akers: Mark Dantonio is recruiting with a little more of an edge than he used to. After famously bemoaning the death of the B1G's 'gentlemen's agreement' on committed prospects when Urban Meyer brought his SEC tactics to the B1G, this class saw Dantonio snag a pair of Plan A targets, Craig Evans and Darius Slade, from the commit lists of rival programs (though Slade apparently won't sign his LOI today; turnabout's fair play, I suppose). He also had MSU active on a number of high-profile battles right up until Signing Day, something he hasn't really done much before. The added juice MSU has found on the trail thanks to the Rose Bowl win should only get more potent going forward.
Mike Jones: This marks the third straight year that Iowa has finished 6th or worse in the Rivals.com Big Ten recruiting rankings. Only twice in the history Rivals has Iowa finished better than 6th: 2005 & 2011. Take from that what you will.
Aaron Yorke: I don't have anything else to say except that I'm thrilled with the job that James Franklin has done to keep the Penn State program's momentum going after the departure of Bill O'Brien. The process was a lot smoother than the last coaching change, and while that is due mostly to a change in circumstances, I think Franklin and his staff deserve a lot of credit for energizing the program and making sure that key recruits like Michael O'Connor stayed put.
Jesse Collins: I'll be honest, there aren't as many big names in this class as I'd like, but a haul of 26 means you are filling in the ranks and building a foundation for other classes. After Junior day last weekend, however, Nebraska already has landed four highly regarded recruits that will compliment what we're doing this year. It is worth noting that Bo had a strong closing period again, but is starting hot on the trail this year and new DB Coach Charlie Warren is leading the charge. If Nebraska can keep this up, the reinforcements will be on their way, which is only good news.
GoForTJ: As I said before, the B1G HAS to start recruiting better. Illinois is bringing in almost NO talent this year. Another year of that shit and they might as well shutter the doors. Rutgers and Maryland are disappointing early. Rutgers started off with a strong class but has been losing commits faster than Chris Christie's reputation is falling. Most importantly, we may be seeing the last gasp of Brady Hoke. His two 5-star treasures decommited in embarrassing fashion. Without a great season this year, he starts to look more and more like a coach who can't cut the mustard in the big time.
Candystripes for Breakfast: It sounds like Indiana is going to bring in a decent bunch of talent this year (possibly even a 4 star or two), but what really matters is whether or not these guys can gel with the existing team and shore up one of the worst defenses in the country from last year. New defensive coordinator, new scheme (3-4 instead of 4-3), hopefully better results.
What say you, readers? It's now officially OK to fanboy/fangirl out about these kids because they've sent their letters in, so fire away!