NCF On The Trail: Brady Hoke

Michigan commit Garrett Taylor will visit Ohio State, Penn State and Virginia Tech, but keep a close eye on the Buckeyes. Plus, LSU’s elite running back class is starting to fall apart.

UA jersey tour: Garrett Taylor

October, 15, 2014
Oct 15
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RICHMOND, Va. -- Garrett Taylor looked out at the crowd in the chapel at St. Christopher’s High School before his Under Armour All-America Game jersey presentation ceremony. At first he let out a sigh of frustration and shook his head slightly, but eventually he started to smile.

For Taylor, Wednesday’s ceremony created some bittersweet emotions. Taylor, the nation’s No. 111 player and 10th-best cornerback prospect, suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice earlier this season. The follow up surgery is keeping him off the football field for another four or five months. And while the honor of being recognized as one of the best high school football players in America makes him “thank God every day,” he also admits he’s frustrated because the injury won’t allow him to play in the prestigious all-star game.

“It's been pretty tough,” said Taylor, a longtime Michigan commitment who continues to look at Ohio State, Penn State and Virginia Tech. “All you do over the summer is lifting, running and doing all that, being with the team and getting ready for the season. Then it's gone in a second. I've had my family there keep me in good spirits.

“But I'm looking at it in a good way now. I'm taking this as an opportunity to challenge myself. I have to do everything I can to overcome it. My goal is to come back even stronger and once I do step on the field I want to prove to people I haven't lost anything. It's a chance to prove myself again.”

Unfortunately Taylor knows that chance won’t come at the UA Game, though. He will travel to the event and get to spend some time at the practices leading up to the game, but he’s disappointed he won’t get the opportunity to work with high-level coaches and against the best receivers in the country.


“That’s something I’m going to really miss,” he said. “I knew in the past they had Deion Sanders coaching and some other great coaches. I’m still going to try to learn from those guys, but I’ll just have to do it off the field. I was also hoping to challenge myself and see how I can do against some good receivers. Guess, that’ll have to wait until I get to college.”

What uniform he’ll be wearing when he does that is something that is still up in the air.

Taylor still calls himself a Michigan commitment, but he admits Brady Hoke’s uncertain future in Ann Arbor has him looking at Ohio State, Penn State and Virginia Tech. He’ll take official visits to Blacksburg on Oct. 23, Columbus on Nov. 22, and Happy Valley on Nov. 29.

“It's a little shaky up in Ann Arbor,” said Taylor, who committed to the Wolverines in March. “The program isn't where Coach Hoke wants it to be. It's definitely not where the fans want it to be. There's definitely some pressure on him. For me and my family, I want to make sure we have other options, just in case Coach Hoke gets fired, in case something goes terribly wrong this season. We want to make sure we have other options, and that's why I'm taking my officials.”
Tim Beckman is 1-17 in Big Ten games and questions about his future has hindered the Illini's recruiting efforts. Plus, Georgia Tech has surprised both on the field and on the recruiting trial.


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With Brandon Wimbush switching to Notre Dame, where does Penn State turn to fill its need at quarterback? Plus, why should Washington State feel like it has a shot with an ESPN 300 prospect from Washington, D.C.?


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Early Offer: Why MSU going big in 2015 

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
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What happens when you have a large senior class about to graduate? You target a large recruiting class like Mississippi State is in 2015. Michigan’s recruiting remains in chaos, as another Wolverine commit is having second thoughts.


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Auburn hasn’t been given too much of a chance to land coveted receiver Christian Kirk, but the Tigers’ chances are better than most think. Plus, Michigan lost a key defensive recruit, and don’t be surprised if more are to follow.


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Michigan’s efforts on the recruiting trail aren’t going anywhere until something changes. Plus, whoever ends up getting the Kansas job must do whatever he can to keep quarterback Ryan Willis on board.


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Unlike the ACC or SEC, the Big Ten hasn't taken an official position on an early signing period. Many Big Ten coaches see the benefits, but there has been no united front.

Here's a bit of advice: The Big Ten coaches should band together about an urgent recruiting item, but not the early signing period.

The Big Ten must campaign for official visits to be moved up. No other league is affected more by population shifts that have created dense pockets of top recruits located far from its footprint. The Big Ten is expanding its recruiting reach, especially to the Southeast, but its proximity to many talent bases remains a significant obstacle.

If the Big Ten can't get prospects to its campuses before decisions are made, it will continue to fall behind in the recruiting race.

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
AP Photo/Nati HarnikEarlier official visits would be a boon to Bo Pelini and Nebraska, as the Cornhuskers have to recruit nationally because of a limited local talent base.
"The first thing we have to do is get kids on campus earlier," Michigan coach Brady Hoke told ESPN.com. "I'm sure our friends in the Pac-12 and the SEC would rather not that be the case. They'd rather have kids come in to Ann Arbor if it's winter.

"But I think it would help the guys from distance and the guys from those climates to come on campus to see what it is like."

NCAA rules state that prospects can't begin taking their five official visits -- paid for by the schools -- until the start of their senior year in high school. But many recruits make their college choices much earlier.

The accelerated recruiting cycle has minimized the significance of official visits. Many prospects commit after taking unofficial visits, for which they pay their own way. But the distance between Big Ten schools and the highest concentrations of elite prospects makes it challenging for recruits and their families to fund long, expensive trips.

"Since the trend is for early commitments, it makes sense that it favors schools located in population bases that produce a lot of players," said Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo, a former coach at Indiana, LSU and Vanderbilt. "So how do you combat that? How does a kid from Atlanta get to Lincoln, Nebraska, in the summer on their own expense?"

DiNardo views Nebraska as the FBS school most impacted by accelerated recruiting cycle. Nebraska always has recruited nationally because of its small local population base, but former coach Tom Osborne -- "a tireless recruiter," DiNardo said -- capitalized on the fact that recruits made their choices after an official visit to Lincoln.

Huskers coach Bo Pelini acknowledges earlier official visits "would help us."

"When you take official visits away from the equation, it really hurts a place like Nebraska," DiNardo said. "So early signing day has to be partnered up with official visits in a prospect's junior year.

"If just the date moves up without official visits, it sets the Big Ten even further behind."

DiNardo notes that a program such as Ohio State is less affected by the official visits timetable because it has a large local talent base that can easily reach its campus. But other Big Ten programs must cast a wider recruiting net.

It's especially true for programs in the western part of the league: Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

"It gives some of the schools that aren't surrounded by a lot of schools or a lot of places, it gives us a chance," Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. "But I don't know if that's going to happen or not. People in Texas aren't going to vote for that because they never have to leave Texas."

Most Big Ten coaches interviewed by ESPN.com favor earlier official visits but want clear guidelines. One question is timing.

Several coaches mention late May or early June as the ideal time because many recruits already are touring schools unofficially and most staffs are conducting on-campus camps.

"With the way people are traveling around right now, it might be good to afford a prospect to take a couple of visits in June," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Also, I think it'd be great to afford at least a parent the opportunity to join that prospect and make it part of the official trip."

Coaches say the parental component is critical.

"Sometimes kids just don't have the means to be able to get here, and they definitely don't have the means to have their parents come," Pelini said. "Hopefully, they'll change that. It's too big of a decision for a 17-year-old or 18-year-old kid to make without his parents or somebody being there."

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesMark Dantonio wants an early official-visit period, but would prefer for it to be in a limited window instead of spanning the entire spring and summer.
Both Pelini and Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio want a limit on the number of official visitors schools could have in the spring. FBS teams can provide up to 56 official visits, but Dantonio rarely uses more than half of the allotment.

"It's not just carte blanche," Dantonio said. "I would make it a two-week window and cap those numbers."

Allowing 10-20 early official visits could work. Dantonio and Pelini also think prospects should be allowed to take multiple official visits to the same school.

Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen favors an earlier signing date in December, but he needs more clarity on official visits -- when they would take place, and for how long.

"I have to look at quality of life for my coaches," Andersen said. "Are we willing to take 4-5 weeks away in the summer? I don’t want to do that."

Added Purdue coach Darrell Hazell: "You lose your life. The month of July, you need a little bit of decompression time."

The first two weeks in June makes the most sense. Create a dead period in July so coaches can take time off.

It also doesn't mean official visits in September and October will stop. Andersen can talk about Wisconsin's "Jump Around" and show videos, but, he said, "there’s nothing like being there."

Big Ten teams still will have the chance to showcase their stadiums, facilities and campuses during football season. But they can't afford to wait that long for far-flung prospects to arrive, especially when they can afford to bring them in sooner.

"It would help everybody," Hoke said. "The other conferences aren’t just staying in their region, either."

That's true, but the Big Ten has the most to gain, and pushing for change won't be easy.

"If that thing ever goes to a vote, everybody is going to say is that the Big Ten is just complaining," Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said. "They'll keep rallying their troops because they want to keep those kids at home."

The Big Ten coaches must rally, too. Otherwise, the recruiting gap will widen.

Momentum seems to be building for creating an early signing period in college football. The Conference Commissioners Association will discuss the idea as part of its agenda at a meeting later this month.

As with many things in life, the devil is in the details. The ACC recommended an early signing date of Aug. 1. The SEC at its meetings last month came out against changing the recruiting calendar, but would like to use the Monday after Thanksgiving if an early signing period does happen.

The Big Ten has not endorsed a specific stance on an early signing date as a conference. Based on interviews given to ESPN.com and other media outlets, most league coaches are in favor of it. Again, though, preferences on the when and the how differ.

Several coaches support the junior college signing period of mid-December as the right time to allow high school prospects who don't want to wait until February to sign their national letters of intent.

[+] EnlargeKirk Ferentz
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsIowa's Kirk Ferentz is among the Big Ten coaches who favor an early signing period after the regular season.
"To me, that would be the perfect time," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said last summer. "I still don't understand the resistance. All it is is an opportunity to sign. They don't have to sign. I don't think anyone is going to lose a scholarship. It just gives everyone a chance to lay their cards on the table and say, 'I'm 100 percent sure now' or, 'Still not quite there.' That would be great for both parties, I think."

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, Wisconsin's Gary Andersen and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio are among others who back an early signing period in December.

"It sure would clear up recruiting for a lot of us," Andersen told ESPN.com. "In my opinion, if a kid's committed, let's have him go to the school where he wants to go, and we'll move on in recruiting and get the guys we want. I think it's the most logical answer."

A possible downside of having the early signing period in December would be that it puts more pressure on coaches to concentrate on recruiting late in the season, when championships could be on the line, or during bowl preparation. In-season recruiting pressures would grow even higher with the SEC's post-Thanksgiving recommendation.

Most who favor an early signing period say their schools and coaching staffs are spending too much valuable time, money and energy trying to re-recruit players who might have signed earlier. That's why some coaches, such as Indiana's Kevin Wilson, support a signing date before or right at the beginning of the season.

"I had guys who were committed in the summer who in the last weekend [before the February signing date] changed their minds," Wilson told ESPN.com. "It would be nice if there was an early signing period on the first of September. I don't know if we've got to move the calendar up, but we waste a lot of time and a lot of money babysitting kids who have made their decisions."

Michigan is one school that could have benefited in recent seasons from an early signing period. The Wolverines have sewn up the majority of their classes under Brady Hoke in the summer before the prospects' senior year of high school. Hoke's staff could have locked up those commitments and focused on filling out the final few spots or moving on to the following year's class.

Hoke would like to see an early signing date, but with a caveat.

"If there's an early signing period, there probably needs to be an early visitation period for those kids," he told ESPN.com. "Maybe the first two weeks in June to get on your campus."

That's a big deal for Big Ten coaches, who would love to see prospects be able to take official visits before the start of their senior year. An early signing date without an earlier visit calendar could put the league at a disadvantage against schools in more talent-rich areas. (We'll look more closely at this issue on Thursday in the blog.)

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesNebraska's Bo Pelini says allowing earlier official visits must be a part of any move toward an early signing period.
Nebraska's Bo Pelini has said he would not support an earlier signing date without those earlier visits (and even then, he said he would need more time to study the issue). Schools such as Nebraska and Minnesota, which are farther away from talent-rich hubs, simply wouldn't see many benefits to an early signing day if the rest of the recruiting calendar remained the same. Players in blue chip-heavy areas -- such as the South, Texas and California -- would be more apt to take unofficial visits at schools closer to home and then could get pressured into signing before they ever made a trip up north.

Ohio State under Urban Meyer has thrived during the final weeks of recruiting before the February signing day, as his staff has built a reputation of being great "closers." So it's no surprise that Meyer was one of three SEC coaches to vote against a proposal to support an early signing date in 2008, when he was still at Florida. Meyer said at the time that "recruiting should be done in December, January and February. I think [an early date] speeds up 17- and 18-year-olds to make a decision that affects the rest of their lives."

Maryland's Randy Edsall has proposed that schools shouldn't even send out any type of scholarship offer until Sept. 1 of a high school prospect's senior year in high school, and then those offers would come from the university's admissions office, not the coaches. That would slow things way down and make sure prospects have achieved the necessary test scores and admission standards. Yet Edsall also said this spring that if recruiting continues at its current accelerated pace, that "there definitely has to be an early signing period."

There are other issues with the early signing date, including what protection the players would have if the coach left for another job after they signed. Plus plans change in recruiting all the time.

"I see the pluses and the minuses with it," Dantonio told ESPN.com. "If you have a committed guy and he signs with you, he truly is committed. That’s a positive. I also think if you take one quarterback and he thinks he’s the only one, and all of a sudden you take two, how does that all play out?

"I do think it keeps people from poaching off you, whether it be us poaching off somebody or somebody else [poaching]. It makes people hold to their word. If they don't want to sign then, they’re still open, and you know they’re open. But I would make it a mid-December type deal. I’m not in favor of August; I'm not in favor of September. I'm in favor of, ‘They've had a chance to at least visit and be on campus a couple places, so they have a feel.’”

College football does appear headed for an early signing date soon, if only the details can get ironed out.

"We get into these discussions, and everybody kind of has their own agenda of what's in the best interests for their school," Penn State coach James Franklin told ESPN.com. "But for a lot of different reasons, an early signing period makes sense for everybody."
Penn State's blistering start to 2015 recruiting under new coach James Franklin has a familiar feel for Michigan fans.

In recent years Michigan has been the Big Ten school to get a jump on the upcoming class, racking up verbal commitments well before its conference brethren. Coach Brady Hoke's first full recruiting class in 2012 had 11 players committed by the end of May and 20 commits before the 2011 season kicked off. It was much of the same for both the 2013 class (14 commits by mid-March 2012, 21 before the end of August) and the 2014 class (15 of 16 recruits committed before the 2013 season).

Michigan had established itself as the Big Ten's fast-starter in recruiting.

That title, at least for now, belongs to Penn State, which has 16 verbal commitments for 2015, tied with Clemson for the most nationally. Of the Lions' pledges, eight rank in the ESPN 300, and Penn State is second behind Alabama in 2015 class rankings.

Michigan, meanwhile, has seven commitments, including four in the ESPN 300. The Wolverines picked up a big addition this past weekend in linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr.

The quality is there, but Michigan's recruiting pace is a bit slower this year, as four Big Ten schools -- Penn State, Nebraska, Northwestern and Iowa -- have more pledges. And that's just fine with Hoke.

"It's not a big class, that's one reason," Hoke told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "We haven't been as quick to offer, been as quick on trying to find the right fit. That's a big part of it. When you have 25 or 28 [scholarships], you also need to offer more guys.

"But at the same time, we're real happy with the guys who have made those commitments."

Michigan signed 25 players in 2012 and 27 in 2013. Last year's class was smaller, and Hoke expects Michigan to sign 15 or 16 players in February 2015.

The reduced scholarship pool allows Michigan coaches more opportunities to evaluate prospects they aren't completely sure about. Hoke said his assistants are traveling to states that have high school spring football to scout recruits.

"Trying to make sure that fit is right from an academic, social and athletic standpoint, that's a reason why you want to get as much information as you can," Hoke said.

Michigan's 2015 recruiting pace is a bit slower than in past years, but Hoke is speaking out about his support for an early signing period and earlier official visits. He would like to see an Aug. 1 signing date and official visits allowed in late May and early to mid June. Hoke thinks prospects and their families shouldn't have to shoulder the financial burden of getting to campuses in the spring of the players' junior year.

CBSsports.com reported Tuesday that more than half of the Big Ten recruits in the 2014 class come from areas outside the league's current footprint (Maryland and New Jersey not included).

"It would help everybody," Hoke said. "The other conferences aren't just staying in their region, either. They're all spreading out through the country.

"You've got guys on unofficials and families spending a lot of money. What can we do to help them and help their families?"
In the coming days, I'll take a closer look at whether the Big Ten would benefit from having prospects take official visits earlier, such as at the end of their junior years in high school. It's an idea Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo has championed, and one that makes since because of the accelerated recruiting cycle and the far-flung locations of some Big Ten schools.

Some Big Ten teams might not benefit from earlier official visits. They have no trouble getting recruits to campus and piling up early commits. Others must play the waiting game and make strong pushes before national signing day. Coaching changes can make an impact when teams get verbal commits, as Penn State has learned in recent weeks. Recruits also have been more likely to flip pledges leading up to signing day, forcing some teams to scramble to fill spots.

We're a day away from the big day, and while there are a few key undecided recruits who will make their choices Wednesday, most of the hay is in the barn, so to speak.

When did Big Ten teams get their 2014 recruits to verbally commit? Here's a closer look (as of Monday night):

ILLINOIS

Total commits: 18 (four already have signed)

March-May 2013: 4
June-July: 8
August-September: 0
October: 1
November: 0
December: 4
January: 1
February: 0

INDIANA

Total commits: 25 (six have signed)

March-May 2013: 0
June: 5
July: 4
August: 0
September: 1
October: 3
November: 0
December: 2
January: 6
February: 4

IOWA

Total commits: 21

January-April 2013: 2
June: 5
July: 3
August: 2
September: 1
October: 1
November: 2
December: 1
January: 4

MICHIGAN

Total commits: 16 (seven have signed)

August 2012: 1
February 2013: 3
April-May: 7
June: 3
July: 1
August: 1
September-February: 0

MICHIGAN STATE

Total commits: 21 (two have signed)

August 2012: 1
September 2012: 1
April-May 2013: 5
June: 4
July: 1
August: 1
September: 2
October: 0
November: 1
December: 3
January: 1
February: 1

MINNESOTA

Total commits: 19 (two have signed)

February-April 2013: 3
May: 0
June-July: 3
August: 0
September: 1
October: 1
November: 2
December: 1
January: 6
February: 2

NEBRASKA

Total commits: 26 (two have signed)

March 2013: 1
April-May: 0
June: 7
July: 3
August: 1
September: 0
October: 1
November: 2
December: 2
January: 6
February: 3

NORTHWESTERN

Total commits: 16 (one has enrolled)

March-April 2013: 4
May: 5
June: 1
July-November: 0
December: 3
January: 1
February: 2

OHIO STATE

Total commits: 22 (seven have signed)

December 2012: 1
January-February 2013: 3
March-May: 4
June: 5
July: 2
August: 1
September: 1
October-November: 0
December: 2
January: 3
February: 0

PENN STATE

Total commits: 25 (five have enrolled)

October 2012: 1
February-April 2013: 5
May: 2
June-July: 3
August-September: 0
October: 3
November: 1
December: 1
January: 8
February: 1

PURDUE

Total commits: 20 (two have signed)

May 2013: 2
June: 3
July: 1
August-September: 0
October: 1
November: 1
December: 8
January: 3
February: 1

WISCONSIN

Total commits: 27 (four have signed)

April 2012: 1
August 2012: 1
September 2012: 1
May 2013: 2
June-July: 5
August: 0
September: 2
October: 3
November: 5
December: 3
January: 2
February: 2

Notes/comments
  • The James Franklin effect certainly can be seen in Penn State's class, as all nine recruits who committed in January or February did so after Franklin's hiring on Jan. 11. Franklin flipped several prospects from his former team, Vanderbilt, and also brought in some surprises during a furious push down the stretch.
  • Early recruiting has been a hallmark for Brady Hoke at Michigan, and it's no surprise to see the Wolverines basically done with their 2014 class before the season. Michigan had 21 of its 27 recruits in the 2013 class verbally commit before the 2012 season.
  • Iowa's commit pattern was the steadiest in the league, as the Hawkeyes received at least one pledge every month between June 2013 and January 2014.
  • Nebraska has accelerated its recruiting pace in each of the last two years. The Huskers had just five verbal commits before the season in the 2012 class but doubled that total in the 2013 class and have 12 in the 2014 crop. Nebraska is one of the Big Ten schools that seemingly could benefit from earlier official visits because of its location in relation to recruiting hotbeds.
  • Gary Andersen's first full recruiting class at Wisconsin is a huge one, and Andersen and his staff did much of their work both during and after the 2013 season. Seventeen of Wisconsin's 27 pledges came after the games began.
  • Northwestern stockpiled commits early on and would have been done in mid-December after Parrker Westphal's pledge, but two prospects (Noah Westerfield and Jordan Thomas) decommited last month, forcing the Wildcats to make some late additions.
  • Ohio State's recruiting is following a somewhat familiar pattern under Urban Meyer: strong winter and spring, a few summer pickups, relatively quiet during the season and then a nice push from mid-December to early January. The Buckeyes have landed some of their best prospects late in the process, from 2013 recruits Mike Mitchell and Vonn Bell to 2014 standout Raekwon McMillan.
  • Purdue and Minnesota tend to add the bulk of their commits later in the process. The Boilers added 12 commits in the 2013 class following Darrell Hazell's hiring in early December, and 12 of their 20 commits in this year's class came after Dec. 1. Minnesota picked up nine of its 19 commits in the current class after Dec. 1 -- a similar ratio as it had in the 2013 class.

Early Offer: Difficult dilemma for U-M 

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: A five-star Michigan commit said Tuesday the equivalent of "I think we should start seeing other people,” and Miami could be in position to flip one of the nation’s top running backs.


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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Brady Hoke has pledged a commitment to special teams players. He showed this in the 2013 class by offering a scholarship to long snapper Scott Sypniewski (Ottawa, Ill./Marquette). And it keeps getting better for special teams recruits across the country.

Hoke proved his commitment even further Monday when he extended an offer and accepted a commitment from 2015 kicker Andrew David (Massillon, Ohio/Washington).

“I grew up a Michigan fan,” David said. “My wardrobe and my carpet in my room are maize and blue. It was a lifelong dream to go there and now it’s coming true. It’s awesome.”


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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It’s never a surprise to see Alabama football near the top of any ratings. Nick Saban has a proven track record on the field. That has translated to the recruiting trail as he has pulled in top classes year in and year out, finishing in the top three in recruiting in each of the past five years. He's had the top class for the past two seasons.


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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Now is a time when kids who are sports fans will need explanations for conference names.

They’ll want to know that at one point the “Pac” in Pac-12 (then eight) stands for the Pacific Ocean and that the conference held teams that were near that body of water, and that Arizona and Arizona State, being in deserts, isn’t just irony for the sake of conference humor. Or that the “East” in Big East didn’t initially imply “east of the Mississippi.” Or that something as simple as the Big Ten once truly had 10 teams.

But it’s a sign of the times, and conference realignment is a constant reality for today’s athletes. While the “Ten” in Big Ten is now a misnomer, it still lives up to the “Big” part, and the conference’s territory keeps growing bigger and bigger.


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