Signing Day needs: Big Ten
Got talent? Here is a breakdown of where your favorite college football team stands going into National Signing Day on Wednesday, according to CollegeFootballNews.com (Rankings based on CFN’s preseason team rankings within the conference):
1. Wisconsin (11-3)
What’s Needed Now: The offensive line. The Badgers don’t need to come up with a big class, going after quality over quantity. Bret Bielema is going outside of the state for some of the key prospects, including getting guard Dan Voltz out of Illinois. More good ones are on the way. Bielema has mostly focused on getting the type of defenders who fit what the program likes to do by developing overachievers, but this year more top players are giving UW a look.
Team Concerns: Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. It’s Wisconsin, so the offensive line will be fine with a little bit of time, and the defense has enough great prospects from the last few recruiting classes to be ready to fill in the gaps, but Russell Wilson was a special quarterback who bailed out a bad situation when he signed on. The offense will continue to work around Montee Ball and the running game, but a third straight Rose Bowl is out without an efficient passer. Both kickers – PK Philip Welch and P Brad Nortman – have to be replaced.
2. Ohio State (6-7)
What’s Needed Now: Welcome to Urban being Urban. Meyer appears to have a renewed energy, and it shows with a typically great Ohio State recruiting class. Even with almost no time to work, he’s getting just about everyone he wants from Ohio and has been able to get a few key players from outside the state. In just a short time he’s putting together a monster that’s as good as any class in the country, particularly on the defensive front, where he’s loading up with the best prospects for any line in America. The skill positions aren’t being ignored, but the Buckeyes need to keep building up the defense. Meyer will go more for the offensive side next year.
Team Concerns: How quickly will the offense adjust to what Meyer wants to do? Top receiver DeVier Posey is gone, as is RB Dan Herron, but Braxton Miller might be the perfect quarterback for Meyer’s attack. The problem is on the offensive line with three starters gone -- both tackles and center Mike Brewster. The defense should be experienced up front, but the most talented linemen will be coming in the fall.
3. Illinois (7-6)
What’s Needed Now: Receivers. Tim Beckman is known for being a defensive coach, but his Toledo teams lived on a high-octane offense. It’s Illinois, so the passing game is going to get plenty of attention with the receiving corps getting new prospects to play around with. The defense is getting a few nice linebackers and kicker Ryan Frain will get a shot at the job right away, but across the board this class pales in comparison to the monsters Ron Zook brought in when he first started up in Champaign.
Team Concerns: Key offensive performers. QB Nathan Scheelhaase is back for two more years, but his top target, A.J. Jenkins, is gone, as are top backs Jason Ford and Troy Pollard. Losing left tackle Jeff Allen could be the biggest problem early on next season; there are more good skill players waiting in the wings. Defensively, who’s going to be the next great defensive lineman? Tackle Corey Liuget was the main man two years ago, and last season Whitney Mercilus was the best defensive end in college football. The hope is for tackle Akeem Spence to be the next big thing.
4. Purdue (7-6)
What’s Needed Now: After years of mostly going after the defensive side, the coaching staff is trying to improve the offense. Danny Hope has a few nice quarterback prospects about to sign on, while the receiving corps is loaded with as many good options as the program has had in several years. Tight end will be the strength with Ryan Morris and JUCO transfer Greg Latta good enough to play right away. Ryan Watson is a terrific guard prospect and a huge get for down the road, while JUCO transfer Devin Smith is expected to see time at tackle now.
Team Concerns: Safety will require the most work with both Logan Link and Albert Evans gone, but big recruiting classes from 2009 and 2010 should boost up the secondary. The offensive line has to come up with two new starters on the left side and Nick Mondek at right guard. Carson Wiggs could be the rare drafted placekicker, but Paul Griggs is Scout.com’s No. 3 ranked prospect.
5. Penn State (9-4)
What’s Needed Now: Whatever head coach Bill O’Brien can get. A few prospects have said they wanted to come to Penn State no matter what, but for the most part the top players are staying away from the mess. This is hardly a disastrous recruiting season considering all the problems, with a few good receivers signing on and the defensive line is getting a few three-star types, but this isn’t nearly the type of class the program is used to getting.
Team Concerns: It’s all about getting through the transition. The offense needs the most help, especially for the passing game. The quarterbacks in place simply can’t play, but at least Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden are veterans. The defensive line has to replace Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Devon Still and end Jack Crawford, and all four starters are gone from the secondary. The offensive line loses four starters from a group that was fine, but merely above-average at best.
6. Indiana (1-11)
What’s Needed Now: FBS players. Head coach Kevin Wilson openly groused about the talent level after coming over from Oklahoma, and now he has had a full recruiting season to change things around. While he lost top quarterback prospect Dusty Kiel to Notre Dame, he’s getting a few passers and some strong receivers. The defense has to be far better, and it starts up front with JUCO transfers Jaccari Alexander and David Cooper for the linebacking corps, and enough talent for the depth on the line to get an immediate upgrade.
Team Concerns: The offense has to start producing on a consistent basis. Tre Robertson is a fun quarterback to work around, and Stephen Houston is a promising, pounding back, but Wilson’s passing attack needs a deep threat and the line has to be night and day better. There’s experience, but the skill level is lacking.
1. Michigan (11-2)
What’s Needed Now: Next-level talents. Now this is the class Michigan is used to bringing in. This is a class that’s the base of a special team. It’ll be a total shock if the Wolverines don’t have one of the nation’s top linebacking corps in a few years after this haul, while the speed and athleticism on the defensive front is as good as any class in over a decade. Head coach Brady Hoke has the offensive tackles for the future, while the defensive line is loaded with top-shelf pass rushers.
Team Concerns: The defensive line loses heart-and-soul tackle Mike Martin and two other starters. This year’s class isn’t going to fill in the gaps right away, but a few of the top ones will get a look for the rotation. Center David Molk is a huge loss, as is the departure of right tackle Mark Huyge and tight end Kevin Koger, but the offense will be explosive as long as Denard Robinson is healthy.
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2. Michigan State (11-3)
What’s Needed Now: Skill players. The Spartans have mostly gone after defensive prospects over the last few years, and it shows with few defensive linemen coming in this season. There’s a little something for all the skill spots with the emphasis on receiver and head coach Mark Dantonio is bringing in some strong tight ends to play around with the offense. There aren’t any superstar prospects compared to what Michigan is getting, but it’ll be a good class full of variety.
Team Concerns: The passing game loses QB Kirk Cousins and receivers B.J. Cunningham, Keith Nichol and Keshawn Martin. It’s going to take some rebuilding, and a heavy reliance on the running game, but the early loss of RB Edwin Baker won’t help the depth. The defense lost anchor Jerel Worthy in the middle and free safety Trenton Robinson, but all the other key parts are back.
3. Nebraska (9-4)
What’s Needed Now: More players. It was a concern when Nebraska joined the Big Ten that it wouldn’t be able to fight off the top conference teams for talent in the Midwest, and that appears to be the case with a light class that’s painfully lacking in top prospects. The linebacking corps is loading up a bit with some hard-nosed options for the future, and JUCO transfer Zaire Anderson for now, but for an offense that needs more options, the class is lacking in skill prospects.
Team Concerns: Offensive pop in the passing game. There’s Taylor Martinez, Rex Burkhead and a prayer for good field position. The receiving corps is still young and emerging, but Martinez is hardly Tom Brady and the offense isn’t going to start pushing the ball down the field more. Most of the top defensive starters are back, but the stars – MLB Lavonte David and CB Alfonzo Dennard – won’t be easily replaced. The offensive line has to find three new starters including both tackles.
4. Northwestern (6-7)
What’s Needed Now: Offensive linemen. The last three classes have tried to improve the skill spots, and they’re going to need time to work. Led by a great get out of Pennsylvania – guard Adam DePietro – this could be Pat Fitzgerald’s best class of linemen yet. He’s also getting the best linebacker prospect in his era with Ifeadi Odenigbo out of Ohio, but 2012 is about an O line that should be ready to roll in three years.
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Team Concerns: The defensive line loses both starting tackles, but the big hit comes in the secondary with safety Brian Peters done, along with corners Jordan Mabin and Jeravin Matthews. QB Dan Persa might have been special, but Kain Colter got in enough work last year to be ready to go. However, he’ll be missing key targets Jeremy Ebert, Charles Brown and Drake Dunsmore.
5. Iowa (7-6)
What’s Needed Now: Skill players. The stars of the last two classes were on the defensive line, and this year the stars appear to be the tackles. The offense is set at quarterback for a while and will have to be addressed next year, but the Hawkeye running back situation that always seems to be full of drama needs more options. The receiving corps might not have any superstar prospects, but there are enough decent ones to develop for 2014.
Team Concerns: Running back. With Marcus Coker dismissed and backup Jason White gone, the Hawkeyes have to find someone to take the heat off QB James Vandenberg. Iowa always find Cokers and Shonn Greenes and backs who can take over and make the offense shine, but the options are slimmer than normal this year. Finding a No. 1 target to replace Marvin McNutt is also a must.
6. Minnesota (3-9)
What’s Needed Now: Jerry Kill likes to run the ball, but he’s not going after any star backs. He’s bringing in quarterbacks to be ready to provide options after MarQueis Gray is done after next year, and he’s loading up on receivers to start adding some more punch to the passing game. The secondary is getting an instant infusion of talent from the JUCO ranks with three signed on to make up for key losses and to improve the depth.
Team Concerns: The offensive line has to be better. Kill is building for the future with this class of linemen, but he needs more production out of the ones brought in over the last few years. It’ll be a young line that needs time, but the team can’t afford another season with so much inconsistency up front. The defense needs a few young tackles to come through, and it needs a middle linebacker to replace Gary Tinsley and a safety to replace Kim Royston.