Returning to a Television Set Near You: The Big Two and Little Twelve
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Although the Big Ten Conference may not look anything like it did in the late 1960s, your father's version of the league will be returning soon enough.
That's because the "Big Two, Little Eight" in the Big Ten is back, even if there are now 12 teams competing in the conference.
The Michigan Wolverines and Ohio State Buckeyes are dominating the recruiting trail while the rest of the Big Ten continues to whiff on the nation's top prospects.
For those unfamiliar with the era of Big Ten football I am referring to, let's take a quick trip back to 1967.
Woody Hayes and Ohio State finished one game out of a tie for first place in the conference. Arch-rival Michigan went 3-4 in league play and 4-6 overall, which put Bump Elliott on the coaching hot seat.
Little did anyone know that 16 years would pass before anyone else aside from Michigan and Ohio State finished atop the Big Ten standings.
From 1968-1982, Ohio State and Michigan boasted a better record than anyone else in the conference 11 times. Even during the years the hated rivals failed to check in at No. 1 and No. 2 in the final standings, one of the two managed to win at least a share of the league title.
It was complete and utter supremacy.
Things like the 85-scholarship limit, a dramatic rise in televised games and coaches at not so prominent programs selling recruits on the idea of early-playing time were supposed to create parity. Apparently no one notified Brady Hoke or Urban Meyer, the two head coaches giving Big Ten fans hope the SEC's reign at the summit of college football will come to an end.
Neither coach has wasted any time when it comes to recruiting.
Hoke took over as head coach at Michigan prior to the 2011 season. The Wolverines brought in the No. 7 ranked class in 2012 and locked up a top five haul this past February.
South of the border, Meyer flipped eight prospects who were verbally committed to other schools after being named head coach in late November of last year. Ohio State pulled in the No. 4 crop of recruits a year ago and followed it up with the No. 2 class in the country for 2013.
Nobody else in the conference has come even remotely close to matching that kind of success since Hoke and Meyer began their respective reigns. The Nebraska Cornhuskers were third place in the conference's recruiting battle in 2012. Unfortunately, the Cornhuskers finished No. 25 in the team rankings. Nebraska took the bronze medal for the second year in a row with the No. 17 class.
No other Big Ten school signed a haul ranked higher than No. 38 this year.
Here is an even better statistic to prove how far ahead Michigan and Ohio State are when it comes to recruiting, though. A total of seven 5-star and 56 4-star recruits have signed with the Wolverines or Buckeyes over the past two years. The rest of the Big Ten, including Rutgers and Maryland have combined for the same number of 4-stars and three fewer 5-stars.
These disparities can be seen in the chart below.
Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo thought the Big Ten would never again return to the days of Ohio State and Michigan lapping the field. DiNardo changed his tune, however, shortly after the arrivals of Hoke and Meyer.
"Right now, Ohio State's and Michigan's recruiting classes are so much better than the other 10, it's absurd," DiNardo told The Columbus Dispatch in 2012. "This recruiting class has made me question if it has (returned to the Big Two and everyone else).
"You have two guys, one in Columbus and one in Ann Arbor recruiting at - I hate to say this - the SEC level. A perfect storm is the only thing that could have gotten back the possibility of the Big Two and now the Little Ten."
The perfect storm DiNardo envisioned has already reached land in the Big Ten.
Penn State will soon begin to feel the effects of the significant scholarship reductions brought on by the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Wisconsin is going through a coaching change, Iowa has not won more than seven regular-season games since 2009 and Michigan State is struggling to deal with Hoke and Meyer.
Those same Spartans that were co-champions of the Big Ten in 2010 and won the Legends Division in 2011 are heading downhill in a hurry. Much of this has to do with Hoke and Meyer cleaning up the top recruits in Michigan and Ohio.
The two bar graphs below detail how Michigan State has struggled to recruit in its own state as well as in Ohio since 2012. Top prospects in both states are choosing the Wolverines and Buckeyes at an alarming rate compared to the Spartans.
Hoke and Meyer have been able to achieve such success, because of how they interact with the recruits they are pursuing. Both take a different approach, but the results are the same—star-studded recruiting classes.
For example, bashing other schools is something Hoke and his staff stay away from, but prospects love the approach.
"A lot of the other coaches, when I would talk to them, they'd ask, 'What other schools you looking at?' " Michigan's sophomore wide receiver Amara Darboh told AnnArbor.com in 2012. "And then they would talk badly about the schools, or bash where I just went.
"But not Michigan. I don't know why they didn't, but I like that they didn't, and it says a lot about them."
Comparatively, Meyer focuses on selling the idea of winning national championships and lets his personality take care of the rest.
"He's an intense guy who, when he walks in the room, you'll listen to him and you'll definitely respect him," incoming freshman offensive linemen Evan Lisle said to the Dayton Daily News about Meyer. "After all that for 10 minutes, I knew I wanted to go to Ohio State. And once I got the offer, I committed pretty fast."
All that being said, I am not implying the rest of the Big Ten will be awful.
In fact, Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin all have a chance to be very good for the next several years. Keeping up with Michigan and Ohio State is not something the other teams in the conference will be able to do though.
For those three to keep pace, it is going to be an uphill battle.
Nebraska may need a coaching change before it sees any differences on the recruiting trail. Developing talent will be more important than ever for both Northwestern and Wisconsin. The former has to deal with rigorous academic standards while the latter is not in a talent-rich area of the Midwest.
Meyer led the Buckeyes to a 12-0 record in his first year in Columbus. Hoke already boasts a 19-7 overall record in just two seasons at Michigan. Can you imagine how wide this talent gap could be when both are in their fourth or fifth seasons?
Personally, I love to see one or two teams continue to reign supreme over the rest of a conference. It makes the instances when they are on the ropes that much more exciting. Everyone expects them to win. Anything else is a letdown.
To me, nothing is greater than watching dominant performances.
I never got to see any of the "Ten Year War" between Hayes and Bo Schembechler, nor did I witness a minute of the "Big Two, Little Eight". Thanks to Hoke and Meyer, there is a good chance I will get to watch something similar to both.
If you are not an Ohio State or Michigan fan, pray that whichever Big Ten team you root for is able to claim a league title within the next year, or two. Everyone else will likely be taking a backseat to the Buckeyes and Wolverines before too long.
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