Recruiting is the lifeblood of any program, so it’s no coincidence that the college football teams that recruit the best usually play on Jan. 1. And if the current recruiting rankings are any indication, the Big Ten East is going to be the conference’s dominant division for the foreseeable future.
The Big Ten East has four teams ranked in the national top 10, according to rivals.com, while the Big Ten West has zero. Ohio State checks in at No. 3 in the nation, Michigan State No. 6, Michigan No. 7 and Penn State No. 9.
The closest team from the Big Ten West is Northwestern, which is having, arguably, its best recruiting year ever and is sitting at No. 15. Iowa has the 19th-rated class, but much of that is due to the Hawkeyes already having 21 commitments. Of those 21 players, zero are four- or five-star recruits.
Even some of the Big Ten East schools not viewed as traditional football powers are doing well. All of the divison schools except Indiana are ranked in the top 35. Maryland and Rutgers are enjoying a recruiting bump from being in the Big Ten and can sell recruits that they are going to get to play against elite competition in their division.
The Michigan State myth
A common media myth is that Mark Dantonio and Michigan State have won a lot of games with recruits that were not national-level nor coveted by the rest of the Big Ten.
The reality is that the Spartans have had numerous players who were coveted by teams from across the nation, such as Max Bullough, William Gholston, Lawrence Thomas, Isaiah Lewis, Kurtis Drummond, Aaron Burbridge, Edwin Baker, Dion Sims, Macgarrett Kings Jr., Chris Norman, Demetrious Cox, Montae Nicholson, Marcus Rush, Donovan Clark, Malik McDowell, Travis Jackson.
What Dantonio and his staff have been able to do is fill out the remaining spots with players who were undervalued. Finding those recruits takes time and effort. It means that the coaches spend extra time evaluating film of recruits and getting them to camps so that they can see them perform in person.
Some programs rely too much on other staffs’ evaluations of recruits to determine whom they are going to offer scholarships. While that may be easier, it can lead to situation in which inferior recruits get inflated offer lists. The extra work is how you land a Trae Waynes or Darqueze Dennard.
Make no mistake, Michigan State does its homework. As director of college advancement and performance Curtis Blackwell stated, “If we offer a player, we think he is a four- or five-star recruit. We don’t care what anyone else thinks.”
Matt Dorsey is a recruiting analyst for spartanmag.com and rivals.com.