B1G Uglies: 3 National Signing Day Questions

Posted Feb 4, 2013

Each week during the offseason, Phil Harrison, Bart Doan, and Terry Johnson discuss three hot topics on the minds of Big Ten football fans. It's three guys with three opinions that could change the course of human history--or at least add some clarity to football being played in the Midwest. It's the weekly B1G Uglies roundtable, and this time we're getting ready for National Signing Day.

The B1G Uglies: 3 Questions to get you ready for National Signing Day

(i) Which position on which Big ten team is the biggest need for National Signing Day?

Phil H:

Oh, where to start. Since this is college football, and college athletes eventually graduate from, you know...college, there are often more changes observed than what's seen at a ten-year high school reunion. That being said, there is one team that has fallen on hard times because of glaring issues at one position in particular. Now, sit back by the campfire and let me tell you a little story...

There were corn fields, and between those cornfields, there was a little football played. The team was built on a solid, fundamental defense, an efficient passing game behind a more than adequate quarterback, and a running attack that shaped this team's identity. The offensive linemen were good, and the quarterback loved to take shots down the field on play-action after bating teams into bringing extra defenders to stop the chunks of yards being eaten away. Then, inexplicably, this team fell from a being a conference contender to trying to remember what winning football was about.

The team we're talking about is the Iowa Hawkeyes, and boy have they fallen on hard times. Why you ask? There are a lot reasons, but one of the most glaring has to be at the running back position. It's been well documented the bizarre circumstances and happenstances that have befallen the Iowa backfield. There have been off-the-field issues, freak injuries, the plague (we kid), and thief-in-the-night departures seemingly year after year.

As a result, Iowa has struggled to kill teams softly like it has done in years past. Kirk Ferentz would love to base his team on running the ball and let everything else fall into place, but not having the talent at the position has created some shifting in thinking and philosophy that has made the entire team struggle to make things fit.

Sure Mark Weisman was a feel good story last year, and what the 6'0", 220 lb. junior lacks in talent he makes up for with heart and a hard hat. But is he really the type of back that'll make the Iowa ground game a consistent force on a weekly basis? Besides that, the depth is also a concern in Iowa City. Maybe there are some diamonds in the rough on the roster, and maybe there aren't. But if you were able to corner the coaching staff in a dark alley and give them some truth serum, there's a good chance that running back would be at the top of the shopping list.

Bart D:

I can live with that, but I'd like to go to a time long ago, when Boyz II Men was still popular. Diet Dr. Pepper didn't taste like regular Dr. Pepper because there was no diet. And people still met potential dating partners in person. Also, Michigan had dominant running backs, a staple of their program.

From Tim Biakabutuka to Anthony Thomas. To Chris Perry. Michigan, if it had nothing else, had a dominant running back. But lately, those days are gone, and long. Enter Derrick Green. It's been since Kevin Grady since the Wolverines have hauled in a blue chip running back, and one could argue that's what's stunted them. Stylistically, the Rodriguez era wasn't going to entice one.

But now, the Wolverines have their running back. It's not so much one high-level recruit. That's proven to be fallible. It's the message it sends that this is a program that's going back to what it was made famous for. In short, one of the best teams in the conference upgraded at the one position it needed to do so in this class. Michigan went heavy on OL and added a dynamic back.

That's the biggest play of any class in the B1G. When the elite try to shore up their shortcomings, it's a big deal. Michigan did that. And Boyz II Men are touring again. Jes' sayin'...

(ii) What's the most intriguing storyline to watch unfold on National Signing Day?


I confess. I'm not a big NSD guy. This is just opinion, but I find something convoluted about grown men sweating it out on the couch over what a 17-year-old is going to decide regarding college. I'm not old enough to forget 17. I knew very little compared to now. It doesn't work differently for anyone else.

So to me, the most intriguing storyline is how this event is covered. The progression, media wise, has been simmering to a boil for years. In the early 2000s, recruiting rankings took off. Then came year-round coverage. Then came showcasing high school all-star games nationally. Then came televising a few recruits. And then came where we are now...where it's just a total show. Bulldogs at press conferences, fake-picking of one team's hat and then going to another, mid-tier recruits holding out their life decisions until NSD just to get a clip on television. It's got to be the most face-palming addition to our society since Flavor of Love.

Hopefully the crescendo has already been hit. Somehow, with social media coming to a forefront, I highly doubt it.


For me, it's the backbone of how good a program is going to be rests on the pipeline of players, so I get it. To that end, the thing to watch has to be whether or not Ohio State or Michigan can notch the top recruiting class of the year and both finish in the top-five. For Ohio State, there may not be enough big fish out there still considering the Buckeyes seriously to nab numero uno, but the Wolverines have a legitimate shot to finish atop the rankings of many of the recruiting websites. Either way, with top-flight classes headed to both campuses this year, both can claim to have strung together some players over the last couple of years to close the gap between the haves (SEC), and the have nots (everyone else).

But it won't be easy to outkick teams like Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Alabama and seems like half of the SEC. There are still some big names out there trying to decide which SEC school they want to party at, and you can bet that some recruits in the fold will flip their commitment as well. It'll be a sprint to the finish, and at least for now, OSU and Michigan are hauling in the groceries they'll need to try and slay the SEC beast down the road.

(iii) Forget volume of recruits, forget the ranking calculations from many expert websites (except Scout.com of course), when all the ink dries, which Big Ten coach will be smiling the most after National Signing Day?


Barring some serious flipping of recruits there's one team that stands out. We've already touched on it, and Urban Meyer is going to be a close second, but Brady Hoke will have a smile that even things that happen in a country song won't be able to wipe away. Put bluntly, the Wolverines are in the midst of pulling one of their all-time recruiting classes. It has a little of everything from star skill- position players, to blue-chip defensive backs, to guys who can live in the trenches.

On top of that there is strength in numbers too. The Wolverines currently have verbals from 27 strapping lads, and they'll surely be looking to add a bit in the finishing kick. And while numbers don't always tell the story, with what's already projected to come Ann Arbor in that mix, you like the chances of being able to win with this class even as the ugly step-sister attrition takes its toll.

It's beginning to look like to the victors go the recruiting spoils in 2013.


Michigan is an obvious choice, because the team is still trying to undo the sins of the Rich Rodriguez era when it comes to recruiting, but I'm going a different direction and buying Illinois. Any time a new regime comes in, that first full class is the most important. And in the "win now" environment in college football, it's emphasized even more.

During last year, coach Tim Beckman alluded to a low-attitude stemming from the previous season's end as to why the Illini were scuffling. Now he has a chance to get his own group in there, guys that fit his ideals, his mindset, his vision. What turns up is one of the conference's better classes in spite of a sour year.

With 26 commits, and in spite of none being those you're circling on the national radar, this is a huge class. This is a large group brought in that will embody what this regime expects. Aaron Bailey, the QB, gets the most of the pub, but the nine of the 26 current commits are linemen on both sides, and that's what wins in the B1G. First classes for staffs are a change of culture. The Illini is changing theirs. The Jury is out on if it works, but the initial thought here is that it does.

Follow Phil on Twitter @PhilHarrisonCFN, and Bart @Bart_CFN