There’s no fighting him here. Urban Meyer is 100 percent correct in his assessment of anemic Big Ten recruiting. The question now, however, is: Can it be fixed? And if so, how?
Meyer has taken it upon himself to be the unofficial spokesman for a conference he’s been rooted in for approximately 15 months. His latest battle—and perhaps the final straw before Mark Dantonio finally yanks him off his Christmas list—combats the growing failures from Big Ten teams not named Ohio State and Michigan on the recruiting trail.
Meyer was outspoken regarding this while appearing on the Bishop and Rothman Show on 97.1 FM in Columbus late last week (via Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports):
I don't know enough about what goes on in the other programs. I know I have a lot of respect for the tradition and their [THE?] historical success they've had. But we do need, as a conference, to keep pushing that envelope to be better.And I think all our conversations, we're going to have a Big Ten meeting here in a week … and our whole conversation needs to be, 'how do we recruit?' When you see 11 of the SEC teams in the top 25 in recruiting, that is something we need to continue to work on and improve.
For Meyer, the writing is on the wall. There’s a very real possibility that Ohio State could run the table in 2013 and be left out of the national championship game due to the nature of its “uncomplicated” schedule. We’re looking deep into the crystal ball well ahead of time, but the path is potentially a little too clear.
His concerns about the conference are genuine, no question, but only because they could negatively impact his team in 2013 and well beyond. Regardless of the intention behind his remarks, the issues are evident.
Since 2008, only six classes, excluding Ohio State or Michigan, in the Big Ten have finished in the top 25 of Rivals’ final team rankings. In terms of individual players, these same teams have landed just 20 of the 600 players who made the final Rivals 100 during that time span.
Rankings from one site are far from the entire picture, but numbers aside, the Big Ten has a recruiting problem outside of the Big Ten. If something is to change—and that’s a big if considering recent trends—here’s what I believe those looking for an upgrade need to do going forward.
Hope for a Massive Season from Ohio State
If you’re a middle-of-the-road Big Ten team, this is a strange (and somewhat depressing) approach, but it could prove to be huge. It also requires absolutely no effort at all.
While Urban just spent time criticizing the overall recruiting productivity of the conference, he has an opportunity to bring the Big Ten an abundance of positive exposure in 2013. Ohio State is poised to finish the regular season unbeaten, and a run like this would bolster the overall look and feel of the conference in general.
A national championship appearance for the Buckeyes won’t result in a flurry of “You know what, I really should go to Indiana” moments for the nation’s top players, but it’s a start. The Big Ten’s reputation in meaningful games is woeful at the moment.
A 28-47 overall bowl record and a 17-28 record in games on New Year’s Day will do that sooner or later.
In the short term, Ohio State can change that, or at least begin to shift the national perception. The added exposure will benefit the Buckeyes first and foremost, perhaps further widening the gap between them and everybody else. But the possibility of a Big Ten team dethroning the SEC’s run of titles is real, and that could reset our impressions of the conference as a whole.
One appearance by the Buckeyes in college football’s most meaningful game won’t brainwash us into forgetting recent history, but backing them in 2013 is wise for Big Ten schools.
To think that Urban will have the overwhelming support from the conference, especially given his latest verbal haymaker, is a pipe dream. That won’t happen, but regardless, the results could be beneficial.
Overpay for Assistant Coaches
As for what they can control, this part is critical.
Bleacher Report’s very own Adam Jacobi did a terrific job of outlining the importance of assistant coaches in a four-part piece earlier this year. Seriously, read this if you haven’t already.
The basic premise of the project is that assistant coaches have never been more crucial to success than they are right now. Outside of being good at whatever their title might be (offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, line coach, etc.), these are the road warriors.
They recruit, recruit, recruit and recruit a little bit more, and they will recruit even more in the future because of increased leniency with new NCAA contact rules. They use pipelines and contacts to lure in the best players, and right now no one does this better than the SEC.
Why not, as Jacobi proposed, bring in the best? It'll cost you a pretty penny to do so, but it will pay off. If that big-time head coach isn't out there, you can still build around him.
What if Purdue reached out to a handful of the nation’s best recruiters and tripled their salary to come to lovely Indiana? They wouldn’t land everyone, of course, but putting more money into these salaries could drastically alter recruiting ways.
New doors would be opened, and conversations that never seemed possible would take place.
Would Purdue become Alabama lite overnight? Absolutely not. Would the results become obvious after only a few months? I have no doubts.
Make Offense the Priority
Points and touchdowns, that's what we want. This isn’t just the case for the average meat-headed football fan looking for scoreboard chaos, but also for some of the nation’s finer offensive players looking for a future school. One team that knows plenty about this is Ole Miss, which just finished off a national signing day for the ages.
While Hugh Freeze has gotten the reputation as being one of the best recruiters in the country, he also knows plenty about moving the football.
In his first season on the job, Ole Miss watched its total points jump from 193 in 2011 to 409 in 2012. Total yards also skyrocketed, climbing to 5,509 from 3,369 just a year ago. The Rebels were competitive in 2012, despite featuring a defense that could be considered very much a work in progress.
The offense was potent, player-friendly, balanced and it contributed a great deal to the momentum gained on the recruiting front. Now, it likely won’t be an easy blueprint to match for a Big Ten school—or anyone for that matter—but being able to move the football is only the beginning.
It doesn’t have to be up-tempo, and much of this will vary greatly depending on personnel. Simply showcasing some originality and providing a spark on that side of the football could snowball into something greater. This is something the Big Ten has greatly lacked in recent years, and it might be the most challenging obstacle to overcome.
Embrace What You Are, For Better or Worse
I sent out the following tweet late last week as a blizzard closed in on Chicago, and I was scrambling to make my flight out. This was meant to be a joke, but there’s plenty of truth to be found.
As I drive to the airport in snow, rarely besting 25 mph, I am suddenly reminded why the Big Ten sucks at recruiting.— Adam Kramer (@KegsnEggs) February 7, 2013
The truth is the SEC will continue to dominate recruiting for the foreseeable future because of a) the weather, b) dominance on the field and c) the recruiting success in place from the top down. At this point, Kentucky will likely out-recruit the majority of Big Ten teams over the next few years unless something drastic happens.
It doesn’t help that many Midwest states are far from consistent when it comes to producing high school talent.
Nothing will change this. The likes of Iowa City won’t suddenly become tropical, and the deck will be stacked against many of the Big Ten teams, just like it’s been for a while now.
But the little things can go a long way. An impressive investment in a coaching staff, a marketable offense and a string of unlikely commitments can snowball into something more. There’s no perfect formula to get there, but success in college football can be contagious. Success in recruiting is the same way, and it’s also vital.
The tradition of the Big Ten is impressive, recent jokes and struggles aside. In order to close the gap to the SEC, however, the Big Ten will detour slightly from its ways and break away from the past.
And despite Urban’s vocal ambitions, that’s easier said than done.