The Big Ten has surged in the national recruiting rankings this season, but so far, it’s a trend that hasn’t extended to the Gophers.
The conference has nine teams ranked in the top 31 spots in 247Sports’ composite rankings, which blend the top recruiting services into one. For comparison, the Big Ten had five of the top 31 spots in the same rankings for the last class, which signed in February.
Four teams that have made surprising jumps include Maryland (from 42nd last class to 16th this class), Iowa (48th to 18th), Rutgers (61st to 27th) and Northwestern (52nd to 31st).
The Gophers climbed to 49th with their last recruiting class — the highest of the Jerry Kill/Tracy Claeys era — but their current class ranks 64th.
“At this stage, I think it’s ‘I’ for incomplete, just because there are so many positions that Minnesota has to address yet,” said Ryan Burns, who publishes GopherIllustrated.com, the local Scout.com affiliate.
The Gophers have 13 players committed, and Burns estimates they could add eight to 10 more before national signing day Feb. 1.
For the 2016 class, Claeys landed the top-ranked recruit in Minnesota, Carter Coughlin, and several other local standouts — Kamal Martin, Tyler Johnson, Thomas Barber, Antoine Winfield Jr. and Seth Green.
For 2017, Claeys has commitments from the two top-ranked recruits from the state — Marshall tackle Blaise Andries and Cooper tackle Eric Abojei.
Claeys is proving he can keep top recruits home. But this class’ overall success could hinge on whom he lands at quarterback.
There is speculation Ryan Glover, a three-star Georgia high school QB who is committed to Colorado State, could flip to the Gophers. Since they need to replace Mitch Leidner next year, they also could add a junior college quarterback or graduate transfer.
Burns points to how well the Gophers have played defensively under Claeys, the former defensive coordinator who replaced Kill as coach last year.
“If you trust what Claeys has been doing on that side of the ball,” Burns said, “and if he’s able to bring over that philosophy on offense with [new hires] Jay Johnson and Bart Miller, I think this could be a perennial eight-win-plus team.”
After back-to-back 8-5 seasons, the Gophers slipped to 6-7 last year, when Kill resigned for health reasons.
“It’s almost like a wait-and-see situation with kids right now,” said Kyle Goblirsch, who runs Gopher247.com. “At the end of the day, it comes down to wins. If they finish strong and do well in the bowl game, all of a sudden it elevates Claeys’ name.”
Iowa’s recruiting spike can be traced to last year’s 12-0 regular season. The Hawkeyes landed five-star defensive end A.J. Epenesa from Edwardsville, Ill., along with two four-star recruits.
Maryland, with new coach D.J. Durkin and a massive facilities renovation, has landed one five-star recruit and five four-star recruits.
Rutgers has a four-game losing streak going into Saturday’s game against the Gophers. But the Scarlet Knights have first-year coach Chris Ash, the co-defensive coordinator for Ohio State’s 2015 national championship team. He has landed three four-star recruits.
“When schools hire the ace recruiter-type head coaches, they always have a strong first year because they can sell this new image of the program and early playing time,” Goblirsch said. “Kids want to get on the field early.”
Claeys signed several immediate impact players in his first class, including junior college linemen Garrison Wright, Vincent Calhoun and Donnell Greene and Florida prep sleeper Tai’yon Devers.
If the newcomers continue to develop, and the team starts reeling off wins, that would help the Gophers climb again in future recruiting rankings.