Big Ten Football Winners and Losers for the Month of February
So, the month of February is just about in the books (what books?), and even though the football season officially ended about eight weeks ago, it was still a mighty eventful month for the Big Ten and its football programs.
National Signing Day was the biggest story of the month, obviously, and some schools fared a lot better than others. But there were other stories that popped up along the way, and we can take a look at those as well. In fact we shall.
Winner: Urban Meyer, Yet Again
Get used to that Urban Meyer smile. He's going to be flashing it a lot.
Meyer closed out the last few days of the 2013 recruiting class cycle by securing commitments from 5-star safety Vonn Bell, 4-star WR James Clark and 4-star RB/WR Dontre Wilson en route to landing what's likely the Big Ten's best recruiting class.
Put it this way: If Ohio State wins a national championship any time between 2014 and 2017, we can probably point to 2013's National Signing Day as when the crucial pieces of that title-winning team were put into place.
Can't Meyer just step in a deep puddle or something? Anything to cool off this hot streak? He's embarrassing just about everyone else in the Big Ten.
Winner: Brady Hoke
If Ohio State's recruiting class was No. 1 in the Big Ten, Michigan's was No. 1A.
It was so close to the Buckeyes' in terms of talent and so far beyond everyone else's that to just place it at No. 2 between Ohio State's and Nebraska's (or Penn State's or Wisconsin's, depending on your opinion of the rankings beyond that) does a disservice to just how outstanding the Wolverines' class was.
Unlike Urban Meyer's flurry of late commitments and his victorious outcome in the late sprint by Missouri to get a decommitment out of Ezekiel Elliott, Brady Hoke wrapped up his recruiting class weeks prior to National Signing Day, then sat back as the class' faxes filed in without incident or drama. Hoke's day was done by noon with no apparent cajoling necessary to keep his class intact. Ho hum.
And what a class it is. RB Derrick Green was the exclamation point on a talent-filled class, and QB Shane Morris is about as good a headliner at QB as any coach could ask for.
Ohio State can look around and reasonably think it put some distance between itself and most of the Big Ten, but Michigan kept pace and that's going to make the annual rivalry games in November even more high-stakes than they usually are.
Loser: Kirk Ferentz
As catalogued in these pages earlier, Iowa's recruiting strategy has been difficult to square with that of the rest of the Big Ten.
It's likely too much to ask of Iowa to keep pace with the Michigans and Ohio States, seeing as how nobody else has, but to offer a relatively minuscule amount of top-flight prospects and then back off of talent-rich Florida isn't going to get Iowa on the positive side of the "most elite players on the field" battle any time soon.
It certainly didn't help that the Hawkeyes spent the offseason in a weird limbo with several of the assistant coaches apparently leaving without the school acknowledging their departure until weeks later.
One of the few assistants that stuck around, however, was offensive coordinator Greg Davis, who led Iowa to one of its worst offensive seasons in the Kirk Ferentz era. That dismal season was with James Vandenberg at quarterback, and Vandenberg was a senior returning starter coming off a 3,000-yard, 25-TD junior season. Woops.
Winner: September Scheduling
Yes, Earth, Wind & Fire is entirely appropriate here.
Reports emerged in February that the Big Ten was making two crucial adjustments to its scheduling practices, and both are major improvements in fan-friendliness.
For one, the Big Ten announced plans to move to either nine or 10 conference games per season, which necessarily pushes the conference season into September. These games could start earlier than Week 4, in fact.
Better yet, the primary casualty of this scheduling decision is the dreaded annual FCS blowout that nearly every Big Ten team puts on the docket every year. You don't really care about your team facing Northwest Tiny State, do you? No, of course not, but your school's accountants do. So off you go paying full price for a game that by all accounts should be over before halftime.
At least by 2014 that'll be past tense, as the Big Ten announced that it would only be scheduling FBS opponents from 2014 on. Thank god.
This is a concerted attempt by the Big Ten to improve the quality of its product, particularly in the month of September. One look at what passed for a September slate this year (roughly a 5-to-1 ratio of chaff to wheat, so to speak) shows that an improved early season approach is sorely welcome.
Well done, Big Ten. Well done indeed.
Loser: Anyone Who Took Urban Meyer's Turtle Joke as Fact
Aren't we better than this, people? AREN'T WE?!
Winner: Whoever Recruited a Quarterback in 2013
It's not much of an exaggeration to call the Big Ten's 2013 crop of quarterback recruits potentially one of the best the conference has ever seen.
Christian Hackenberg is rightly the top-rated pro-style QB recruit in the nation; he's going to Penn State. James Morris is hot on Hackenberg's heels, and he's athletic enough to qualify as a "dual-threat" QB if he wasn't already so great at throwing the ball.
Johnny Stanton is Nebraska's version of Johnny Football, and Ohio State's J.T. Barrett is stepping into a very Heisman-friendly situation.
We could go on, and we will.
Wisconsin's Tanner McEvoy is one of the most intriguing prospects in the entire Big Ten 2013 class. Aaron Bailey might be good enough to leapfrog Illinois' entire mess at QB, including senior and potential four-year starter Nathan Scheelhaase.
Michigan State's Damion Terry is, physically, the closest thing the Big Ten's had come to Vince Young on one of its squads since Terrelle Pryor was gliding across the field. Purdue's Danny Etling is quite possibly the purest passer outside State College, and Iowa's Nic Shimonek is a potential starter as a true freshman.
And if you're tired of Northwestern trotting out smallish QBs with rifle arms and lethal creativity, you might want to avert your eyes from the Matt Alviti era. He's going to be driving opposing defenses crazy when it's his turn to take over in Evanston.
Heck, even Penn State's second QB recruit, Tyler Ferguson, is good enough to engage most of the starting quarterbacks in the Big Ten today in a camp competition.
Yes, this is an outstanding class of quarterbacks. If the Big Ten returns to prominence in the near future you can count on several of these prospects being firmly in the conversation as to how and why it happened.