In the cold, dark ages before Periscope, when dinosaurs and Tim Beckman roamed the Earth, you could drive a semi in the gap between the recruiting hauls in the Big Ten and the SEC.
The winter of 2014 saw The Waffle House Bubble gobble up, according to 247 Sports’ composite rankings, 19 5-star prospects and a whopping 118 4-stars collectively. The Big Ten responded with … let’s see … four. And … ummmm … 50.
Make that two semis. And a pterosaur.
“To catch the SEC in recruiting may be tough, but Ohio State won the national title a few years ago with, I think, 15 or 16 starters being from the Midwest,” Allen Trieu, Midwest recruiting manager for Scout.com, told Land of 10. “So you don’t have to recruit with the SEC to win, but you do have to win some of the battles and I think schools are starting to do that.”
Which brings us to the good news coming out of National Signing Day 2017, at least north of the Missouri/Iowa line: The gap is more like a party bus now.
A skinny, fun party bus. With a keg in the back and a wicked speaker system.
On the whole, the 4-star scorecard is still a little dicey, with the SEC collecting 92, according to 247’s rankings, compared to the Big Ten’s 59. But 3 Yards And A Cloud of Dust is making up ground, surely but slowly. Especially on the 5-star front, where the board reads SEC: 11, Big Ten: 8.
And thank you, Urban Meyer.
The Big Ten as of early Wednesday afternoon had landed respective John Hancocks of eight 5-stars — with more than half (five) pledging to Ohio State. Of the Buckeyes’ 21 signees, 19 were rated as a 4-star or better, giving the class of 2017 the sort of insane per-recruit efficiency that puts the Moneyball boys to shame.
“Twelve players in the Scout 100, six 5-stars,” offered Brandon Huffman, Scout.com’s national recruiting director. “More than Alabama, who is (our) No. 1. Big-time players at just about every position. A wide net cast nationally to bring that class in.”
The haul encompasses eight states in all, including five studs from Texas. But here’s the crazy part: That was just the tip. The rest of the iceberg brought the goods to the party, too, and like never before.
“I think it’s largely due to Ohio State and Michigan,” Huffman continued. “But Maryland, Nebraska and Penn State all have very good classes, with at least nine 4-stars each. So while Michigan and Ohio State did much of the heavy lifting, the rest of the conference did their part. It was a strong year on the field for the Big Ten and this recruiting cycle validates that further.”
By 247’s count, 10 different Big Ten schools roped at least one 4-star prospect. The Michigan Wolverines, as you’d expect, hauled in 18 all by themselves. Rutgers, which you wouldn’t, snatched three. Of the 14 staffs trying to nail the closing kick, 11 wound up with a class that ranked inside both 247’s and Scout’s national top 50.
That’s not just distance.
“(The Buckeyes have) always recruited well, so they’re about where they were,” Trieu said. “I think it’s schools like Maryland, Minnesota, Illinois, Nebraska, et cetera, recruiting at a higher level this year that has the conference up compared to past years.
“Eleven of the 14 (classes) being in the (Scout) top 50 is more than we’ve had in the past. Not a ton more, but it’s more, so I think it’s safe to say this was an up year for the Big Ten.”
The trend lines agree:
Big Ten average recruit ranking, 247 Sports
2014: .8403 / 50 4-stars and 5-stars
2015: .8516 / 51 4-stars and 5-stars
2016: .8533 / 65 4-stars and 5-stars
2017: .8608 / 67 4-stars and 5-stars
Thank you, Jim Harbaugh.
Thank you, James Franklin.
Thank you, DJ Durkin.
Thank you, Chris Ash.
Thank you, Lovie Smith.
Thank you, P.J. Fleck.
“Ohio State definitely had a lot to do with that and Michigan, too,” Trieu said. “But Iowa had a 5-star and a 4-star, Penn State had a 4-star. Maryland, Illinois, Wisconsin, Rutgers, Michigan State, Northwestern and Minnesota all had 4-stars in their class, too, so everyone chipped in to help the conference have its best recent finish.”
The Buckeyes always seem to have one eye — along with the rest of us — on Nick Saban and the Alabama machine. Eventually, it filters down to the rest of the gentleman’s club: Get with the picture, or get left behind. Your call.
Power 5 2017 classes by average recruit ranking, 247 Sports
SEC: .8775 / 103 4-stars and 5-star
Pac-12: .8674 / 52 4-stars and 5-stars
Big Ten: .8608 / 67 4-stars and 5-stars
ACC: .8575 / 51 4-stars and 5-stars
Big 12: .8500 / 32 4-stars and 5-stars
“Exposure alone can help, but can only do so much,” Trieu said. “Rutgers hired a great coach in Chris Ash, Illinois hired a great coach in Lovie Smith, Minnesota has a dynamite recruiter in P.J. Fleck, and Northwestern has a great coach in Pat Fitzgerald and (the Wildcats) have continued to get to bowl games. So, in general, I think the steps those schools have taken to better their programs add to the exposure more than the other way around.”
And better to feed the beast than deny its existence. As recently as three winters ago, the SEC per-recruit ranking was .8785 to the Big Ten’s .8403. The margin in 2017 was a more palatable .8775 to .8608, the work of many hands, pounding the pavement. In the sales game, you have to crawl before you can beg.