PJ Fleck Has Changed The Recruiting Game at Minnesota

Photo: Jesse Johnson – USA TODAY Sports

National Signing Day is over and while some signings will still trickle in through Friday, most recruits have put their pen to paper and schools have already announced and introduced their 2022 classes. For the Minnesota Gophers, is what a pretty uneventful day, which is usually a good thing on NSD.

PJ Fleck got signatures from all of his top commitments and had just one kid who decided to wait until the later signing period, in February. The Gophers finished ranked 10th in the Big Ten and #40 nationally, according to 247Sports.com. More on those rankings momentarily. First, lets run through some of the recruits who signed. Here’s the full list, with their star and number ratings via 247.

Recruiting is hard.

Remember, it’s unlikely that we see any of these guys on the field next season. Raising recruits isn’t a sprint and good teams aren’t usually in a situation where they need to force playing time too early on underclassmen who aren’t ready. Guys like Justin Walley and Mar’Keise Irving are the exception, not the rule.

It’s also worth reminding everyone that some of the players ranked near the top of the class now, will never find the field in a Minnesota Gophers uniform. Others near the bottom of the list will become All Big Ten type players. That’s just how it works. Recruiting is far from a perfect science and the transfer portal will only exacerbate that point.

Focus on the Defensive Line

Trey Bixby is the 4-star hometown jewel of the Gophers 2022 recruiting class. He was on of two who received that high of a grad and both he and Anthony Smith play on the defensive line. In fact, three of the top four in this class play on the DL, where Fleck has focused a lot of time and energy on the recruiting trail since he arrived.

Bixby is from Minnesota and played his senior year at Eden Prairie High School. He played his sophomore season in Ohio, which is where he caught the eyes of Gopher recruiters. His stepdad is Kyle Goblirsch, a longtime 247Sports recruiting analyst for Minnesota, which probably helped.

Unfortunately, we haven’t seen much from Trey Bixby since his big Sophomore year, due to a strange allergy that led to auto-immune concerns during the pandemic that moved him to opt out of playing in his Junior season. Bixby might have the highest upside of this 2022 class but his lack of football over the last two years make him risky, as well.

Other Highlights

There was one curveball thrown by highly-touted QB commit, Jacob Knuth, when he took a late visit to Kansas State last weekend. But, he was one of the first to send in his signed Letter of Intent on Wednesday morning. Now that Jacob Clark and Zack Annexstad are in the transfer portal, Knuth becomes a legitimate contender for the 2023 QB competition with Athan Kaliakmanis (2020 4-star) and Cole Kramer.

Kristen Hoskins is a slot-type wide receiver from Alexandria, MN, who has some of the quickest twitch that Ryan Burns (247Sports) has seen in his time evaluating high school football players. That speed and quickness is something PJ Fleck raved about when talking up Hoskins and the rest of his new class on Wednesday.

The Gophers had a good class on the offensive line too. Fleck and his staff take great pride in the way they recruit the trenches. In 2022, that included Ashton Beers, a 3-star flip from NDSU that committed to Minnesota a couple of weeks ago. He’s someone to keep an eye on because Bison fans and coaches were very upset with his loss, given how excited they were about his commitment.

Fleck vs Kill on Recruiting Trail

Before PJ Fleck arrived on campus at the University of Minnesota, the Golden Gophers football team was in a recruiting tier below their Big Ten West Rivals, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska. Those three teams have battled it out for the division recruiting title since the Huskers joined the conference in 2011.

Fleck has methodically closed that gap during his time in Dinkytown. While under Jerry Kill, Minnesota scraped the bottom of the Big Ten barrel on the recruiting trail, finishing last (14th) in the 247Sports composite rankings in 2013 and only finishing as high as 11th in 2012. Back then, the Gophers recruiting classes were lucky to break a rating of 80/100 overall.

Tracy Claeys had a pretty good 2016 class (ranked 8th in Big Ten). That’s the year all of the top Minnesota kids fell in his lap. The class included Carter Coughlin, Thomas Barber, Antoine Winfield and Tyler Johnson, the same kids that led the 2019 Gopher team that went 11-2 and won the Outback Bowl under Fleck.

New Recruiting Game Under Fleck

Since 2018, the Gophers’ recruiting classes have always finished in the top-10 of the Big Ten and the average class rating has climbed to 86.5/100. That rise in class ratings has parked Minnesota’s recruiting classes right next to Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska’s.

There are many fans out there upset that the Gophers fell behind the Hawkeyes and Badgers yesterday. That’s good and it shows how much more we expect under Fleck than what we did under Jerry Kill and previous head coaches.

Big Ten West Parity in 2022

National Signing Day 2022 finished with a lot of parity in the Big Ten West. Wisconsin and Iowa both made late signings that jumped them over the Gophers, who were atop the class rankings for much of the day on Wednesday. The average recruit ratings among West teams shows why the division is such a battle these days. Nebraska, however, took a hit on the recruiting trail after another difficult season under Scott Frost.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan