With Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge participant Malik McDowell in the same class at Loyola, many do not realize the Bulldogs have another potential BCS lineman in the 6-foot-5, 270-pound Armstrong. In fact, Loyola is loaded with top underclassmen, and Armstrong is certainly one who is showing elite level potential.
We watched Armstrong run a sub-5.0 40-yard dash back in April, and he is just starting to learn how to use his size and athleticism. In a scrimmage earlier this month, Armstrong showed again the makings of a BCS-level offensive lineman. He is a natural knee-bender, plays with good strength and can certainly move his feet. McDowell may draw the bulk of the attention, but college coaches are going to like what they see in Armstrong as well.
The 6-foot-1, 270-pound Barwick was invited to the inaugural Rivals Underclassmen Challenge last month, and turned out one of the top five performances among defensive linemen in attendance. We also had a chance to see highlights from the opening game of his senior season, where Barwick again displayed good potential.
Because he lacks a little in the height department, Barwick will likely be targeted more as a nose tackle at the college level. He plays there and the three-technique spot in high school, and can really dominate when he fires out low and uses his quick first step to gain leverage on the offensive linemen. As he continues to add bulk he should continue to add strength and further increase his ability to dominate from the interior of the defensive line. Western Michigan has already offered, and more are sure to come if he continues to show well this fall.
The first thing that jumps out about Bunting is that he is 6-foot-6 or 6-7. I saw him play wide receiver at Michigan State's camp this summer, and he plays that position for his high school team as well, but his future certainly appears to be at the tight end position. That is where Purdue, which gave him his first scholarship offer last month, is recruiting him as well.
Bunting has good speed for a 6-foot-7, 190-pound prospect, but he will not have the speed to consistently get on top of Division I cornerbacks. As a tight end, though, his speed will definitely allow him to create mismatches with linebackers tasked to cover him. We saw first game highlights of Bunting this week, and he caught two passes downfield, including one that went for a 38-yard touchdown. He showed outstanding body control as a receiver, and his frame has the room for him to get up to 240 or 250 pounds by college.
News and Notes
The nation's No. 1 wide receiver, Crete-Monee (Ill.) four-star Laquon Treadwell, is going to be the most closely watched uncommitted Midwest prospect this fall, and his recruitment is shaping into an interesting one. Michigan has been the leader for several months, but Treadwell is intent on making his visits before rendering a final decision.
A trip to Ole Miss to see former teammate Anthony Standifer on Sept. 15 is already set, but this is more than a chance to check in on an old friend's progress. The Rebels impressed Treadwell during a visit earlier this month and are certainly contenders. But keep an eye out for Oklahoma State as being the greatest threat to Michigan's lead. Treadwell has not visited Stillwater yet, but it is at the top of his list of places to see. He has always had a strong vibe with the Oklahoma State coaching staff, and the Cowboys are starting a true freshman at quarterback from Treadwell's home state of Illinois this fall.
The hottest Midwest team in the final week of August has been the Michigan State Spartans, which addressed big needs at defensive end and offensive tackle with the additions of Chicago Julian's Demetrius Cooper and Detroit Cass Tech's Dennis Finley over the weekend. Those commitments vaulted the Spartans 15 spots in the Rivals.com team recruiting rankings.
Keep an eye on the Spartans in the early fall because they may not be done, especially on the defensive line. They are among the favorites for heavily recruited Southern defensive tackles Maquedius Bain and Montravius Adams. They are the leader for Peoria (Ill.) defensive end Josh Augusta as well as nationally recruited California JUCO defensive tackle Kyle Peko, who has strong family ties to the Spartans. Bain and Adams also have former teammates playing in East Lansing.
When talking about the Midwest's class of 2014, the strength of the linebacker and receiver groups has been the focus, but we may need to start paying closer attention to the running backs group after the start it had to its junior seasons this past weekend.
Leading the way was Chicago De La Salle's Mikale Wilbon (5-foot-9, 190 pounds) who went for 327 yards and four touchdowns in a win over Lane Tech. West Chester (Ohio) Lakota West's Mikel Horton (6-1, 229) carried 43 times for 236 yards and two scores in his team's win, and Carol Stream (Ill.) Glenbard North's Justin Jackson (6-foot, 175) ran 25 times for 183 yards and four touchdowns in a loss.
Joliet (Ill.) Catholic running back Ty Isaac made the jump to five-stars in the last rankings update, then went out and suffered what looked to be a pretty serious shoulder injury in the opening week. The USC commit told us this weekend, though, that the injury is not serious and he should be back on the field in a few weeks.
What I'm thinking …
My faith in the class of 2014 from the state of Ohio was restored this past weekend. Looking ahead to that group over the last few months, it started to feel like this was going to be a weak year for talent in the state.
There were definitely guys such as Cleveland St. Ignatius offensive lineman Jimmy Byrne, Akron St. Vincent St. Mary's linebacker Dante Booker, St. Clairsville linebacker Michael Ferns and Springfield wide receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass, who had established themselves as bona fide studs, but the number of prospects in that group appeared to be significantly lower than in years past.
Lakota West running back Mikel Horton dominated, and Cincinnati Walnut Hills safety Nilijah Ballew covered the entire field. Cincinnati La Salle wide receiver Derek Kief caught everything in sight and Trotwood-Madison safety Kieran Winn stepped up with big plays. It all was very encouraging and heightened my expectations for the class.
The overall Midwest talent pool is always led by the state of Ohio, and now with that group looking better than originally anticipated, combined with strong offerings in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, 2014 should be another strong talent year in the region.
A question we analysts are often asked is, "Which prospect has the best chance of moving up in the next rankings?" It's not an easy one to answer. If we feel a prospect is underrated we go out, get a new evaluation to confirm and move him up. At any given time, prospects are ranked exactly where we feel they should be ranked.
Back to answering the question, though. The prospects who have the best chance of seeing significant bumps off new evaluations are the ones we have not seen in a significant period of time. While we saw a majority of the top prospects in the offseason, there are those we have not evaluated since the end of their junior seasons. When talking about potential big movers in the November rankings update, those prospects have a better chance of making a significant move than someone we've seen several times in the spring and summer.
Looking at the list of top prospects in the Midwest, there are a few we have not seen since last fall. Centerville (Ohio) offensive tackle Evan Lisle was our top performer the weekend we scouted him last November, and the Ohio State commit is definitely has a lot of room for growth on his frame.
Alliance (Ohio) Marlington safety Dymonte Thomas is one of the fastest players in the Midwest for 2013, and he does it in a 6-1, 190-pound frame. The question we have had on him is his coverage skills, and if the Michigan commit shows well in that department this fall he could see an upward move.
Illinois quarterback commit Aaron Bailey of Bolingbrook (Ill.) accounted for 253 yards of total offense and four touchdowns in his senior season opener. I will see him in week six against Lincoln-Way East.
We had not seen Cleveland Heights (Ohio) wide receiver Shelton Gibson all offseason until he showed up at Ohio State's Friday Night Lights on the last weekend of the camp season. The improvement he made this offseason vaulted him into the Rivals100. That is evidence that any one of the aforementioned prospects could prove to be worthy of a similar bump with strong senior seasons.