Each week, Saturday Tradition managing editor Dustin Schutte offers his spin on what matters most in the B1G.

B1G winners, B1G losers from Early Signing Period

The recruiting game is still a little bit different.

In a pre-pandemic, pre-transfer portal world, it was easier to judge recruiting classes across college football. The traditional evaluation of each cycle basically involved 3 primary factors:

  • Addressing the immediate needs of the program
  • Number of recruits signed
  • How the class stacks up with others in the conference

Right now, it’s not quite that simplistic. Current players having the option to potentially return for an additional year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 waiver changes things. The opportunity for coaches to go into the transfer portal to fill holes on the roster changes things.

A team doesn’t necessarily live and die through high school recruiting anymore, but it should still be viewed as the foundation of a program. For that reason, it’s imperative to build a strong class on a yearly basis.

Some programs enjoyed plenty of success on the recruiting trail during the Early Signing Period. Others are crossing their fingers and toes, hoping for a miracle in February.

Who were some of the biggest winners and losers from the Early Signing Period? A quick look across the B1G:

Winner: Penn State

One of the biggest knocks against James Franklin during his time in State College has been his inability to recruit an elite quarterback. Mission accomplished.

Penn State signed 5-star quarterback Drew Allar, the No. 4 prospect at the position and one of the top 30 overall players in the 2022 recruiting class. Maybe he won’t beat out Sean Clifford for the starting job in his first year with the program, but he certainly looks like the quarterback of the future.

Not only did Penn State get its quarterback, it brings in 4-star running back Nick Singleton and 4-star wide receiver Kaden Saunders, ranking No. 49 and No. 52 overall, respectively. Both of those skill position players have an opportunity to make a quick impact during the 2022 season and enjoy lengthy careers.

Franklin roped off Pennsylvania, landing 10 in-state commits. He’s bringing in 5 receivers, 7 total linemen and 4 defensive backs. From top to bottom, this is a strong class.

Yes, Penn State owns the No. 6 class nationally and ranks No. 2 in the B1G, but to add quality talent at key positions is a really good sign. This is the kind of group that can compete for conference championships.

Loser: Illinois

Bret Bielema had his work cut out for him in his first full recruiting cycle. And though Illinois gets painted as a loser in this breakdown, it wasn’t a complete loss.

The Fighting Illini were able to make a dent on in-state recruiting, receiving verbal pledges from 10 prospects from the state of Illinois. From Day 1, that’s been something Bielema has harped on. The problem? All of the top 11 in-state recruits committed somewhere else.

Jared Badie, a 3-star linebacker, is the highest-ranked in-state prospect Illinois was able to land in the 2022 class. He’s the No. 12 player from the state and sits No. 631 nationally. Ideally, Bielema would bringing in a handful of the top 10 recruits from the state.

Lovie Smith left a pretty big mess, though, and it’s going to take some time to clean that up.

Illinois signed a relatively large class, earning pledges from 22 prospects. There are no 4- or 5-star pledges in that group and the Fighting Illini rank No. 12 in the B1G and No. 45 nationally. It could be worse — a lot worse — but this still wasn’t a great cycle for the program.

Winner: Indiana

Even after a 2-10 season, Indiana was able to land the B1G’s No. 4 class and currently sits at No. 20 nationally. Given the history on the gridiron in Bloomington, it’s borderline shocking the Hoosiers hauled in such a tremendous group.

Indiana put an emphasis on recruiting the big bodies up front with this class, signing 3 offensive linemen and 4 defensive linemen. Those have been major areas of concern for Tom Allen’s program, so adding depth and skill in the trenches is critical if this program wants to sustain any form of success.

Landing 4-star defensive end Dasan McCullough is the kind of addition that could transform IU’s defense. Getting a commitment from Dominick James — another 4-star defensive lineman — only reinforces Allen’s desire to build a strong front line.

The biggest takeaway from this class? The pipeline from Florida to Bloomington is still fruitful. Indiana was able to secure pledges from 7 players out of the Sunshine State during this recruiting cycle, one of Allen’s greatest strengths since taking over.

IU is also bringing in 5 players from Ohio and 2 more out of Texas. This is a program that’s learning how to find the best talent available, regardless of location.

Loser: Nebraska

Let’s start with the good news, shall we? Nebraska was able to land a late commitment from Jaeden Gould, a 4-star cornerback out of New Jersey. He’s a Top 200 prospect who had multiple big-time offers and could’ve played almost anywhere in the country.

That’s about where it ends, though.

Nebraska’s class ranks last in the B1G and No. 57 nationally. It’s not exactly the type of group that will get a fanbase overly excited following a 3-9 campaign in 2021. And yet, that may not even be the worst part.

One of the greatest concerns for Nebraska during the Scott Frost era has been the play along the offensive line. During the Early Signing Period, the Huskers signed just 1 offensive lineman. That’s not typically a winning formula in the B1G.

Again, Nebraska has the ability to do some work through the transfer portal. It could still develop the current talent on the roster into a much better group. Getting just 1 offensive lineman in a class is going to raise some red flags, though.

It’ll be interesting to see if there’s any emphasis on that position group for National Signing Day in February or if the Huskers are happy with what they have in Lincoln already.

Not so peachy, anymore

When postseason matchups were released on Dec. 5, the Peach Bowl was one of the non-College Football Playoff games that had us all salivating. A game between Pitt and Michigan State was a dream come true for fans who love high-octane offenses and those who enjoy betting the over.

Kenny Pickett threw for over 4,000 yards and 42 touchdowns. Kenneth Walker III was the nation’s leading rusher with more than 1,600 yards on the ground and 18 touchdowns. Two of the best players in college football were going to be on display in a premier New Year’s Six bowl.

Not so much.

Thursday, both Walker and Pickett opted out of the Peach Bowl, deciding to instead focus on the upcoming 2022 NFL Draft. It’s hard to blame the two college stars for the decision, but it essentially popped the hype bubble that was floating around Atlanta.

Even if you’re not a huge fan of the College Football Playoff expanding past 4 teams, you have to admit that a larger field would at least serve as a remedy for some of these opt-outs. That would be a good thing for college football.

After watching both Pickett and Walker dominate opponents for a majority of the 2021 season, it would’ve been nice to see the two share the same field. Instead, we’ll have to wait to see it in the NFL.

The Peach Bowl might still be a lot of fun between two teams that combined for a 21-4 record in 2021. It just doesn’t have the same cachet it did a few weeks ago.

Maybe another Day

As is typically the case with successful head coaches in college football, Ohio State’s Ryan Day is once again dealing with speculation about a move to the NFL. This time, it’s the Chicago Bears that some are whispering about potentially giving the Buckeyes leader a call.

Thanks to growing frustration with Matt Nagy, it’s assumed Chicago is going to part ways with the head coach at the end of the year and begin a search for his replacement. Because of the connection to Justin Fields, Day’s name is one that pops up frequently.

Right now, that’s not in play. Well, at least if you ask Day about it.

This week, Day was asked about the rumors about potential interest in leaving Columbus for the Windy City. He doesn’t appear to be entertaining the thought.

“There’s nothing to it, no truth to it,” Day said. “And I love being coach at Ohio State.”

It’s not the first time Day has been tied to a potential NFL opening. At the end of the 2019 season, Day was rumored to be a candidate for a job with the Washington Football Team because of his relationship with former Buckeye gunslinger Dwayne Haskins.

Day also denied interest back then.

Reading coaches can be incredibly difficult when it comes to these situations. Day has proven to not have much interest in leaving Ohio State for the NFL at this stage in his career.

On a different day, maybe a few years further down the road, it might be a different story. Right now, he seems pretty happy leading one of college football’s premier programs.