If you are a member of Illini Nation or a fan of Big 10 football, you don't have much to smile about today. In the wake of the national signing day, the Big 10 continues to play catch-up with the SEC and Big 12. If that isn't bad enough, it appears the Pac-10 is taking big strides to move ahead of the Big 10.
No matter how you looked at the recruiting classes for 2010 or came to any one of a dozen conclusions about the results, it was a very bleak day for Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, Illinois coach Ron Zook and the folks at the Big 10 Network. If this was a mid-term election, the Big 10 would be looking for work.
But, hey, there are reasons for optimism. Let's look on the bright side.
Overall, the Big 10 signed the fewest number of impact players that I can remember in my 31 years of evaluating high school talent. For the first time ever, Ohio State failed to sign an impact player. The Buckeyes finished 19th in the national recruiting derby, their lowest finish in memory.
Yes, in my view, Illinois finished dead last in the Big 10 recruiting sweepstakes. Zook signed a couple of good quarterbacks, Chandler Whitmer and highly underrated Miles Osei, but lost several blue chippers. Zook was so desperate that he even signed a convicted felon who has more jail time than playing time.
But thin-skinned Illini Nation, which has championing a "Fire Ron Zook and Ron Guenther" campaign in recent months, might have to change its tune. While Zook has made some hiring mistakes in the past and some valued assistants have jumped ship for the security of other programs, he definitely made two wise decisions in hiring offensive coordinator Paul Petrino and defensive coordinator Vic Koenning.
Zook hired them too late for them to turn around Illinois' recruiting--they are good but not as good as Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron, the new whiz kids at USC--but look for them to bring a new enthusiasm and a more aggressive recruiting style to the Illini program.
Northwestern finished ninth in my Big 10 recruiting projections. Coach Pat Fitzgerald and his staff have to recruit differently than other Big 10 coaches because of the school's higher academic standards. But they do a superb job of evaluating talent that can qualify for NU, then developing them. Adonis Smith, who was the best running back in Northern California last season and originally committed to Washington State, is the Wildcats' best signee.
Notre Dame finished 18th in my survey of the nation's top recruiting classes, one of its rare trips outside the top 10. But new coach Brian Kelly arrived to late to bail out the sinking ship that former coach Charlie Weis had left behind. Kelly did manage to woo highly rated offensive lineman Matt James away from Ohio State. James was his first big catch. Look for him to obtain early commitments from some top-rated juniors in the next few months.
While we wait to see if Notre Dame and Illinois will become competitive again, there is another story that you won't want to miss--the battle of Los Angeles. USC vs. UCLA. Lane Kiffin vs. Rick Neuheisel. It isn't going to be pretty. But it will be exciting. The media is going to love it.
Kiffin, no stranger to controversy, made an immediate impact in his new job at USC by signing the nation's No. 1 player, offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson, and accumulating the No. 3 class in the country. Even former coach Pete Carroll would be proud.
But Neuheisel, also no stranger to controversy, is engineering a resurgence at crosstown UCLA that hasn't been seen since Terry Donahue and Bill Rees built one of the nation's best football programs on John Wooden's turf. Neuheisel signed six top 100 players and the No. 8 class in the nation.
But Florida, Texas and USC continue to be the national leaders, well ahead of the rest of the field. Florida recruited the best crop of defensive players I've seen in 31 years of evaluating high school talent. What does that say for everybody else?