Stacking them up

Sure, recruiting-class rankings often mean nothing when it comes to future success. But still, a little comparing can't hurt. With Signing Day behind us, Purple Reign breaks down recruiting classes across the Big Ten and looks at how Northwestern's haul stacks up.

Not surprisingly, the Big Ten Blue Bloods cleaned up on Singing Day.

According to recruiting analysts, Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan were clearly the cream of the Big Ten crop on Signing Day. Ohio State ranked No. 9 nationally, Michigan was No. 12 and Ohio State No. 20. Those three schools combined for five five-star recruits and 29 four-star recruits. By comparison, the other eight Big Ten teams signed one five-star recruit and nine four-star recruits – and five of those nine are heading to Michigan State.

No one is shocked that PSU, OSU and Michigan had big-time hauls on Signing Day. After all, they have the conference's three biggest stadiums, three best all-time winning percentages and three haughtiest* reputations in the conference. They are powerhouses, for sure, and their Signing Day success was to be expected.

*Ohio State's No. 20 ranking inspired its page to ponder: "The 2010 Ohio State recruiting class is filed away, and the Buckeyes are left to figure out how to not repeat having a low-rated class again." No. 20 in the nation…ouch.

But what about the rest of the Big Ten? With Pat Fitzgerald saying that this may be the best recruiting class NU has had – at least with him at the helm – it's interesting to look at how Wildcats' class looks compared to others in the conference. While Northwestern doesn't stack up against those Big Three on the Ballyhooed Recruit Meter – the Wildcats' class was dubbed No. 57 by Scout – how do the Cats stack up with the other, more "normal" schools in the Big Ten?

Disclaimer: It may be unfair to gauge Northwestern's class based on what recruiting analysts say about the players' speed and strength and upside. First off, Northwestern puts more of an onus on academics than just about any FBS school in the nation. Indeed, it took mere moments for Fitz to mention that the incoming class had a cumulative high school GPA of about 3.5 at his Signing Day news conference. That's something that most coaches wouldn't have been so eager to brag about, and it is indicative of the fact that NU is concerned about more than just athletic ability. Also, recruiting rankings can be kind of arbitrary. Corey Wootton was ranked by Scout as a two-star recruit; so was NU grad and current Indianapolis Colt John Gill. On the flip side, some recruiting sites seem to simply slap a three-star rating on anyone who's not a bona fide blue chip.

This isn't an exact science, and Northwestern is a prime example of that. The other main recruiting site has Northwestern at No. 77 in the nation; Scout has the Cats at No. 57. And they have Wisconsin at No. 86, while Scout has the Badgers at No. 33.

Still, it's fun to compare. So let's take a look at the other Big Ten recruiting classes. (From here on out we'll be using's rating system.)

First, a quick recap of Northwestern's class: The Wildcats will welcome in 17 players, 11 of whom are rated as three-star prospects. The highest overall rated player is New Jersey center Brandon Vitabile, who is the No. 17 center in America.

Each of the 11 three-star prospects is rated in the top 100 in the nation at his position, and many of them are the best in their respective states at what they do. For instance, offensive tackle Paul Jorgenson is the top offensive lineman in Michigan; Chance Carter is the top defensive end in Illinois; Kain Colter is the second best quarterback prospect in Colorado. With players hailing from 10 different states, Northwestern proved it can go around the country and nab the best that various states have to offer.

The way Purple Reign sees it, the strength of NU's class is the crop of receivers coming in. Now, Northwestern needed to have a big-time receiver class, what with Zeke Markshausen and Andrew Brewer – the top two receivers from last season – being lost to graduation. And the coaches answered the bell.

NU received letters of intent from two three-star pass-catchers – Tony Jones (Michigan) and Rashad Lawrence (Florida) – as well as two possibly-underrated two-star players – Venric Mark (Texas) and Jimmy Hall (Ohio). Indeed, Mark's and Hall's star-rating belies the interest that a laundry list of schools had in them. Mark was offered by Arizona, Colorado, Houston, Tulsa, Vanderbilt and numerous other. And Hall had offers from Kansas, Colorado, Boston College, Syracuse and more. So that receiver haul – along with defensive line – looks to be the class' coup.*

* Honorable mention goes to QB and offensive line. NU got two three-star quarterbacks (Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian) and two three-star offensive lineman (Jorgenson and Vitabile).

Having recapped NU's class, let's take a look at some other Big Ten schools, starting with Iowa. After all, NU and Iowa are the only teams besides OSU and PSU to finish in the top five in the conference each of the past two seasons. Indeed, Iowa may be Northwestern's best comparison on the gridiron at the moment. So let's start with them.

The Hawkeyes, who had the No. 45 class in the nation, nabbed letters of intent from 21 players. Among those, there are 12 three-star recruits and two four-star recruits. The gem of the class is Illinois native C.J. Fiedorowicz, who held offers from LSU, Notre Dame, Ohio State and others. He is rated by Scout as the No. 2 tight end in America.

But Iowa didn't have the top non-PSU-OSU-UM Big Ten class. That honor belongs to Michigan State, which came in at No. 32 in the country. The Spartans' class would have been even better had NU not landed signings from two of their three-star targets: Jones and Jorgenson.

Still, it's not like the Spartans are hurting. The 21-player class is highlighted by five-star defensive end William Gholston and a handful of four-star players: O-tackle Skyler Schofner, safety Isaiah Lewis, cornerback Mylan Hicks and middle linebacker Max Bullough. Tack on 12 three-star players, and yeah, that's big-time class.

Next up is Wisconsin. With a total of 26 signings, the Badgers came in right behind MSU at No. 33. They will welcome an impressive total of 17 three-star athletes, as well as one-time NU target Beau Allen, a four-star D-lineman from Minnetonka, Minn. So Wisconsin's class boasts not only quantity – its 26 commits are tied with Purdue for the second most in the Big Ten behind Michigan's 27 – but also quality. Those 17 three-star players, including three at linebacker, surely have the Badgers excited.

Purdue is the only other Big Ten school to crack Scout's top 50. The Boilermakers had a 26-player class highlighted by a handful of quality defensive players. Two three-star defensive linemen, three three-star DBs and three three-star linebackers committed to the Boilers. There were no four-star players, so this class is so highly regarded because of its depth, not its stupendous talent. But still, any time you get 14 three-star players, you've got to be happy.

Indiana and Illinois are No. 58 and No. 60, respectively – just behind NU. This is a big plunge for Illinois, which was ranked No. 35 in 2009, No. 19 in 2008, No. 20 in 2007 and No. 28 in 2006. It is, however, a small step up for Indiana; the Hoosiers were No. 65 in 2009, No. 63 in 2008, No. 74 in 2007, No. 79 in 2006.

The Hoosiers have a big class – 25 players in all. Ten of them are three-star prospects, the rest two-star. There were two pretty big gets at linebacker: Chase Hoobler (Ohio), who is the No. 38 MLB in the nation, and Matt Zakrzewski (Michigan), who is the No. 48 OLB. Throw in Kofi Hughes, a three-star quarterback from Indianapolis who reputedly has a 4.45 40, and you can see how Indiana continued its upward recruiting-ranking trend.

While Indiana rose to No. 58, Illinois fell to No. 60. This is the worst-rated recruiting class that Ron Zook has had in years. Now, the Illini did get a commitment from Downers Grove native Chandler Whitmer, a four-star prospect rated as the No. 17 QB in the land. But there are only six three-star recruits joining him. Maybe Illinois' classes of yesteryear were overrated, or maybe this class is underrated. But dropping to No. 60 – after being ranked in the top 30 for the past four years – is a stark drop.*

* For what it's worth – which may very well be nothing – Northwestern has been extremely consistent on the recruiting trail. The Wildcats were ranked No. 69 in both 2009 and 2008, No. 56 in 2007, and this year, of course, they are No. 57. They have been within the same 12-team range for four straight years.

Scout puts Minnesota at last in the Big Ten and No. 70 overall. The Gophers did get a four-star offensive tackle, Jimmy Gjere from New Brighton, but there are only five three-star players on board despite a deep, 26-member class.

For different reasons, Northwestern and Illinois proved without a doubt this season that recruiting class rankings aren't necessarily indicative of future success. The Illini, who finished 3-9, had a group of seniors comprised of that No. 28 2006 class. And the juniors were from the killer No. 20 class back in '07. Thus, the Illini are proof that injuries, transfers, the NFL and unrealized potential can render Signing Day accolades totally irrelevant.

Similarly, NU showed that "run of the mill" classes can indeed thrive. Northwestern's 2006 and 2005 classes – which featured a handful or starters this season and last season – like Brendan Mitchell, Mike Kafka, Andrew Brewer, Brendan Smith, Wootton and Sherrick McManis – were ranked No. 71 and No. 51, respectively. And still, NU beat Illinois each of the last two seasons and went 17-9 compared to Illinois' 8-16. Moreover, NU boast two straight fifth-place finishes in the Big Ten and a pair of bowl berths – all with upper-classmen from below-No. 50 classes.

The Land of Lincoln highlights how it's a fallacy to assume that Highly Ranked Class = Future Success, just like it's a fallacy to assume that Lowly Ranked Class = Future Trouble.

We'll have to revisit how these classes panned out in four or five years. But with NU's haul – offense and defense, specialists and big-uglies – there is every reason to think that these 2010 Wildcats will continue to outperform their so-so appraisal from the experts.

You can comment on this diatribe at the Ryan Field Message Board.

Purple Wildcats Top Stories