Putting a wrap on Signing Day: Q&A with 247Sports writer Kevin Ryan
The dust has settled on Signing Day 2017. Once again, Ohio State and Michigan led the way with the top classes, while Maryland was viewed as the biggest surprise. 247Sports.com national writer Kevin Ryan answered some questions for BTN.com, breaking down the Big Ten and various recruiting classes.
Q: Who had the top class in the Big Ten?
A: According to our team rankings, which are power by the industry-generated 247Sports Composite, Ohio State has the top class in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes are No. 2 in the country behind Alabama. Georgia finished third, while USC is fourth and Michigan finished fifth in the nation and second in the conference. The Big Ten had three other teams in the top 25: Penn State, Maryland and Nebraska.
Q: Is the Big Ten still behind the SEC?
A: The Big Ten is behind the SEC in terms of recruiting, but they are certainly catching up on the field. Alabama was the only SEC team to finish with fewer than four losses last season, so the Big Ten was right there with the SEC in terms of on-the-field success last season. I still think the SEC is deeper from top to bottom, with 12 teams making bowl games and one of the teams that missed was an Ole Miss program that has been very good in recent seasons. Warranted or not, the Big Ten still has the perception of being a little top-heavy.
Q: Any teams surprise you?
A: Maryland surprised me. The Terrapins moved into the top 20 on National Signing Day after pulling a few 11th-hour surprises. One of those flips — running back Cordarrian Richardson — has some work to do to ensure he is eligible academically, but it was a nice get nonetheless. Nebraska finished on a bit of an uptick after a roller coaster month down the stretch. They did lose Jamire Calvin late, but landing longtime Florida commitment Elijah Blades and Tyjon Lindsey late in the process takes away some of that sting.
Q: What impact has P.J. Fleck had?
A: Minnesota is one of those programs that has outperformed its recruiting rankings in recent seasons, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that continues under Fleck. It’s always difficult to put together a class when a staff is in transition, but Fleck did land a few players late. He got defensive back Adam Beck out of Texas, was able to flip defensive tackle Malcolm Robinson from Purdue and got former Rutgers cornerback commit Ihmir Marsette late in the process. Given a full recruiting cycle, we fully expect Fleck and the Gophers to finish higher in the rankings next season.
Q: Has any team underperformed?
A: I don’t think any team sticks out as far as an “underperformer,” but perhaps Illinois fans expected more from Lovie Smith on the recruiting trail this season. His NFL experience and name recognition landed exactly zero five stars and zero four stars in this class. It’s a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg deal with the Fighting Illini. They probably need to win more to attract better players, but they aren’t going to win more if they don’t recruit better.
Q: Who are a few of the most heralded signees?
A: Ohio State landed three of the top 11 players in the country in cornerback Jeffrey Okudah, defensive end Chase Young and linebacker Baron Browning — and Okudah and Browning are from Texas. The Buckeyes’ haul is impressive. Michigan landed five-star defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon and wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, two players who should see the field early in their Wolverines careers. Iowa got a good one in defensive end A.J. Epenesa, who could develop into a top-10 overall player in this class.
Q: Any sleeper players?
A: As far as sleepers are concerned, 247Sports Director of Recruiting Steve Wiltfong is high on these three prospects: Northwestern quarterback Andrew Marty, Indiana quarterback Nick Tronti and Wisconsin tight end Jake Ferguson. Marty chose the Wildcats over Miami (Ohio) and Western Michigan. Tronti had only one other Power 5 offer, from Arizona. Ferguson was more highly recruited than the quarterbacks, but 247Sports is much higher on him than others. We have him ranked as a four-star prospect and one of the top 125 players in the class. But he’s only No. 352 overall according to the 247Sports Composite.
Q: Did Penn State get a lift from its Big Ten title?
A: The Lions had a nice season on the field, but didn’t get much of a boost from it on the recruiting trail — this year. That doesn’t mean the Lions didn’t land a good class because they did. James Franklin and his staff brought in a top-15 class nationally. Their last three classes were ranked 20, 15 and 14 — so they finished about where they have the past several years. Because the Lions’ terrific on-field run came later in the season, they’ll likely get more of a bounce in the 2018 class than this one. In fact, Penn State already has seven commitments for 2018 and it’s the No. 1 class in the country so far.
Q: Did MSU’s poor season hurt?
A: Michigan State and Mark Dantonio traditionally recruit more for fit than rankings, but they did take a fairly significant dip in the team recruiting rankings this season. The Spartans landed a top 35 class in the country after finishing 17, 22, 25 the last three years. The Spartans aren’t far removed from participating in the College Football Playoff, so we think this year’s 3-9 mark was an aberration. As such, we expect the Spartans’ 2018 recruiting class to finish higher in the rankings.
Q: What Big Ten West team did best?
A: The team with the highest-ranked class in the West was the aforementioned Huskers of Nebraska. They finished in the top 25 nationally, and Wisconsin and Iowa finished in the 40s. That said, the Huskers are losing a lot of production from last season so the discrepancy in the rankings this year may not translate to on-the-field production in 2017.
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