The sky is blue, the Earth is round and when you have better players, you win more games.
Certainly, winning big in college football takes great coaching, enormous support staffs, state-of-the-art training facilities and plenty of luck. But whoever has the most talented roster, has a head start in the race for conference and national championships.
National Signing Day 2016 gave us more than 4,000 new players to root for and track over the next four or five seasons. So which teams are in the best shape for 2016?
College Football Podcast: 2016 National Signing Day Recap
Below are the national recruiting ranking averages for Big Ten schools over the last five classes according to 247Sports Team Composite rankings and each team's record over the last five 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 2016:
What We Learned:
Not So Fast
Many have been quick to point to Michigan or Michigan State as the front-runner in the Big Ten in 2016. However, one team stands head-and-shoulders above the rest of the league in terms of talent and that team is Ohio State. Urban Meyer has the No. 2-ranked roster in the nation behind only Alabama and is the only B1G team ranked in the top 14. Michigan has closed the gap (and will continue to do so) and the Spartans are surging on the trail, but OSU still owns the Midwest talent pipeline.
Mark Dantonio does things his way and he needs players who buy into that. But if he can get guys that are bigger, stronger, faster AND willing to buy in, his team will be in better shape. Michigan State has turned all of those recent wins, conference titles and big-time bowl berths into back-to-back 22nd-rated classes. Both of which, on paper, would be the best of the Dantonio era in East Lansing. Subsequently, Michigan State moved from fifth in the league in talent last fall to third in 2016.
Time to Win
Penn State is tied with the Spartans (27.4) for the third-best roster in the Big Ten. Yet, the Nittany Lions are just 37-26 (22-18) over the last five years. Certainly, scholarship limitations are a huge issue and had slowed James Franklin’s progress. But PSU has as good a roster as nearly everyone in this league and the wins need to come after back-to-back top-20 classes.
Mike Riley has a tough job on his hands when it comes to recruiting. Once prospects are on campus in Lincoln, it isn’t hard to sell Nebraska football. It’s one of the greatest programs in the game. However, getting players to campus on their own dime is nearly impossible. Which actually makes the 24th-rated class something of a victory for Riley in his first full cycle. Nebraska is fifth in the league and 29th nationally in terms of talent — which may be the current reality of modern recruiting at Nebraska.
Iowa’s 2015 year came out of nowhere and almost led to a Big Ten title — like most of Kirk Ferentz’ most memorable seasons. However, the reason Iowa cannot sustain long-term, elite-level success is simple. The Hawkeyes don’t have the overall talent to compete. No coach can be expected to compete for championships with the 11th-most talented roster in any league much less one of the B1G’s caliber. Indiana, Rutgers and Northwestern have better players — which is shocking.
Kommitment to Kevin
Indiana hasn’t won a ton of games under Kevin Wilson but it’s clear that the program is committed to their guy. Wilson got the Hoosiers to a bowl game and enters 2016 with the eighth-best roster in the league — up two spots from 10th last year. The East Division is a bloodbath but Indiana has the right guy in Wilson and it’s nice to see the program commit to him.
Despite pockets of historical success, it’s hard to win at Minnesota and Illinois in the modern recruiting era. And elevating interim coaches to full-time positions isn’t normally the way to go about building a program. Bill Cubit feels like a stop gap at Illinois and Tracy Claeys doesn’t bring a lot of upside to the table in Minneapolis. Both may be excellent coordinators but both will have to prove themselves in a big way on the recruiting trail before new athletic directors get to town.
College Football Podcast: 2016 Coaching Carousel