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Monday, June 10, 2013
Big Ten's big moves help in recruiting

By Craig Haubert

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.
Brady Hoke, Urban Meyer
Brady Hoke and Urban Meyer have made Michigan and Ohio State recruiting powers once again.
Biggest strength: Simply put, tradition and stability. This is a conference deep in tradition and anchored by some of the game's most storied and successful programs, including Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. In addition to a rich history, the conference also has strengthened itself in a time of change in college football that has left some teams and conferences uncertain about their future. Already armed with its own TV network, the Big Ten has expanded and added programs like Nebraska, which brings a rich tradition of its own, and more recently Rutgers and Maryland, which will join in 2014 and expand the recruiting base into the New Jersey/New York and Maryland/D.C. areas. There are some weak spots that the conference needs to strengthen to help itself on the recruiting trail, but the conference has a strong history behind it and a strong, stable path ahead of it.

Overall view of conference: Ohio State and Michigan are once again powers on the recruiting trail under new, strong leadership. The Wolverines under Brady Hoke's guidance finished with the sixth-ranked class for 2013 and currently sit in the top spot in the 2014 class rankings. Ohio State, now led by Urban Meyer, finished with the No. 3 class for 2013 and posted a 12-0 record for the 2012 season. (A postseason ban due to NCAA sanctions dulled some the impact the Buckeyes' season could have had on the conference.) Improving on the national perception of the conference can aid in recruiting and can come with another strong season by the Buckeyes, followed this time by postseason success.

In general, the conference can begin to push away some negative perceptions with more consistent success during the season and in the postseason. The talent pool isn't going to change greatly for the Big Ten, as much of it will continue to be found in the Southeast, Texas and California, but the league has increased its talent pool some with the additions of Rutgers and Maryland. More success on the national stage by more members of the conference, including the Buckeyes and the Wolverines, could provide a boost for the conference as a whole in recruiting.