Mark Dantonio, Urban Meyer

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio (right) is congratulated by Ohio State's Urban Meyer following the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 8, 2013, in Indianapolis. Michigan State defeated Ohio State 34-24.

Stop the presses. Shocking news:

Ohio State's recruiting class of 2015 is tops among Big Ten football teams.

Good luck to conference teams trying to catch Urban Meyer, "the standard-bearer for head coach recruiting in college football," says Mike Farrell, national recruiting director for Rivals.com. "He's the guy."

To catch "the guy," you better have a sound plan, a formula that doesn't necessarily require consistent top-10 recruiting classes because those are difficult to churn out, particularly in the hinterland. Maybe the plan is something along the lines of what Mark Dantonio uses at Michigan State.

"What Dantonio has done is he rarely plays true freshmen — at least to the extent that most schools do," says Josh Helmholdt, Midwest recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. "So his teams are generally older, with a lot of fifth-year seniors."

Michigan State's average recruiting class ranking since 2010 is No. 31, according to Rivals. That's partly because the Spartans' classes have been relatively small. The downside of the plan is the fewer players a team signs, the less margin for error. You better get the right guys.

Michigan State has won at least 11 games four of the past five seasons, with Rose and Cotton bowl victories the past two. Nebraska starves for such success. By the way, the Huskers' average recruiting ranking during the past five years is 26th, but it didn't feel like there was an overriding year-to-year plan.

"I believe Dantonio feels a senior-driven ball club is a better ball club," Helmholdt says. "There are some strong arguments for that. On the other hand, kids want to play early. So it might hurt you in recruiting."

New Nebraska coach Mike Riley at some point will take a step back and develop a long-term philosophy. His main objective, to this point, has been holding together what appears to be a solid class.

NU has secured 15 known commitments (and will cap the class at 19, most likely). The Huskers' class ranks 39th, according to Rivals.com. Ohio State checks in at No. 7, followed by Penn State at No. 12. Second-year Nittany Lions coach James Franklin is a recruiting whiz, with "the ability to relate to every party involved in the recruiting process," Farrell says.

Now, enter Jim Harbaugh into the Big Ten equation. The world is watching. In terms of recruiting, Stanford, his most-recent college coaching stop, is a much different animal than most other "national" programs because of its rigid academic standards, so his prowess as a Big Ten recruiter is a bit of an unknown.

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"I think he's done fine so far (at UM)," says Helmholdt, who's based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. "This last week (leading to Signing Day on Wednesday) is really going to be a key to judging whether he's been successful over the last month or underperformed because he has a lot of slots to fill."

Harbaugh stole defensive end Reuben Jones from Nebraska's class. Harbaugh then tried to steal DaiShon Neal. Neal, also a defensive end (from Omaha), stuck with the Huskers. Harbaugh's now trying to lure tight end Matt Snyder from NU's class. I think Riley will end up 2-1 in the skirmish. That would be a good sign for Husker fans.

"I think Michigan fans' expectations were that Harbaugh was immediately going to come in and set the recruiting world on fire … That's just not realistic," Helmholdt says.

But Michigan's recruiting efforts are bolstered significantly by defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, the Rivals.com 2012 national recruiter of the year. Greg Mattison, a holdover from Brady Hoke's staff, is considered a good recruiter, although he evidently bungled the effort to land Neal. In addition, running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley has strong ties to Detroit and southeast Michigan, a key recruiting territory, Helmholdt says.

"I think he's built a very strong recruiting staff," Helmholdt says of Harbaugh.

But how does anyone catch Ohio State, which benefits from being in the nation's No. 5 talent-producing state? The Buckeyes already have attracted six commitments for their class of 2016 and four for 2017.

"And they're all stud recruits (especially for 2017) — big-name guys that are going to be highly, highly ranked when the first 2017 rankings come out," Helmholdt says. "Not only does Ohio State have a lot of momentum, it's capitalizing on that momentum."

As for Riley, "I'm still learning about him, but I think he's done a very good job at keeping the guys they had intact. Keeping guys like Avery Anderson and Eric Lee, and in-state guys like Michael Decker and DaiShon Neal … Nebraska could've had wholesale attrition. And it didn't happen.

"They lost a few guys, but kept most of them. That tells me Nebraska recruiting is going to be in good hands under Mike Riley."

Great hands are needed to catch Meyer, the standard-bearer, whether you like him or not.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.​


Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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