Both on the field and on the recruiting trail, Ohio State is starting to distance itself from the rest of the Big Ten
Anyone who doubted what Ohio State could do going into the 2019 college football season with a new head coach must have forgotten just how much talent was on the roster. It did not take long to prove any doubters wrong as the Buckeyes ripped through their schedule flexing their muscles in a variety of ways. Even with some notable departures to the NFL this year, the 2020 season should not be much different in Columbus as Ohio State will once again bring the most overall talent to the field in the Big Ten.
Of course, talent only gets you so far, and there are some viable threats Ohio State will have to deal with this season. Michigan will once again be full of talent and potential, but the Wolverines have to find ways to mix things up a bit to be a legitimate threat to the Buckeyes. Penn State has played Ohio State as well as anyone in the conference the last few years but has shown that lacking a key playmaker is what holds them back against Ohio State.
Out in the Big Ten West, Nebraska continues to lead the way when it comes to the composite team rankings, but Wisconsin has been the model of excellence in the division and is now pulling in some of the best classes the program has had in a while.
Below are the national recruiting ranking averages for Big Ten schools over the last five (2106-20) classes according to 247Sports' Composite Team Rankings and each team's record over the last five (2015-19) seasons. Obviously, this doesn't take into account attrition but, over time, this should be considered relatively even across the conference.
Ranking the Big Ten's College Football Rosters in 2020
New coach? No problem. Ohio State still ahead of the pack
Urban Meyer raised the bar for Ohio State when it came to recruiting, but Ryan Day has shown the Buckeyes are not about to skip a beat. Ohio State just pulled in another top-five recruiting class, its fourth in the last five seasons. Ohio State may be sending a bunch of talent off to the NFL, but Day has this program stocked and ready to keep chugging forward as the best team in the Big Ten form top to bottom.
Michigan and Penn State battle for second
The Wolverines and Nittany Lions have each established themselves as the clear No. 2 teams in the Big Ten when it comes to assembling talent, both coming in behind Ohio State. Jim Harbaugh has had the higher-rated recruiting classes overall compared to James Franklin at Penn State, but Franklin has been the more successful head coach between the two over the past five seasons. Penn State’s recruiting rankings have actually dipped each of the past two years and Penn State has seen a couple of five-star players leave through the transfer portal. But it’s pretty clear both Michigan and Penn State know how to hit the recruiting trail.
Wisconsin trending up
It may be easy for most to overlook what Paul Chryst has been doing since becoming the head coach in Madison, but there is a reason the Badgers remain the top threat in the Big Ten West year in and year out. Wisconsin is coming off back-to-back recruiting classes ranked in the top 30. The only other school in the Big Ten West that can claim that is...
Nebraska remains steady, but needs on-field results too
Nebraska may still be in a bit more complex rebuilding process than many realized, but Scott Frost has continued to bring in recruiting classes consistently pulling a top 25 ranking. Nebraska always seems to be floating in the area of the No. 20 to No. 25 spot, as has been the case, but the 2020 season will be imperative to make some more progress on the field and in the win column.
Can Greg Schiano reverse the fortunes at Rutgers?
Recruiting in the Big Ten East is fierce when having to go up against Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. And recruiting players to come to one of the conference’s cellar-dwellers is no easy task, so the reunion between Rutgers and Greg Schiano is facing an uphill climb in New Jersey. Schiano has generated some excitement about Rutgers that has long been missing with some key transfers, but it will be up to the head coach to start locking in some of that in-state talent and preventing them from leaving for other options in the Big Ten and along the east coast.
Illinois still trending down?
Illinois is coming off its first bowl game under Lovie Smith, and the Illini have a pretty good young nucleus to look forward to, but the team ranking took a major nosedive this year. Illinois fell 25 spots in the composite ranking from last year, which is a surprising development considering the success and steps forward the Illini experienced in 2019.
Teams to watch
Keep a close eye on Minnesota. P.J. Fleck continues to see his stock rise, so any possible departure for another opportunity could throw a hurdle at the progress being made improving the roster. The situation at Michigan State is also worth watching as a coaching change leads to a new era. The Spartans have trended in the wrong direction over the last five years and cannot afford to lose much more ground to their division rivals.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.