Big Ten fans, take heart. Four of your top five teams beat their ranked opponents in the bowls, including high-profile wins in the Rose and Orange Bowl. Hey, you guys actually belonged there!
The joy really begins and ends there, however, because as far as recruiting goes, the dominant programs in this country remain in the South. And now, more than ever before, the North's native talent is headed down that way, too.
Dominique Easley, out of Staten Island, NY, was the undisputed MVP of the Under Armour All-American Bowl featured last week on ESPN. Easley decommitted from Penn State a few days before the game. On the sidelines, the four-star defensive end announced that he would be attending Florida.
How does a team with no set defensive coordinator—and with its head coach ready to drop at any moment—steal a kid from a well-entrenched, recently successful defense-minded school one state away? Joe Paterno isn't in great health, but his medical struggles are at least less serious than strained heart muscles.
In fact, all six commitments at the Under Armour Bowl were announced for programs in the South.
Five-star WR Darius White didn't hold a serious offer from any northern program, save Notre Dame. Regardless, he won't be leaving Texas.
Besides Easley, Florida also landed four/five-star WR Chris Dunkley, who held a Michigan offer, but was never seriously considering the Wolverines.
Toney Hurd, a four-star cornerback, selected Texas A&M. He was without even an offer from a Big Ten school.
WR Kenny Shaw joined the growing and exciting class at Florida State over his offer from Michigan, and CB John Fulton chose Alabama over the Wolverines.
While watching players like five-star ATH Matt Elam switch his commitment from Florida to Florida State and back again might excite some pundits, it's all the same to Northerners. He's still not crossing the Mason/Dixon line, so what difference does it make?
Were any Big Ten schools actually in play for guys like Elam? Not really. But that doesn't only mean they lost out on them. It means they never stood a chance in the first place.
Schools in the Big Ten can't allow the South to keep its players within reach without at least some level of interference. Louisiana and Mississippi are evolving as major talent contributors to the recruiting scene, while Florida and Texas continue to produce endless four and five-star players.
In 10, five, or even just a few years down the road, how can the conference expect to compete?
And how can it reasonably expect to hold serve on its own native sons? Southern schools like Alabama are recruiting more and more on a national level. There's not enough talent in Pennsylvania, Ohio State, and Michigan to begin with, and the situation only gets worse as more northern players get lured away by the promise of nicer weather (and, to be fair, shots at national championships).
I'm aware that I'm skipping over the recruiting battles that the Big Ten schools are winning against their southern brethren. Rich Rodriguez's staff has set up a mini-pipeline to the mucktastic speedsters coming out of places like Pahokee, FL.
If the Big Ten is able to keep Seantrel Henderson in-conference (Iowa, Ohio State, and maybe Minnesota remain in-play for the all-universe-to-be OT), it would be outstanding for the prestige of the conference. They've sent their share of first-round offensive tackles to the NFL over the past five years.
Maybe I'm making too much out of one decommitment. But I think it's undeniable that the force and trajectory of national recruiting is slanted to the South. The arrow is pointed down, not up. Only one northern team cracks ESPN's top 10: Penn State, and the Worldwide Leader has yet to update the situation on Easley.
Florida, Alabama, Florida State, and the rest of the South's major players are keeping the stock rising for now and the foreseeable future.
At the Army All-American Bowl this weekend, OH ATH Latwan Anderson, PA DT Sharrif Floyd, and MI CB Dior Mathis will all announce their commitments, along with six other All-Stars not even on the Big Ten's radar.
Mathis, Anderson, and Floyd are in play, but Michigan and Michigan State likely lost out on Mathis to Oregon. Latwan Anderson goes as the wind goes, and the wind is not going to Ohio State. Neither is the four-star tackle Floyd.
To be fair, any of these three could surprise. Instances have occurred, but their frequency has diminished as the march into the Gulf has continued over the past five years.
If Henderson goes out of conference, the Big Ten is 0-15. And missing out on possibly 15 of the country's best players is unforgivable. These kids are in these bowls for a reason—they're going to be huge. As much as coaching can improve players—for example, Iowa—innate talent is the most surefire way for kids to make an immediate and everlasting impact.
Football in general is a game of superstars, and college is the best opportunity for these players to look like men among boys. The conference can't afford to hang its hat on Pryor—the one and only superstar in-conference—and expect to remain relevant into the next decade.
The Big Ten won the line of scrimmage in its bowl games. But as the talent flows to the magnetic South, the momentum of those wins slowly fades, if it hasn't already screeched to a halt.
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