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.
Yesterday we looked at the trends within the last decade-plus of Legends Division recruiting, including those from the Big Ten’s newest member Nebraska. It doesn’t take an expert to figure out that the top three teams within the division with regards to recruiting success and it’s translation onto on-field success would be Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska. While numbers rarely lie, it was interesting to see how some teams with lower performing recruiting efforts have been able to not only win over better recruiting programs but, in some cases, dominate them.
Today we’ll dive a little deeper into the Big Ten’s Leaders Division with regards to recruiting trends over the last decade-plus.
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 Leaders 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)
- Ohio State | 13.0 | 10.8
- Penn State | 32.2 | 30.5
- Wisconsin | 43.2 | 56.5
- Illinois | 43.3 | 52.8
- Purdue | 50.4 | 63.5
- Indiana | 75.8 | 69.0
It’s no secret that The Ohio State Buckeyes have been the dominant team within the B1G over the better part of the last decade. Even with Michigan having comparable (better, even, at a 12.3 average) recruiting success over the time period, the Buckeyes have been able to dominate the series as well as the annual conference schedule as a whole.
The case of Tressel’s utter dominance over the Wolverines is yet another that shows recruiting success being thrown straight out the window in comparison to on-field success. By all rights, according to the talent being put on the field each season, the greatest rivalry in sports should have been quite even over the last decade. As we know, that’s not close to being the reality of what has occurred, with Tress sporting an incredible 9-1 record against Michigan. Pat Fitzgerald and Northwestern have done the same to Iowa. The Hawkeyes and Kirk Ferentz have turned around and done the same to Penn State. Heck Purdue has even jumped in on that party…
Statistically speaking, the bottom three of the Leaders Division comes as no surprise, with Illinois, Purdue and Indiana bringing up the back of the pack in the data above. What does come as a bit of a surprise with regards to those three teams is the fact that the Boilermakers have given the conference’s heavyweight trouble over the past handful of years.
Since 2004 Ohio State is a less-than-stellar .500 against the Purdue Boilermakers, recording only three wins in six tries. In the trio of victories the Buckeyes, with the lion’s share of talent being on their side of the ball, combined to outscore Purdue 88-10. But in 2009 Purdue was able to host an undefeated, Terrelle Pryor-led team and knock off the Buckeyes 26-18, ultimately handing Jim Tressel his only loss of his Rose Bowl-winning season. As recently as 2011 Purdue was able to match that performance and beat Luke Fickell‘s Buckeyes 26-23 in overtime to start Ohio State’s season-ending four game skid.
When switching gears and looking at the top three of the Leaders Division using the data above, two other items stick out as being inconsistent within the hierarchy of the data.
The Penn State Nittany Lions are apparently the second best recruiting program in the division, and the fourth best in the conference over the past eleven years, yet they have very little to show for it. Since 2002 the Nits are a very pedestrian 4-4 in bowl game appearances, including exactly one BCS bowl victory (Orange Bowl, 2003). Over the same time period they’ve only won 66% of all contests, but have won at a rate of three of every four contests against the teams ranked below them in our data (Wisconsin, Illinois, Purdue and Indiana), but only able to manage a 4-4 split with Wisconsin. The problem comes when they face teams with more talent, as should be expected.
Where Ohio State was able to dominate their series with Michigan, even with a little less talent on the field, Penn State has struggled mightily with both programs over the last decade-plus.
The Nittany Lions have only been able to muster six wins in seventeen tries against the Buckeyes and Wolverines since 2002, including a 3-7 record against Ohio State. In order to compete for Big Ten championships, of which they’ve only won two in eleven seasons (both split with the Buckeyes), you must be able to knock off the conference giants. The Nittany Lions have yet to prove they can do so. Looking at the players that currently make up the PSU roster, the four combined recruiting classes have average a 30.5 average national ranking. If you compare that to Ohio State’s 10.8 and Michigan’s 14.0, coupled with the fact that they have a new head coach and ten tons of turmoil surrounding the program, it’s not feasible to expect much out of Penn State for the foreseeable future. Is that really different, though?
On the contrary, Bret Bielema (hhhhhock, spit) has been the prime example of coaching up the talent he has and continuing to build on the success that former head coach Barry Alvarez established in Madison before Bielema was hired in 2006.
Wisconsin’s eleven-year national recruiting ranking has landed them at a worse-than-expected 43.2 national average, which jumps to an even-worse 56.5 over the last four seasons. Bielema’s seven recruiting classes average right in between at 48.8 nationally, yet he’s been able to compile a 60-19 overall record since joining the Badgers (33-15 in-conference) but has only come out of that with two bowl wins in six appearances.
So what have Bielema and the Badgers taught us? Less talent can still translate into conference success, as the Badgers’ crop of recruiting classes have done, but lackluster classes brought onto campus year after year will rarely, if ever, translate into success on a national stage.
All else remaining equal, the Leaders Division is about to give us more of the same, with two programs dominating the landscape on this side of the conference. Either Ohio State or Wisconsin have won the Big Ten title each year since Bielema took over the Badgers, with Wisconsin winning the last two. Michigan State and Penn State each sneaked in a share of one title each, but the Buckeyes and Badgers have owned the conference for the last six seasons. Throw in B1G championships for Ohio State in 2004 and 2005 and the two programs have actually won the last eight.
So what’s the moral of the story? Well, it seems pretty simple from the perspective of an Ohio State fan.
Penn State? Right. They underachieve on the field, over-state themselves off of it and are immersed in a controversy that won’t subside anytime soon. The NCAA is asking questions in Happy Valley, murals are being redesigned and important people are currently meeting to determine if an on-campus statue will remain on-campus. They have plenty more to worry about than football.
As long as Wisconsin can continue signing ‘free agent’ quarterbacks, as they have the last two seasons (Russell Wilson, NC State; Danny O’Brien, Maryland), they should be able to continue competing at least in the Leaders Division if not for conference titles. If they plan to do so in 2012-13, O’Brien better come up big and remain healthy. His backups? Well, there are six of them. One’s name is Bart. Another? Rust. Good luck with that, Bret.
With regards to Ohio State’s main conference competition going forward, Michigan would seem to be poised to play that roll consistently for the first time since the 90′s if Hoke finds a way to live up to the praise his fan base is pouring on him. They’ve slipped in ahead of the Buckeyes in respect to class rankings over the last eleven seasons but their results have failed to live up to the talent they continue to run out on the field each Saturday. Hoke has seemingly got the Wolverines on the right track after recent seasons saw losses to Toledo and Appalachian State (WUT), but that could come to a screeching halt with a date with Alabama coming soon and 2012 road games in South Bend, Lincoln and Columbus. Staring across the field at Urban Meyer each November certainly won’t help his cause in-conference, or from a national perspective, but the talent he continues to bring into the program should keep them as at least an annoying thorn for the entire conference.
The Buckeyes have all but dominated the Big Ten in recruiting for more than a decade, and that’s translated into a run of success rarely seen in a power conference such as this. With Urban Meyer upping the recruiting ante in Columbus, immediately bringing in national names such as Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington, Eli Woodard and more in his first class-and-a-half, you can expect more of the same dominance and an improved national presence.
Improved? Yes, improved.
Jim Tressel led the Buckeyes to three national title games in his ten years, but *only* came away with one crystal trophy. Urban Meyer can and will match that success, and could very well bring multiple crystal footballs back to Central Ohio with the intensity in which he’s gone after, and gotten, the recruits he wants…
…even if they were previously committed to Wisconsin, Penn State or Michigan State.
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