With the early signing period in effect this year, the traditional February Signing Day was…not exciting. Unfortunately, I think that’s what we can expect from here on out.
Regardless of the excitement, the classes are set barring any academic ineligibilities or any wild transfer stores. The Big Ten East was the best division in college football last year according to Football Outsiders S&P+ metrics with 4 teams in the top 27 spots, Indiana 51st…and Maryland and Rutgers in the deep triple digits.
OSU and PSU were 1st and 4th, respectively, in S&P+, which explains why their 39-38 matchup from last season was one of the best games of the year. Michigan State had a top 5 defense, Michigan a top 10 one themselves, and take Maryland with a grain of salt because they were on their 3rd- and 4th-string quarterbacks for the better part of conference play.
There is a disparity of wealth in the division, so to speak, and with this past signing day, the rich got richer. Read Allen Trieu’s similarly formatted and professional opinion here.
|Ohio State||2 national (1 conference)||2 (1)||2 (1)|
|Penn State||5 (2)||5 (2)||4 (2)|
|Michigan||21 (3)||25 (4)||20 (3)|
|Maryland||28 (5)||29 (6)||31 (6)|
|Michigan State||32 (6)||27 (5)||34 (7)|
|Indiana||48 (10)||44 (10)||48 (11)|
|Rutgers||57 (13)||57 (13)||59 (13)|
Ohio State (#1 S&P+, #7 O, #8 D)
If Ohio State is even remotely competitive against Iowa, they are probably in the playoff. They would have been the first two-loss team to be selected, but the advanced metrics favored them heavily every week of last year. They convincingly defeated USC in their bowl game and will say goodbye to a bevy of talented stars, mainly JT Barrett and Tyquan Lewis. Bill Connelly’s returning production metrics (which state that teams that return the most passing production improve the most) rank them 84th in the country, returning 62% of last year’s total production, and only 51% on the defensive side. It won’t matter much with this class, which is the best in the country. Georgia might have finished with the top class overall, but Ohio State still signed the 3rd best class in the country and best in the conference.
- Top Recruit: Nicholas Petit-Frere, OT. The best tackle in the country wasn’t even seriously considering Ohio State until his official visit. Weird what happens when you win big games.
- Biggest Need: I mean, how do you determine this for a team that loses a lot but returns more? They were top 10 in both offensive and defensive S&P+, so their ‘needs’ are only really dictated by attrition, which would be on the defensive line. Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis were starters last year who will be going to the NFL Draft; Jalyn Holmes wasn’t as statistically productive but will also be graduating.
- Top Recruit to Fill Need: Vincent, Tyler Friday, Tommy Togiai. 3 top-100 players on the defensive line incoming
- Class Darkhorse: How can you pick a darkhorse when there are only 3 three-star recruits (one of them is Malik Hooker’s younger brother)? I’ll go with Chris Olave, whose name was mumbled in some Michigan recruiting circles. OSU returns a deep stable of receivers highlighted by Parris Campbell who announced he’ll return to school. Olave will likely redshirt and take over a slot position down the road.
- Best Name: Master Teague
- Bottom Line: What is there to say? A stacked class joins a stacked roster that are favorites in a stacked East.
Michigan (#27 S&P+, #85 O, #8 D)
Not many schools had as big of a disparity in their S&P+ rankings as Michigan, and boy, was it obvious watching this year. The defense saved the day repeatedly only to have the offense sputter when the team needed it most. Like Maryland, take that with a grain of salt because Michigan forged ahead with their 3rd-string QB down the stretch, and although Shea Patterson won’t be an instant cure, he should help disrupt some of the bad habits. Michigan ranks 13th in overall returning production (15th on defense) and because Harbaugh went after it in 2016 and 2017 with back to back top five recruiting classes, this class is all about projected potential. After the heavily rumored Otis Reese flip became official, Michigan fell to 21st in the country and held on to 3rd in the Big Ten.
- Top Recruit: Aidan Hutchinson, DE. It was Reese before he inevitably flipped to Georgia, but Hutchinson was the beneficiary of one of the best performances at the US Army All America Game. He moved himself up to the top ranked player in the state and a top five positional ranking according to 247.
- Biggest Need: Offensive line, specifically on the edge. Michigan’s line ranked 90th in opportunity rate and 87th in standard downs line yards, and well into the hundreds in sack rate.
- Top Recruit to Fill Need: Jalen Mayfield, OT. Mayfield comes in with a college-ready build and given the question marks on the line, could make a case for himself for the 2019 line.
- Class Darkhorse: Luke Schoonmaker. Tight ends were the most targeted group on offense last year, and at 6’ 6” and 225 pounds, Schoonmaker will fit right in. He will most definitely take a redshirt for this year and look to make a name for himself.
- Best Name: Julius Welschof
- Bottom Line: It isn’t a stacked class, but it doesn’t need to be given the quality the last two years brought. Very few will play as true freshmen.
Penn State (#10 S&P+, #10 O, #12 D)
For as good as Penn State was this season, repeating next year will be difficult. Even though McSorley will return and will likely be a preseason Heisman frontrunner, he will be breaking in new pass catchers and under a new offensive coordinator. DaeSean Hamilton (857 receiving yards and 9 TDs), Saquon Barkley (632 yards and 3 TDs), Mike Gesicki (563 yards and 9 TDs), and Saeed Blacknall (289 yards and 2 TDs) accounted for 62% of Penn State’s receiving yardage and 72% of Penn State’s receiving touchdowns last year, and they will all be headed to the NFL. The Nittany Lions return 53% of their defensive productivity, 101st in the nation. This sounds a lot like Michigan’s scenario from 2016 to 2017, both in terms of returning production and the glimmering recruiting class to fill in the blanks.
PSU boasts the 4th-ranked class in the nation, and 2nd best in the conference.
- Top Recruit: Micah Parsons, DE. Parsons decommitted from Penn State awhile ago and was seemed headed towards Columbus until OSU self-reported a subtle recruiting violation and suddenly stopped recruiting him. Parsons re-committed and enrolled in January..
- Biggest Need: Pass catchers. Saquon Barkley was tremendous in the backfield last season, and former 5-star Miles Sanders will (mostly) pick up right where he left off. Like I mentioned before, Penn State is losing almost two-thirds of their receiving yards last season.
- Top Recruit to Fill Need: Justin Shorter, WR, and Zach Kuntz, TE. Shorter is the #1 receiver in a very deep receiving class, and Kuntz, all 6’ 7” of him, is the #4 TE. Michigan learned the hard way that freshman receivers aren’t gamechangers immediately, but the fact of the matter is Penn State recruited to fill their need.
- Class Darkhorse: Judge Culpepper. For a 6’ 5” defensive end, he does a good job staying low off of the snap and uses his length to his advantage. He’ll probably be forgotten in the dazzling film of fellow defensive end commits Parsons and Jayson Oweh, but he’ll be productive after an inevitable redshirt.
- Best Name: Shaquon Anderson-Butts
- Bottom Line: Excellent class. Very talented and positionally well rounded: seven different players are ranked in the national top five at their respective positions.
Maryland 114th S&P+ (#113 O, #85 D)
After a thrilling Week 1 win at Texas, the wheels fell off for Maryland, through no fault of Durkin’s. Quarterback after quarterback was injured until they went with 3rd stringer Max Bortenschlager, who then himself got hurt. Maryland was forced to rely on a converted wide receiver Air Force transfer against Michigan, and that went about as well as you’d think, which led to a plummet in the S&P+ rankings. Maryland QBs were in the basement in the conference for completion percentage.
Durkin continues to recruit the top talent in the DMV and Beltline areas. I was big on Kasim Hill last year, and he looked pretty good until he tore his ACL against UCF. Maryland was a top 30 rushing team according to 2017 S&P+, and Durkin continues to recruit to supplement that effort. Maryland also hired Matt Canada as their OC, which should help a lot. Maryland continues to swing above its class, signing the 28th ranked class in the country and 5th in the conference.
- Top Recruit: Jaelyn Duncan, OT
- Biggest Need: Pass protection. Maryland allowed 35 sacks a year ago, second most in the conference, and despite being 36th in Adjusted Running Rate, they were 122nd in success rate, which tells me that either A) their QBs were just too inaccurate or 2) they were inaccurate because they were constantly under pressure.
- Top Recruit to Fill Need: Duncan, but also high 3-star Evan Gregory from DeMatha Catholic.
- Class Darkhorse: Durrel Nchami, OLB. Durkin is a good defensive minded coach, but he’s opposite of Don Brown’s philosophy of havoc and aggression, and the stats prove it. Maryland was 128th in the country in Front-7 Havoc, which measures TFLs, PBUs, and forced fumbles by, you guessed it, the front seven. Even when he was at Michigan, Durkin’s defense was 3rd in the country in S&P+ but 40th in Front-7 havoc, compared to #6 overall last year. Nchami’s film shows below average speed and first step but makes up for it with instinct and intellect reading the opposing offense, which seems to fit in with Durkin’s defensive philosophy. He could be valuable as a spacebacker against the ‘spreadier’ offenses like Ohio State and Penn State in the division.
- Best Name: Chigoziem Okonkwo
- Bottom Line: Durkin stuck to his region again, signing 15 players from DC, Maryland, and Virginia. They return some weapons and recruited heavily in the defensive front seven to help their defense.
Michigan State (21 S&P+, #92 O, #4 D)
Similar to Michigan, Michigan State sees a massive disparity between their offensive and defensive production, and will return 92% of 2017’s production, which is the most in the country. LJ Scott mostly ran into a pile of opposing defensive tackles and Brian Lewerke somehow turned QB sneaks into 40 yard carries time and time again. They were a weird team on offense, 33rd in success rate but 100th in IsoPPP (explosiveness) and 103rd in stuff rate, so efficiently controlled?
- Top Recruit: Kalon Gervin, CB. Michigan State’s defense was Top 5 last year according to most advanced metrics and he’ll be joining All Conference corner Andrew Dowell.
- Biggest need: Run blocking, I guess? Lewerke led the team in yards per carry; that was partly by design and partly because LJ Scott isn’t built for explosive runs, but also because the line didn’t get the push they needed to. 21.7% of MSU’s runs were stopped at the line, which is 103rd in the country.
- Top Recruit to Fill Need: James Ohonba, T. Ohonba is listed as a tackle, but at 6’ 4” and 345 pounds, he might be asked to play inside.
- Class Darkhorse: Jacob Isaia, C. With All Conference Brian Allen leaving, Isaia might be the guy at center in a few years. Coming from Bishop Gorman and specifically as a center rather than learning center after enrolling will help.
- Best Name: Jeslord Boateng
- Bottom Line: It’s textbook MSU. Only 3 4-star recruits and heavy on defense. Given the high amount of returning starters, expect nearly all of them to redshirt.
Indiana (51 S&P+, #98 O, #26 D)
Tom Allen was the exact opposite of Kevin Wilson – a solid defense and inefficient offense, and things might get worse before they get better in Bloomington. They return only 51% of last year’s production, 119th in the nation, specifically in the skill positions, and the recruiting class addresses that: of the 11 offensive recruits, 9 are skill positions. Even though they don’t have a player in the top 400, Simmie Cobbs was the 974th-ranked recruit when he committed – Indiana relies on development. Their class ends up at 48th in the country and 10th in the conference.
- Top Recruit: Ronnie Walker, RB. Although Morgan Ellison will be the guy in Bloomington for the foreseeable future, Walker will add another element that Ellison can’t – pure speed.
- Biggest need: Rushing offense. Indiana was 107th in Rushing S&P+ but 46th in passing, as well as 116th in IsoPPP and 94th in adjusted line yards, which attempts to separate rushing yardage into what the back earned and what the line set up for him.
- Top Recruit to Fill Need: Adrian Rafferty, OT.
- Class Darkhorse: James Miller, ILB. Miller had an impressive offer sheet and officially visited Florida State the weekend before Signing Day.
- Best Name: Jordan Jusevitch (it wasn’t a great class for names at Indiana)
- Bottom Line: for as much as they are losing, Indiana doesn’t have the immediate talent to pick up where they left off. A lot of these guys will see the field early, and that might not be the best option.
Rutgers (110th S&P+, #126 O, #53 D)
Rutgers might make a bowl game this year. The scheduling stars have to align, but it is possible. They doubled their win total from 2016 to 2017 and beat a Power 5 team last year, which they did not do in ‘16. They also weren’t shut out 224-0 against MSU, PSU, OSU, and Michigan like 2016, so hey, the sky’s the limit. But seriously – Rutgers’ schedule is terrible (Texas State, @ Ohio State, @ Kansas, Buffalo, Indiana, Illinois) to start the season and just gets brutal as it gets cold. If they can sneak one away from Maryland or Northwestern, they should do it.
Anyway. Even though Rutgers did double their win total, they were still a terrible team, especially offensively, and a lot of that stemmed from the quarterback play. 125th passing S&P+, and 116th passing down S&P+, but top 60 in adjusted and regular sack rate, so it isn’t necessarily all on the line. Rutgers needs a ‘franchise’ QB, if there is such a thing in college. They’ve used a revolving door of transfer QBs and it seems that they finally have their guy in an otherwise unremarkable recruiting class. Rutgers finishes the year 57th in the country and 13th in the conference, a major regression from last year’s 42nd ranked class.
- Top Recruit: Artur Sitkowski, QB. A long time Miami commit, Sitkowski flipped to Rutgers to stay close to home and because he can be the hero. Even though he lost his 4th star and tumbled to 392nd in the rankings, he’s better than what Rutgers has had under center for a loooooong time.
- Biggest need: Quarterback
- Top Recruit to Fill Need: Sitkowski.
- Class Darkhorse: Sitkowski.
- Best Name: Sitkowski.
- Bottom Line: Sitkowski, four wide receiver commits, and two others under ‘athlete’ position. It is clear what Rutgers needed. They might be terrible because they will likely all start as freshmen, but they also have a very easy first seven weeks (other than going to Columbus in Week 2).
On paper, there was a clear winner in the Big Ten East. But who has the next best class? Who has the worst class? Let us know what you think about the Big Ten East’s incoming prospects in the comment section below!
Photo Credit: ESPN.com