By Chris Emma-
(CBS) In today’s college football world, recruiting is the lifeblood of every program. Which makes today, National Signing Day, ever so important. With that in mind, here’s a breakdown of the talent each Big Ten team brought in, from best to worse, along with a couple players to watch for each squad.
1.) Ohio State – Urban Meyer doesn’t recruit players, he picks and gets them. It was another banner recruiting year for the Buckeyes, headlined by five-star linebacker Sam Hubbard and 16 four-star prospects.
Top Recruit: Sam Hubbard, 5-Star OLB – A prized lacrosse player once committed to Notre Dame, Hubbard was persuaded by Meyer to play for the Buckeyes’ football program.
Sleeper Prospect: Darius Slade, 3-Star DE – Slade first committed to Nebraska, then planned to sign with Michigan State on Signing Day, but the Buckeyes stole another one from a Big Ten rival. Slade could be an impact player on Ohio State’s defensive line.
2.) Michigan State – For years now, the Spartans have built top-tier recruiting classes, but this is the best yet for Mark Dantonio. It’s hard to find a weak link in reigning Rose Bowl champion’s latest class.
Top Recruit: Malik McDowell, 5-Star DE – At 6-foot-6 and nearly 300 pounds, McDowell is the prototype for a top-end rusher. The Spartans have an elite player joining their loaded defense.
Sleeper Prospect: Enoch Smith, 3-Star DT – He’s still a bit undersized, but Smith continues to fill into the body of a Big Ten defensive lineman. The Mount Carmel product could be a good one for the Spartans’ defensive line.
3.) Michigan – After bringing in 27 signees in 2013, the Wolverines had just 16 scholarships to spare this time around. Brady Hoke brings in three Scout.com top-100 recruits, including five-star cornerback Jabril Peppers, one of the nation’s top prospects.
Top Recruit: Jabril Peppers, 5-Star CB – The Wolverines won out for the nation’s top cornerback, a talented prospect whoshould be on the field immediately.
Sleeper Prospect: Noah Furbush, 3-Star LB – A big, athletic linebacker, Furbush was a great get for the Wolverines. He has the ability to play on the outside or even work in at end.
4.) Penn State – New coach James Franklin had little trouble recruiting at Penn State, bringing in nine prospects in less than a month. The Pennsylvania native went to work establishing local recruiting ties, and it paid off in his first class.
Top Recruit: Mike Gesicki, 4-Star TE – A 6-foot-6 target, Gesicki is a freakish athlete who will work well with quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
Sleeper Prospect: Brendan Brosnan, 3-Star OL – Brosnan’s a Maine South standout, and Franklin swung his commitment from Vanderbilt to Penn State. The 6-foot-6, 275-pound tackle has a bright future ahead in Happy Valley.
5.) Wisconsin – Gary Anderson had success with his first full recruiting class, winning in the state of Wisconsin while bringing in talent from Florida, too. The Badgers continue to recruit well under their new regime.
Top Recruit: Jaden Gault, 4-Star OT – It’s another year in which Wisconsin brings in Big Ten-ready offensive linemen. Giant offensive tackle Jaden Gault is the latest in big Badger linemen, and he could be starting as a freshman.
Sleeper Prospect: D’Cota Dixon, 3-Star S – Some of the traits that best describe Dixon’s game include instincts and toughness. The Badgers found a good one in the Sunshine State safety.
6.) Nebraska – Ever since conference realignment, Bo Pelini hasn’t enjoyed the same success recruiting in the Big Ten. By forfeiting key recruiting grounds in Texas and California, the Cornhuskers had to re-establish themselves in the Midwest, easier said than done. While the recruit ratings won’t blow anyone away, Pelini is great with player development.
Top Recruit: Peyton Newell, 4-Star DT – Another Big Ten-ready defensive lineman arrives for the Huskers’ “Blackshirt” defense, as Newell could be an early impact player in Lincoln.
Sleeper Prospect: Chris Jones, 2-Star CB – Perhaps one of the Big Ten’s biggest recruiting steals, Jones bounced from USF to Purdue before Nebraska stole him away.
7.) Northwestern – The lightest recruiting class in the Big Ten — just 15 signees — is Northwestern’s most talented group in Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure. By landing a trio of four-star prospects, the Wildcats continue to show their rise.
Top Recruit: Parrker Westphal, 4-Star CB – Fitzgerald pulled in one of the Midwest’s most coveted prospects, keeping Bolingbrook product Westphal close to home. Westphal will surely be an immediate starter for a Northwestern secondary that struggled at times in 2013.
Sleeper Prospect: Auston Anderson, 3-Star RB – The last time Northwestern found an undersized, speedy running back from Texas, it was All-American Venric Mark. Maybe Anderson has the potential to make a similar impact.
8.) Indiana – Kevin Wilson has recruited well to an Indiana program that has never ranked too highly in the rankings. With a pair of four-star prospects in Dominique Booth and Tegray Scales, the Hoosiers have potential stars in the making for each side of the ball.
Top Recruit: Dominique Booth, 4-Star WR – It’s not every day that Indiana beats out Alabama for a recruit. Indianapolis receiver Booth will surely bolster the Hoosiers high-octane passing attack.
Sleeper Prospect: Tommy Mister, 3-Star RB – The St. Rita product was a star quarterback in high school, and he could become an impact player as the Hoosiers’ running back.
9.) Iowa – It was another solid class for Kirk Ferentz, the Big Ten’s longest-tenured head coach. The Hawkeyes brought in a talented group while filling needs across the board.
Top Recruit: Markel Smith, 4-Star RB – Iowa has maintained a recent history of stellar running backs, and Smith will become the latest to that mix. The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder will be an impact player as a true frshman.
Sleeper Prospect: Ben Niemann, 3-Star OLB – The Hawkeyes kept the Sycamore native from committing to Northern Illinois, the program his dad coaches for. Niemann is a talented linebacker with high potential at Iowa.
10.) Maryland – The Terps bring in a solid class as they enter the Big Ten. However, Randy Edsall will have to begin establishing ties in the Midwest or else recruiting will take a tumble.
Top Recruit: Damian Prince, 4-Star OT – One of the top tackles in the country, Damian Prince should be an immediate starter on Maryland’s offensive line. The 6-foot-5, 295-pound prospect is a great pickup for the Terps.
Sleeper Prospect: Tyler Burke, 3-Star LB – At 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, Burke has the size to be a force at Mike linebacker. The Pennsylvania native is a great pickup for Maryland.
11.) Rutgers – Under Kyle Flood, Rutgers hasn’t recruited the way it did with Greg Schiano. The Scarlet Knights put together a decent class, but they still lack the talent to compete for the top of the Big Ten.
Top Recruit: Marcus Applefield, 3-Star OT – The Scarlet Knights stole a talented tackle from the state of Florida. In Applefield, Rutgers has someone who can be on the field for its first game.
Sleeper Prospect: Josh Hicks, 3-Star RB – A speedy running back from Florida, Hicks runs a 4.44 40 and is dangerous outside the tackles.
12.) Purdue — With his first full recruiting class, Darrell Hazell patched many of Purdue’s holes after a 1-11 season. The Boilermakers add many players who will be on the field for their first game. Their biggest needs, the offensive line, linebacker and secondary, were all filled. It’s a good start for Hazell’s rebuilding program.
Top Recruit: Gelen Robinson, 3-Star LB – The son of NBA star Glenn Robinson, linebacker Gelen will continue his family’s legacy at Purdue. Robinson will likely be an immediate starter in a Purdue secondary that needs help.
Sleeper Prospect: David Blough, 3-Star QB – Purdue is set at quarterback with Danny Etling and Austin Appleby, but Blough could come in and compete for the starting job. The Texas gunslinger emerged as a highly touted recruit but stuck by the Boilermakers, the first school to offer him.
13.) Minnesota – Jerry Kill and the Golden Gophers started their 2014 class with a bang, landing four-star running back Jeffery Jones and several talented prospects. However, they finished with a whimper, desperately working to fill needs in the roster.
Top Recruit: Jeffery Jones, 4-Star RB – The Gophers got a talented kid from the Twin Cities in Jones. A rushing attack that struggled throughout much of 2013 will get a big boost.
Sleeper Prospect: Craig James, 3-Star CB – Perhaps a steal from southern Illinois, James is a talented prospect who could develop into a solid player in the Gopher defense.
14.) Illinois – Tim Beckman’s strategy to rebuild the Fighting Illini involves steady recruiting around Chicago while also finding impact JUCO transfers. Illinois will add six from the junior college ranks, hoping each can bring the program to a winning level. However, Beckman isn’t landing the top prospects needed to bring the Fighting Illini toward the top tier of the Big Ten.
Top Recruit: Nick Allegretti, 3-Star C – A talented, Big Ten-ready center from Lincoln-Way East High School, Allegretti is certainly one of the prizes of Illinois’ recruiting class. At 6-foot-3 and 290 pounds, he’ll be ready to play immediately.
Sleeper Prospect: Tito Odenigbo, 3-Star DT – Odenigbo is a big victory for Illinois in the state of Ohio. The Fighting Illini landed a raw defensive lineman with high potential.