Legends Division Recruiting | By the Numbers

On July 16, 2012 by Grant Edgell


Back on July 2nd I took a look at how Ohio State’s recent team recruiting rankings compared to those of the last seven National Champions and found that Jim Tressel‘s results fell just behind what you would expect from a team raising the crystal trophy in January. But within that analysis we also saw a big reason behind the new excitement within the Buckeyes’ fan base – the track record of Urban Meyer.

We based our results on the four-year average team recruiting ranking leading up to each season in question. The results didn’t surprise anyone, finding that Coach Tressel’s four-year averages leading up to the prior seven years of play fell right at 13th while each of the last seven national title holders averaged in the 7.5 – 8.0 range.

The initial returns on Urban Meyer’s first eight months of recruiting for the Scarlet and Gray are promising to say the least. Assuming he closes out his class of 2013 at the same pace he’s on through its first thirteen commits, it looks as though he’s about to put together a two-class average in the top-5 nationally.

Today we’ll dive a little deeper into the Big Ten’s Legends Division with regards to recruiting trends over the last decade-plus. Tomorrow we’ll jump into the Leaders Division with a similar analysis, but – ladies first.

First and foremost, let’s take a look at the raw data based on the Rivals recruiting service team rankings since they began tracking them in 2002. The following will show the eleven-year national ranking average of each Legends Division program, followed by their average team ranking over the last four years leading into the upcoming season.

  • TEAM | 11-yr Average (2002-12) | 4-yr Average (2009-12)
  • Michigan | 12.3 | 14.0
  • Nebraska | 26.4 | 22.5
  • Michigan St. | 36.9 | 29.8
  • Univ of Iowa | 42.7 | 44.5
  • Minnesota | 52.6 | 53.5
  • Northwestern | 67.5 | 70.5

A couple of things come to mind right away when you see the above data and compare it to recent on-the-field results of the six Legends Division members.

First, two scenarios have one team dominating another specific program over the last few years even though the other program had a decided advantage in recruiting: Northwestern over Iowa (winning 5-of-7 since 2004); Michigan State over Michigan (winning the last four by a combined 51 points).

It’s these two scenarios that make college football exactly what it is at times – unpredictable. In the grand scheme of things, talent will trump all on the field of play, but in some cases one team just has another’s number. Ohio State has dealt with this phenomenon on a smaller scale in recent years with Illinois and Purdue, even while dominating most everyone else in the conference over the past decade.

The Northwestern-over-Iowa trend isn’t all that surprising, with neither lighting up the recruiting rankings, but the Michigan State dominance, as the state of Michigan’s ‘little brother’ of sorts, over their fierce rival Michigan is clear sign of Michigan’s recent struggles as a program. Michigan’s four classes from 2005 to 2008, which would make up the four senior classes during the losing streak, were nationally ranked 6th, 12th, 13th and 10th, respectively. Over the same four-year span in East Lansing, the Spartans recorded national team recruiting rankings of 35th, 33rd, 42nd and 47th. Granted the first three years of the recent streak came during the life of the Rich Rodriquez era in Ann Arbor and the most recent win, a 28-14 victory in East Lansing, came while the Wolverines and Brady Hoke transitioned into a new system with a new staff, but Michigan’s talent has far exceeded that of Michigan State’s and yet they haven’t found a way for that to translate into a win since 2007.

This brings us to the next glaring question from the above data: What in the hell is Michigan doing?

It actually surprised me to see their team recruiting rankings from the past eleven years equate to a 12.3 national average. With that kind of talent coming into the program on a regular basis, they’ve only managed three total bowl wins, including a 1-2 record in only three BCS bowl appearances and exactly two wins over the rival Buckeyes since 2002. By comparison, division counterpart Minnesota has managed to earn the same amount of bowl wins since ’02.

Michigan has compiled an 82-44 overall record during that same time period, not close to one you would expect from the talent they’re able to attract on an annual basis. But Brady Hoke has the Wolverines on the upswing with kids all over America – and Ohio – clamoring to join the Maize and Blue, right? Well, maybe.

Hoke has done well to solidify the talent on the roster and has built hope within the program and those who support it, but if you look at Michigan’s team rankings over the nine years leading up to Hoke taking over the program, their national average lands at a relatively healthy 11.9 nationally. Hoke’s first two classes (2011-12) have an average national ranking of 14.0. His 2013 class has promise written all over it, currently sitting atop the national rankings, but with plenty of time remaining in the recruiting season that’s a little bit deceiving.

Consider this. Michigan’s 2013 class currently consists of 22 verbal commits, higher than anyone in the country aside from currently 5th-ranked Texas A&M (24). Volume alone helps put Michigan in the top spot, but a closer look at their ‘standard’ commit reveals an average individual star rating of 3.55 among those twenty-two commits. By comparison, USC sits just behind the Wolverines at number-two with eight less recruits but an average individual star rating of 4.21. That’s a stark difference in quality of commit between the two. Look a little deeper into the current rankings and you’ll find Urban and the Buckeyes sitting down at tenth with only 14 current commits but an average individual star rating of 3.92, second only to Lane Kiffin‘s Trojans.

Going back to our original data above, its clear that Michigan is winning the recruiting battle over the past decade within the Legends division – and it’s not close. But if you look at the current trend, comparing the last decade versus the last four years, Michigan has actually taken a step backwards (12.3 to 14.0) while two programs within the division are trending to the positive.

Michigan State and Nebraska have shown a 4-year average leading up to this season that bests their recruiting performance over the last decade-plus. The Spartans have jumped from a 10-yr national average of 36.9 up to 29.8 and are coming off an appearance in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game against eventual champion Wisconsin. Nebraska, the most recent to join the B1G Conference, have improved upon their 10-yr average ranking of 26.4 by posting a 22.9 national average ranking over the last four seasons.

These are trends that can only serve to benefit the strength of the conference as a whole, so it’s certainly not something any fan base should be rooting against. A program like Ohio State has a target on national championships, not just conference championships. If Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes are going to succeed nationally against the Alabamas, LSU’s and USC’s of the world then a strong B1G conference is a key in preparing for such success.

Part of what makes the SEC so strong – and consequently dominant from a national standpoint – is the gauntlet of games they must get through in order to reach their ultimate goal of hoisting that crystal football.

Do I agree that LSU and Alabama should have both earned a spot in last season’s title game? Not particularly. But the performance of the conference as a whole over the past half-decade brought us to a point that made that match-up possible. They’ve earned that respect nationally in the minds of those who make the decisions. The Big Ten has not. Strengthening the recruiting performance across the conference is the first step towards reaching the levels of success the SEC has seen.

Brady Hoke is doing his part. So is Bo Pelini and Mark Dantonio. Two real questions remain for the Legends Division when you try to translate recent recruiting performance into the upcoming 2012 football season: Can Hoke and his Wolverines get past Michigan State for the first time in five years; and is Nebraska ready to be a major player?

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Stop back tomorrow at 6am when we break down the Buckeyes and their Leaders Division counterparts.