Big Ten Football: Hits and Misses from Big Ten 2014 Recruiting Classes

Andrew Coppens@@andycoppensContributor IFebruary 11, 2014

Big Ten Football: Hits and Misses from Big Ten 2014 Recruiting Classes

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Another national signing day has come and gone, and Ohio State appeared to put itself in a class all its own on the national level. 

    Signing a ridiculous 15 players rated as 4-star prospects certainly helped the Buckeyes' case. Only Tennessee and Notre Dame topped that haul with 16 4-star players as part of their 2014 classes. 

    However, Ohio State wasn't the only story on national signing day. All the doom and gloom about the rest of the Big Ten turned into four teams with classes inside the 247Sports composite Top 25 rankings and six inside the top 35 as well. 

    It wasn't SEC-like for the Big Ten on national signing day, but there also wasn't a lack of drama or intrigue like in years past. 

    While Ohio State's haul was impressive there was plenty to talk about when the dust settled on national signing day. 

    What were some of the hits and misses across the Big Ten? Our picks are inside. 

Hit: Ohio State's Haul at Linebacker

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    Losing a playmaker like Ryan Shazier is never easy, even at a place like Ohio State. However, the Buckeyes may have found their man in this class in 5-star linebacker Raekwon McMillan out of Georgia. 

    While McMillan gets all the headlines, the most important part of this OSU class is that the Buckeyes appear to have landed plenty of talent and depth for a position group that lacked spectacular players, outside of Shazier, last season. 

    In total, the Buckeyes added four linebackers in this class, and while McMillan is seen as the near immediate replacement for the departed Shazier, there's another player that could be his equal. 

    That is 4-star outside linebacker Dante Booker. 247Sports has him as the No. 13-ranked overall player, and the 247Sports composite has him as the No. 54-ranked player in the nation. 

    However, McMillan and Booker make up just half of this impressive haul. Two more 4-star players will be in the mix at linebacker as well, led by Top247 linebacker Kyle Berger and 4-star athlete Sam Hubbard, who will be a linebacker at OSU. 

    If you are keeping score at home, that is four linebackers all rated as 4-stars or better. That's how you fill a need and do it quickly. That's because Urban Meyer has exactly zero plans on redshirting any of the incoming freshmen. 

    “Everybody knows – there’s no redshirt plans for those players at all,” Meyer said, via quotes from Ohio State's official website. “We thought about that during the recruiting process. We wanted mature players.”

    No one should wonder how the Buckeyes finished No. 3 in the nation on national signing day after this kind of haul at one position group. 

Miss: Malik McDowell's Announcement

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    National signing day should be a day of joy and relief for players and parents, but in the case of Malik McDowell, it has turned into a nightmare. 

    After declaring for Michigan State at a ceremony at his high school, McDowell's dream of playing for the Spartans appeared to be in jeopardy. His mother has refused to sign his national letter of intent, and as of Monday, McDowell is still on the open market. 

    It's never fun having family squabbles play out in such a public fashion, especially when you are talking about a life-altering decision for a 17-year-old. However, this situation is unique. 

    McDowell's mother, Joya Crowe, made a very public case against her son signing with MSU, and followed through on her wish to never see her son play for the Spartans. As McDowell made his announcement, his mother was nowhere to be found, while his father, Greg McDowell, was there for a public show up support. 

    Unfortunately, Mr. McDowell is not the custodial parent and is unable to sign the letter of intent. Earlier on Monday, it was reported by that McDowell will now be taking unofficial visits to Florida State and Ohio State as the process continues to play out. 

    This drama will eventually work itself out, but MSU's once very promising class with McDowell looks just like any other mid-level Big Ten class does. 

    How this situation unfolded is a shame. Hopefully McDowell and his mother can heal whatever divide exists and make the right decision that will make him successful and happy.

    If he lands at Florida State, that would be a massive miss for the entire Big Ten, given its 75 percent chance based on McDowell's final four of FSU, Michigan, MSU and OSU. 

Hit: Northwestern Goes High-End Recruiting

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    Andy Manis/Associated Press

    Northwestern and high-end recruiting hasn’t exactly gone hand in hand under Pat Fitzgerald, but that changed in a big way on national signing day. The Wildcats signed four players rated as 4-star star prospects by 247Sports' composite rankings. 

    How many of those players did Fitzgerald pull in during his eight years at NU? Just two. 

    In one class, Fitzgerald got more high-end prospects to commit than every before. That's a good sign, given the way the 2013 season went down. 

    It will be very important to hit on those four players with a class of just 15 total signees for the 2014 recruiting cycle. 

    History tells us that is likely not a problem, as the other two 4-star players happened to have pretty good track records. Patrick Ward, an offensive lineman, turned into a star along the line after earning playing time as a freshman. 

    The other is Ifeadi Odenigbo, who racked up 5.5 sacks this past season as a true freshman. 

    With the Wildcats losing names like Kain Colter, Treyvon Green and Damien Proby to the NFL draft, there needs to be an infusion of athleticism once again. That's where 4-star quarterback Clayton Thorson comes in, along with running back Justin Jackson, who was the No. 4-ranked all-purpose back in the 2014 class. 

    Northwestern's first-ever early enrollee, cornerback Parrker Westphal, and tight end Garrett Dickerson also come in as 4-star prospects.

    Because of those four, Northwestern was named the Big Ten's most surprising class by 247Sports

    It's rare that the Wildcats get this kind of attention, but don't be surprised to see this class have a major impact on Big Ten races in the not-too-distant future. 

Miss: Wisconsin with Elite Recruits

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    What do Joe Mixon and Jamil Kamara have in common? Considering one lives on the West Coast and the other on the East Coast, and one is a running back and another is a wide receiver, the answer should be not much. 

    Except both had Wisconsin in their top three and made choices to go elsewhere at the U.S. Army All-American Game. There's no door prize for finishing second or third in college football recruiting. 

    Sure, the Badgers still ended up with their highest-rated class in school history, according to 247Sports.

    Landing both would've made a historically great Badger class one of the Top 25 in the nation, but it never happened. 

    In Kamara's case, the pull of staying home in Virginia won out over the winning and playing time Wisconsin could offer. Mixon chose to follow in his favorite player's footsteps (Adrian Peterson) by going to Oklahoma rather than go to a university that is orientated around the run first. 

    UW getting in some big-time battles for some of the top talent in the nation was a newer thing for the program, but coming up empty-handed wasn't exactly what it had in mind when it got into those battles.

    Losing those two on the heels of losing the Capital One Bowl began a snowball effect of bad news for the Badger program until very late in the process.

    Wisconsin swung for the fences twice and missed twice. In the future, it needs to make that kind of effort result in national letters of intent being faxed in to Camp Randall. 

Hit: Penn State's Flips

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    Penn State made a splash in the Mid-Atlantic in a small amount of time after hiring James Franklin, and that's because he went to work on quickly flipping recruits. 

    Some questioned Franklin's tactics (we're looking at you, Paul Finebaum) in flipping two Vanderbilt commitments (before one ultimately landed at Kentucky), but the reality is that the players Franklin brought to Penn State from other schools were very important pieces to PSU's 2014 class. 

    The biggest of those names is 4-star wide receiver Saeed Blacknall, whom Franklin flipped from fellow Big Ten team Rutgers. Adding him to Chris Godwin took the wide receiver class from pretty good to great, on the heels of losing Allen Robinson to the NFL draft. 

    Franklin brought along 3-star offensive lineman Chance Sorrell and from Vanderbilt, showing the power of his personal relationships with players. 

    After losing 5-star defensive tackle Thomas Holley before ever being hired, Franklin found a way to turn things around quickly. 

    If flipping one of the best wide receivers in Big Ten country in under a week is what Franklin can do to start things off, it's scary to think of what can be done with a full recruiting cycle to play with. 

    Franklin's ability to bring nearly his whole staff with him helped in easing that transition, according to Barton Simmons of 247Sports (h/t Jeff Rice of Lions247).

    I think that all these guys really believed that the rise of Vanderbilt was tied much more to James Franklin than anything else. And so when he brings his whole staff with him, and he's put in so much sweat equity with these guys, it really is a heck of a referendum for his rapport with these kids.

Hit: Nebraska's Closing Ability

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Heading into November, things weren't looking all that bright for the Huskers on the field or on the recruiting trail. That changed as the calendar changed, and the Huskers closed out with a top-35 class when national signing day was over. 

    No fewer than seven players committed to Nebraska in the final month on the recruiting trail. However, that wasn't the full story and the reason Husker fans should be happy with how things ended. 

    Nebraska found itself losing committed players throughout the final month, only to target specific players and those commits. 

    The greatest example of that was with running back Mikale Wilbon, whom the Huskers pounced on after James Franklin left Vanderbilt. Nebraska got a visit and commitment in short order, helping to up the quality and quantity in the class. 

    Joining Wilbon in committing in the final month were 4-star offensive tackle Nick Gates, 3-star wide receiver Jariah Tolbert, defensive end Sedrick King, running back Chris Jones, quarterback AJ Bush and 2-star wide receiver Glenn Irons

    The Huskers started fast but finished stronger in this class. It was much needed, too, especially after three decommitments in the final months of the recruiting cycle. 

    Couple that with all of the uncertainty that surrounded head coach Bo Pelini for much of the season, and the Huskers staff deserves some kudos for pulling things together in a chaotic final month of the 2014 recruiting cycle.