For the last two decades or so, the Big Ten conference has been dominated by the three powers at the top in Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State.
In fact, since 1991, one of the three schools has at least had a share of the conference title in 16 of the past 21 years.
Make no mistake about it, this is not a coincidence. While the coaches that have lead those programs have been great in developing their players, preparing their teams for weekly battles, and making in-game decisions, the reason why they can compete year in and year out for conference and national championships is because of recruiting.
Sans a couple of down years for all three universities, the three are usually among the best in the country when it comes to hauling in nationally ranked recruiting classes. With a solid base of prospects in the Midwest (and the east coast for PSU), as well as mixing in some national prospects drawn to the schools for their strong brands, the Buckeyes, Wolverines, and Nittany Lions have been able to sustain their status at the top of the conference.
While the "big three" has dominated of late, there have been a few new faces to the crowd when it comes to success. Wisconsin and Michigan State have done well in recent years, including meeting in the first ever Big Ten Championship last season, while Nebraska has entered the league and is a legitimate contender for the conference crown each and every year.
Despite fumbling away a 6-0 start last season, Illinois is a program with some rich history and tradition that has seemed to be on the verge of turning the corner along with the Badgers and Spartans the last 6-8 years, but has not done so just yet.
While Ron Zook was able to bring in a nice foundation of talent on the recruiting trail by using his Midwest roots in Ohio to secure prospects, he was unable to translate that into wins on the field. The Illini did make the Rose Bowl in the 2007 season, but other than that the Zooker has been mediocre despite having some star power on the field, leading athletic Director Mike Thomas to make a change to the new era for the Orange Crush with the hiring of Tim Beckman.
Beckman grew up in Texas, but finished his high school days at Berea High School before earning a spot on Findlay University's football team.
Following his days at Findlay, Beckman went on to become a graduate assistant at Auburn for two seasons before making a six year stop at Western Carolina to be secondary coach/recruiting coordinator and a two year stop at Elon as defensive coordinator.
After his time at Elon was done, Beckman made the return home to the state of Ohio where he spent seven years crafting his trade as defensive coordinator and assistant head coach of the Bowling Green Falcons, even coaching under a guy named Urban Meyer for a few seasons. It was at Bowling Green where the future head coach would really build his roots in recruiting, as well as lay the path for him to get to his current position in the Big Ten.
Through showing he was a proven commodity both on the field and on the recruiting trail, Beckman got the call from Jim Tressel at Ohio State to become the cornerbacks coach for two seasons. After helping develop some stand out players for the Buckeyes, Beckman moved on to bigger and better things when Mike Gundy asked him to come to Oklahoma State to run the defense for the Cowboys.
After the Cowboys posted a 16-10 mark in his two seasons running the defense, Beckman once again came back to his Ohio roots, taking his first head coaching job at Toledo. The Rockets' new boss faced a big challenge as his team was 3-9 the season prior to his arrival.
Like he always did, Beckman answered the challenge, turning around Toledo to a 21-16 mark, including two bowl births, a co-MAC West title, and a near win against the Buckeyes that garnered the program attention and nearly gave me a heart attack at 25 years old. While his staff did a great job with the personnel they had, Toledo's success could also be attributed to Beckman and his staff's work in the recruiting world, as they notched the top ranked recruiting class in the conference during his last two seasons according to Rivals.com
With his on field success at a challenged program and his reputation as a great recruiter, especially in the Midwest region, Illinois somewhat rolled the dice and brought Beckman on in December of 2011. While a down hasn't been played on the field yet, the new Illini head coach has already made waves on the recruiting trail through his aggressive style that has yielded good early returns.
In coming to Illinois, Beckman had just eight recruits committed to the class of 2012. After coming on board in early December, he closed out the class with 10 prospects, with 8 of them coming from the Midwest (IL, OH, MI, PA) and 2 coming from the state of Florida.
Having a clean start with his class of 2013, Beckman has already landed 14 prospects in the early going, the same number Urban Meyer at Ohio State has right now. All 14 prospects hail from the Midwest (IL, MI, OH) and 10 are at least three star prospects, with one four star on board in the form of QB Aaron Bailey. On top of that, the program is on more of the region's top prospects than ever before, with most players citing the energy and excitement Beckman shows as a reason for their interest. It's safe to say Beckman has recognized where he needs to build this program from and is going after a core of talent from the region early and often.
The Illini have not yet been a threat to the Buckeyes just yet, but it is clear that Beckman plans on being one. With his roots in Ohio, Beckman has hit the state hard. Six of the players in the 2012 class and five of the players already enlisted for 2013 hail from the Buckeye state, including familiar names to OSU fans such as V'Angelo Bentley and Justin Hardee of Glenville, Caleb Day of Hilliard Darby, and Reon Dawson from Trotwood Madison.
Tim Beckman is definitely a name to watch out for, as he has the Illini moving in the right direction before he even steps foot in Memorial Stadium for an actual game. He will continue to try and build a foundation for Illinois on prospects from his Midwest roots, with the fact that he knows Ohio inside and out and has learned from some of the top coaches in the country including Pat Dye, Mike Gundy, Jim Tressel, and Urban Meyer, of course now his counterpart.
The early results are glowing, but the only question left for fans of the orange and blue is, will he take them where Ron Zook couldn't? Only time will tell.