When it comes to football recruiting in the Big Ten, it's basically Michigan and Ohio State, then everyone else. It's been that way for years; in the yearly Rivals.com team recruiting rankings, Ohio State and Michigan routinely comprise the top two of the Big Ten, and there has never been a year where both were out of the top two.
Thus, when anyone criticizes Big Ten recruiting, Ohio State and Michigan fans can breathe easily, especially in years like this and the last—it's not your problem. Nebraska and Penn State aren't strict liabilities either. It's everyone else in the Big Ten, usually save one or two teams in any given year, that has a big-time recruiting problem, and it's harming the Big Ten as a whole.
A while back in our breakdown of Iowa's recruiting struggles, we noted this post on HawkeyeNation.com, a thorough (if boisterous) breakdown of the recruiting situation in Iowa and the Big Ten as a whole. There's one key point in particular that bears repeating:
In the B1G, 78% of the 5-star players which committed to playing in the B1G have signed with the blue blood schools of Michigan, Ohio State or Penn State. Additionally, these 3 recruiting juggernauts have secured 64% of the 4-star players leaving crumbs for the rest of the conference.
These 3 schools have significant advantages over most of the B1G schools such as history, resources and in-state recruiting base as all 3 are near the top in all-time wins, have the largest athletic revenues and budgets, and reside in states/regions with large populations and large cities in which to recruit.
Iowa has historically (at least since 2002) signed classes ranked in the 30s and 40s. As a matter of fact, only twice have we broke into the top 25! 2011 at #22 and the infamous 2005 class at #8. Iowa has averaged 3.3 four-star rated players per class and an average Team Ranking of #39.
What may surprise you is that Wisconsin, Michigan St, and Illinois all average lower team rankings than the Hawks.
So here's the breakdown in a nutshell: There is a "Big Three" in historical Big Ten recruiting, a group of three teams that has secured a mathematical majority of the high-level prospects over a long period of time. For what it's worth, Nebraska is on the periphery of this and belongs on this tier, but it wasn't in the Big Ten for most of the time period when this recruiting was going on.
It also just so happens that one of these three teams is severely limited, but by no means crippled, by NCAA sanctions and scholarship reductions for the next few years.
Then there's Iowa, a team that is historically not very good and a perennial afterthought in the recruiting battle (though usually a little better than that on the field)...and even Iowa is better than the vast majority of its "non-Big Three" peers.
That's not acceptable if the Big Ten thinks it can compete, as a whole, with the SEC—and even the Pac-12 and Big 12 look strong by comparison. And that trend shows no sign of abating any time soon.
Looking at the ESPNU 300, the Big Ten has secured commitments from just 44 of the listed prospects. Of those 44, 15 belong to Ohio State, and 15 more belong to Michigan.
The other 14 are parceled out to the other Big Ten schools, with nobody else claiming verbal commitments from more than three of those Top 300 prospects. In other words, unless we're talking about Ohio State or Michigan, any given Big Ten school has at best a one percent chance of landing any given Top 300 recruit.
Yes, there are still uncommitted players on that list. In fact, ESPN.com compiled a list of all 47 undecided recruits ($) and projected where each would sign. The Big Ten is projected to sign precisely none of them. The SEC, meanwhile, should be getting a majority. The gap between the SEC and the Big Ten, in other words, is only widening by the day.
Now, Penn State is recruiting fairly well for the limited scholarship resources it's got. And Nebraska fans can point to the fact that the Cornhuskers have historically recruited pretty well, this year included. But despite Nebraska's spot at No. 21 in the 247Sports.com Top 25 for composite team recruiting rankings (and Penn State trailing at No. 22), there's the pesky fact that eight SEC teams currently lead Nebraska. Four Pac-12 teams are in the top 20. Even three members of the ACC make the cut of the top 20, though they're clustered so close to Nebraska and Penn State that it's not that big of a deal.
Moreover, even though Penn State and Nebraska are ranked so high, they've still combined for only five of the commitments on the aforementioned ESPNU 300.
Luckily for the Big Ten, of course, there is Ohio State and there is Michigan. Both schools are firmly entrenched in the top 10 of every single team recruiting ranking out there. So it's not as if championship-caliber football won't be played in the Big Ten.
It's just that if Michigan and Ohio State aren't doing it, nobody else is recruiting well enough to have chance.