The Big Ten was supposed to be one of the conferences that held a big advantage with some of the changes to the recruiting cycle that took effect for the 2018 class and beyond.
If the first early signing period in college football history is any indication, those pundits were right.
Wednesday marked the start of a 72-hour early signing period for the first time in the history of organized college football recruiting. Few conferences were making the headlines that the Big Ten did on the opening day either.
As things stand, fully 13 of 14 Big Ten teams are inside the top 50 and there’s a chance that all 14 of them could end up there by the end of the early signing period on Friday.
Ohio State has the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, according to the 247Sports team rankings, nabbing three 5-star players and 16 4-star players amongst its 22-man class.
Penn State was next at No. 4 in the country, landing perhaps the biggest prospect (literally and figuratively) left to commit in the 2018 class. After a crazy saga with Ohio State and 5-star defensive end Micah Parsons, Penn State was able to pick up the pieces and get his signature on Wednesday.
It was the last piece in a 21-man class for head coach James Franklin. The Nittany Lions’ 4th-ranked class includes three 5-star players now to go along with nine 4-star players.
Penn State’s rise up the rankings has been historic as well, as Franklin’s arrival has signaled a huge increase in the level of recruiting talent brought in to Happy Valley.
In the previous four years before James Franklin came to #PennState, PSU had 17 combined 4 & 5-star signees. In the four years with Franklin, the Nittany Lions have now signed 45 four and five-star recruits.
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) December 20, 2017
But, they weren’t the only highlights for the Big Ten East division. That’s because fellow division rivals Maryland, Michigan and Michigan State all ended up inside the top 25 of the national team rankings as of the start of the early signing period.
Michigan came in at No. 12, failing to add a single 5-star player, but hauling in eight 4-star prospects in a 19-player class.
Maryland was next, coming at No. 19 nationally, signing 24 players including three 4-star players.
Michigan State rounded out the East divisions domination of the Top 25, coming in at No. 25 with a 20-player class that included four 4-star players in the mix.
But, the Big Ten’s big year didn’t just stop with the top teams in the East division either.
Minnesota’s 26-player class has them the highest rated West division team, coming in at No. 27. The Gophers have signed two 4-star players in IMG Academy guard Curtis Dunlap and Georgia wide receiver Rashod Bateman.
P.J. Fleck alos dipped in to the JUCO ranks to pull out the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the class, Victor Viramontes.
However, some of the devils are in the details regarding the rankings. One look at average player rankings and the Gophers are clearly benefiting from quantity over quality. Nebraska would lead the West division in average player rating to date, while both Wisconsin and Iowa also top the Gophers in that category.
The Huskers saw a once-promising class take a tumble after a coaching transition and pick up some late momentum before singing day drama. After the hire of Frost, Nebraska had just 10 players in the class and were losing the majority of its 4-star commitments.
In the end, the Huskers ended up gaining a huge commitment from 4-star quarterback Adrian Martinez and currently has a 13-player class that is likely to jump up the rankings heading in to February.
There was even drama amongst the divisions inside the Big Ten, as Ohio State strengthened its class with the steal of 4-star wide receiver Cameron Brown, a one-time Nebraska verbal commit.
The West division also saw a huge jump in recruiting from Purdue, who came in at No. 47 in Jeff Brohm’s first full recruiting cycle. That’s up from No. 72 last season and No. 80 in the final year of the Darrel Hazell era.
Even Illinois, who brought up the rear on the recruiting trail this season in the Big Ten was a step above previous efforts. While the ranking is down this season from last, there are nearly 10 fewer spots to fill too. Additionally, the Illini will land its first 4-star player of the Lovie Smith era in defensive tackle Calvin Avery out of Texas.
Things could get really interesting towards the end of the early signing period for Smith and Co., as they are in the hunt for two more 4-star players — and winning both battles will certainly change the ranking for the Illini.
Now, the question is if the Big Ten can keep that kind of staying power going forward.
With the second big change taking effect for the 2019 recruiting class, look for the Big Ten’s advantages to only increase.
Will that lead to even more competitive football? That is the ultimate question in every recruiting class, but at least the Big Ten schools are giving their best effort to make that happen on the recruiting trail.