The Big Ten used to benefit from being at the top of the college football heap and leading in population base. However, those days are long gone, as the focus of the college football world and the population base has shifted to the Southeast.
It means the Big Ten should be putting up a giant fence around its territory and keeping the best and brightest stars within its borders before all else in recruiting.
Yet, with Frank Ragnow, a 247Sports composite 4-star offensive lineman, choosing Arkansas over the home state Minnesota Golden Gophers late last week, another big prospect slipped outside the borders of Big Ten country again.
Ragnow isn't the first, nor the biggest, name to go from Big Ten country to the SEC. In fact, it's a trend that's been happening more and more over the last few years.
One could make the argument that some of the best in the SEC have begun to steal the old Big Ten formula for success—get the big guys from the Midwest, and recruit your skill position players from the Southeast or Texas.
Just in this year's class, Ragnow and 247Sports composite 4-star offensive tackle Ross Pierschbacher have declared for an SEC school. In fact, three 4-star offensive linemen committed to SEC schools from the Midwest.
Pierschbacher, a prospect out of Cedar Falls, Iowa, represents the scariest of the trend. Not only did he grow up a Hawkeyes fan, but Pierschbacher lives just 40 miles or so from the Iowa City campus.
He even originally chose the Hawkeyes over a number of other Big Ten offers. Yet, when national signing day hits on Wednesday, he will sign with national powerhouse Alabama.
Losing a player here and there is going to happen, and the Big Ten gets enough of its talent out of SEC country to make up for some of it. However, not being able to keep the cream of the crop in a smaller population base is troubling.
It's also a sign of just how little the Big Ten is respected by some of the top prospects in the Big Ten's footprint.
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 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.
Looking to the SEC as a model of success is fine, but Meyer and the rest of the coaches may need to start looking at home if it wants to start to fight the SEC for Top 25 recruiting classes.
According to the 247Sports rankings, the Big Ten has a major issue with keeping the cream of the crop at home.
|Recruits Going to Other Top 4 Conferences|
|State||Number of Players||Schools|
|Illinois||5||LSU, Tennessee, Notre Dame|
|Indiana||6||UCLA, Missouri, Louisville, Notre Dame|
|Iowa||2||Alabama, Oregon State|
|Maryland||5||UNC, NC State, FSU, West Virginia, Notre Dame|
|New Jersey||2||Miami (FL), Pitt|
|Ohio||3||Alabama, Kentucky, Notre Dame|
|Pennsylvania||6||West Virginia, Pitt, FSU, Va Tech, Syracuse|
That's six different SEC schools taking nine players from Big Ten territory this recruiting cycle. Minnesota is particularly troublesome, as it lost the No. 2- and No. 3-ranked players in the state (both offensive linemen) to Alabama and Arkansas, respectively.
In states like Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, there needs to be a premium put on keeping talent at home or at least within the Big Ten. Yet, in two of the three states, the top talent is gone to the SEC.
Sure, it could be considered a complement that there is that kind of talent in the Midwest, but keeping that kind of talent at home can be a big help in turning around the conference's fortunes.
Indiana and Illinois also were troublesome this year—especially in Illinois case, where three of the top-four-ranked players left the state for other top four conference schools. Instead of the Big Ten keeping 5-star linebacker Clifton Garrett at home, he went to LSU of the SEC.
Losing players to neighboring states or a program like Notre Dame is bound to happen in Big Ten country, but not keeping the top talent from your state and losing it to the SEC on an annual basis is a recipe for exactly where the Big Ten is today.
In Garrett's case, there wasn't a Big Ten school that even got an official visit. He instead chose to look at Florida, Tennessee, Ole Miss and LSU before committing to the Tigers.
No Michigan, no Ohio State, nor MSU or Wisconsin—not a single Big Ten school in the mix for the second-highest-ranked player in the Big Ten footprint? That's a major problem.
However, that is just in the 2014 class. The 247Sports state rankings tell us that in 2013, the conference lost 39 players to other schools in the top four conferences (as currently made up), and in 2012, it lost 26 players from its footprint.
Of those players lost, the SEC picked-off 11 players in the 2013 class and seven in the 2012 class. In each of the last three years, the SEC has taken more and more talent from the Big Ten footprint.
While it's a troubling pattern, it also speaks to the talent that is in the Big Ten's midst. If the conference wants to reverse the trend, it needs to reverse its perception first.
Just ten years ago, the best talent in the Big Ten footprint wasn't going outside of the conference at the rate it currently is. That's because the conference was seen as playing some of the top football in the nation.
Until the conference turns the corner for a few years on the field, the top talent from a smaller pool will continue to leave the Big Ten footprint.
While Urban Meyer and others talk about recruiting nationally for top talent, perhaps the focus should be on locking up the best talent in Big Ten country first.
*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. All recruiting information from 247Sports. You can follow Andy on Twitter: @ andycoppens.
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