BY SCOTT ALLEN — USA Today Sports
After ending the season with consecutive losses to Michigan State and Clemson, Ohio State and head coach Urban Meyer will get back in the win column on national signing day. With eight recruits among the Rivals.com 100, Ohio State’s class is the best in the Big Ten and No. 2 in the country, according to Rivals and 247Sports.
Michigan and Penn State are a distant second and third, though the major recruiting sites differ on which school follows Ohio State in the conference’s recruiting rankings. Michigan’s class is small, but strong; the Wolverines’ 16 commits include one five-star recruit and six four-star recruits. Penn State, meanwhile, has made great strides since hiring James Franklin from Vanderbilt. Franklin and his staff have added seven verbal commitments, including five from players who had previously committed to the Commodores.
Franklin’s staff is loaded with coaches with Pennsylvania ties, which should improve the Nittany Lions’ in-state recruiting going forward. This year, none of Rivals.com’s top 10 recruits from Pennsylvania are headed to Happy Valley.
In addition to the Big Ten’s big three, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Nebraska all rank among Rivals’ top 30 classes.
FOUR FOR ’14
A look at the Big Ten’s top commits.
Jabrill Peppers, CB, Paramus (N.J.) Catholic – Michigan
Peppers, who rapped his commitment to Michigan last summer, had 57 solo tackles and four interceptions this season and was named the American Family Insurance ALL-USA Defensive Player of the Year. He was a two-way star for the Paladins, but figures to be used primarily on defense and as a kick and punt returner early on at Michigan. Peppers’ teammate at Paramus Catholic, four-star offensive tackle Juwann Bushell-Beatty, is another key piece of Brady Hoke’s class.
Raekwon McMillan, LB, Liberty County (Hinesville, Ga.) – Ohio State
McMillan enrolled at Ohio State after picking the Buckeyes over Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida and Georgia. The 6-3, 235-pound McMillan, who had 159 tackles and 8.5 sacks as a senior, is the top-rated inside linebacker by Rivals.
Damon Webb, CB, Cass Technical (Detroit) – Ohio State
The 6-foot, 180-pound Webb transferred to Cass Tech before his junior season and developed into a five-star recruit after deciding his future in football was at cornerback, not receiver. “It was (assistant) coach Jermain Crowell and coach (Thomas) Wilcher who molded me into a defensive back,” Webb told the Detroit News. “In practice they thought I had more potential at defensive back because of my size.” Webb will be a welcome addition to an Ohio State passing defense that ranked 112th among FBS schools and allowed at least 300 passing yards in its last four games.
Johnnie Dixon, WR, Dwyer (Palm Beach Lakes, Fla.) – Ohio State
Another one of Ohio State’s early enrollees, Dixon helped lead Dwyer to the 7A state title. In five postseason games, Dixon had 17 catches for 366 yards and six touchdowns. The 6-0, 175-pound receiver picked Ohio State over Alabama and Miami.
POSITION ON THE RISE: DEFENSIVE BACK
In Peppers and Webb, the Big Ten boasts two of the top five cornerbacks in this year’s class, and there’s depth at the position beyond those two gems. Bolingbrook (Ill.) cornerback Parrker Westphal is an early enrollee at Northwestern and one of the top players in the Wildcats’ class, while former Thurgood Marshall (Dayton, Ohio) star Vayante Copeland will join a Michigan State secondary that loses USA TODAY Sports first-team All-America Darqueze Dennard. Ohio State commit Erick Smith and Michigan State commit Montae Nicholson are both ranked among the nation’s top 15 safeties.
TOP RECRUITS BY SCHOOL
The gem of each school’s recruiting class.
Illinois: Matt Domer, RB, 6-0/188, Mt. Carmel (Chicago)
Indiana: Dominique Booth, WR, 6-0/200, Pike (Indianapolis)
Iowa: Jay Scheel, ATH, 6-1/170, Union (La Porte City, Iowa)
Maryland: Jesse Aniebonam, DE, 6-5/240, Good Counsel (Olney, Md.)
Michigan: Jabrill Peppers, CB, 6-1/210, Paramus (N.J.) Catholic
Michigan State: Montae Nicholson, S, 6-2/202, Gateway (Monroeville, Pa.)
Minnesota: Jeff Jones, RB, 6-0/198, Washburn (Minneapolis)
Nebraska: Tanner Farmer, OL, 6-4/315, Highland (Ill.)
Northwestern: Clayton Thorson, QB, 6-4/197, Wheaton (Ill.) North
Ohio State: Raekwon McMillan, LB, 6-3/235, Liberty County (Hinesville, Ga.)
Penn State: Chris Godwin, WR, 6-2/202, Middletown (Del.)
Purdue: Gelen Robinson, DE, 6-1/231, Lake Central (St. John, Ind.)
Rutgers: Joshua Hicks, RB, 5-10/180, Palmetto (Fla.)
Wisconsin: Craig Evans, DT, 6-2/313, Sun Prairie (Wis.)
SIGNING DAY BATTLE TO WATCH
Damian Prince, OL, Bishop McNamara (Forestville, Md.)
Florida, Florida State, Maryland, Penn State and South Carolina are in the running to land the 6-foot-5, 292-pound Prince, the No. 20 overall prospect, according to Rivals. Maryland is the favorite, according to 247Sports, though Penn State has made a late push. In another heated recruiting battle with Big Ten implications, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State are in the running for Southfield (Detroit) defensive end Malik McDowell.
2013’s TOP RECRUIT
Five-star recruit Christian Hackenberg, the No. 2 quarterback in the class of 2013, according to Rivals.com, started every game for Penn State and threw for 2,955 yards, 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football