February 04, 2015

Early and late, Ohio State was great.

The national champion Buckeyes were again, and predictably, the best in the Big Ten in this year's recruiting class. Yes, ranking teenagers by talent before they've ever played a down of college football is a highly subjective and largely irrelevant process. One win always trumps five stars in this game.

The names and numbers on national signing day, though, often open another window into how the mightiest programs stay that way. Take a look at the list of the other teams that offered scholarships to the players who picked Ohio State, and it becomes obvious these are elite prospects if the high school statistics, highlight videos or gaudy ratings didn't already make that clear.

To further frustrate the competition, the Buckeyes added five players who made up their minds in the final 12 hours. That included three from states in the conference's footprint, running back Michael Weber and defensive tackle Joshua Alabi from Detroit and offensive lineman Isaiah Prince from Maryland.

Weber, who rushed for 2,000 yards at Cass Tech High School, considered staying closer to home and playing for rival Michigan. The Wolverines, who hired coach Jim Harbaugh barely five weeks ago, have been trying to make rapid inroads in territories that Ohio State has been successfully mining under coach Urban Meyer.

Meyer, naturally, said securing a player from the backyard of the Wolverines was important.

''We do keep score against our rivals in everything we do,'' Meyer said.

After a full year for Harbaugh on the job, perhaps the Wolverines will start to win a few of those fights.

''Nobody's going to wave a magic wand right now in Ann Arbor,'' ESPN analyst Tom Luginbill said this week. ''But that was both a splash hire and hopefully a long term hire, and this is important when I say this, somebody I think can truly challenge Urban Meyer in work ethic, evaluation tools and creating a very competitive recreating landscape within those two and within the conference overall.''

Ohio State's national championship wasn't just a feel-good moment for the rest of the Big Ten, tired of hearing about the dominance of the SEC. The Buckeyes gave schools like Illinois a recruiting tool to use, too.

''When you go down south and you talk about a team in your conference winning a national championship, yes, that does help, no question,'' said coach Tim Beckman, whose class included players from Texas, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida.

Here are some key nuggets to know about signing day this year for the Big Ten:

BEST CLASS: Duh. Ohio State owned this title last February, too, before becoming national champions, so there was little doubt that the Buckeyes would again top the recruiting analyst rankings in 2015. How about the next-best? That honor belonged to Penn State, which signed its first full class since 2011 after emerging from NCAA sanctions that stripped scholarships for the child sex abuse scandal that ravaged the program. The Nittany Lions added 25 players this year, including two of the top-rated running backs from Pennsylvania in Saquon Barkley and Andre Robinson.

IMPACT PLAYER: L.J. Scott could be Michigan State's next star running back. The 6-foot-2, 228-pound Hubbard, Ohio, native resisted the persistence of Meyer and the Buckeyes and signed with the Spartans. He was the sixth-best running back in the nation, based on composite rankings of the major analysts compiled by 247Sports.com. After losing senior Jeremy Langford, the Spartans have a spot open in the backfield, too. Michigan State's class was the only other Big Ten team to rank among the top 25 in the nation, along with Ohio State and Penn State.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Ohio State quarterbacks Joe Burrow and Torrance Gibson. With the success J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones had for the Buckeyes after Braxton Miller suffered a season-ending injury, who knows whether one or both of these freshmen will find his way to the field sooner than later?

BIGGEST SURPRISE: Coaching turnover often leads to lost commitments, but Mike Riley didn't have trouble retaining the core of the class at Nebraska procured by predecessor Bo Pelini and his staff. The composite rankings by 247Sports.com of the major analysts pegged the Huskers 31st in the nation and fourth in the Big Ten.

BEST GENES: West Division rivals Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska each signed sets of twins. The Huskers signed Carlos and Khalil Davis, defensive tackles from Blue Springs, Missouri. The Gophers picked up Jacob and Julian Huff, a safety and a linebacker from Bolingbrook, Illinois. The Hawkeyes stayed in state for offensive linemen Landan and Levi Paulsen of Moville.

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