The B1G's 10 biggest recruiting busts of the last decade
There’s a difference between being a “recruiting” bust and being an actual bust.
A recruiting bust means that a highly-touted player didn’t succeed at the given school he committed to. That can be by way of injury, coaching change, transfer or just by not being very good.
A guy can be a recruiting bust but not be an actual bust, too. Many of the B1G’s recruiting busts — players with four- or five-star hype — of the last decade had success at other schools. That still made them eligible for this list.
With that in mind, here are the B1G’s 10 biggest recruiting busts of the last decade (2007-16):
10. Adam Breneman (Penn State)
Ranking: No. 2 tight end, No. 44 overall
Why it didn’t work out — ESPN rated Breneman as the nation’s No. 1 tight end, and many expected him to be a dynamic 1-2 punch with five-star QB Christian Hackenberg. After starting a respectable five games as a true freshman — he was a 247sports true freshman All-American — Breneman didn’t catch another pass for Penn State. Injuries prevented him from staying on the field, and initially, he retired from football because of them. He then changed his mind and transferred to UMass, where he became a Mackey Award Semifinalist as the nation’s top tight end. A lack of Penn State production — through no fault of his own — was what put Breneman on this list.
9. Danny Etling (Purdue)
Ranking: No. 17 pro-style quarterback, No. 291 overall
Why it didn’t work out — Etling was expected to become the next great Purdue quarterback (yes, that was a thing not long ago). The four-star Terre Haute (Ind.) recruit stuck with the Boilermakers when Danny Hope was fired, which was a big plus at the time. Unfortunately, Etling wasn’t given the redshirt season he needed. He was forced into action as a true freshman in 2013, and he never got up to speed. After starting the first half of the 2014 season, Etling was benched in favor of Austin Appleby. After two seasons in West Lafayette, Etling joined up with fellow former Terre Haute South Vigo High quarterback Cam Cameron at LSU. And as the world heard all about, he and Appleby led their respective top-25 SEC programs in 2016.
8. Aaron Bailey (Illinois)
Ranking: No. 3 dual-threat quarterback, No. 163 overall
Why it didn’t work out — Illinois kept a rare four-star recruit in state. Bailey picked Illinois instead of the likes of Nebraska and Ohio State. But when Bill Cubit came on board as the offensive coordinator, Illinois wanted a pro-style offense, which meant that Wes Lunt was going to be the quarterback of the future. In his first two years in Champaign, Bailey appeared sparingly in 12 games — only one of which he started — and transferred to Northern Iowa. Bailey was the Missouri Valley Conference Newcomer of the Year in 2015 before struggling as a senior and losing the starting gig.
7. Dorian Bell (Ohio State)
Ranking: No. 2 outside linebacker, No. 20 overall
Why it didn’t work out — The five-star talent came to OSU as the crown jewel of Jim Tressel’s 2009 class. Unfortunately, he was part of the demise of the Tressel era. He was suspended multiple times for a violation of team rules, and he was involved in the tattoo scandal the ultimately ended Tressel’s time in Columbus. After two seasons at OSU — one was a redshirt — Bell transferred back home to Duquesne, where he became a two-time All-Northeast Conference player. It was a much smaller stage than Ohio Stadium.
6. Noah Spence (Ohio State)
Ranking: No. 1 defensive end, No. 5 overall
Why it didn’t work out — To be fair, Spence was far from a bust on the field, which is why he isn’t on the top three of this list. The five-star defensive end played his first two seasons in Columbus and recorded eight sacks as a sophomore. But two failed drug tests resulted in him being permanently ineligible from the B1G, which led to him transferring to Eastern Kentucky. To Spence’s credit, he made the most of his second chance and still wound up being a second-round pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But he’ll always be a “what could’ve been” story at OSU as a former top-five overall recruit.
5. Ryan Mallett (Michigan)
Ranking: No. 2 pocket passer, No. 5 overall
Why it didn’t work out — Rich Rodriguez. The new Michigan coach wanted to run the spread, and Mallett wasn’t the guy to do it. For some reason, Michigan opted not to build its offense around the five-star quarterback with the rocket arm who showed flashes of potential as a true freshman. Mallett was a bust because Michigan completely flipped its system, and he subsequently transferred after his freshman year. He was a better fit at Arkansas and six years into his NFL career, he’s got the look of a lifetime backup. Who knows what could’ve happened if Rodriguez had kept Mallett and the pro-style offense.
4. Derrick Green (Michigan)
Ranking: No. 4 running back, No. 27 overall
Why it didn’t work out — Next to Jabrill Peppers, there wasn’t a more hyped recruit of the Brady Hoke era than Green. But the five-star tailback never lived up to that hype. Call it a mix of early weight problems, injuries and a new coaching staff that led to Green’s struggles at Michigan. He was way down on the totem pole when Jim Harbaugh arrived, and he transferred to TCU in 2016 after getting his degree in three years. At TCU, Green actually had a smaller workload — 38 carries for 141 yards — than he did any his three seasons in Ann Arbor.
3. Aaron Green (Nebraska)
Ranking: No. 5 running back, No. 31 overall
Why it didn’t work out — Green was Nebraska’s first big-time recruit heading into its first season in the B1G. In fact, the four-star tailback was Nebraska’s No. 3 recruit all-time. But after one year in Lincoln, Green wasn’t happy and he transferred home to TCU. Perhaps the emergence of Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah had something to do with that. Whatever the case, Green only had 24 carries for 105 yards as a true freshman. He did, however, become a feature back at TCU and ran for over 2,100 yards his final two seasons. Nebraska still got one of the top I-backs in school history in Abdullah, so it worked out for everyone.
2. Eugene Clifford (Ohio State)
Ranking: No. 1 safety, No. 25 overall
Why it didn’t work out — Clifford’s career at Ohio State was a brief one. After a true freshman season in which he played four games, the five-star recruit was suspended four a violation of team rules. The following offseason, he was charged with misdemeanor assault for allegedly punching two employees at a sports bar. According to the police, Clifford threatened to shoot the two employees. Clifford then transferred to Tennessee State, and eventually had a short professional career in the Indoor Football League. He might not have been the household name others on this list were, but he was the biggest five-star letdown of them all.
1. Jeff Jones (Minnesota)
Ranking: No. 9 running back, No. 60 overall
Why it didn’t work out — Man, what a tragic tale. Jones was the highest-rated recruit to ever commit to Minnesota, and he was a rare home-grown, blue-chip talent. But the Under Armour All-America Game MVP honor was the pinnacle of his football career. Jones struggled in the classroom and he couldn’t stay out of trouble. Minnesota tried him at receiver because of its desperate need at the position. That didn’t work out. After playing just three games on special teams — he didn’t record any statistics — Jones transferred to Iowa Western Community College. That didn’t work out, either. He was kicked off the team for a violation of team rules and later arrested on felony drug charges. Jones has been in and out of jail since leaving Minnesota and is now enrolled at Garden City Community College (Kans.). That unfulfilled hype — at a program that rarely gets it from incoming recruits — earned Jones the dubious top spot on this list.