Not long after he arrived in Columbus, Urban Meyer challenged his fellow Big Ten coaches to recruit better. Meyer had seen what relentless recruiting had done for the SEC and knew the Big Ten needed some of that.
Sure it was brash. But it was Urban Meyer – the man knows a thing or two about winning football games.
Michigan State and Mark Dantonio were game. The Spartans have seen their recruiting fortunes improve each season since Meyer's arrival, culminating in a Rose Bowl victory and following it up with a top-25 class that is considered to be Dantonio's best in East Lansing.
Five other Big Ten programs joined Michigan State in improving their recruiting rankings (247Sports Composite Rankings) from 2013 to 2014. On the flip side, eight programs – including Ohio State – saw their class ranking tumble.
(While we include Ohio State as one of the eight Big Teams to suffer a class ranking downgrade from 2013-14, the Buckeyes did finish 3rd overall in 2014 and who's to complain about that? Oh, Urban Meyer, that's who. At his signing day press conference, Meyer voiced his displeasure with not having the nation's No. 1 recruiting class.)
Illinois has struggled under Tim Beckman, both on-the-field and on the recruiting trail. The Illini finished with the 70th-ranked recruiting class. For context, 1-11 Western Michigan finished one spot ahead of the Illini in 2014. We're just three years removed from Ron Zook inking a top-40 class in Champaign, so there's no excuse for Beckman and Illinois to perform this poorly.
The Hoosiers recruiting efforts took a nine spot dive from '13 to '14, but Kevin Wilson has shown he can land the big fish (if only to later lose them in the case of Gunner Kiel).
Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes had a slightly better recruiting class in 2014, but Iowa's classes have fallen from 28th in 2011 to 40th in 2012 and the unit now seems to float in the 50s. Not exactly what you would expect from a program that has one of the highest paid coaches in all of college football.
Northwestern, Penn State and Wisconsin are all headed in the right direction. All three programs improved their class ranking from last year to this year and James Franklin is a potential star in the making. Additionally, all three are doing much better than their three-season average from 2011-2013. Just a couple seasons ago, Wisconsin's recruiting class was ranked 65th. Now it stands at 33rd under Gary Andersen.
Michigan, Nebraska, Purdue and Rutgers have all been trending the wrong direction. All four programs saw their recruiting classes fall 10 or more spots from 2013 to 2014 and also well below their three-year averages. Kyle Flood hasn't had much success on the recruiting scene since replacing Greg Schiano, who brought in a pair of top-30 classes in 2011 and 2012. Bo Pelini had the 17th ranked class in '11, but now sits at 35. Darrell Hazell has yet to have success at Purdue and a 72nd-ranked class is unacceptable for a Big Ten program.
Maryland and Minnesota have managed to stick right near their three-year averages, although both have plenty of room to improve.
While a few teams are heading the right direction in the recruiting rankings, the teams heading in the wrong direction have their work cut out for them. Until this changes and some of those B1G schools decide to recruit better than MAC programs, the conference will continue to take its lumps from the pundits. This also means, selfishly for Urban Meyer, Ohio State will have to work harder for national respect until the conference gets better. It all starts with recruiting, so it's not looking like things will be getting better soon.