It’s the offseason, but college football is one of those sports that never really stops. Recruiting is something that happens year round, and when there’s no games to be played, it takes the spotlight. Incoming freshmen classes can be the difference maker in deciding which teams are winners and which are losers, but who is doing the best in recruiting right now?
For the Big Ten, the race to the top is between the same teams that have led the conference for the past couple of years, but in a different order. In 2018, Ohio State and Penn State were the kings of the Big Ten when it came to recruiting, with Michigan beating out Nebraska for third place and finishing just above the bottom of the national top 25.
But for 2019, Michigan is on pace to take the throne. They’ll have to keep up the pace, but they’ve already brought in players in volume and are dead even with OSU and PSU in their number of five star recruits, with one. Their defensive line will gain big additions next year with Chris Hinton and Stephen Herron Jr, who play at strong and weak side defensive end respectively and are ranked as the second and fifth best recruits at their position.
Joining that group of defensive linemen is Mazi Smith, a local recruit from Grand Rapids, the seventh ranked defensive tackle in the 2019 class and the third ranked player from Michigan. Michigan’s 2019 class is the fifth best in the nation, their eleven three star recruits giving them an edge over their rivals from Ohio State, who have ten four stars but only two three stars.
Ohio State shouldn’t be slept on, however. Their sole five star recruit is better than Michigan’s, as Garrett Wilson sits at number 12 in the national rankings and is ten spots above Chris Hinton. Wilson, an explosive receiver with shifty feet, is also the top recruit in the highly competitive state of Texas. They’re also adding Harry Miller and Doug Nester, the second ranked center and the third ranked guard in the country.
According to 247Sports, the Buckeyes also have the best chance to win the commitments of defensive end Zach Harrison and offensive tackle Darnell Wright, who are ranked at four and five nationally. The top two teams in the Big Ten aren’t that far ahead from the third placed team in the conference recruiting rankings, however.
Penn State’s class doesn’t have as much volume, but they do have quality. Their top commit is Brandon Smith, a five star inside linebacker who will help keep their Linebacker U reputation alive. Smith is the 32nd best recruit nationally, but the top one from the state of Virginia.
They’re also predicted to win over another one of their top targets, number three safety Lewis Cine. They aren’t predicted to beat Ohio State out in five stars, and they aren’t projected to get the commitment of any other five star recruits, but their existing commitments and their competitiveness in recruiting four star players should help them keep the pace and easily secure at least the third best class in the conference.
Below these three teams, the disparity in recruiting becomes clear. Michigan State has one five star player, but only one four star and thirteen three stars. Purdue and Minnesota are immediately below MSU in the national top 25, at spots 21 and 23. Both of them have 16 three star recruits, and less than three four stars.
The battle for the top class in the Big Ten will be fought entirely in the Big Ten East, just as it has been in the years since Penn State’s national resurgence. It’s interesting not just because of the recruiting battle, but because it will increase talk of the Big Ten East being the toughest division in college football.
Who will win in the end? That depends on what the remaining recruits do, but it’s clear that the race for the top spot is between two of the most familiar brands in the conference and college football as a whole: the Michigan Wolverines and the Ohio State Buckeyes.