As 2011's National Signing Day comes to a close, we have a picture of the best recruiting classes that will be coming into the Big Ten. Ohio State led the Big Ten with the highest number of ESPNU Top 150 recruit commitments, with new Big Ten member Nebraska close behind. Penn State, Northwestern, Illinois, and Michigan State also landed top 150 recruits. Below, I'll take a look at the major names from the top of the Big Ten's recruiting classes. Why just six schools? Well, I picked on the likes of Minnesota and Purdue so much during the regular season that I feel bad doing so when they aren't even playing football. Though these names are members of the 2011 class, many won't see official playing action until at least the 2012 season, as they will likely be redshirted for their freshman years.
Top Big Ten 2011 Recruiting Classes:
No. 1. Ohio State:
The rich just get richer, don't they? With the number seven rated recruiting class in the nation, the Ohio State Buckeyes once again top the Big Ten recruiting pack. This is nothing new for the conference, as Jim Tressel's program has been a recruiting powerhouse for years. The school landed several major names, including:
Steve Miller, Defensive End (No. 30)
Miller is rated highly, at No. 6 at his position on ESPNU and No. 7 on Rivals.com. He's most highly rated for his strength, with a noted ability to use his hands to help him drag down opposing players.
Curtis Grant, Linebacker (No. 69)
Grant is liked more by the analysts at Rivals than by those at ESPNU, but he's highly regarded on both sites. Rivals rates him as the No. 2 prospect in the nation, and the No. 1 linebacker. ESPNU has him at No. 69 overall, and the No. 3 linebacker in the country. Both profiles highlight his athleticism and versatility in covering both the run and the pass.
Braxton Miller, Quarterback (No. 80)
Is this the quarterback of the future for the Buckeyes? Miller is a dual threat QB who, unlike some previous quarterbacks with running ability, can actually throw the ball with power and accuracy. He's been ranked as one of the top four quarterbacks in the country in 2011 on both ESPNU and Rivals. Expect to see him making a splash for Ohio State in the years to come.
No. 2. Nebraska:
The new member of the conference shakes things up early, landing the second highest number of top rated recruits among the Big Ten schools. The class is highlighted by several interesting names, including one of the top running backs in the country and a quarterback named Bubba.
Aaron Green, Running Back (No. 11)
Green is seen as more of a speedy back, with excellent ability to accelerate and to make quick cuts to escape defenders. He won't be the guy busting the ball into the end zone, but he probably will see time both in the offense and on special teams as a kick returner. Green is listed as a top five or ten running back on both ESPNU and Rivals, and is clearly the biggest prize for the Cornhuskers.
Jamal Turner, Athlete / Quarterback (No. 50)
While Turner is rated as a top ten quarterback by both ESPNU and Rivals, he might end up making a bigger impact as a receiver. He's a dual threat QB, but unlike fellow dual threat'er Braxton Miller, he is definitely stronger as a runner than as a passer. Nebraska has had some success this year with a speedy quarterback in Taylor Martinez, but whether they decide to run a spread style offense when it's Turner's turn to play remains to be seen.
Bubba Starling, Quarterback (No. 115)
Starling is one of the more interesting commits in the Big Ten recruiting classes, and not just because of his name. Starling is a highly rated quarterback who has been compared to Tim Tebow - but with better arm strength. Of course, that arm strength means that it should surprise no one that he is a highly rated MLB prospect, with a fastball that clocks in the mid to upper 90s. While he's committed to Nebraska right now, anything could happen if he gets drafted in the first round...
Best of the Rest:
No. 3. Penn State:
Beyond the top two recruiting classes, there are quite a few schools in the conference that have a similar quality of recruits. Penn State technically leads the pack with two ESPNU 150 recruits, but many of the schools just below have classes that are arguably as strong or stronger.
Angelo Mangiro, Offensive Guard (No. 54)
Mangiro should help boost the Nittany Lion's offensive line with great power and ability to create havoc in the run game. Because of the state of Penn State's offensive line, Mangiro might be one of the first players in the 2011 recruiting class of the conference to see real playing time.
Bill Belton, Athlete/Quarterback (No. 132)
Originally committed to Pittsburgh, Belton is another high school quarterback who will probably end up playing as a receiver or back at the college level. While he makes some noise with completions during scrambles, his lack of size means problems for him as a quarterback. Still, he's a name to remember for the 2012 or 2013 seasons.
Anthony Zettel, Defensive End/Offensive Guard
Zettel has played on both the offensive and defensive lines, and has had success at both. He's able to both create holes by pushing defenders off balls and to make tackles on backs and QBs. Still, he isn't rated highly on quickness which means he'll probably see time on the offensive line at the college level, rather than the defensive side of the ball.
No. 4. Michigan State:
Though Michigan State only has one top 150 player in its class this year, the rest of the Mark Dantonio's recruit list is littered with guys who are just outside the cut. If their profiles are any indication, it seems the Spartans will be dangerous in the conference for years to come.
Lawrence Thomas, Linebacker (No. 150)
A top ten linebacker in the country is headed to East Lansing. Thomas' speed and size, in addition to solid hands, makes him a threat on either side of the ball. Though playing linebacker currently, he has enough ball catching skills to play as a powerful tight end or maybe even a slot receiver.
Brandon Clemens, Offensive Guard
There is some disagreement over Clemens. Though he's had good skills in tackling and even handling linebackers, he's a bit undersized for his position. Still, that's nothing a redshirt year and some time training won't fix.
Juwan Caesar, Wide Receiver
At 6'4" and 200lbs, Caesar is regarded highly at the receiver position. This is largely because of his height, wingspan, and ability to hold on to the ball while coming off the ground to make a catch. This is the type of guy you'll see making corner-of-the-end-zone catches in a few seasons.
No. 5 Illinois:
Ron Zook's skills as a recruiter apparently continue, as the Illini just edge out Northwestern for the five spot on our list. This is mainly due to the coup that Illinois scored when they lured Jon Davis away from his home state of Kentucky.
Jon Davis, Receiver/Tight End/Safety (No. 138):
Davis can play either offense in a receiving or tight end role with his good ball catching skills, or as a safety with his closing speed and tackling ability. No matter what position he ends up at, he should be a solid addition for the Illini in seasons to come.
Dondi Kirby, Safety
Yet another recruiting coup sees the Zooker take a highly regarded safety away from his home state. Except, this time, that home state was in the Big Ten. After visiting Iowa, Kirby ended up signing with Illinois. He'll probably be a safety, though he could fill a receiving role in slots and crossing routes. Kirby is praised for his wingspan and hands, but knocked a bit for lack of top speed.
Darrius Caldwell, Defensive End
Caldwell is the type of guy who will seriously benefit from a redshirt year to gain size. He's got height, which is nice, but he needs to add muscle to really make an impact on defense. His lack of size made him a bit of a sleeper as a DE, but I think that given a year of work he could be a serious threat in the conference.
No. 6 Northwestern:
It's rather shocking to see the Wildcats rated up here, but they managed to swing an ESPNU top 150 recruit in Christian Jones. Jones, a highly regarded wide receiver from Texas, is actually coming off of ACL surgery, which is probably what enabled Northwestern to snag him. It seems recruiting really is starting to develop for Fitz's team.
Christian Jones, Wide Receiver (No. 108)
As mentioned above, Jones is recovering from ACL surgery. That's always a wildcard, and you never really know how it's going to affect a player's performance. But, his size at 6'3" and 200 lbs and surprising speed mean that if he can stay healthy he'll be a serious problem for defenders in Northwestern's spread passing game.
Jack Konopka, Offensive Tackle
Konopka mainly played tight end and defensive end in high school, but the analysts think he'll end up helping bolster Northwestern's depleted offensive line. This is largely due to his size, and ability to add more weight. He has good tackling skills, but it's his skill at blocking as a tight end that seems to make him a likely candidate for the o-line.
Zack Oliver, Quarterback
Oliver represents a bit of a change for Northwestern, as he's a prototypical NFL style quarterback. He's good at dropping back and can throw when flushed out of the pocket. Solid arm strength and accuracy and good mechanics helped him be a success at the high school level. He's more of an Evan Watkins type than a Dan Persa type, and I have some question about whether Northwestern will be able to develop the o-line it needs to provide protection for a pocket passer in time for Oliver to start at QB...