Troubling trends lead to Big Ten hitting bottom
NEW YORK (AP) The numbers don’t lie. The Big Ten is in bad shape.
Troubling trends in recruiting and some reluctance by schools to invest the way it’s done in the Southeastern Conference have been dragging down Big Ten football in recent years. This season looks as if it could be rock bottom.
The gory details through three weeks:
– 1-10 vs. other Big Five conferences.
– 24-14 overall in nonconference games, worst among record among the Big Five conferences.
– 5-3 against the Mid-American Conference
– And this one from Mlive.com, 2-12 in nonconference games against FBS teams with winning records.
”It’s presently as bad as it looks,” said former LSU and Indiana coach Gerry DiNardo, who also works as an analyst for the Big Ten Network. ”The future is not as bad as predicted.”
At the heart of the matter is recruiting, and a demographic shift that is far bigger than the Big Ten.
The number of people, and quality football players, in the Big Ten’s footprint has been shrinking.
Only 17 of the top 100 high school players, as rated by Rivals.com, in the 2014 signing class came from states with Big Ten schools, and that’s including New York, New Jersey and Maryland, and Washington D.C. Rutgers and Maryland joined the Big Ten this season.
The current top 100 for 2015 includes only nine players from Big Ten states. It goes to 10 if you throw Connecticut in the Big Ten’s footprint.
California, Texas and Florida have for years been the most-talent rich states. Ohio used to be in the next group and Pennsylvania not far behind that.
That’s changed, according to Mike Farrell, national recruiting analyst for Rivals. He now puts Ohio behind Georgia, Louisiana, Virginia and North Carolina.
”These are feeder programs for a lot of the ACC and SEC powers,” Farrell said. ”Pennsylvania’s dropped off as well. They used to be well ahead of New Jersey, in my estimation. Now they’re just not.”
So the Big Ten needs to get more players from outside its footprint, which isn’t easy. Players generally go to school close to home.
Still, DiNardo said Big Ten schools need to do better. Part of the problem is recruiting rules work against luring kids far away.
Football coaches are not allowed to meet face-to-face with recruits off campus until after the players’ junior school years. Official recruiting visits to schools, which are paid for by the schools, don’t start until players are seniors. Prospects can make unofficial visits before then.
”A prospect in the Sun Belt who can’t afford to drive to Lincoln, Nebraska, nor do they have any desire to drive from Gulfport, Mississippi, to Lincoln, Nebraska, they’ll never be exposed to Big Ten schools,” DiNardo said.
And if you’re not recruiting a player until his senior year, it’s often too late.
”I suggest part of the solution to this is to allow football prospects to visit in May and June of their junior year,” DiNardo said.
Basketball recruiting rules allow for earlier contact between coaches and prospects.
Bringing in Rutgers and Maryland should help make the northeast corridor Big Ten territory, but the benefits will likely take some time to come to fruition.
The Big Ten’s football problems are also part cultural and financial.
”There are Big Ten institutions that don’t want to spend all the money they’re making on the sport that’s making all the money,” DiNardo said.
The recent hirings of former Florida coach Urban Meyer at Ohio State and former Vanderbilt coach James Franklin at Penn State could help shake things up.
There has never been a doubt about Ohio State’s commitment to football, but hiring Meyer upped the ante.
”He just tore down a beautiful locker room to build a more beautiful locker room,” DiNardo said.
Ohio State’s biggest problem this season is Braxton Miller’s injury. In the long run, the Buckeyes should be fine.
Franklin, along with his predecessor, Bill O’Brien, brought a dose of reality to Penn State that could have a ripple effect throughout the conference.
”Y’all might think these are the best facilities in the country, but they’re not,” DiNardo said was the message Franklin and O’Brien sent. ”Y’all might think you’re paying everyone a lot, but you’re not. Y’all might think the staff’s big enough, but it’s really not.”
In Rivals’ current recruiting rankings for 2015, Penn State is the only Big Ten team in the top 10. The rest are SEC schools, Florida State and Clemson from the ACC and Pac-12 power Southern California.
Penn State appears to be heading in the right direction. Michigan is a mess right now, but should be fixable in the long term, DiNardo said.
Getting Nebraska back to being a national title contender, DiNardo said, is the toughest fix.
If the Big Ten can get its historic powers (Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State) in order, keep Michigan State rolling and Wisconsin steady, it’ll be a formidable conference again.
”I do think there is going to be a reaction to this, to all the negative publicity,” DiNardo said, ”and if a Big Ten school doesn’t get into the playoff of four it may even speed up.”
AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tenn., contributed to this report.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP