LINCOLN — In mid-March, as nationwide lockdowns went into effect to stop the spread of the coronavirus, recruiting analysts knew what was coming: Lots and lots of commitments, even from prospects who hadn’t seen the schools they were about to embrace.

They were right. Even in the middle of a pandemic, college football recruiting doesn’t stop.

That includes the Big Ten, as league teams have collectively received commitments from 105 recruits since the NCAA announced March 13 that in-person visits wouldn’t be allowed. That ban remains in place until at least July.

Each Big Ten team has received at least two commits in that span. Five league teams have received double-digit commits.

“The more that other kids started committing, and the more these classes started to grow, the more these kids who are left start wondering, ‘How long is my spot going to be there?’" said Allen Trieu, Midwest recruiting analyst for 247Sports. “There’s some inherent pressure once the numbers start to shrink.”

Nebraska has received four commits since March 13, and two of the players — offensive tackle Branson Yager and pass rusher Patrick Payton — haven't visited NU in person. They instead took “virtual visits” — video tours of campus and facilities, conversations with coaches — that made it easier to see what NU might look like.

“I was hoping to hold off until I get a chance to go visit, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon,” Yager told The World-Herald when he committed. “So I’m not going to hold back on something that I know is right and lose my chance.”

Recent NCAA rules have expanded the nature of virtual visits to include more people on the calls like academic advisors and other prospects. That helps to approximate the actual experience of visiting. For example, Nebraska quarterback commit Heinrich Haarberg could virtually visit with a receiver target NU likes and help recruit him.

Minnesota, which currently has a top-10 class nationally and the No. 2 class in the Big Ten, was “ahead of the game” on virtual visits, Trieu said. That’s one reason why the Gophers grabbed so many players at the top of their board, including Omaha Westside four-star defensive back Avante Dickerson.

Setting aside Ohio State — a recruiting juggernaut steaming ahead to the nation’s No. 1 class — Trieu said he was impressed with the recruiting work of Penn State and Michigan State, as well. The Spartans had zero commits two months ago. They now have 11, which is impressive given how little time new coach Mel Tucker had to cultivate prospects.

“Some of that is pure effort, dogged determination, they’ve really been getting after it,” Trieu said. “And they did move pretty quick to get kids on campus at the beginning of March before things shut down. I think that helped. I also think they have a staff who has a wide variety of connection and, between the entire group, have recruited many different parts of the country.”

Rutgers, under Greg Schiano, is retaining more in-state talent than either of his predecessors, Chris Ash or Kyle Flood, Trieu said. That’s reflective of Schiano’s reputation at Rutgers and his relationships with high school coaches in the state.

Illinois is the outlier among Big Ten teams. Lovie Smith doesn’t recruit much in the Midwest, Trieu said, and prefers to play the transfer market above and beyond recruiting high school prospects. The 2019 team’s top quarterback, receiver and pass rusher came from Michigan, USC and USC, respectively.

“I know the high school coaches in the state of Illinois don’t like it, but in Chicago, when it’s as heavily recruited as it is — and you look at where some of the top guys went — is Illinois going to go up there and beat Michigan for the No. 1 player in the state?” Trieu said. “Are they even going to beat Minnesota? Are they going to sign as good of a high school quarterback as they landed in Brandon Peters from Michigan? I don’t think the numbers suggest they would.”

Eleven of the top 16 high school prospects in Illinois have already committed. None have pledged to Illinois.

What about Nebraska? Trieu sees the Huskers doing just fine. Scott Frost said last week Nebraska would likely sign a smaller class in 2021 — after signing 28 in 2019 and 24 in 2020, that makes sense — but the average ranking of its prospects, according to the 247Sports composite, is fifth among Big Ten teams.

“Nebraska’s pacing right about where it should be,” Trieu said. “Their average rating is almost exactly where it was last year. Once the class finishes out, I would expect them to be higher in the national ranking than they are now.”

Here is the current recruiting scoreboard for the 2021 class (as of May 19), including service rankings and top players committed to each class:

Ohio State

Total commits: 18

Commits since March 13: 8

247Sports composite national/Big Ten ranking: 1/1

Rivals: 1/1

The big names: Five-stars DE Jack Sawyer, RB TreVeyon Henderson, QB Kyle McCord

Skinny: Ohio State keeps rolling along, undeterred by a pandemic, and is way out in front of not only every other Big Ten school, but every school in college football. OSU is a juggernaut.


Total commits: 15

Commits since March 13: 8

247 composite: 10/3

Rivals: 8/3

The big name: Four-star OT David Davidkov

Skinny: The Hawkeyes have four offensive linemen in the class from three different states. Iowa is doing its best work on the recruiting trail in years, especially at skill positions. Winning pays dividends.


Total commits: 16

Commits since March 13: 11

247 composite: 8/2

Rivals: 9/4

The big name: Four-star CBs Avante Dickerson and Steven Ortiz

Skinny: The Gophers should eventually capitalize on their big 2019 season, but the adjustment can take time if they’re hunting bigger targets. Ortiz, out of Arizona, turned down Oregon and Washington, among others. Dickerson turned down LSU, home-state Nebraska and more. Will these commits stick? Hard to say. Right now, PJ Fleck has the recruiting mojo.


Total commits: 13

Commits since March 13: 11

247 composite: 12/4

Rivals: 7/2

The big name: Five-star QB JJ McCarthy

Skinny: McCarthy has a game that looks an awful lot like Joe Burrow’s. The Wolverines are off to a fast start, with a strong run of players on the offensive and defensive lines. Just three of UM's commits are from Michigan.

Penn State

Total commits: 12

Commits since March 13: 10

247 composite: 15/6

Rivals: 14/5

The big name: Four-star OT Landon Tengwall

Skinny: The Nittany Lions got a big win on Tengwall, who picked Penn State over Notre Dame, then followed up with a very Good Friday, landing three defensive commits from Detroit. They also flipped Rodney McGraw from Indiana to PSU.


Total commits: 14

Commits since March 13: 5

247 composite: 14/5

Rivals: 18/7

The big name: Four-star DE Demeioun Robinson

Skinny: The Terrapins hired Mike Locksley because he can recruit. He’s proving his bosses right so far with several strong recruits on defense, where Maryland needs the most help after allowing 500 yards and 35 points per game in Big Ten play.


Total commits: 10

Commits since March 13: 2

247 composite: 18/7

Rivals: 20/8

The big names: Four-stars OT JP Benzschawel and OT Riley Mahlman

Skinny: The Badgers are already loading up on three positions of strength: running back, inside linebacker and offensive tackle.


Total commits: 15

Commits since March 13: 12

247 composite: 21/8

Rivals: 17/6

The big name: Four-star pass rusher Khayri Banton

Skinny: New/old coach Greg Schiano hasn’t wasted one second since returning to the job that made him famous. The Scarlet Knights are winning in-state recruiting battles they haven’t since Schiano left for the NFL. Eight of Rutgers' 15 commits are from New Jersey.

Michigan State

Total commits: 12

Commits since March 13: 12

247 composite: 28/9

Rivals: 27/9

The big name: Three-star defensive end Tyson Watson

Skinny: MSU got on the board with three in-state prospects with MAC offer lists and one prospect, Watson, who was pretty highly coveted by lots of programs in the league. Hey, gotta start somewhere. MSU also landed a quarterback out of Dallas, Hampton Fay, that Mel Tucker had recruited at Colorado. The Spartans are destined for a wild card class of players who either haven't been to East Lansing or don't know Tucker and his staff well.


Total commits: 8

Commits since March 13: 7

247 composite: 39/10

Rivals: 37/11

The big name: Four-stars OT Caleb Tiernan and LB Mac Uihlein

Skinny: The Wildcats typically fill their class in spring and summer because they already know who will academically qualify. Because Northwestern recruits so specifically for fit, it needs visits it can’t currently use. Then again, three four-stars out of eight commits is good stuff.


Total commits: 7

Commits since March 13: 4

247 composite: 41/11

Rivals: 35/10

The big name: Four-star LB Randolph Kpai

Skinny: Nebraska got  back on the commit parade with Branson Yager, which makes three offensive linemen in the class. Rivals likes Yager more than 247Sports at this point. Massive offensive guard Henry Lutovsky is underrated. So is Patrick Payton. Heinrich Haarberg is the most recent commit.


Total commits: 8

Commits since March 13: 6

247 composite: 48/12

Rivals: 50/12

The big name: Three-star WR Preston Terrell

Skinny: The Boilermakers have commits from six different states. After two giant classes, it's likely Purdue goes a little smaller in 2021.


Total commits: 7

Commits since March 13: 7

247 composite: 52/13

Rivals: 53/13

The big name: Three-star DE Cooper Jones

Skinny: The Hoosiers typically lose the recruiting battle to Purdue. Does that change after IU’s strong 2019 season? Doesn't look like it.


Total commits: 3

Commits since March 13: 2

247 composite: 80/14

Rivals: 79/14

The big name: Three-star QB Samari Collier

Skinny: Illinois prefers to play the transfer market pretty heavily, so it should make more of its moves later this spring or in the summer. The Illini only signed 14 players in the 2019 class and 13 in 2020.

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