Big Ten Football: Class of 2014 Recruiting All-Conference Team
Penn State is still recovering from its party at the Bryce Jordan Center, we're pretty sure Mark Dantonio can be found camped out in front of the fax machine (we're looking at you, Mrs. McDowell), and Pat Fitzgerald is busy owning Chicagoland once again.
That's the aftermath of what took place in the 2014 recruiting cycle around the Big Ten. It was an interesting ride, including a class that saw Ohio State separate themselves just a bit from the rest of the league on the recruiting trail.
However, they weren't the only ones finding a lot of talent. The Big Ten picked up some of the nation's best players.
So much so, that despite whatever Illinois attempted to pass off as recruiting, the league had a good day on national signing day.
Four teams landed inside the 247Sports top 25, and six were inside the top 35 when it was all said and done.
It means that the conference that was down over the last few years just may be on the way up.
Which members of this class will help do that most? Let us take a look at the 2014 recruiting All-B1G team.
All recruiting information and high school stats courtesy 247Sports.
Pro-Style QB: Clayton Thorson
Northwestern likes to claim that it is "Chicago's Big Ten team," and in the 2014 recruiting cycle, Pat Fitzgerald and co. certainly did work in the Chicagoland area.
The highest-rated pro-style quarterback that any Big Ten team attracted in the 2014 class is heading to Northwestern. Not Michigan, nor Wisconsin nor Michigan State—but to the shores of Lake Michigan in Evanston, Ill.
Said quarterback, Clayton Thorson, isn't just a straight-up pro-style quarterback, though. He can give the Wildcats enough in the run game to be an option coming in to the 2014 season. It's part of why the Wildcats may have gotten the best quarterback of anyone in the Big Ten in the 2014 class.
Thorson finished up his high school career at Wheaton North by throwing for 2,809 yards and 29 touchdowns, while also rushing for 567 yards and 12 touchdowns. Those numbers add up to the No. 9-ranked pro-style quarterback.
Perhaps the only thing that will hold him back from truly competing for the starting job is that he won't be around for spring and must develop all of the tools needed in a very short time to compete with the experienced Trevor Siemian.
Look for Thorson to be in the mix for playing time sooner rather than later.
Dual-Threat QB: D.J. Gillins
When thinking Wisconsin and quarterback, most don't think of a dual threat at first. Game manager, strong-armed or smart would likely come to mind way before talking about being a dual threat.
The good news for UW fans is that Gillins possesses all of those qualities most associate with a Badger quarterback, but he brings a great ability to run the ball as well.
Gillins did suffer a torn ACL in high school, and it led to a decommitment from Texas Tech. What was their loss became Wisconsin's gain, as they added the No. 7-ranked dual-threat QB in this class.
It's easy to see why the Badgers like his potential, because he isn't a run-first quarterback who has an arm. He's a quarterback who uses his feet to make plays in the pass game first. Throwing for over 7,000 yards and 76 touchdowns shows just that.
The natural comparison in Madison may be to Russell Wilson; however, he is a very different athlete and has a very different build to him. One look at his tape shows some of the wiggle and arm that former Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor exhibited coming out of high school.
With Gillins enrolling early, it appears he will be given every chance to showcase himself and earn the starting job. Beating out the experienced Joel Stave may be a bit much, but Gillins was a rare find for the Badgers.
Running Back: Jeff Jones
It's not often Minnesota and "can't-miss prospect" are linked together, but in getting running back Jeff Jones, that's what the Gophers have. Jones was a known commodity in the upper Midwest, but he broke out nationally thanks to his 62-yard performance in the Under Armour All-American Game in January.
With that performance, Jones attracted national attention, and schools like Florida and Michigan made late plays for his commitment. However, Jones kept his verbal commitment and signed with the Gophers on Wednesday.
He put up over 1,500 yards and 34 touchdowns in his senior year at Minneapolis Washburn High School. Jones also showed he's more than just a runner, picking up 17 receptions, 498 yards and eight touchdowns.
While Minnesota has a very capable back in David Cobb, Jones is a game-changer, and Minnesota doesn't have enough of them in the mix. He was the No. 9-ranked running back in the country, and the fact that hometown Minnesota was really the only school that put him on their radar from the get-go is how they ended up with his services.
The fact that Jones' biggest looks came from Iowa State and Minnesota speaks volumes as to how much the rest of the Big Ten and country missed out on his talent. Look for him to make a difference in multiple ways for the Gophers this season.
WR: Drake Harris and Johnnie Dixon
This was one position group that the Big Ten loaded up on and got a ton of quality out of as well. Picking just two was not an easy task, but only two made it in to the 247Sports top 10 at wide receiver, and it's hard to argue with what each bring to the table.
Michigan got the more college-ready of the two receivers in the 6'4", 180-pound Drake Harris, but Ohio State may have gotten the more intriguing long-term prospect in Johnnie Dixon.
Some have compared Dixon, the 5'10, 187-pound receiver, to another former small receiver of Urban Meyer's—one Percy Harvin. The speed (reported 4.37 in the 40-yard dash) and size are certainly comparable, but then again, analysts have been looking for the next Harvin ever since he left for the NFL, and no one on Meyer's teams has been able to fulfill that role yet.
Both are early enrollees, and that could really accelerate their ability to see the field in 2014. Neither coach has shied away from playing freshmen who show they deserve it.
There are still a few questions to be answered by Harris, though, as he sat out his senior year with an injury, an injury that appears to be close to 100 percent healed.
"Physically, he's improved," said head coach Brady Hoke in quotes released by Michigan. "He's doing more and more. I know we ran yesterday and he's feeling more towards 100 percent all the time. We're hoping he'll be ready for the start of spring."
Healthy or not this spring, Harris has shown all of the talent to be a difference-maker for the Wolverines.
Meyer loves to work with guys who can be multiple threats and get on the field in a number of ways, and Dixon fits that mold.
Look for both of these two to make big impacts from the start for their respective teams.
TE: Mike Gesicki
Tight end is always a tricky spot to evaluate because of the size of the players. Some grow out of the wide receiver position and others grow in to offensive lineman. However, one look at Mike Gesicki and you realize Penn State got themselves another big-time TE weapon.
Why not add another top target at a position full of them for Penn State, right? In Gesicki, the Nittany Lions got a great matchup nightmare. He can stretch the field with his athletic ability and size, and you can line him up in the slot.
Penn State head coach James Franklin may have put it into the best perspective possible, via his national signing day press conference.
"You look at the tight end position with (Mike) Gesicki, I don't know if I've heard of a kid that was invited to the Army All American game (football) and the McDonald's All American game in basketball, that's impressive," Franklin said.
Gesicki has the potential to be one of the best pass-catching tight ends the Nittany Lions have ever seen. What remains to be seen is just how polished his game is in the blocking area.
He wasn't asked to do it a lot at the high school level, but he will be in Happy Valley. Don't be surprised to see Franklin find a way to use his skills in his first year on campus.
OT: Damian Prince and Jamarco Jones
There's little doubt that Big Ten football starts and ends up front, and for Maryland and Ohio State, they got the stars of another loaded offensive line class.
One could've easily picked names like Jaden Gault of Wisconsin or Kyle Trout of Ohio State or any number of talented 4-star prospects at tackle that signed in the Big Ten on Wednesday.
Maryland needed some good news heading into its new life in the Big Ten, and on national signing day, they got the best news possible, as the No. 2-ranked offensive tackle in the country signed with the Terps.
At 6'5" and 295 pounds, Prince is ready to be on the field every down, and with the struggles the Terps offense had at times, Prince has cornerstone left tackle written all over him. He's a game-changing recruit for Maryland's offense just when it needed it most.
Ohio State, on the other hand, needed to strike it rich on the offensive line thanks to four starters departing. They did that and more in this class, but the cream of the crop was getting Jones' signature after a flirtation at the end with Michigan State.
Jones, like Prince, has the ability to be one of the early players along the offensive line in the Big Ten. He also has the film and hype as the No. 4-ranked offensive tackle to draw comparisons to some of the great OL of Ohio State's past.
He was one of five offensive linemen to sign for the Buckeyes on Wednesday but could be a factor from the jump in Columbus, according to Urban Meyer himself at his national signing day press conference.
"Of the five, the two that I see the maturity, Jamarco Jones and Demetrius Knox, are guys that I would like to see," Meyer said. "Typically you don't put freshmen in there early, but these guys got mature bodies, and they're fairly mature young men."
OG: Demetrius Knox and Mason Cole
Again, we see the battle that is Michigan and Ohio State, and again, we see the Buckeyes just edging out the Wolverines—this time on the recruiting trail. However, both are winners overall, simply because they got two of the best guards the 2014 class had to offer.
Knox, the No. 5-ranked guard in the country, is ready to go physically at 6'4" and 294 pounds, but it is the mental side of the game that impressed his coach the most. Urban Meyer put him in the same class as fellow signee Jamarco Jones.
It appears he will have a good shot of starting up front from the very beginning in Columbus, something head coach Urban Meyer doesn't like doing much.
"Typically you don't put freshmen in there early, but these guys got mature bodies, and they're fairly mature young men," he said.
Michigan went down south and beat out a number of SEC and ACC schools for Mason Cole's signature. He comes in to Ann Arbor as the No. 8-ranked guard in the country, and at 6'4", 285 pounds (before getting in the Michigan weight room), he is a physically imposing figure in this class.
Cole is already on campus, and given the struggles of UM's offensive line, he could be one part of the answer up front.
Having the Big Ten land two of the top 10 guards in the country should be no surprise, but these two could be fixtures for years to come in this rivalry.
C: Brian Allen
Michigan State landed the No. 3-ranked center in the 2014 class, and it's easy to see why he's ranked so highly. Allen is strong physically and has the mental side of the game down pretty well too.
What more could we say than what head coach Mark Dantonio had to say on national signing day:
Tough. Very tough individual. I think he's lost once in wrestling: 48 0 last year and the state champion. This year maybe he's lost once. I'm sure he'll correct that as the weekends go here. I think he's won 42 plus matches this year. 285 pounds. Probably will be an immediate contributor for us. Can play center, guard. Toughness I think runs in that family, and very, very excited about that.
Michigan State got two players in this class whose brothers have been part of the MSU program, also adding Byron Bullough to the 2014 class.
Allen's game is advanced, and he could be one of the better centers in the country in the not-too-distant future.
DE: Jalyn Holmes and Malik McDowell
One of these two is already signed, sealed and delivered...the other, well, that drama has played out via social media over the past 24 hours. It doesn't stop us from knowing that Big Ten quarterbacks can't be too happy to see the names Jalyn Holmes and Malik McDowell signing in the conference.
McDowell is a rare get for the Spartans, and pairing him up with Shilique Calhoun has to have opposing offensive coordinators and quarterbacks shaking. McDowell is a physically imposing end with a great motor and will be fun to watch throughout his playing career.
Just because a lot of attention was given to McDowell on national signing day doesn't mean there aren't players of his equal in the Big Ten. Holmes is one of them, although smaller at just 6'5" and 225 pounds, but he could be an immediate help for Ohio State's pass rush.
The Big Ten continues to see more athletes, and not just big bodies, coming in along the defensive line, and McDowell and Holmes are the latest and best examples of that transformation happening.
DT: Bryan Mone
With the addition of Bryan Mone up front, the talent-rich defensive tackle depth chart at Michigan got a whole lot richer. However, the Big Ten is likely thinking "what could have been" with the rest of the defensive tackle position, as the conference lost out on some of the top names in the country.
Mone, a top-10 defensive tackle, will enter a good battle for playing time in Ann Arbor. With both the starting D-tackle and nose tackle departing, there will be playing time available.
Anytime you're dealing with a 6'4", 338-pound guy coming in to college, there should be intrigue. Mone is far from just a big body, though; he's a very athletic player and one who can disrupt things up front with that combination.
He will have an advantage in the race, given that he is already on campus. Brady Hoke told the gathered media that he expects five or six players to contribute out of this class, this year, and Mone could be one of those names.
There are some other names that could get extensive playing time across the Big Ten from this class, but Mone is head and shoulders the most ready coming out of national signing day.
ILB: Raekwon McMillan
Ohio State hit the jackpot in its No. 3-ranked recruiting class, but there is one player who could be the biggest name in the Big Ten very soon—Raekwon McMillan.
Given the loss of Ryan Shazier and the lack of production from anyone else at linebacker, the No. 1-ranked inside linebacker is likely to be the closest to a plug-and-play player for Ohio State this offseason.
He's already on campus, a rarity given his lack of need to get bigger, (6'2", 242 lbs), but it speaks to his desire to be a leader for this team heading in to the 2014 season.
McMillan is one of four linebackers in the 2014 class, and Urban Meyer threw the gauntlet down to the group on Wednesday.
"Four guys I'm putting pressure on them Coach Fickell and myself to get ready for next year," said Meyer, via quotes from his press conference. "They have to play for us, in addition to the players we have on our roster already."
That pressure shouldn't get to McMillan, and it wouldn't be surprising to see OSU fans forgetting about Shazier pretty quickly.
OLB: Dante Booker
Urban Meyer talked about the importance of the linebackers in the 2014 class, and outside linebacker Dante Booker happens to be one of the more important ones in the group.
The No. 4-ranked outside linebacker in this class comes to OSU as a bit undersized at 6'3, 212 pounds, but he possesses great speed (4.53 40-yard dash, according to 247Sports). It's that speed and playmaking ability that is desperately needed to make the transformation of the OSU defense complete.
Booker was one of the four players singled out by Meyer for pressure to play during his national signing day press conference on Wednesday.
So there's four linebackers been recruited Raekwon McMillan, Sam Hubbard, Kyle Berger and Dante Booker. Four guys I'm putting pressure on them Coach Fickell and myself to get ready for next year. They have to play for us, in addition to the players we have on our roster already.
On the whole, the outside linebacking group was more about depth than hitting on big-name players. Most of the names signed on Wednesday may not be ready this year, Booker is a clear exception to that statement.
As long as Booker can put on 15-20 pounds, we will see him on the field, and possibly challenging for a starting role right out the gate.
CB: Damon Webb and Jabrill Peppers
Getting the No. 1-ranked athlete to the Big Ten doesn't happen often, but make no mistake about it, Jabrill Peppers is not just an athlete looking for a home. He will be playing
Thanks to his ability to play in all three phases of the game, some have already compared him to Michigan legend. Don't count Michigan head coach Brady Hoke in that category just yet though, according to his national signing day press conference:
I think that we need to let him get in here and be a corner for a while and let him get acclimated to everything about college football. Do I think he's very talented? There is no question. Can he return kicks, could he? I don't think there is any doubt about it. Could there be a plan somewhere for him offensively? There could be. But let's let the kid walk on campus, go to a class during the summer, and be a freshman, and then let what he does speak for itself.
He isn't the only talented corner coming to the Big Ten, though, and don't exclude guys like Parrker Westphal and others from being contributors. There is just one name that stands above a very talented crowed though, and that is Damon Webb.
Webb is the No. 5-ranked corner in the 2014 class, and a lot is expected out of him. Urban Meyer expects Webb to be in the two-deep according to his comments on national signing day.
"And very pleased with our recruiting of defensive backs," Meyer said. "Damon Webb is a guy once again, unless something happens, they're playing."
Both possess great speed, but what is most impressive about these two is how good their football instincts are. Speed can get you places in high school, but it's the instincts that separate the great corners from the good ones, and both of them possess that skill.
Overall, the cornerback class shows the Big Ten is getting a lot more athletic on the edges in defense, which could be a response to more spread-oriented attacks across the conference.
S: Erick Smith and Montae Nicholson
Ohio State has had a big presence in our recruiting All-Big Ten rankings, and Smith is yet another player from the Buckeyes to make the list.
He declared for OSU at the U.S. Army All-American game, helping to keep the momentum going for Urban Meyer and co.
Given the struggles of the defensive backfield, Smith was a necessary get for the Buckeyes. Meyer is happy to have him in the fold and is expecting great things early on from the 6'1', 185-pound safety.
"And Erick Smith, he's a guy I'm really excited to get here, said Meyer, via quotes from Ohio State. "Played corner in the all-star game but we plan on putting him at safety. And once again immediately in the depth."
Smith will have the help of one of the best secondary coaches in the country, Chris Ash, as well. On the field, Smith is a bit more of the athletic, rangy type.
That's not exactly how you would describe the other big get, Montae Nicholson of Michigan State. He's a heavy hitter and a ball hawk at 6'3" and 200 pounds.
"He's got length and can really, really run," said Mark Dantonio, via quotes from MSU. "Tough, good tackler and really feel can almost do it all. So we're very excited about him. Played the All American Game as well and was the No. 1 recruit in the state of Pennsylvania."
That last part is very big. Getting the best player out of that state is a huge deal; not only did Penn State miss, but so did a number of other Big Ten schools that recruit the state heavily.
Nicholson could be another great defensive back for MSU, and we're likely to see that play out sooner rather than later in East Lansing, Mich.
K: Rafael Gaglianone
Seriously, kickers are a crapshoot when you are talking rankings and star ratings. The eye test is what is most important, and after viewing the film of the two highest-rated prospects picked up by Big Ten teams, it's hard not to like what Gaglinone brings to the table.
Wisconsin needs some stability and a strong leg at kicker, especially after a mediocre-at-best season from Jack Russell and Kyle French (who isn't on the team anymore). You don't bring in a kicker on scholarship very often if things are all rosy with your kickers already on roster.
Gaglinone is super accurate, and most importantly, he does it from 40 and 50 yards out. He was also a finalist for Mr. Football in the state of Tennessee.
Oh, and Gaglianone also apparently kicked 42 of 44 kickoffs out of the end zone for touchbacks, according to UWBadgers.com.
Given the fact that Wisconsin has had a tendency to play some extremely close football games as of late, having a kicker who can hit big field goals wold be a massive help.
Gaglianone, a native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, provides a very serious challenge to Russell. Look for him to be Wisconsin's starter when it's all said and done.
Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for Big Ten football. You can follow Andy on Twitter @andycoppens.
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