Top 10 B1G storylines heading into Early Signing Day
National Signing Day doesn’t hold the same cache it once did.
February was the perfect spot in the sports calendar to make the event feel like, well, Christmas. But with the advent of the early signing period wedging the new Early Signing Day right before the actual Christmas, some of the spotlight faded.
And when you throw the transfer portal on top of that, the attention span of the average fan wanes even more when it comes to these incoming freshmen.
But it still matters.
Ohio State and Michigan both signed top-10 recruiting classes in 2020 and 2022 — and look where they are now. That talent still needs to be developed — coughing at you, Texas A&M — but it helps to have it.
Here are the top 10 B1G storylines on Day 1 of the 3-day Early Signing Period.
1. Ohio State is No. 1 in the B1G, again
As has been the case throughout the 2020s, the Buckeyes will bring in the Big Ten’s top-rated class as measured by the 247Sports composite rankings of all recruiting sites. The last time Ohio State didn’t lead the way was 2019, which is when the program transitioned from Urban Meyer to Ryan Day.
As you might expect, the bulk of this class’s star power is at wide receiver, led by 5-star Brandon Inniss. He’s joined by 4-stars Noah Rogers and Carnell Tate.
2. Penn State is on the rise
The Nittany Lions will boast the Big Ten’s No. 2 recruiting class for the 2nd straight season. And one only needs to look at Penn State’s current crop of freshmen to know why that’s a big deal. Running backs Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen made big splashes this season, as did linebacker Abdul Carter. Quarterback Drew Allar looks ready to take the reins next year.
James Franklin is building the nucleus of a future Big Ten champion, provided he figures out a way to beat Michigan and Ohio State.
3. Coaching changes have consequences
The 3 Big Ten programs in the midst of coaching changes are unsurprisingly lagging in the rankings. Wisconsin is projected at 60th — down from 44th last year — and Purdue is 65th compared to 38th a year ago.
But things can change for the positive, as well. Nebraska started the week with the 50th-ranked class, but Matt Rhule has hustled together some late commitments to push the Cornhuskers up to 44th. By February’s signing day, perhaps the Huskers will be into the top 40.
4. NFL flirtation probably has consequences
It seems likely that Jim Harbaugh’s job interview with the Minnesota Vikings bore some fruit of consequence.
Sports Betting in Big Ten Country
21+ and present in OH. Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER.
The symbolism, of course, couldn’t have been worse — Harbaugh went to Minnesota on signing day in February. It didn’t matter because Michigan’s Class of 2022 was already in the bag. But the Class of 2023 was not.
And that seems the easiest way to explain Michigan’s tumble despite being in the midst of its 2nd-straight B1G championship season and Playoff appearance. The Wolverines are 19th overall, which breaks a string of 4 straight top-13 classes.
Michigan is actually behind upcoming Fiesta Bowl opponent TCU in this year’s recruiting rankings.
It may also just be that Harbaugh is changing the way he’s doing things. Though much is subject to change in the next month, Michigan currently has the nation’s top-rated transfer class according to 247 Sports.
5. Overall, a step back
2022 was a banner recruiting class for the Big Ten.
Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State all inked top-10 classes, and 6 B1G programs signed top 30 classes. For the first time, all 14 Big Ten programs signed a top-50 class nationally.
This year, only Ohio State is expected to bring in a top-10 class. Penn State and Michigan are the only other Big Ten programs in the top 30. And only 10 teams are currently in the top 50.
Only 2 5-star recruits have committed to Big Ten programs, which is the lowest total in the Power 5.
6. Iowa gets flipped
As Iowa’s stone-age offense sputtered this season, it was fair to wonder whether it would start hurting the Hawkeyes on the recruiting trail.
Up until the evening before signing day, it appeared that actually wasn’t the case. Kadyn Proctor, the No. 2 offensive tackle in the country and the presumptive top recruit in Iowa history, was committed to the Hawkeyes.
But on Tuesday night, the 5-star Des Moines native flipped his commitment to Alabama. Proctor’s defection sinks Iowa from 4th in the B1G and 24th nationally to 5th in the B1G and 35th nationally. It also decreases the number of 5-star Big Ten signees from 3 to 2.
7. Luke Fickell has work to do
Wisconsin has taken a serious recruiting tumble the past couple of years.
As noted, the Badgers’ past 2 classes rate 60th and 44th overall. The previous 2 years, Wisconsin brought in the 16th and 26th overall classes.
Of Fickell’s last 5 classes at Cincinnati, 4 rated in the 40s overall, which made them No. 1 among all Group of 5 programs in each of those years. And the only class that wasn’t tops in the Group of 5 produced the best overall player — cornerback Sauce Gardner.
Whether through recruitment, development, or both, Fickell figures to get Wisconsin going after this cycle.
8. Bret Bielema builds
Back-to-back recruiting classes in the 40s shouldn’t be reason for celebration in the Big Ten. But in the case of Illinois, it is.
Bret Bielema has Illinois at 43rd, which is a slight boost from 46th in his first class with the Illini. But both are major steps up from Lovie Smith’s last 2 classes, which ranked 73rd and 87th.
Bielema was able to turn that talent into a Big Ten West contender. Once he gets more of his guys in, Illinois will continue to be a factor.
9. Fitz can fix it?
The Big Ten’s biggest Early Signing Day winner appears to be … Northwestern?
The Wildcats are poised to bring in the nation’s 39th-ranked signing class, which is the program’s best since the Class of 2001 ranked 26th. And that was a truly star-studded group, headed by Brett Basanez, Luis Castillo and Zach Strief.
There’s no overstating how big this is for a program coming off its worst season on the field since 1989.
Northwestern’s performance the past 2 seasons could lead to some uncomfortable conversations in Evanston about longtime coach Pat Fitzgerald. But with this class as a springboard, maybe Fitz will kickstart a renaissance.
10. Indiana is unbelievably depressing
Frankly, there isn’t a single reason to be upbeat about Indiana football at the moment.
That wasn’t the case a year ago, when Tom Allen parlayed a successful 2020 season into the nation’s 25th-ranked signing class despite going 2-10 in 2021. The top-rated player in that class, edge rusher Dasan McCullough, is already at Oklahoma.
The Hoosiers only have 9 commits, which puts Indiana’s class at 88th nationally. That ranks behind Air Force, Eastern Michigan, and most depressingly of all, FCS member Campbell.
And if you’re wondering whether the Camels are any good, they finished 5-6 this season in the Big South. Which was a step up from their 3-8 finish in 2021.
The Hoosiers are going to need to hit the transfer portal pretty hard. Though at the moment, they’re ranked 125th in that department.