Rivals.com, Scout.com, ESPN and 247Sports.com are the four major recruiting services who all do an excellent job evaluating, tracking and ranking all things recruiting.
But they don't always agree and that is a great thing for fans. It also means the best way to rank the best classes in the nation is to average them all together and come to a consensus. One service may value quantity while another may value quality. One service may really love one prospect while another may not feel as strongly about him. Each site has its own metric for evaluating a class. Again, this is why Athlon Sports publishes its national team recruiting rankings as an average of the four big sites combined.
After another stellar National Signing Day of winners and losers, here are the consensus Big Ten team rankings for 2014.
• If the rest of the Big Ten isn’t careful, Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes will leave them all behind. Ohio State landed the best class in the Big Ten for the third straight season and the sixth time in seven years (2010, Michigan). Meyer's team is the only one in the league even attempting to compete with the SEC on the recruiting trail. The rest of the league finished outside of the top 20 and well behind the Bucknuts in the national rankings. There is a clear vacuum behind Ohio State on the recruiting trail in the Big Ten.
• So who will fill that void left in the wake of Meyer? Enter James Franklin. The new Penn State coach only had a few weeks to work his magic on the trail this year and it paid off in a big way as Penn State jumped to No. 3 in the Big Ten following a flurry of commitments. With a full season to recruit and now playing games every year in both Maryland/DC and New Jersey, the Nittany Lions have a chance to become the top challenger to Ohio State. Franklin’s ability to sell his program is uncanny — just ask the folks in Nashville. The recruiting battles — both on and off the trail — between Franklin and Meyer should be intriguing to watch for as long as both remain in place in Columbus and Happy Valley.
• Brady Hoke and Michigan were noticeably absent from the national conversation on National Signing Day. There is no shame in landing the Big Ten’s No. 2-ranked class or the nation’s No. 22-ranked group. But this team expects more, and losing five out of their last six games this past season clearly killed any momentum the Wolverines might have had on the trail. The Maize and Blue can do better than 22nd and if they want to compete with that school down South, Hoke will have to improve in recruiting as well as on the field.
• What to do with Michigan State? If five-star defensive lineman Malik McDowell wants to go to Michigan State without his parents' consent, he can. Eventually, when he turns 18, there is nothing to stop him from attending Michigan State. However, for the time being, his parents will not sign his Letter of Intent and he remains in recruiting purgatory. With McDowell, this is a Top 25 class nationally and one of the better groups in the Big Ten. Without him, this class drops 8-10 spots and lands near Wisconsin and Nebraska in the 33-35 range. Mark Dantonio needs to get this issue resolved in a timely fashion.
• For the second year in a row, Kevin Wilson and Indiana had an excellent class. After finishing 38th nationally a year ago, the Hoosiers once again landed inside the top 50 nationally. Prior to 2013, however, Indiana wasn’t accustomed to recruiting at this level. Indiana ranked 66th (‘12), 59th (‘11), 92nd (‘10), 59th (‘09) and 78th (’08) over the last five cycles. That stretch ranked the Hoosiers 10th in the Big Ten on average but Wilson now has back-to-back upper-half finishes in the conference.
• Maryland and Rutgers finished the recruiting cycle in two totally different ways. Kyle Flood and the Knights finished 12th in the Big Ten and 59th overall after a record 12 decommitments throughout the process. The Terrapins landed a five-star stud in offensive lineman Damian Prince and had three other four-star signings. This class was small (17) and that resulted in a ninth-place finish in the Big Ten. However, this group has excellent quality. How these two programs do in their own regions in their first few seasons in the Big Ten will be critical to the survival of the current coaching regimes.
• Illinois and Purdue have two embattled coaching staffs after two really bad seasons and both did very poorly on the recruiting trail. Not only were both classes small (18 signees) but the quality wasn’t impressive either. In fact, Purdue ranked dead last among all Big 5 conference schools while Illinois ranked ahead of only the Boilermakers and Colorado from the Pac-12. Tim Beckman and Darrell Hazell have two major uphill battles ahead of them and these two classes didn’t help with that process whatsoever.
* - This ranking reflects the addition of five-star defensive lineman Malik McDowell. This group falls back near Wisconsin and Nebraska without McDowell in the fold.