ERIC OLSON, AP College Football Writer
Ohio State signed the best recruiting class in the Big Ten. Michigan signed the best player. And Michigan State parlayed its conference championship and Rose Bowl victory into its best letter-of-intent signing day in five years.
The Buckeyes on Wednesday unveiled the third-best recruiting class in the nation, according to Rivals.com, with only Alabama and LSU ranked higher.
To illustrate the gap between Ohio State and the rest of the Big Ten, consider that the Buckeyes landed eight of Rivals.com’s top 100 players. The rest of the league combined to sign six.
“Urban Meyer is recruiting at a completely different level than anybody else,” Rivals.com analyst Mike Farrell said. “If you had to categorize it, he’s No. 1 and the next closest is No. 4. There is obviously a No. 2 and No. 3, but they’re just not close to him.”
About the only thing Meyer didn’t do was reel in the Big Ten’s highest-ranked recruit. Michigan accomplished that, signing cornerback Jabrill Peppers out of Paramus (N.J.) Catholic High.
Michigan State edged out Penn State for second-best class in the Big Ten. The Spartans are ranked no higher than 21st nationally by the analysts, but it’s still their best finish since 2009.
MSU coach Mark Dantonio’s biggest victory might have been hanging on to defensive lineman Malik McDowell of Southfield, Mich. His parents told reporters this week that they wanted their son to go out of state, and he visited Ohio State.
The Spartans did lose a lower-ranked defensive lineman in Darius Slade of Montclair, N.J. He switched his pledge from Nebraska to Michigan State two weeks ago and ended up signing with the Buckeyes.
“That’s one of our teams we’re nose-to-nose with right now in recruiting,” Meyer said of the Spartans. “We don’t win them all because I know we lost a couple, too. But that’s a real battle right now.”
Big Ten teams continued to increase the number of recruits signed from the Southeast. According to BTN, Big Ten schools signed 158 players from the conference’s footprint and 80 from SEC states.
At Nebraska, 15 of its 24 recruits came from states that have SEC schools. Ohio State pulled one of the best linebackers in the country out of Georgia, and Penn State and Wisconsin brought in quarterbacks from Florida.
“There are some quality kids that can escape and play in the Big Ten,” ESPN.com analyst Jeremy Crabtree said. “Big Ten coaches realize that if they want to compete on the national stage and beat the Alabamas and Florida States of the world, they’re going to have to fish where the fish are, and that’s in the Southeast.”
Here are some things to know about the Big Ten recruiting classes:
BEST CLASS: Ohio State, by far.
IMPACT PLAYER: Peppers, Michigan. The 6-foot, 190-pounder is the best defensive player in the nation and the most heralded Michigan recruit in a long time. He’s penciled in at cornerback but could also play safety. Either way, he’ll be on the field next fall and might even start. He also could figure in as a punt returner.
PLAYER TO WATCH: MLB Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State. The 6-2, 247-pounder from Hinesville, Ga., is a ferocious hitter who is widely regarded as the nation’s top inside linebacker prospect. He made 456 tackles as a four-year starter at Liberty County High and is ready mentally and physically to play. Best of all is that he’s among seven Ohio State recruits already enrolled.
BIGGEST SURPRISE: RB Jeff Jones, Minnesota. Yes, Jones is a hometown recruit, having prepped at Minneapolis Washburn. But the best players in the state have usually gone elsewhere. It’s testament to the job Jerry Kill has done with the Gophers that he was able to lock down one of the nation’s top players. Jones, co-MVP of the Under Armour All-America game, stayed committed despite bids by Michigan and Florida.
BIGGEST DUD: Big Ten newcomer Rutgers had 12 players back out on verbal commitments, an unfathomable number for a program that hasn’t had a coaching change or been hit with NCAA sanctions. Of those 12, five of them were four-star recruits. What was regarded as one of the best Big Ten recruiting classes in the fall became one of the worst.
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