Recruiting in college football is downright nasty. It is a cutthroat, cannibalistic big business that is microscopically analyzed by fans, administrators and media members alike. The Big Ten's recruiting trail is chalked full of intriguing storylines. Coaches on the hot seat struggling, a host of new coaching staffs are getting adjusted, Nebraska is beginning to flex its recruiting muscle and two historic programs are setting an entirely new bar.
Urban vs. Brady
Big Ten recruiting has become a distinctive two-horse race. Michigan and Ohio State have long been the best two programs and two most powerful brands in the Big Ten, but the new coaches have taken it to a new level. Brady Hoke has the Maize and Blue back in the top five nationally in just two seasons and Urban Meyer has the Buckeyes competing for recruiting national championships after just one season in Columbus. And there appears no reason to think that this trend will slow down any time soon. The rest of the league — even Nebraska and Penn State — has been left scrambling to keep up with the big boys from Michigan and Ohio State.
Bill O’Brien works small miracles
In the face of the worst NCAA scandal in history and unprecedented heavy-handed sanctions, O’Brien put together one of the most impressive classes in the nation. Christian Hackenberg has a good chance at being the best quarterback in the nation and might even turn out to be the best player in the nation regardless of position. The fact this was a small group at only 17 total signees but still landed fourth in the Big Ten is impressive and to nearly land in the top 30 nationally with the swirling negativity in Happy Valley is astonishing. O'Brien also deserves credit for sticking around when he clearly had offers to return to the NFL.
Bo’s best Big Red class
Nebraska recruiting during the Internet era (since 2002) hasn’t been up to par with past Cornhuskers success on the field. And Bo Pelini’s classes haven’t been top 25 groups with the exception of the 2011 haul (17th nationally). In fact, the 2013 class tied that year as Pelini’s best recruiting class during his five-year tenure in Lincoln (17th). Otherwise, his classes have consistently ranked much lower than one would expect from Nebraska: 37th in 2008, 33rd in 2009, 31st in 2010 and 26th in 2012. The last three have easily been the best with two top 20 classes in three years. Perhaps, Big Red recruiting has turned a corner.
Sneaky good class for Kevin Wilson
Indiana has ranked no better than 59th nationally (2009, '11) in the last five classes and has been ranked as low as 92nd (2010). The Hoosiers average an 11th place finish in Big Ten recruiting rankings and have an average national rank of 70.8 over the last five seasons. But in 2013, Kevin Wilson’s staff made quite a statement by finishing seventh in the league and 46th nationally. This is the best IU class in recent memory and it should only continue the positive momentum for this team after improving from one to four wins in 2012.
Bad timing for Kirk Ferentz
The embattled Iowa head coach is making a whole lot of money — roughly $3.65 million per season — to be losing eight games a year. So the timing of this below average recruiting class for Ferentz couldn’t have been worse. The Hawkeyes average a sixth place finish in Big Ten in recruiting over the last five years, so claiming the 10th-rated class in the league this fall won’t sit well with the fans. The 53rd-rated class in the nation has to be considered a disappointment after three straight solid classes, including the No. 30-ranked group in 2011.
2013 Athlon Sports Big Ten Team Recruiting Rankings: