I tend to keep my feet out of the Northwestern football recruiting waters here. It's the result of a bunch of things, including Northwestern typically playing better than the caliber of its recruits, a few unsuccessful games of phone tag with recruits while writing for Wildcat Report, Kyle Prater being mediocre after being called "can't miss", and the fact that I've never seen a high school football game in my life - I'm from New York - plus I just find the obsession with high schoolers creepy.
But it's not news to anybody that a decent amount of college football games are won in February: no matter how good your coach is, and how good they are at finding underrecruited talent, you need talent, and these rankings are the best early indicator out there. Since I've gained a modest amount of knowledge on the subject spending my days working at the SB Nation college football newsdesk, I figured I'd give you guys an update on how Northwestern is doing.
Because Northwestern tends to grab guys early, most of their class is done. Let's look at some FAQ's:
How is Northwestern's class coming along? Pretty well, comparatively to Northwestern in years past: 19 commits, one of which is a consensus four-star, with several others on the borderline, and only two-to-four guys who are two stars. Rivals has NU at No. 47 (last year they were No. 60, 2011 they were No. 87, 2010 they were No. 77), Scout has NU at No. 38 (last year they were No. 48, 2011, they were No. 59, 2010 they were No. 58), 247 has Northwestern at No. 53 (last year they were No. 61, 2011 they were No. 67, I can't find their 2010 data.)
How does that stack up against the Big Ten?: Decent: NU is eighth per Rivals, seventh per Scout, eighth per 247. Not bad, but not No. 11 or 12 like NU had been in years past. NU's class is universally considered better than what Indiana, Purdue, Iowa, and Minnesota are getting.
Who are NU's studs?: The get is Matt Alviti: he committed last April, and actually shows up on the list of top prospects SB Nation's recruiting expert has us work out of. Northwestern doesn't get many four star guys, and when they do, they typically aren't QB's. Kain Colter, Dan Persa, Trevor Siemian - all three-stars. Alviti is a dual threat QB who has won a state title with Maine South and was the MVP of the Semper Fi All-American game. Here's a highlight reel:
Very NU QB-esque. Persa-y, even. Here's what Scout had to say about him:
Alviti comes from a high school system that will have him prepared for college. He is a great passer who can make all the throws. He has touch when he needs to, velocity when he needs to, and does very well on the run. He's an athletic kid who can make plays with his feet and escape the rush and he has great poise and intangibles. He's not the tallest of quarterbacks, but his ability to roll on and throw on the move will help that. - Allen Trieu
There's a few other players who are highly touted that Northwestern landed, but no consensus four-star guys like Alviti. Safety Godwin Igwebuike is a four-star per Scout, although other services have less high rankings of him as they weren't as sure what position he plays. 247 lists Tyler Lancaster as a four-star, and while other services don't, they all have him as a top-10 center in the country. Running back Keith Watkins is a consensus three-star, but he's the best of three running backs in the class.
Is anybody still out there for Northwestern?: Yes, James Clark, a four-star wide receiver from Florida who is considering Northwestern alongside Ohio State, Florida, and Clemson. He'll be a rare hat game guy for Northwestern, as he'll be announcing his decision on Signing Day, and although Northwestern's in his final four, he could trim that down before then. I don't like Northwestern's chances on this one, but he'd obviously be a good get. At wide receiver, NU also has Kyle Quiero, considered a safety by some and a WR by others, as well as "athlete" Tommy Fuessel, who played QB in high school but is listed as a wide receiver in some services - likely, with Alviti coming in.
What's the Big Ten like?: Well, it's Ohio State, Michigan, and everybody else. Michael Bird broke down this year's classes, and how far ahead of everybody else they are - significantly more than they normally are, even considering their typical recruiting strength. Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke are strong sellers, y'all.
What does all this mean?: I'd continue to be excited about the future of Northwestern football. On the big scale, this class isn't much: Northwestern is barely a blip on the radar of most national recruiting experts, and by and large isn't competing with the top of the conference for many players.
But Northwestern won ten games this year on the back of a defense without any elite gets, a three-star QB and a two-star running back. I could tweak that to say that recruiting rankings don't matter. A better statement is that if Northwestern has done well without players judged to be good by recruiting experts - what can they do with higher caliber players? We'll get to find out: Northwestern's classes have been categorically improving in the eyes of recruiting analysts, and I don't think that can be spun into a bad thing.
Alviti's a player to get excited about. He fits in with what we've come to expect from Northwestern quarterbacks, but with a little bit more of the tangibles recruiting types think make a strong QB. It's easy to see him redshirting next season, backing up Trevor Siemian in 2014, and getting three solid years as the guy. Of course, recruiting rankings don't pan out always, but if they did, that wouldn't be so bad.