From Scott in Akron, Ohio: Do you think the reason the Big Ten is struggling is more on recruiting or coaching?
When you think of the Big Ten, you think of three traditional powers: Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. There are eight other schools in the league, but it's these three teams that make up the bedrock of the Big Ten.
The Buckeyes, Wolverines and Nittany Lions are three of the top six college football programs in terms of all-time victories. Michigan checks in at No. 1 with 877 wins. Ohio State (818) is No. 5, and Penn State (811) is No. 6. They have won and shared the majority of the Big Ten titles and 14 national championships since 1936 (when The Associated Press poll started).
The league started in 1896 with Wisconsin, Northwestern, Michigan, Chicago, Minnesota, Illinois and Purdue as its charter members. Indiana and Iowa joined the Big Ten in 1899. Ohio State joined in 1912, while Chicago left after the 1939 season. Michigan State entered the Big Ten in 1950, giving the league 10 members again. Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993.
That's your Big Ten history lesson. Now to the question: Why has the conference struggled of late?
The first thing I thought of was recruiting. The landscape of recruiting comes down to some key states that feed most of the college football world (Texas, California, Florida, Ohio, Georgia, etc.). After Texas, California and Florida, there's a big drop-off. Over the past two recruiting seasons Texas has produced 709 Division I signees. Florida (621) is No. 2 and California (455) is No. 3. Rounding out the top 10 are Ohio (305), Georgia (295), Louisiana (158), Alabama (152), Pennsylvania (134), Michigan (119) and North Carolina (116).
What does this mean for the Big Ten? It means it is fishing from a smaller pool of recruits. Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Illinois have produced a combined 661 Division I prospects over the past two years. Over the same two-year period, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Alabama have produced 1,226 Division I signees. That's almost double.
Many of the Big Ten teams supplement their state and regional recruiting by going south or venturing east or west. I would imagine that this league had more success doing that prior to this decade. Over the past 10 years the SEC has gotten better and deeper, Texas has become a power and USC has dominated West Coast recruiting. This has made Big Ten recruiting in those areas more difficult. Therefore, Big Ten teams are not pulling the same caliber of prospects compared to what they were pulling back in the day.
Let's take state talent to another level. Over the past four NFL drafts (2006-09), the Midwest (Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana and Iowa) has had 139 draft picks, including 15 first-round picks. By comparison, the South (Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky and South Carolina) has had 287 picks, including 37 first-round picks. The East (North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland/D.C., Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and the northeastern states) has had 173 picks with 31 first- round draft picks. The Midlands (Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas and New Mexico) has had 167 picks with 21 first-round draft picks, and the West (California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Nevada, etc.) has had 192 draft picks with 15 first-round picks.
If you break things down by state, California has the most with 132 draft picks over that time frame, followed by Texas (115), Florida (88), Ohio (52) and Georgia (51). Rounding out the top 10 are Louisiana (39), Virginia (38), North Carolina (33), Alabama (32) and Michigan (28). Those are almost the same 10 states that produce the most Division I college signees. Only Pennsylvania is missing.
That's a lot of numbers to digest. But as you can see, the Midwest lags behind the rest of the country in NFL draft pick production. It's this region that feeds the Big Ten, and it's mainly the Big Ten that feeds the NFL from this part of the country. Here's where it gets interesting. The Big Ten conference has produced 126 NFL draft picks since 2006. That puts the Big Ten only behind the SEC and ACC, which have had 148 each. Meanwhile, the Big Ten has more drafts picks over the past four years than the Pac-10 (124), Big 12 (114) and Big East (74).
On one hand you have the Midwest region not producing as many high school football prospects as compared to other pockets of the country. Yet, from these prospects, the Big Ten does a nice job overall of producing NFL talent. It's comes as no surprise that USC leads the way 37 drafts picks since 2006. Second is Ohio State with 26, while LSU is third with 24. Penn State (18), Michigan (17), Wisconsin (14), Purdue (12) and Iowa (12) also have double-digit draft picks in that time frame.
But you can't measure the success or failures of a program or conference by the number of players they put in the NFL. It's about winning.
The Big Ten is 9-20 in bowl games since the 2005 bowl season, including 2-6 in BCS bowls. Overall, the Big Ten is 24-38 in bowl games this decade. By contrast, the SEC is 22-10 since the 2005 bowl season, including 5-2 in BCS bowls and 38-27 in bowls this decade.
This season the Big Ten is 31-10 in non-conference games but only 4-8 against non-conference BCS schools. Illinois lost to Cincinnati and Missouri, Ohio State lost to USC, Indiana lost to Virginia, Northwestern lost to Syracuse, Michigan State lost to Notre Dame and Central Michigan, Minnesota lost to Cal, Purdue lost to Oregon, Notre Dame and Northern Illinois. The best non-conference wins this season for the Big Ten were Iowa beating Arizona, Minnesota and Penn State beating Syracuse and Michigan beating Notre Dame.
This follows the pattern we have seen develop this decade in the Big Ten.
I do think it hurts the league that, for the most part, three teams dominate in Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan. Texas and Oklahoma have dominated the Big 12 for this decade, but that conference is more than two teams deep. USC has obviously dominated the Pac-10, but there are other very good programs in the league like Oregon, Cal and Oregon State. The SEC is deep as ever, while the ACC and Big East have been getting better and deeper over the past few seasons.
In the Big Ten it doesn't seem as if any team, other than possibly Wisconsin, plays with any kind of consistency. Northwestern will have a great season every now and then. So will Purdue, Iowa, Michigan State or Illinois. Minnesota is up and coming. But there have been only three consistent teams in this conference. And right now, Michigan is going through a complete transition.
The perception of the Big Ten is that the conference is down. Certainly Ohio State losing two BCS championship games in a row has hurt. It hurt even worse in the respect that the games weren't even close. So the perception is the Big Ten is slow and not as athletic as some of the other conferences in college football. People say if Ohio State gets beat badly, what does that say for the conference if the Buckeyes are the top dog? What does that say about their conference bowl record or their conference record against BCS schools?
Some say where the league lacks talent is at the skill positions. There are some very good college offenses in the Big Ten, but not one Big Ten team or individual player is in the top 10 in any offensive categories?
What about the "it" factor? Does the Big Ten have "it". We are in a "now" society, especially with teenagers. These players want to go play for the hot school or coach. Who are those schools and coaches? It's Pete Carroll and USC. It's Urban Meyer and Florida. It's Lane Kiffin and Tennessee. It's Mack Brown and Texas. It's Bob Stoops and Oklahoma. I am not saying that Ohio State and the other schools that make up the Big Ten can't recruit. The Buckeyes and Wolverines can recruit with just about anyone. Look at Penn State. The Nittany Lions are sitting at No. 3 overall in the current national team recruiting rankings.
But do you think the public's perception of the Big Ten or any members of the league have that "it" factor right now?
The question asked as to why this conference was struggling. Is it recruiting? Yeah. I think that's one reason of it and probably a real big reason, especially after looking at all the numbers above. The coaching in the league is fine. At the end of the day, I just think it's about getting the players and there are more of them down south and out west.