Posted by Adam Jacobi
With Nebraska joining the already tradition-rich Big Ten, the pressure's going to be on the conference's best teams to keep producing more than ever. Here are some key factors coming into National Signing Day.
Players to Watch
Curtis Grant - With the news on Tuesday night that Ohio State was out of the running for Aundrey Walker, Curtis Grant is one of just two uncommitted prospects left on MaxPreps' Top 100 that's still considering the Buckeyes. If the Buckeyes do land Grant, however, he'll be the trophy of the class; Grant is a beast of a linebacker, with the size and speed to play inside or outside. Ohio State loses star linebackers Brian Rolle and Ross Homan this season, and the depth in the LB corps isn't great; between that and the value a fast, hard-hitting safety brings to special teams, it'd be a shock if Grant didn't get on the field immediately for OSU. The Buckeyes' main competition for Grant's services is Florida, though UNC or Virginia could potentially come into play here.
Andre Sturdivant - One of the top remaining prospects in Big Ten country is Andre "Tank" Sturdivant, who played linebacker this year but looks like a classic convert from MLB to DE; he's big and strong, and plays better north-and-south than in space. He could be a multiple-year starter at DE for most Big Ten teams, and he's still weighing his options for next year. Michigan State and Penn State appear to be neck-and-neck for the defender, while Toledo is the default "close to home" option for the Cleveland, Ohio native. Thing of it is, though, if Ohio State starts missing on its several last-minute prospects once the LOIs start rolling in and still has a scholarship open, we could easily see the Buckeyes make an offer to Sturdivant and let him stay close to home with a better program than MSU or PSU. There's really no telling where this commitment goes.
Darian Cooper - DT Darian Cooper is yet another legitimate D-I prospect from the football factory that is DeMatha HS in Baltimore, and it's easy to see why; Cooper is a cannonball of a defensive lineman, standing at 6'1" and weighing close to three bills. He's still fast enough to have lined up at end at times for DeMatha, and that first step quickness combined with his low point of leverage should be enough to give larger, slower offensive linemen nightmares. Cooper will choose between Michigan, Iowa, and Georgia Tech tomorrow, and considering the lack of depth on both Michigan and Iowa's defensive fronts, it seems like Cooper would find immediate playing time if he went to the Midwest.
Teams to Watch
Penn State - The Nittany Lions have the capacity to to fill up just about all of their 25 allotted signing spots this class. What they don't have are the commits themselves; only 15 players have announced verbal commitments to PSU thus far. Joe Paterno's age is obviously limiting the amount of recruiting he can do, and it can't have helped that defensive coordinator Tom Bradley was thisclose to heading to Pitt in the middle of recruiting season. If opposing teams are citing imminent instability in their negative recruiting against PSU, they're wise, and it's working; this class has no business being so small. Let's see if JoePa can work some magic and bring in some late names to help coax the 2011 freshman class into respectability.
Indiana - Yes, Indiana. Incoming head coach Kevin Wilson has an uphill battle ahead of him, but if his job keeping commitments on board is any indication of how much recruits like the guy, we could see a turnaround in Bloomington. Wilson kept four-star LB Zack Shaw (an April '10 verbal) in the fold, and just this past weekend TE Jake Reed canceled a visit to Iowa and rebuffed offers from Stanford and Louisville -- where Charlie Strong is recruiting like crazy -- to reaffirm his commitment to the Hoosiers. Those two have set a good example; Wilson now needs the rest of his class to follow suit when it comes time to put pen to paper.
Michigan - Coming into Tuesday, the Wolverines had six known offers out and room to accommodate them all; so far, one has committed and the other five are still available. They're no slouches, either; one is the aforementioned Darian Cooper, and the other five all have several major college offers. Brady Hoke could use a strong finish to an otherwise lackluster first recruiting class (hardly his fault, of course), and what better day for such a finish than Signing Day?
The Below-the-Radar Storyline You'll Need to Follow
It's obviously foolish to grant much immediate importance to recruiting rankings; only rarely do true freshmen substantially contribute to a team's success, and by the time most guys in a recruiting class find their way to the field, it's two or three years later and the work they've put in with the program generally outweighs their recruiting bona fides by then. And yet, it has to be pointed out that despite their recent BCS bowl berths, neither Wisconsin nor Iowa is recruiting at a level that's substantially higher than that of incoming Nebraska. Yes, Iowa and Wisconsin are both on the MaxPreps Top 25, but their inclusion over Nebraska may be due to little more than the fact that the Huskers only have 18 players committed, a relatively small class compared to the Hawkeyes and Badgers. Any illusions Big Ten foes may have harbored about a mediocre Nebraska program should be out the window by now.