The Super Bowl is Sunday, but the super bowl of recruiting arrives on Wednesday. So on the eve of national signing day, we thought we'd check in with some of ESPN.com's top recruiting experts to get a feel for what's going on in the Big Ten.
Our esteemed panel included senior national recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill, Midwest recruiting writer Jared Shanker and Scouts Inc. recruiting coordinator Craig Haubert. This is Part I of our discussion; look for Part II later on today.
Topic 1: What impact has the arrival of Urban Meyer had on the league and in general when it comes to recruiting?
Tom Luginbill: "It's been fairly significant. If there's one thing Urban Meyer understands and has been able to do, it's that you build a championship team from the inside out. Whether it was at Florida or now at Ohio State, if you notice who essentially all his first commitments were, they were all on the defensive line and offensive line. So he understands that, if they're going to compete for a national championship, the gap has to be closed in the defensive front seven. That's the difference between what's happened in the SEC and everywhere else. So I think that's where he's made his biggest impact."
Craig Haubert: “What Urban Meyer has been able to come and do down the stretch has been huge. I knew when he took over, they would get better as a class, but I didn’t really think when this happened, they’d have a chance to crack the Top 25. They’re still in a position to possibly land some guys. Davonte Neal, the No. 1 athlete, could be headed there. Stefon Diggs and Jordan Diamond are also in the mix there.” [Diggs and Neal are both post-signing day announcements].
“If you look at this class, it’s all in the trenches, really. And our philosophy is there’s always an increased value to upper-tier linemen because they’re harder to find. Noah Spence obviously is huge, he’s a five-star, but so is Adolphus Washington. The other thing that stands out to me about Ohio State is he’s been plucking guys from other Big Ten schools. [Se’Von] Pittman was a Michigan State kid. Joey O’Connor had decommitted before he got him, but he was a Penn State kid. Same thing with Tommy Schutt. Armani Reeves. So his upper part of his class, a lot of them have come from other Big Ten schools.”
Jared Shanker: “He’s exceeded my expectations. He’s obviously a great recruiter. At the same time, I wouldn’t call it walking into a perfect situation, but with what was going on at Penn State, I think he’s taken five recruits from Penn State, so there were opportunities for him to come in and flip some guys. Noah Spence was a Penn State lean. He had O’Connor and Tommy Schutt, two other ESPNU 150 guys who were committed to Penn State. Camren Williams and Armani Reeves, two other guys at Penn State. Obviously, he’s one of the best recruiters in the game. He also had some good fortune in being able to come in at a time when things were shaky at a rival school and pick up some of their commitments. Se’Von Pittman, the other ESPNU 150 guy, he was really looking for a reason to get to Ohio State.”
Topic 2: How good is Michigan's class, and has the Wolverines' momentum slowed down in the last several weeks?
CH: “They came out fast. We’ve always had them in that 5-to-7 type range. People might get frustrated that it’s getting near signing day, when there’s a lot of buzz and things going on, and they’re not doing much, but to be fair to them, what they did has allowed them to maintain in the same area where they’ve been for most of the recruiting process. The thing that sticks out to me about this class is a lot of people kind of scoffed when Brady Hoke got hired and he said, ‘I’m a Michigan man.’ But he’s been true to that. They’ve done very well in state. A lot of their key players are Michigan guys, led by Terry Richardson. So he’s brought a little bit of that Michigan man feel, and there seems to be an excitement among recruits.”
TL: "Michigan was rolling before Meyer got the job, and they were teetering on maybe swinging Bri'onte Dunn, the running back, and Ohio State was able to keep him in the fold. Is Michigan in competition with Ohio State for some players? Yes. But Michigan right now is more focused on revamping the roster to the mold that Brady Hoke wants. They need more size up front, some size at the linebacking positions and some size at the skill spots. And I think they've done that in all three areas. [The lack of recent commitments] is a reflection of numbers and how much room they have. With the Big Ten's hard cap, they don't have a ton of wiggle room. If anything, the winning on the field and the sustained excellence helped solidify that the class would stay intact."
JS: “I don’t know if I’d say they’ve lost momentum. They really were hoping to get Josh Garnett, who ended up going to Stanford. Their class filled up so quickly, and they only had about four or five spots left midway through the season. They’re hoping to get some of the guys who are closer to signing day. They’re in good position to get Jordan Diamond. I think he’s No. 94 overall. So it seems like they’ve maybe fallen off, but they were at 21 or 22 commitments by the time the season started. They really had their run of success in the spring and summer. I’m sure they would have liked to maintain that a little bit and gotten some of those final targets like Garnett, but they’re also able to get the two receivers, [Amara] Darboh and [Jehu] Chesson, right after the season ended. So they’ve still been able to pick up some guys along the way.”
Topic 3: How has Penn State fared given all the turmoil surrounding the program and the flurry of decommitments?
JS: “My thinking for them was, if they could have just held on to their 14 commitments, that would be the main thing. They were obviously going to get some more commitments, but they weren’t going to be the top-caliber guys. If they could hold onto the 14 and add those sleeper guys who have a chance to be something at the next level, that was my expectation for them. I like that they got Akeel Lynch, the running back. I think he could be a good player. They’re probably a little disappointed that it looks like they’re going to miss out on [Skyler] Mornhinweg and the two Massachusetts guys in Reeves and Williams.”
TL: "I think to this point, Bill O'Brien has done a good job. But a lot of credit needs to go to that previous staff. Outside of the guys they lost to Ohio State, through all of this, they're still siting here with 18 verbal commitments. If you think about it, that's astounding. And I would say that the top third of them, athletically, can compete for a conference championship. Of course, you don't know all the intangibles and all that, but based on pure player level, this is a pretty strong class. It certainly isn't anywhere near where people would have expected it to be. ... But just to have bodies in this class, in my opinion, is a positive. [O'Brien] won't be judged on this class. He will be given a long leash, and in my opinion, it was made very clear with the timetable the administration set with this hire that the 2012 class is not the priority. If it had been, they would have hired a guy in December."