National Singing Day was Wednesday, and that means we now know where the nation’s top players will be playing college football. The Big Ten has secured plenty of big-name recruits over the years, but have they all lived up to the hype?
Here is a breakdown of every top-ranked recruit from each Big Ten school over the past three seasons, as well as a recruit from each school who wasn’t ranked as a highly-touted recruit, but played like one on the field.
Who was a top recruit: OL Jordan Walsh, Class of 2011, 4-star recruit: After redshirting his freshman year and serving as a backup in 2012, Walsh earned one of the starting guard spots on the Hawkeyes’ offensive line in 2013. He helped pave the way for one of the top rushing attacks in the Big Ten this past season.
Who played like a top recruit: CB Desmond King, Class of 2013, 3-star recruit: King arrived in Iowa City as a 3-star recruit out of Detroit, but he played well above his ranking during his freshman campaign. King earned a starting spot as a freshman and made an immediate impact in the Hawkeyes’ secondary. If he improves on his freshman season, King should be one of the top cornerbacks in the Big Ten in 2014.
Who was a top recruit: RB Derrick Green, 2013, 5-star recruit: Green arrived in Ann Arbor with huge expectations, but he struggled mightily in his first season. Green carried the ball 83 times as a true freshman for 270 yards, an average of just 3.3 yards per tote. He did find the end zone twice in 2013, but failed to top 80 yards in a single game, despite receiving double-digit carries in half of the Wolverines games this past season.
Who played like a top recruit: TE Devin Funchess, 2012, 4-star recruit: Funchess is another Detroit-area prospect who made an immediate impact for the Wolverines in his first year on campus. However, it was this past season when Funchess really broke out. The 6-5, 230 pound Funchess caught 49 passes for 748 yards and six touchdowns on his way to be being name an All-Big Ten selection this past season.
Who was a top recruit: DE Lawrence Thomas, 2011, 5-star recruit: Thomas has probably had the most bizarre college career of any player on this list. After arriving in East Lansing as the biggest recruit in the Mark Dantonio-era, Thomas struggled with injuries throughout his freshman season and ended up redshirting. He made the move from linebacker to defensive end heading into the 2012 season, but actually saw more time on the offensive side of the ball, making three starts at fullback. Thomas then put on a good amount of weight in the 2013 offseason and made the move to defensive tackle, where he saw limited action this past season. Thomas has since made the move back to defensive end and is expected to be a contributor in the 2014 season.
Who played like a top recruit: Shilique Calhoun, 2011, 3-star recruit: Calhoun came to East Lansing as a 3-star recruit and was actually listed as a tight end prospect coming out of high school, according to scout.com. After redshirting his freshman season and serving as a backup in 2012, Calhoun had a breakout 2013 season where he was named the Big Ten’s defensive lineman of the year. The New Jersey product recorded a team best 7.5 sacks and three defensive touchdowns, which was the most in the FBS this season.
Who was a top recruit: OT Jonah Pirsig, 2012, 3-star recruit: Pirsig is a mammoth offensive lineman, standing at 6-9, 310 pounds. After redshirting during his freshman season and undergoing knee surgery, Pirsig saw action on the offensive line and special teams this season, although he was not a starter. If healthy, Pirsig should have a much larger role in the upcoming 2014 season.
Who played like a top recruit: RB David Cobb, 2012, 3-star recruit: Minnesota isn’t traditionally known as a recruiting powerhouse, which explains why the Gophers haven’t signed a 4 or 5-star recruit over the past three seasons. But that doesn’t mean their players haven’t played above their star ranking. One prime example of a guy who fits that billing would be running back David Cobb. The former 3-star recruit rushed for 1,202 yards in 2013, which ranked sixth in the Big Ten. He should be one of the top rushers in the conference in 2014.
Who was a top recruit: RB Aaron Green, 2011, 5-star recruit: Green was a mega-recruit for the Huskers, ranked as the No. 6 running back prospect in the nation in the 2011 class. He earned playing time as a true freshman, serving in a backup role behind Rex Burkhead and fellow 2011 recruit, Ameer Abduallah. However, things quickly turned sour after his freshman season as Green felt the Huskers’ offensive system didn’t fit his talents. He made the choice to transfer to TCU, where he had to sit out the entire 2012 season. Green struggled in his first season at TCU, averaging 3.2 yards per tote while sharing carries in the Horned Frog’s backfield.
Who played like a top recruit: RB Ameer Abduallah, 2011, 3-star recruit: How fitting that the guy who played like a top recruit played the same position and was in the same recruiting class as the guy who didn’t live up to the hype. Ameer Abduallah and Aaron Green both came to Nebraska in 2011, Green a mega 5-star recruit, and Abdullah a 3-star prospect. After three seasons, Green transferred to TCU and struggled this past season, while Abdullah shined in the Huskers offense, rushing for 1,690 yards and nine touchdowns on his way to being named an All-Big Ten performer in 2013.
Who was a top recruit: LB Ifeadi Odenigbo, 2012, 4-star recruit: Odenigbo is the top recruit in the Pat Fitzgerald-era, and it looks like he will be a special player at Northwestern. After suffering a season-ending injury during his freshman year, Odenigbo received a medical hardship waiver. This past season, Odenigbo made the move to defensive end and filled the role of Northwestern’s third down pass specialist. He recorded 5.5 sacks, which ranked second on the team behind Tyler Scott’s six sacks.
Who played like a top recruit: Christian Jones, 2011, 3-star recruit: Odenigbo could also fall into this category as he is one of the few players on this list who has actually lived up to the hype surrounding his name. However, when talking about a guy who wasn’t a highly-touted recruit who has exceeded expectations at Northwestern, the name that comes to mind is Christian Jones. The 6-3, 225 pound receiver has led the Wildcats in receiving for two straight seasons. In three years, Jones has hauled in 105 catches for 1,275 yards and six touchdowns. Now that’s impressive for a 3-star recruit.
Who was a top recruit: QB Aaron Bailey, 2013, 4-star recruit: Illinois isn’t exactly known as a college football powerhouse, which is why landing a player the caliber of Bailey was so huge for this program. An in-state kid, Bailey was a four-star recruit and the No. 11-ranked quarterback in the 2013 class. Bailey appeared in eight games as a true freshman, primarily in running situations. Bailey carried the ball 20 times, rushing for 83 yards and three touchdowns, while also completing 2-of-5 passes, one of which was for a touchdown. Bailey is expected to compete for the starting quarterback next season.
Who played like a top recruit: RB Josh Ferguson, 2011, 3-star recruit: After getting off to a slow start in non-conference play, Josh Ferguson was outstanding for the Fighting Illini in Big Ten play this season. The talented in-state running back averaged 5.3 yards per carry and scored seven touchdowns in Big Ten play. He is also a dynamic pass catcher out of the backfield, hauling in 50 catches for 535 yards and four receiving touchdowns.
Who was a top recruit: S Antonio Allen, 2013, 4-star recruit: Allen was thrown right into the action in his freshman season and didn’t disappoint. He appeared in seven games with one start, while recording 35 tackles. That one start came against Michigan, which is also the game he sustained a season-ending ACL injury. He is expected to be back on the field in the upcoming season.
Who played like a top recruit: RB Tevin Coleman, 2012, 3-star recruit: Coleman was outstanding this past season for the Hoosiers. The talented sophomore rushed for 958 yards and 12 touchdowns, before missing the final three games of the season with an ankle injury. He rushed for 120-plus yards and two-or-more touchdowns on three separate occasions in 2013.
Who was a top recruit: DE, Noah Spence, 2012, 5-star recruit: Spence arrived in Columbus with huge expectations and delivered right away. He saw action at defensive end as a true freshman, but made a huge impact as a sophomore, recording eight sacks on his way to being named a second-team All-Big Ten member.
Who played like a top recruit: LB Ryan Shazier, 2011, 4-star recruit: Shazier was a popular prospect, but not quite as highly touted as the likes of Curtis Grant (2011), Bri’onte Dunn (2012) and Tommy Schutt (2012). However, Shazier has out-performed all of them, and pretty much any linebacker in the Big Ten over the past season for that matter. The 6-2, 225 pound Shazier led the Big Ten in tackles in 2013, recording an eye-popping 143 stops on his way to being named a first-team All-American this past season.
Who was a top recruit: QB Christian Hackenberg, 2013, 5-star: Hackenberg arrived in Happy Valley as one of the most prominent recruits in Penn State history. He was considered by many to be the top prep quarterback prospect in the nation coming out of high school, and he lived up the the billing. Hackenberg earned the starting quarterback spot as a true freshman and shined in his first season wearing Blue and White. He threw for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns on his way to being named a freshman All-American.
Who played like a top recruit: WR Allen Robinson, 2011, 3-star: Robinson was not a highly-touted prospect coming out of high school, but he is leaving Penn State for the NFL and will go down as one of the top receivers in school history. Over the past two seasons at Penn State, Robinson hauled in a remarkable 174 catches for 2,450 yards and 17 touchdowns. He is expected to be a first-or-second round draft selection in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Who was a top recruit: DE Ryan Watson, 2012, 4-star: Watson was a big-time recruit for Purdue. He played in limited action during his freshman season, and then saw his role increase this past year, before an injury shortened his season. Watson is expected to be a starter in the 2014 season.
Who played like a top recruit: RB Akeem Hunt, 2011, 3-star: Purdue’s offense certainly hasn’t been anything to write home about, but if you had to single out one guy who has consistently made an impact in this offense, it would be Akeem Hunt. Hunt made an immediate impact, averaging eight-or-more yards per carry in his first two seasons on campus. This past season, Hunt rushed for a team-high 464 yards and also ranked second on the team with 38 catches for 438 yards.
Who was a top recruit: QB Bart Houston, 2012, 4-star recruit: Houston was a mega-recruit for the Badgers in 2012, ranked as the No. 7 pro-style quarterback in the nation, according to scout.com. Houston redshirted his freshman season and then backed up Joel Stave and Curt Phillips this past season in Madison. After serving as the starting signal caller in 2013, Stave certainly has the upper hand when it comes to the starting quarterback spot in 2014, but don’t be surprised to see Houston push him in camp and get his chance to show the coaches just how talented he truly is.
Who played like a top recruit: RB Melvin Gordon, 2011, 3-star recruit: Scout.com ranked Gordon as the No. 38 running back in the nation when he arrived in Madison. Three years later, Gordon is one of the top running backs not only in the Big Ten, but throughout the entire country. Gordon rushed for 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns this season and is expected to be an All-American candidate next season.
Who was a top recruit: WR Stefon Diggs, 2012, 5-star recruit: Diggs was one of the top recruits in Maryland’s program history. He made an immediate impact in his freshman season, catching a team-high 54 passes for 848 yards and six touchdowns. Diggs was on his way to topping those numbers this past season. He caught 34 passes for 587 yards and three touchdowns before suffering a season-ending injury in Week 7.
Who played like a top recruit: LB Cole Farrand, 2011, 2-star recruit: Farrand was about as “unknown” of a prospect as one can be heading into college. But in three years, the 6-3 linebacker has established himself as one of the top backers in the ACC. Farrand recorded 84 tackles in 10 games this season, including an eye-popping 23 tackles in a 40-27 loss to Clemson. He should be one of the top linebackers in the Big Ten next season.
Who was a top recruit: DE Darius Hamilton, 2012, 5-star recruit: Hamilton was a huge recruit for Rutgers who saw the field immediately as a freshman. This past season, as a sophomore, Hamilton made his presence felt, recording 48 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. His 11.5 tackles for loss ranked first on the team and his 4.5 sacks put him at second. The future is certainly bright for Hamilton as Rutgers is set to join the Big Ten in 2014.
Who played like a top recruit: LB Steve Longa, 2012, 2-star recruit: Rutgers signed a total of 19 prospects in 2012, and of all 19, Longa was ranked among the lowest of them all. It has been a completely different story on the field as Longa was the star of Rutgers’ defense this past season. The 6-1, 220 pound prospect recorded a jaw-dropping 123 tackles in 2013, including double-digit stops in seven separate games. He should be the leader of this defense once again in 2014, keeping the tradition going of great linebackers playing in the Big Ten.