- Craig Haubert, ESPN Staff Writer
Recruiting is the lifeblood of every program in the country, and every conference has its own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to landing top prospects. In the start of a weeklong series, we'll examine the BCS conferences plus Notre Dame to find each's strength, the biggest obstacle each faces and the overall view of the conference. First up: the Big Ten.
Biggest obstacle: There are two problems: perception and a limited talent pool. The consensus top states in the nation for talent are Florida, Texas, California and Georgia, and unfortunately for the Big Ten, none of them is in the Midwest. Talent can be found within the states in the Big Ten's footprint, but a good deal of work on the recruiting trail within this conference needs to be done outside of its base. For the 2013 class, only roughly 57 percent of the players signed by Big Ten teams came from the states that house Big Ten programs, and many of those came out of Ohio. By comparison, roughly 71 percent of the prospects signed by Pac-12 schools for 2013 came from within its own states, and in the SEC, that number was closer to 85 percent. Granted, California supplied the majority of the talent signed by the Pac-12 teams -- and the Golden State is big enough to supply an entire conference -- but the Big Ten lacks any one particular state that can act as a key feeder for an entire conference, like California for the Pac-12 or Texas for the Big 12. It's a problem because the farther these Big Ten teams have to stray from their base for talent, the tougher it is for it to lure prospects from competing programs that might be closer to home.
Besides having to often cast a wider net for talent than most of its BCS counterparts, the conference has also battled some perception problems about its ability to compete at the elite level nationally. Only one program, Ohio State, has won or even been to a BCS title game, and its past two appearances saw the Buckeyes come out on the losing end. Beyond the national title game, the conference has struggled in recent years to come out on the winning end of bowl games, in particular New Year's Day bowls. Coming up short on the national stage against rival conferences have left a dent in the perception of the Big Ten, which can create an obstacle in the ever-competitive arena of recruiting when battling for top talent.