The recruiting cycle for the class of 2014 has begun.
With spring practice having already begun for some and just around the corner for most, coaches will begin to see where their recruiting efforts need to be focused, and the press on rising seniors will accelerate.
Rivals.com's team of local writers combined with our recruiting analysts to compile what are believed to be each team's needs and the chances that each program can fill them with this class.
Over six days, Rivals.com is breaking down the five major conferences, as well as select schools which do not play in conferences that automatically qualify for the BCS.
This will be our first nationwide look at recruiting involving the recent conference realignment. Today is a look at programs in Big Ten -- listed alphabetically -- including Maryland and Rutgers.
What it needs in '14:
Illinois needs more linebackers, but that is not the only thing on the shopping list. Despite landing Aaron Bailey in 2013, the program likely will look for another quarterback. To round out its needs, figure a running back or two, as well as the requisite offensive linemen most programs look to take on an annual basis. Can it be done? The good news for Illinois fans is that the three major positional groups are in relatively good supply in the areas from which the program traditionally draws. There are good quarterbacks in the Midwest. Between Illinois and Ohio, there are plenty of linebackers, not to mention running backs. Offensive line is one that is fairly spread out and not in great supply, especially in-state. But a handful of three-star-type players will emerge.
What it needs in '14: Indiana needs to land a quarterback. The program did not take one in the 2013 class, so everyone fully expects the Hoosiers to get one for 2014. The team also did not take any offensive linemen in the last class because of more pressing needs, but look for it to add two to four linemen, depending on attrition, injuries and position changes. On defense, defensive end and the secondary are where the needs are. At defensive back, the program will graduate three safeties after this season and one corner, so it will make those spots a priority. Can it be done? This is not good news for Indiana because the in-state options at most positions of need simply are not there. The quarterback class is weak, and a quick trip to Ohio, Illinois or Kentucky doesn't look much better. The offensive line is in limited supply on the top end, and the staff will need to unearth some gems. The defensive back group is only OK. The outlook for filling the wish list is limited, and a really good job in recruiting will have to be done to steal some players. Results on the field can push Indiana to the front for some players, but after a really good group in 2013 there might be a recruiting regression this year.
What it needs in '14: The three main places of need for Iowa will be at defensive end, linebacker and offensive line. The odds are that Iowa will take at least one player at each spot and more likely multiple players. Offensive line will be a major need after the last class went heavy on skill players. The team usually takes a quarterback, running back and tight end in every class, so figure each of those boxes will be checked as well. Can it be done? Well, the positions that get a player every year will be filled. The quality of each is yet to be determined, but a quarterback, running back and tight end will be landed. Look for Iowa to go into Chicago and Ohio to get a linebacker because each place is well stocked there this cycle. The defensive line across the Midwest is weak, so there might be more two-stars in the class than expected. The program has landed four-star offensive lineman Ross Pierschbacher from Cedar Falls (Iowa) High, and that was a must-get. Filling in around him can become part of the process.
What it needs in '14: Clearly, the biggest need as the Terps pivot to the Big Ten -- and really in general -- is more and better offensive linemen. The Terps will also need more elite players with size on the defensive front, especially on the interior. Each position was addressed in this recent class but only moderately -- not enough for the future in the Big Ten. Most of the other positions appear solid, save for after another top-flight cornerback. Can it be done? For the program to gain size on the offensive line, it likely will have to recruit Pennsylvania. There are quality prospects in the eastern half of the Keystone State. For size on the defensive line, the move this year is to Virginia, where there are many talented players. The Terps likely can stay home for defensive backfield improvement. Nothing is impossible with the cluster of states surrounding Maryland having solid years producing talent, but the teams that recruit the area are looking for similar players.
What it needs in '14: The biggest need for Michigan in the 2014 class is at wide receiver. The Wolverines signed three kids in the class of 2013, but even with them, Michigan will have just five scholarship wide receivers for the 2014 season. The Wolverines need to sign three players, which will not be easy considering the class will only have about 16 to 18 players. Also, those players would ideally be playmakers. Among the five wideouts for 2014, just one, Amara Darboh, was a four-star. In 1998, Michigan signed the nation's top receiver (David Terrell) and another top-five (Marquise Walker). The program would like to pull off something similar this year. Can it be done? Absolutely. This is a good year for receivers across the Midwest, especially in Michigan and Indiana. The top end may not be as heavy -- especially with Drake Harris committed to Michigan State -- but there will be a large pool. If Michigan goes national and looks for players, it will have a better chance at the elite class it wants. But even locally it will get quality.
What it needs in '14: The Spartans will look to load up on offensive linemen and defensive ends with the class of 2014. MSU took only one of each in the class of 2013, so getting players into those positions will take priority. The team could also take multiple players at linebacker to bolster the group that is still there. Can it be done? The least of the three needs is linebacker and the team already has two players committed, including four-star Deon Drake of Detroit (Mich.) Cass Tech. It is a decent year for defensive ends in Michigan, so it might be hard to get the top-level players. Offensive line will be a bit of a challenge as well, because it is a down year for offensive linemen in Michigan. Look for the coaches to dip into Ohio.
What it needs in '14: Minnesota has needs for playmakers on offense. On defense, the needs are at defensive line and cornerback. The classes for the Gophers have been standard the past few years, and the balance has afforded the Gophers the opportunity to continue a consistent flow of players. However, with the top level leaving, depth will need to be fleshed out. Can it be done? The state of Minnesota is just not producing much talent. Last year it had only seven players sign with FBS-level schools. For a program battling in the Big Ten, that is not enough homegrown talent to survive. The silver lining is that this year the defensive line class in Minnesota and Wisconsin is fairly solid. Cornerback is a position that is down across the Midwest and could pose a problem in recruiting. For the first time in a long time, the Gophers have an early four-star commitment in running back Jeff Jones. Holding onto him will be an interesting proposition.
What it needs in '14: Nebraska graduates five scholarship offensive linemen and four scholarship corners, so nearly half of its 2014 class will likely be at these two positions. It is expected that Nebraska will take a class of about 20 players. Nearly half of those players -- around eight easily -- most likely will come from these two groups. Can it be done? This is a tough year in the Midwest for offensive linemen and cornerbacks. Expect Nebraska to continue its push east with offensive linemen in Ohio being wooed. On the road to Ohio, a stop in Illinois would make sense because there are quality offensive linemen there, too. Cornerbacks in the Midwest are limited, so Nebraska will join the legions of programs going into Texas for a deep if not especially talented group of players at corner and safety.
What it needs in '14: Northwestern will have a small class, but while the overall rankings might be down, quality could rise. The top needs for 2014 appear to be cornerback, slot receiver -- or an athlete who can be used in the slot -- and a quarterback. The Wildcats took only one defensive linemen last year, so there will likely be a couple targeted for this class. Can it be done? It is an average to below-average year in the state for cornerbacks, but Northwestern has followed so many and landed a commitment out of Texas in Jordan Thomas. Quarterback is a strong position group within the state, and that will be a benefit to the program. The Midwest is not known for its slot receivers, and Northwestern probably will go out of the region -- possibly to Texas or New Jersey -- to reel in a player the staff likes.
What it needs in '14: Ohio State will put a major emphasis on offensive linemen. The Buckeyes already have two commits in Marcelys Jones and Kyle Trout, but look for Ohio State to take five offensive linemen with the graduation of four starters after this season. Ohio State signed only two offensive linemen in the class of 2013, striking out on late pushes for Dan Skipper, Cameron Hunt and Matt Finnin. It would not be shocking to see the coaches consider taking up to six offensive linemen if the numbers are there and the right players are on the board. Linebacker is another position that Ohio State will go heavy at, but that is more a matter of having the right kids on the board. Can it be done? Again, the Buckeyes have two OL commits, so filling in three more around them is not impossible. The group of players in the state is solid but not special, and Urban Meyer doesn't mind going national with this recruiting. It is safe to say that Ohio State leads for linebackers Raekwon McMillan, Dante Booker and Kyle Berger. The staff could also be right there with Clifton Garrett. Ohio State would take all four if they want to come, but it is much less likely that the Buckeyes would take four just to have four bodies if they were to miss on one or two of those players.
What it needs in '14: Penn State needs to look at defensive tackles and defensive backs. However, because the school will have to be around 65 scholarships next year, it might take a class of only 10 prospects. That means it most likely won't use all 15 scholarships that it is limited to next year. In fact, the Nittany Lions might take only eight players. It depends on how things look in the spring, if anyone transfers or is not given a renewed scholarship. Can it be done? It is more about the players than the program on this one. USC crammed in a class of incredibly talented players in 2013 with limited scholarships. If a player buys into the togetherness that is being rebuilt in State College, the coaches shouldn't have a problem getting quality kids. If players are discouraged by the prospects of no bowls and lean years, it will become harder to get four-star players.
What it needs in '14: Purdue probably is going to be looking at the offensive line and the defensive line. This is a new staff, so it is hard to tell what the direction will be, but the program signed just one offensive lineman this year after signing five a year ago. Most observers assume there is a need to balance it out. On defense, Purdue is going to be playing several seniors at defensive tackle with only a couple of young ones on the roster. Defensive end isn't the deepest position, either, but the recent class just signed four. Can it be done? Purdue is sliding down the list of teams in the state for recruiting, and it is hard to predict how players and coaches will react to the new staff. The positions that Purdue needs are not strong in state and -- again -- it will come back to the results on the field and how coach Darrell Hazell is received on the recruiting trail. This is a hedging the bet, but the right answer at this point it to wait and see.
What it needs in '14: This is a copy and paste from the Maryland synopsis, but it holds true for Rutgers. The team is in need of more and better offensive linemen. Along those same lines, the program will need more elite-level players with size on the defensive front, especially on the interior. As with Maryland, the move to the Big Ten necessitates a higher-level player.
Can it be done? The Scarlet Knights will have to go into Pennsylvania to gain size on the offensive line, and for size on the defensive line the move this year is to Virginia. It can likely stay home for defensive backfield improvement. New Jersey has a lot of talented players this year but it is unlikely that the top player in the state, Jabrill Peppers, will stay close to home. Greg Schiano was building some momentum in recruiting New Jersey, but the best players more often still leave.
What it needs in '14: The biggest needs are probably offensive line and defensive tackle. The team could take up to five linemen and at least two defensive tackles. The 2014 class should be interesting because the Badgers are looking to move to a 3-4 defense and need to bring in a few players who can help them get there at LB. Can it be done? It is a good year for talent in the trenches for the state this year, so if the borders get closed that's a positive for the Badgers. There are several offensive linemen within the state who are solid FBS-level players, including current commit Jaden Gault. Another sizable commit on the offensive line is George Panos of Hartland (Wisc.) Arrowhead. Rivals250 member Craig Evans of Sun Prairie (Wisc.) High would be a massive addition to the defensive line -- and a perfect nose tackle to transition into the 3-4 -- as because stands 6-foot-5 and tips the scales at 350 pounds.