THE BEST BATTLES
- Darian Cooper / DT / DeMatha (Md.) - Committed to Iowa
This one went right down to the wire and the 6-1, 300-lb Cooper was a priority for several Big Ten schools, as big defensive tackles who can move always are. It seemed he was down to Iowa and Michigan State, but the new coaching staff at Michigan got him to come in for a late official visit. Then the news broke that mom was moving up to the Mitten State and that was an advantage for the Wolverines and Spartans. As late as the night before Signing Day, I heard he was still torn, mostly between Michigan State and Iowa, but that the Wolverines were not completely out of it. Finally, he chose the Hawkeyes, citing the 12th man as a major factor, saying, "Throughout the whole process, the Iowa fans have been an important factor in my decision. They were really warm and welcoming."
- Anthony Zettel / OG / Ogemaw Heights (Mich.) – Committed to Penn State
Zettel seemed like a lock to stay home. He first made his name at the Michigan summer camp as a junior, and was admittedly a life long Michigan fan. Then Michigan State came in. Head coach Mark Dantonio went north, ate at the restaurant Zettel’s parents owned and made an all around strong impression. Michigan remained the leader, but the Spartans were gaining. Offers came from USC, Cincinnati and others, but it always appeared as though the in-state schools were in the driver’s seat, so when Zettel committed to Penn State in December, it was a move no one saw coming. With the coaching change at Michigan, and other factors weighing on him, Zettel decided he wanted to get away from home and Penn State was just the place. The four-star guard could play offensive line or defensive line for the Nittany Lions, but either way, he was quite the coup for Joe Paterno and company.
- Melvin Gordon / RB / Kenosha Bradford (Wisc.) – Committed to Wisconsin
The 6’1, 185-lb Gordon was first offered by the Badgers before his junior year, and were soon followed by Iowa, Minnesota, and others. Wisconsin seemed like his first love and Bret Bielema and company losing out on an in-state kid is very rare. However, when teammate and close friend Trae Waynes committed to Michigan State, it seemed like the Spartans would move into the picture, but Gordon pulled a minor surprise and committed to Iowa. That was in August, but as the season went along, the Badgers came on stronger, both on the field and with their recruitment of Gordon. After his high school season ended, Gordon took an official visit to Madison and officially de-committed from Iowa and committed to Wisconsin. Gordon, who rushed for 2,009 yards and 38 touchdowns as a senior said, “It just felt right. They make me feel comfortable.” His commitment set off a musical chairs of sorts at the running back position, as Iowa gained a commitment from Mika’il McCall, a Chicago area back who had been committed to Michigan State.
ILLINOIS: I like this class for the Illini, and I think they closed particularly strong. Dondi Kirby was a four-star before a season ending knee injury, and Kenny Knight is a long, athletic receiver with a lot of physical talent. I think Clint Tucker, Scott McDowell, Tony Durkin, Chris Boles and Matt LaCosse should all end up as starters. Then you have quarterback Reilly O’Toole, who quarterbacked one of the state’s best teams and is simply a winner. The star though? Might just be running back Donovonn Young. He can be the power guy they feed the rock too and speedy Josh Ferguson will offer a change of pace.
INDIANA: The Hoosiers, through a coaching change, were able to bring in a solid class. They identified guys the new staff wanted to hang on to and were able to fill holes left by others. We’ve mentioned Tre Roberson as a sleeper, but there are other impact players here. Jake Reed, a local kid who will end up playing defensive end is tough and experienced. Bernard Taylor, a 6’2, 290-lb Michigan product who could play either side of the ball is athletic and powerful. Running back D’Angelo Roberts, from right there in Bloomington has big play ability and we also really like the defensive backs they brought in, including speedy Nick Stoner and Kenny Mullen, an aggressive cover corner. Shane Wynn was a great late pickup at receiver and return man. They also landed some Florida kids late which bodes well for recruiting down there in future years.
IOWA: The Hawkeyes are one of those teams who is always said to do more with less, but this year, they have a really good class. Four-star prospect Rodney Coe could play many positions, as he’s an athletic 6-3, 240-lber that just doesn’t come along much. Two other four-star prospects, safety Nicholas Law and guard Jordan Walsh should be able to contribute early. Obviously, four-star defensive tackle Darian Cooper was a big time pull. The Hawkeyes needed help at running back and got it in Mika’il McCall, and Torrey Campbell, who could also project to cornerback. Not to ignore the local guys, the Hawkeyes picked up a mauler of a guard in Austin Blythe, also a top wrestler, and landed in-state tight end Henry Krieger-Coble, who could also play on defense.
MICHIGAN: There was some attrition with Rich Rodriguez being let go, but new head man Brady Hoke got right to it and pounded the pavement, landing several new commitments and retaining some key older ones. The most vital are on defense, where the Wolverines could use instant help. Linebacker Kellen Jones and defensive end Brennen Beyer, two four-star prospects, should be able to do that. The Wolverines brought in a host of defensive backs, including Hoke’s first commitment as coach, Ohio safety Tamani Carter. Delonte Hollowell and Raymon Taylor are physical cover men, while fellow cornerback Blake Countess, a four-star prospect has great speed and may end up as a return man too. Not to ignore the offense, running back Justice Hayes is a four-star prospect with great hands out of the backfield and center Jack Miller has the makings of the Wolverines’ next pivot man. Thomas Rawls is another running back who may be one of the more underrated guys in the class. Russell Bellomy, a Purdue de-commit is a great athlete who can thorw on the move.
MICHIGAN STATE: Mark Dantonio and his staff have developed a reputation for being recruiters and they proved it yet again. For the second year in a row, they landed the state’s top prospect, linebacker Lawrence Thomas. Defensive backs Arjen Colquhoun and the very physical Roger Williamson will have opportunities to make big impacts. Local product Onaje Miller, from Lansing Sexton is an explosive running back who may also get a look at cornerback. We also really like this defensive line class with tackles Matt Ramondo and Mark Scarpinato along with ends Joel Heath and Damon Knox leading the way. The Spartans did very well out of state this year, and two others we like are Ohio lineman Donavon Clark and Illinois center Jack Allen. Very good class top to bottom.
MINNESOTA: New head coach Jerry Kill finished strong in recruiting, and even brought over one of his commitments from Northern Illinois, Wisconsin lineman Foster Bush. Among his late commitments were three-star cornerback Steven Montgomery from Florida and three-star wide receiver Quentin Gardener from Texas, showing this staff will be able to recruit out of state. Within the state borders, safety Grayson Levine and wide receiver Devin Crawford-Tufts are two underrated players who have a chance to make big impacts.
NORTHWESTERN: The Wildcats have been recruiting well and they did yet again. We particularly like what they did on the offensive line. Guard Geoff Mogus was one of the most impressive players we saw at camps over the summer, and fellow interior prospect Matt Frazier was one of the strongest. Converted tight end Jack Konopka has the makings of a starting offensive tackle, as does New Jersey product Shane Mertz, who stands 6-8, 280-lbs. It isn’t all linemen though, as we’re also high on two Texas skill guys, receiver Christian Jones and running back Trevyon Green. Running back Jordan Perkins was also a big time get. Late Ohio grabs in linebacker Andrew Smith and defensive end Deonte Gibson were important finds.
OHIO STATE: What can we say? It’s another great year for the Buckeyes in recruiting. The headliners are five-star quarterback Braxton Miller and five-star defensive end Steve Miller (no relation) but there is more here than just them. The defensive line class in addition to Miller is strong with defensive end Kenny Hayes and tackles Joel Hale and Chase Farris. The Buckeyes also landed the nation’s top center, Brian Bobek and four-star linebacker Ryan Shazier. We mentioned safety Jeremy Cash as a sleeper, but watch out for guard Antonio Underwood as well. The cherry on top was five-star linebacker Curtis Grant, who committed to the Buckeyes on Signing Day.
PENN STATE: A late flurry really closed out this class nicely. The Nittany Lions landed two-four stars in January, offensive tackle Donovan Smith and wide receiver Bill Belton. They also landed athletic 6’5 defensive end Deion Barnes. Penn State also picked up a few other four-stars in guard Anthony Zettel, wide receiver Matt Zanellato, who catches everything and has solid speed to boot, and guard Angelo Mangiro. We’re also high on linebacker Ben Kline as well as wide receiver Allen Robinson, a 6-3 inch leaper with great ball skills who played with Robert Bolden in high school.
PURDUE: The Boilermakers put together a solid class. The headliner is defensive end Robert Kugler, a four-star prospect from Pennsylvania. Along with Kugler, we believe Randy Gregory will be one of the next great pass rushers at Purdue. Watch out for receiver Shane Mikesky too, our sleeper pick who is big and fast. As usual, the Boilers recruited the South well, and Florida safety Taylor Richards and Georgia running back Akeem Hunt are two of the big gets this year. Hunt is explosive and has great breakaway speed. He may see the field last year. This class was ranked lower because of the numbers, but talent wise, it was a solid class.
WISCONSIN: As usual, the Badgers did a great job keeping top talent at home. Four-star linebacker Jake Keefer, the state’s top prospect leads the way. Joining him is running back Melvin Gordon, who had a dazzling senior season and has a chance to make an early impact. The Badgers signed three tight ends, all from within the state, Eric Steffes, Austin Maly and Sam Arneson. Each are athletic enough to play elsewhere if need be. One sleeper we like is receiver Frederick Willis, a big 6-2 inch basketball player type who can create matchup problems. Defensive ends Austin Traylor, Jesse Hayes and James Adeyanju can all provide heat off the edge and wide receiver A.J. Jordan could be a big time get. He has excellent ball skills. The fence is still around the state though.