Around the Big Ten: Top remaining 2021 recruit for each school
Ohio State currently has the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, and the Big Ten has seven other schools that currently rank in Rivals.com Top 25 for the 2021 class.
Despite on-campus visits not taking place, recruiting across the conference has not slowed down. With that, Rivals.com takes a look at each Big Ten school's top remaining target in the 2021 class
Illinois has had some success recruiting the St. Louis area, including landing highly-coveted quarterback Isaiah Williams and four-star running back Reggie Love over the last couple of recruiting cycles. They hope to add another difference maker in Ford, but the competition is daunting.
Ford is working from a 31-team offer list that includes the likes of Alabama, Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma and many more. Still, The Illini have had Ford on campus for unofficial visits, and assistant coach Cory Patterson, who coached high school ball in St. Louis, has a great connection and good relationship with the coaching staff at Lutheran North. Pass rushers are at premium, and Ford is an elite athlete with tremendous speed off the edge. It would be a major coup for Lovie Smith and his staff to pull this one off and land Ford in the 2021 class.
There's no question that Iowa has had great success developing tight ends during the Kirk Ferentz era. In this recruiting cycle, one of the top tight ends in the country happens to reside in the state of Iowa. Thomas Fidone has rocketed up the Rivals.com rankings in the last year and is now a four star prospect, ranked 60th in the country. Iowa was the first to offer the Council Bluffs native, but the competition to land him has certainly ramped up with offers from just about every major program in college football. The Hawkeyes have hosted him for more visits than any other school and he's certainly the top priority for Iowa in the 2021 cycle given how much they like to use tight ends in their offense.
While it’s still early in the 2021 cycle and the state of Indiana’s 2021 class is as strong of a class as any in-state group this century, there are a couple high-priority prospects for Indiana – quarterback Donaven McCulley and defensive lineman Kyran Montgomery. For the purpose of this piece, though, McCulley is the top one, simply because of his position.
It’s been since the Class of 2017 (Hunter Johnson) that Indiana has seen a quarterback as promising as McCulley, with his 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame and strong arm to match. He led his Lawrence North team to its first win over Lawrence Central in more than a decade in 2019 and ended his junior season with a 62-percent passing rate for just under 2,000 yards, 17 touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran for 563 yards.
Tom Allen, Nick Sheridan and former offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer were close to McCulley at his earliest stages and have leveraged a strong relationship. Purdue has done the same. Michigan State was getting involved, but the change in personnel has altered the course there. With the COVID-19 outbreak forcing a recruiting dead period, the schools who got in early with McCulley will likely be favored, depending how long the dead period lasts. McCulley was last at Indiana for the Hoosiers’ junior day event on Jan. 29, and the Indiana staff has been in close contact she then as well.
Maryland head coach Michael Locksley continues to add top talent from within the DMV on both sides of the ball, last cycle flipping five-star wide receiver Rakim Jarrett away from LSU on Signing Day and most recently adding a commitment from 2021 Rivals250 four-star linebacker Demeioun Robinson, considered by many to be the top pass rusher in the nation.
But the biggest need for the Terps remains at quarterback, where Washington (D.C.) Gonzaga five-star Caleb Williams is rated the top signal caller in the country. The Terps recently made Williams' top 5 and the dual threat prospect is a perfect fit for Locksley's RPO-heavy offense. Williams visited Oklahoma earlier this spring and the belief of many is that the Sooners are the team to beat. But as we've learned in the past with guys like Stefon Diggs and Jarrett, don't count Locksley out until the ink on the LOI has dried.
For Michigan, this one’s a no-brainer. West Bloomfield (Mich.) five-star running back Donovan Edwards is, has been and will be the guy the Wolverines need to land in the 2021 class, and they’ve made him a priority since day one. The Wolverines haven’t had a “great” running back since Mike Hart in the mid-2000s, one of the reasons they haven’t won a Big Ten title since then. They feel Edwards is that difference-maker they’ve been lacking.
Ohio State was considered THE competition, but no longer since the Buckeyes have picked up two running backs in this class. Edwards was slated to see Clemson and others this spring but won’t now, obviously. He will go through the process, however, and Jim Harbaugh and Co. will need to continue to work to land him.
Michigan State is still awaiting the first verbal commitment of the Mel Tucker era. He’s been recruiting with a full staff for little more than a month.
One notable recruiting target who seemed out of reach a few months ago is West Bloomfield running back Donovan Edwards. He is ranked the No. 4 player in Michigan by Rivals.com.
Tucker has had to fight a come-from-behind campaign to try to get in on Edwards, and MSU’s new coach has made up some ground. Edwards visited Michigan State on March 8. Tucker is hoping to stay in the fight long enough to get more visits and make a push.
Steven Ortiz was offered by Minnesota on March 16, and the Gophers have made up ground quickly in his recruitment. The four-star safety from Goodyear, Arizona virtually visited Minnesota on the 24th and has been hearing often from head coach PJ Fleck and safeties coach Joe Harasymiak. He plans to officially visit Minnesota on June 12, if the NCAA ban on unofficial and official visits, is lifted (set to expire by mid-April).
Council Bluffs (Iowa) Lewis Central tight end Thomas Fidone is one of the most highly-recruited players in Nebraska’s footprint in a number of years. The Huskers have been on Fidone from the beginning, and he’s made a number of visits to campus already. NU also plans to take two tight ends in their class of 2021, and can almost offer immediate playing time for Fidone with a chance to be a three to four year type starter. Omaha Westside cornerback Avante Dickerson would also be up there, but Fidone gets the nod because of Nebraska’s great need at tight end.
Given Northwestern’s abysmal play at the position last season and several recruiting misses in recent years, I have to go with a quarterback as the Wildcats’ top recruit for the 2021 class. So I’ll pick four-star Peter Costelli from Mission Viejo (Calif.). The 6-foot-3 signal caller said recently that Northwestern was one of the schools standing out to him, and he was planning on visiting Evanston for a spring practice until the coronavirus outbreak scuttled those plans. The Wildcats haven’t landed an A-list quarterback prospect in several cycles. High-profile transfer Hunter Johnson struggled mightily last season and Indiana grad transfer Peyton Ramsey has just one year of eligibility remaining. Northwestern needs a bona-fide blue-chipper to ensure that the future of the position is in good hands.
The Buckeyes have been one of the hottest recruiting teams in the nation since everything was shut down and the NCAA put a "dead period" into place. Many important names have come off the board as Ohio State has landed a pair of running backs and three defensive backs. There are still a lot of major players out there that the Buckeyes are in hot pursuit of, but J.T. Tuimoloau may be one of the biggest ones on the board. He is the nation’s No. 4 overall player according to Rivals.com and would certainly look good on a defensive line with fellow class of 2021 star Jack Sawyer.
Ohio State went into the state of Washington last year and landed Gee Scott Jr. and have some serious momentum in the area with both Tuimoloau and receiver Emeka Egbuka. Many feel that the Buckeyes are the team to beat for the big lineman but there is a long ways to go and Bellevue (Wash.) to Columbus (Ohio) is quite a distance to cover. If Ohio State is able to pull this off, it may be tough for any team to catch the Buckeyes in the team recruiting rankings as Ohio State looks to become the first northern team to win the Rivals.com team rankings title in history.
Penn State has just three players committed in its Class of 2021, so it's hard to pick just one prospect. If you asked fans, I think the majority of them would say that quarterback Caleb Williams, from Washington, D.C., sits at the top. Penn State needs an elite quarterback to help the program take that next step. The problem is that I don't see him ending up in State College.
When you look at the most important positions for 2021, defensive end and safety are the staff's biggest needs. Penn State is involved with a few defensive ends that are really good, but not what I would consider elite. However, at safety, one player does standout and that's Derrick Davis. An in-state prospect from Gateway High School in Monroeville, Davis has visited Penn State nine times since his freshman season. Signing the Rivals100 prospect over programs like Ohio State and Clemson would be a major coup for James Franklin and his staff.
While Rutgers may be in on some higher ranked recruits, their top remaining recruit plays a position that’s the most important on the field. The Scarlet Knights are a top contender, if not the top contender, for the St. Peter’s Prep product, who is also high on Duke, UCLA, Cal and Boston College. He was supposed to make one more round of visits before making a decision early this summer—that plan is likely now on a slight delay, but RU is well positioned to be the recipient of a verbal pledge whenever one comes.
Wisconsin already has nine commitments in the 2021 class, so a lot of needs have already been filled. But the top target moving forward is likely T.J. Bollers who has been to Madison four times since last summer. The four-star prospect, who is being recruited as an outside linebacker by the Badgers, hasn't come out with an official list of top schools just yet, but the feeling is that Wisconsin is near or at the top. UW would love to pair him with current commit and fellow edge rusher Ayo Adebogun in the current cycle.
Bollers currently has two official visits scheduled to California and Iowa State in June. Those two schools, along with Wisconsin and Nebraska, are believed to be the frontrunners in Bollers' recruitment. He would like to complete all five official visits in the spring/summer period and plans to graduate early.