Signing Day preview: Michigan State

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio won last month’s Rose Bowl without signing a recruiting class that rated high nationally or even ranked atop the Big Ten. So, the recruiting website rankings aren’t going to determine whether the Spartans, who finished 2013 ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press poll, stay among the elite teams.

Still, will going 13-1 and finishing behind only national champion Florida State and Auburn finally allow them to join the "haves" in recruiting rankings?

Well, not this year. Unless MSU can win the Malik McDowell sweepstakes, it will not land a five-star talent or have a class that separates itself from the pack of several conference schools rated well below Ohio State — the No. 4 overall pick nationally by Scout.com.

McDowell, a 6-foot-6, 292-pound defensive end from Southfield (Mich.) High, is rated the No. 5 defensive end and No. 36 overall prospect. The five-star recruit will pick Michigan, Florida State, Ohio State or MSU on Wednesday morning, when prospects can sign with schools.

"Michigan State is in on Malik McDowell," said Scout.com Midwest recruiting specialist Allen Trieu, who is based in Grand Rapids. "And they are going to come in anywhere between No. 2 and No. 4 in the Big Ten."

MSU recruits

However, the recruit’s father, Greg McDowell, was quoted on Monday by 247 Sports: "I want him out of Michigan. I don’t care if that’s Ohio State or Florida State. You have to be somewhere you have less distractions and be around people that do what you do, go to class, be football players, be a student-athlete. That’s the environment I want him to be around, and not be in close proximity to his friends.

"From when we talked Friday he’s coming around because he knows how adamant we are about him not attending Michigan State," the elder McDowell said, while noting that Malik’s mother agrees with the need to leave Michigan. "I don’t have anything bad to say against Michigan State but I don’t think they’re the school for my son.

"I think the coaches are cool and they’re establishing a good program, but this is my son and I choose to not want him there. If he were to choose Michigan State I don’t know what I would do. It is what it is. I just want my son away from this environment and Michigan. I want him out of here."

So, Malik must decide whether or not to listen to his father. Six of the seven recruiting specialists at Rivals.com predict him going with MSU, while the other picked OSU.

Scout.com has the Big Ten classes after the Buckeyes’ led by No. 19 (nationally) Wisconsin, No. 21 Penn State, No. 24 Michigan, No. 28 Nebraska and No. 32 MSU. 247 Sports also had the Spartans sixth in the conference, while Rivals.com had them fifth.

"Winning the Rose Bowl is seen in the ways Michigan State is closing," Trieu said. "They got some late visits and late commits, but 75 percent or more of their class was done. You will see the Rose Bowl’s impact in 2015 and beyond if they maintain the winning. They already have some good commits for next year."

Only four of the 20 Spartan commitments came aboard after they won the conference championship game. That quartet included four-star safety Montae Nicholson (Monroeville, Pa.) and three-star recruits in defensive end Darius Slade (Montclair, N.J.), Swedish offensive tackle David Hedelin (City College of San Francisco) and tight end Montez Sweat of Stone Mountain, Ga.

The Spartans originally appeared to be a long shot in getting Nicholson, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he took an official visit to East Lansing in September and ended up picking MSU over Florida State, Oregon, Virginia Tech and Pitt.

Nicholson (6-3, 200) is a sure tackler who also caught 81 passes for 810 yards and 15 touchdowns. He plans to run track for the Spartans.

"I don’t think you can rule him out as a wide receiver," Trieu said. "Not with his ball skills. But on defense he can really come down hill at you and play in space (on coverages)."

The other four-star recruits are cornerback Vayante Copeland (5-11, 180) of Dayton (Ohio) Thurgood Marshall and safety Byron Bullough (6-1, 205) of Traverse City (Mich.) St. Francis. Bullough, the first commitment in this class in August 2012, is following in the footsteps of his grandfather, father, uncle and two brothers in choosing MSU.

They’ve always said Byron is the best athlete of the boys in the family

Scout.com Midwest recruiting specialist Allen Trieu on Byron Bullough

"They’ve always said Byron is the best athlete of the boys in the family," Trieu said. "He brings all the intangibles and toughness, and when he gets bigger will be a tremendous outside linebacker. He has a real nose for the football with instincts and the ability to diagnose plays."

Copeland is a speedy, slippery and patient runner who rushed for 1,707 yards and made six interceptions while also serving as a dangerous kick returner.

"He’s a great, great athlete," Trieu said. "He can play tight coverage and likes to get in your face, too. He’s the kind of corner they like."

The Spartans have three of the Top 40 defensive backs in the Scout.com ratings. Though, Bullough is expected to play in the front seven.

Trieu said, "You add in cornerback Jalen Watts-Jackson (Orchard Lake, Mich., St. Mary) and safety Matt Morrissey (Lincolnshire, Ill.), whose dad played at MSU, and defensive back certainly is the strength of the class."

Jim Morrissey was MSU’s captain in 1984 and also played linebacker for the Chicago Bears.

Trieu said the sleeper in the class is Watts-Jackson, and he predicted that those with the best shot at 2014 playing time are Rochester (Mich.) Adams tight end Matt Sokol, Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas tailback Madre London and 270-pound fullback Gerald Owens of Westville, N.J.