Best Big Ten Football Recruiting Classes from BCS Era
While the SEC is mourning the passing of the BCS era, those in Big Ten country are by and large saying good riddance—and rightfully so, considering the lack of national champions produced during the era.
One of the biggest reasons given for the Big Ten's issues during the BCS era was recruiting, no matter the reality of the situation.
No matter the success or failure the conference had in playing in BCS games, no conference played in more of them. The Big Ten appeared in 28 BCS games, more than the SEC or any other conference.
Something had to go right to get there that many times, and despite all the talk about how recruiting has slipped in the conference, the reality is something totally different in the last half-decade.
It all leads back to recruiting in the end, so as we say goodbye to the old and hello to the new; it's only right we look back on the era in the recruiting realm.
The Big Ten has produced some very memorable classes, so as we say good riddance to the BCS, lets take a look back at the best the B1G classes of the era.
*All recruiting information courtesy Rivals.com. Nebraska not included until membership in Big Ten.
10. Iowa 2007
National Ranking: No. 53
Conference Ranking: No. 6
Top-Rated Players: Christian Ballard, TE; Jordan Bernstine, CB; Bryan Bulaga, OL; Cedric Everson, ATH; Diauntae Morrow, DB
Iowa has a tendency to find the hidden gems along the recruiting trail, and this class was an example of just that. It's a good thing too, because 11 of the 22 players in the class saw time on the field as true freshman.
This was also the class that was the backbone to the 2009 Orange Bowl-winning team, the one that went 11-2 on the year and was second in the Big Ten.
Two players ranked as 2-star prospects in this class: defensive ends Adam Gettis and Mike Daniels, did alright by themselves—both went from 2-stars to the NFL draft.
What makes this class impressive is not only did it hit on the lower-ranked prospects, but also had success with most of the the high-end players too.
Bryan Bulaga was one of the best offensive lineman of his era in the Big Ten—winning the 2009 Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year Award, as well as being named to multiple All-American teams. He became a first-round draft pick of the Green Bay Packers following his junior year.
Fellow 4-star recruit Christian Ballard, who flipped from tight end to defensive tackle, went on to be drafted and this class ultimately produced six players to see NFL contracts come their way.
Signed on as a 3-star quarterback, Marvin McNutt went on to be a very good wide receiver for the Hawkeyes, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors his senior season and is currently a member of the Carolina Panthers.
Of the five 4-star players, two never panned out—Diauntae Morrow and Cedric Everson.
Morrow ended up transferring to Toledo. However, he became a star for the Rockets, and he did see playing time in each of his first two years in Iowa City—making 12 tackles in 11 games as a backup safety his sophomore season.
Unfortunately, Everson was one of two players who were involved with a sexual assault and that really puts a damper on ranking this class any higher.
Despite those two big misses, this class produced some of the most solid players Iowa saw in the mid-2000s, and for that it kicks off our countdown.
9. Wisconsin 2005
National Ranking: No. 33
Conference Ranking: No. 4
Top-Rated Players: Travis Beckum, LB; Elijah Hodge, LB; Dustin Sherer, QB
What this class lacked in big-name players (just two 4-star players), it made up for in depth. Travis Beckum flipped from linebacker to tight end quickly, and went on to become one of the Big Ten's best tight ends of the 2000s.
He also became one of eight players in this class to go on and play in the NFL. Besides Beckum, names like Jonathan Casillas, Garrett Graham, P.J. Hill, DeAndre Levy, O'Brien Schofield and Matt Shaughnessy all made it to the next level.
This class had 22 total commitments, so that means over a third of this class went on to the NFL.
With that kind of talent, the results came in bunches for Wisconsin, who won nine or more games four times in the period these guys were part of the Badger program (2005-09). Three of those came in a row as the Badgers won 10 games in 2005, 12 in 2006 and nine in 2007.
The Badgers went to a New Year's Day or later bowl game all three of those years and some had a part in sending legendary head coach Barry Alvarez off in style, with a win over Auburn in the Capital One Bowl on January 2, 2006.
Just how wrong were the rankings with this class? Two future NFL players, Hill and Casillas, were 2-star prospects by Rivals.com.
Hill only stuck around for three seasons, racking up 3,942 yards (5.1 avg.) and 42 touchdowns before taking off for the NFL. Casillas finished his Wisconsin career as a three-time honorable mention All-Big Ten pick and averaged nearly 90 tackles a season for his career.
The only disappointment in the class was 4-star linebacker Elijah Hodge, but that was more due to injury than a lack of production.
Sure, this wasn't a class full of stars when it arrived on campus, but Alvarez and Bret Bielema made it into a group that produced great results while on campus. The only thing missing was a Big Ten championship, which the Badgers just missed out on in 2006—losing out to an undefeated Ohio State team it never played.
8. 2010 Northwestern
National Ranking: No. 77
Conference Ranking: No. 10
Top-Rated Players: Kain Colter, ATH; Rashad Lawrence, WR; Brandon Vitabile, OL (all rated 3-stars)
If there was ever a more underrated class in Big Ten history, it would be nice to know what that class looked like. The 2010 class made an indelible mark on Northwestern's football history, despite some hardship along the way.
When this class is all said and done during the 2014 season, it could go down in history as the best class to ever grace Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill.
Both of the starting quarterbacks for this team, Colter and Trevor Siemian came out of this class. So did names like Venric Mark, Tony Jones, Will Hampton, Ibraheim Campbell, Chi Chi Ariguzo and C.J. Bryant.
Overall, eight of the 22 starters from this past season were out of this class and pretty much all of the star power this team has had over the last three years comes from this group.
This is the group that led Northwestern to a 10-3 record and its first bowl victory since 1948 during the 2012 campaign.
Colter could well go down as one of the most memorable players in program history. He threw for 2,160 yards and 18 touchdowns, while rushing for 2,180 yards and 28 touchdowns. Additionally, he had 63 receptions for 683 yards and four touchdowns.
On the flip side, Ariguzo and Campbell became massive playmakers at linebacker and defensive back, respectively.
This was the class that really began the upturn in Northwestern recruiting and it also happened to win 28 games. If it weren't for a disastrous amount of injuries to mainly guys from this recruiting class, Northwestern would've been bowling for six years in a row.
7. 2004 Penn State
National Ranking: No. 29
Conference Ranking: No. 4
Top-Rated Players: Dan Connor, LB; Anthony Morelli, QB; A.Q. Shipley, DT; Greg Harrison, OL
There's no doubt this class was one of the most successful and important ones of the Joe Paterno era at Penn State. Coming off the heels of some of the worst team performances of JoePa's tenure in Happy Valley, it was this class that helped turn it all around.
Dan Connor was an immediate star at Linebacker U, racking up a school-record 419 tackles and was named an All-American in 2006 and 2007.
Penn State's other 5-star wasn't as spectacular, but quarterback Anthony Morelli did his thing too. He ended his career by being the only quarterback (at the time) to throw for over 2,000 yards twice. Morelli also led his team to two bowl victories, including the famous 2006 Orange Bowl win in triple overtime over Florida State.
As for A.Q. Shipley, he became a stalwart on the offensive line, combining with fellow classmates Gerald Cadogan and Rich Ohrnberger for 98 combined starts.
The hidden gem of this class may have been wide receiver Jordan Norwood, who was such a late addition to the 2004 class, Rivals doesn't even have him as a member of the class. He finished up with 158 receptions for 2,015 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Except, Norwood would be topped by a walk-on by the name of Deon Butler. All Butler did was become Penn State's all-time leader in receptions with 179. He added 2,771 yards and 22 touchdowns for his career in Happy Valley.
Of course there were some misses, as with every class, but it's hard to argue when you are hitting on some of the top, middle and walk-ons in a class like this.
6. Michigan 2002
National Ranking: No. 16
Conference Ranking: No. 2
Top-Rated Players: Gabriel Watson, DE; Steve Breaston, ATH; Jason Avant, WR
Remember the days when Michigan would regularly win 10-plus games and go to the Rose Bowl? The 2002 class sure does. It went to the granddaddy of them all three of the five years for parts of this class.
The Wolverines won 10-plus games three times and nine once during that same five-year period. Safe to say this group was easily the most successful group in the last 20 years of Michigan football.
Having the skill-position talent this class provided was key. Steve Breaston and Jason Avant provided a very potent one-two punch at wide receiver.
Breaston finished his Michigan career with 156 catches, 1,696 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Avant totaled 169 catches, 2,247 yards and 13 touchdowns.
No one had a better year in this class than Avant's 2005 season, where he had 82 catches for 1,007 yards and eight touchdowns.
They weren't the only impressive guys in this class though. Linebacker David Harris and defensive tackle Gabe Watson were stalwarts for the UM defense.
Of the 21 commits in the 2002 class, Harris, Watson, Breaston and Avant were all NFL draft picks. What this group lacks in depth it more than made up for in on-field production.
5. 2009 Wisconsin
National Ranking: No. 43
Conference Ranking: No. 8
To-Rated Players: Montee Ball, RB; Kraig Appleton, WR; David Gilbert, DE; Jordan Kohout, DT (all 4-stars)
All this class did is prove why rankings matter very little between the white lines of the field on Saturday afternoons. This group never won fewer than eight games over the five years it was in Madison and would win 10-plus games three years in a row.
It also was part of the group that went to three straight Rose Bowls. Wisconsin's success in those seasons was largely built on the back of this class.
As individuals this class did some amazing things as well. Running back Montee Ball tied Barry Sanders' record for single-season touchdowns with 39 in 2011, broke the FBS career touchdown record with 83 and the FBS career rushing touchdown mark with 77.
Those are but a few of the records Ball would break on his way to rushing for 5,140 yards and a career average of 5.6 yards a carry.
However, he was a 4-star prospect, and the real story was some kid named Chris Borland the home-state Buckeyes didn't even want. Borland became one of the most feared linebackers in the Big Ten, compiling 419 tackles, 49.5 tackles for loss and 16.5 sacks.
This is a class that also included two 2-star starters in tight end Jacob Pedersen and safety Dez Southward.
The 2009 class produced 11 All-Big Ten players and has already produced two NFL draft picks. At least three more will be drafted in the next two years including Pederson, Borland and offensive lineman Ryan Groy.
Wisconsin joined the ranks of Ohio State and Michigan as the only teams to make it to three or more Rose Bowls in a row from the Big Ten, and it was this class that made it all possible.
4. 1998 Ohio State
National Ranking: unavailable (recruiting services don't go that far back online)
Conference Ranking: unavailable
Top-Rated Players: Ryan Pickett, DL; Kenny Peterson, DL; Steve Bellisari, QB; Nate Clements, DB
Ohio State's 1998 class, which was the first one to ever enter the BCS era, was the backbone of what was to come under John Cooper and Jim Tressel. In fact, they would see success right out the gate, going 11-1 in their first year in Columbus.
It wasn't the biggest class in the world, with only 16 players added that season. However, it was a very impactful class. At least five members of this class would go on to play in the NFL.
Defense is where this class was strongest, as Ryan Pickett and Kenny Peterson would form one half of perhaps the best defensive line Ohio State put together in the last 20 years. Defensive back Nate Clements became a pure shutdown player and after just two years on the field and a first-team All-Big Ten honor in 2000, he was off to the NFL.
The offensive side was no slouch either as Jonathan Wells would rush for over 1,000 yards his senior season and end his career with over 2,300 yards and 27 touchdowns.
What keeps this group from being higher is the fact it was also around and integral for the two worst back-to-back seasons in many a decade in Columbus. OSU would go 6-6 and 8-4 in 1999 and 2000, but it would also end on a high note for some in this class as they took the 2002 national championship.
3. 2009 Ohio State
National Ranking: No. 3
Conference Ranking: No. 1
Top-Rated Players: Dorian Bell, LB; Corey Brown, DB; Marcus Hall, OL; Jamie Wood, DB
In 2009 no one could've seen what was coming happening in Columbus. All anyone knew was the Buckeyes were rolling in recruiting gold after signing the No. 3-ranked class in the country.
How often those rankings live up to potential is very debatable, but it's not for the 2009 Buckeyes class. It was loaded with future Big Ten stars and formed the core of what became back-to-back undefeated regular seasons and a 24-game win streak.
Where would you like to start with this class? It included a quarterback who never got a true chance and could've been a starter anywhere else in Kenny Guiton.
Coach Jim Tressel signed two 4-star running backs in this class, one of which was Carlos Hyde. We all know that ended with a banner season this year, racking up he first 1,000-yard season for a running back under Urban Meyer.
The offensive line was a huge hit with names like Marcus Hall and Corey Linsley forming the backbone of the Big Ten's best offensive line in 2013.
Defensive backs Corey "Pitt" Brown and C.J. Barnett were also members of this class, as was some linebacker named Storm Klein.
About the only area on this roster that didn't see much success was along the defensive line, where only John Simon made an impact for this team (and what an impact it was).
Ohio State hit one out of the park in the rankings and on the field with this class and that's what has them in the top three.
2. 2010 Michigan State
National Ranking: No. 30
Conference Ranking: No. 5
Top-Rated Players: William Gholston, DE; Isaiah Lewis, DB; Skyler Schofner, OL
Of any of the classes in the last five years, there has been none as impactful or more meaningful to a program than this one to Michigan State.
The list of All-Big Ten players is simply staggering, but here goes it: Mike Sadler, Keith Mumphery, Tony Lippett, Isaiah Lewis, Jeremy Langford, William Gholston, Kurtis Drummond, Darqueze Dennard, Max Bullough and Le'Veon Bell.
It's like a who's who of the Big Ten over the past four years and an astounding list of impact players for one class. Over the course of the five years this class has been in East Lansing, MSU has won 42 games, more than anyone else over that time period in the Big Ten.
The key to success at Michigan State under Mark Dantonio is always finding the under-the-radar recruit and building him up. However, in this class he began to make his mark in the more volatile world of high-end recruits. Gholston was a can't-miss 5-star prospect and he ended up being all of that and more during his MSU career.
Of course, no MSU class would be complete without the diamond in the rough, and for the 2010 class that was none other than Le'Veon Bell. He was all of a 2-star prospect coming out of Groveport Madison High School in Reynoldsburg, Ohio.
Bell ran for 1,793 yards and 12 touchdowns in his senior year as the featured back. He would finish his Spartans career with 3,346 yards and 33 touchdowns. Those numbers and his athletic ability for a bigger back made him the first running back taken in the 2013 NFL draft.
The depth this group provided to the Spartans is what makes this one of the best classes of the BCS era as well. Names like Marcus Rush, Jeremy Langford and Bell all had to wait their turns to be starters for this team and they all came through when needed.
1. 2002 Ohio State
National Ranking: No. 5
Conference Ranking: No. 1
Top-Rated Players: Maurice Clarett, RB; Mike D'Andrea, LB; Rob Sims, OL; Nick Mangold, OL; Bobby Carpenter, LB
Could there be any other class to top this list? This was Jim Tressell's fist complete class and all it did was set up the Buckeyes for success all throughout the 2000s. Future NFL draft picks were all over this class and it also had perhaps the most talked about player in recent Big Ten history in Maurice Clarett.
Amazingly, this class' strength wasn't all at the top. No doubt they hit the mega-lottery with Maurice Clarett at the very top of it all, but there were some big-time swings and misses on 5-star players.
Having said that, this class was completely loaded with some of the best names of the 2000s in the Big Ten. Linebackers Bobby Carpenter and A.J. Hawk terrorized opposing running backs and quarterbacks for four years in Columbus.
Wide receiver Santonio Holmes was a member of this class—racking up 140 catches for 2,295 yards and 25 touchdowns. It was good enough to allow him to go pro after just three years of playing time in Columbus.
Future All-Pro Nick Mangold was a can't-miss prospect and he didn't disappoint along the offensive line. Neither did fellow O-Linemen Rob Sims or Doug Datish either. It may have been the strongest position group in this class.
There is no way anyone can forget a certain quarterback by the name of Troy Smith either. All he did was go on to win the 2006 Heisman Trophy and finish his career with 5,720 yards, 54 touchdowns and just 13 interceptions.
As a group, this Ohio State class went to three Fiesta Bowls in four years, some in this class played in the BCS National Championship game in 2006. Over the course of five years, this team won 10-plus games four times and won 55 games in a five-year period.
Safe to say this class made a major mark on Ohio State and on the history of college football as a whole.
*Andy Coppens is the Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.