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Ranking Big Ten recruiting efforts over the last decade

Ryan Day
Ryan Day (AP Images)

Mark Pszonak contributed to this report.

With the 2020 class wrapping up in February, we thought it would be interesting to see which programs in each Power Five conference have done the best job of recruiting over the last decade. We start with the Big Ten.


MORE: Five most interesting QB recruitments

CLASS OF 2020 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Position | Team | State

CLASS OF 2021 RANKINGS: Rivals100 | Position | Team | State

1. OHIO STATE

Average national ranking: 8.2

The skinny: It shouldn't come as a big surprise that the Buckeys are the top recruiting program in the Big Ten over the last decade. Urban Meyer’s time in Columbus further solidified this, so it will be interesting to see if the Buckeyes can continue their dominance. Some of the big-name recruits who shined over the last decade include Joey Bosa, Nick Bosa and Dwayne Haskins Jr.

Farrell’s take: The Buckeyes have clearly been the class of the Big Ten over the last decade and it’s shown on the field as well. Meyer is one of the top recruiters in college football history and Ohio State has hit every corner of the country to pull in elite talent.

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2. MICHIGAN

Average national ranking: 17.5

The skinny: Despite a few coaching changes and inconsistencies on the field, the Wolverines have generally produced a very solid recruiting class year in and year out. Michigan is also on the upswing with three top-10 classes in the last four years under coach Jim Harbaugh. Devin Bush, Rashan Gary and Jabrill Peppers are just a few of the big recruits who prospered during their time in Ann Arbor.

Farrell’s take: As expected, Michigan is No 2 in the Big Ten, but a good bit behind Ohio State and it has shown on the field. The Wolverines have produced some very good pro football players and had some guys make a national name for themselves, but they still haven’t been able to break through against their arch-rivals.

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3. NEBRASKA

Average national ranking: 22.2

The skinny: With a move into the Big Ten in 2011, the Cornhuskes spent a majority of the last decade in the conference. And during this decade, Nebraska has been extremely consistent, as no class was higher than No. 15, but also not lower than No. 32. The number of top recruits who actually hit stardom was inconsistent, but players such as Lamar Jackson, Stanley Morgan and Jordan Westerkamp had productive careers in Lincoln.

Farrell’s take: This is very interesting as Nebraska is ahead of Penn State but that hasn't translated to wins on the field. Mike Riley landed some marquee names from the West Coast, but few have panned out. Scott Frost is recruiting well and finding his type of players, so there is hope for the future. The Huskers' ranking is impressive because of the program's geographical recruiting disadvantage.

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4. PENN STATE

Average national ranking: 23.0

The skinny: Considering the Nittany Lions were buried in a major scandal for a portion of the decade, their recruiting performance was rather impressive. Plus, they are trending upwards with four of their last five recruiting classes having finished in the top 15. There has also been no lack of star power in Happy Valley, as Saquan Barkley, Miles Sanders, Chris Godwin and Mike Gesicki all became offensive stars for the Nittany Lions.

Farrell’s take: With the NCAA issues the program faced, this is an impressive average ranking. Under James Franklin, Penn State has done a very good job recruiting regionally and nationally. Franklin is known as one of the top recruiters in the country and that has helped the Nittany Lions win battles for elite players like Sanders, Barkley and a few others. Micah Parsons could be the biggest recruit of the bunch and that’s saying something.

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5. MICHIGAN STATE

Average national ranking: 29.5

The skinny: The Spartans are another program that has been quite consistent over the last decade with its recruiting, with seven of their 10 classes finishing between No. 22 and No. 33. While the Spartans’ recruiting may not match up to the top programs on this list, several of their top recruits, like Malik McDowell, William Gholston and Larry Scott, met expectations.

Farrell’s take: Michigan State gets overshadowed by Michigan both in-state and nationally, but it wins its fair share of recruiting battles in the Midwest. Five-stars are rare, but the Spartans do a great job of developing players who were overlooked, probably better than any other program in the conference. Mark Dantonio has a great eye for talent.

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6. MARYLAND

Average national ranking: 40.1

The skinny: This may come as a surprise to some, especially with the Terps having a better recruiting decade than both Iowa and Wisconsin. It is also important to know that since their move to the Big Ten in 2014, the Terps average recruiting class is at 40.2, so it is basically identical to their ACC years. While Stefon Diggs is the most memorable big recruit of the decade, Will Likely, Yannick Ngakoue and D.J. Moore also left their mark in College Park.

Farrell’s take: The Maryland and Washington, D.C. area is loaded with talent and it seems to get better each year, so the Terps have a great recruiting territory. Keeping players home has been hard, but they’ve landed their share despite some awful years on the field under Randy Edsall and many coaching changes. Diggs was huge and was landed by current head coach Mike Locksley who is now expected to take recruiting to the next level.

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T-7. Iowa and Wisconsin

Average national ranking: 44.8

The skinny: I guess that it shouldn’t come as a surprise that two of the more consistent programs in the country would have the exact recruiting success over the last decade. While both programs have a reputation of building up lower-level recruits, top-level recruits have also prospered. Jonathan Taylor is still dominating for the Badgers this fall, while ex-Badger running backs like Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement continue to make their mark in the NFL. For the Hawkeyes, A.J. Epenesa and Tristan Wirfs have plenty of NFL eyes on them this fall.

Farrell’s take: These two programs are very similar in that they don’t have great recruiting areas and they recruit to a certain system. It’s no surprise to see Wisconsin hit home runs with running backs and develop offensive linemen and nasty defensive players while Iowa does a good job along the offensive and defensive lines as well as in the secondary.

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9. RUTGERS

Average national ranking: 50.4

The skinny: As with Maryland, Rutgers came into the Big Ten during the summer of 2014. Since the move, both the Scarlet Knight's on-field and recruiting success has been lackluster. Recruiting has actually regressed during the last five recruiting seasons, coming in at 56.4, while they were at 44.4 before the move. The production of top-level recruits has also been disappointing over the last decade, as only a few, such as Leonte Carroo and Brandon Coleman, have met expectations.

Farrell’s take: Rutgers has a great home state advantage with so much talent in New Jersey, but keeping players home is a challenge. Even when the Knights do land home-state stars like Savon Huggins and Darius Hamilton they have often fallen short of expectations. Regressing in the Big Ten is not good as more and more conference programs have now come in-state and stolen top players, especially Michigan.

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10. MINNESOTA

Average national ranking: 53.2

The skinny: The Gophers have generally found themselves in the 50s through most of the decade but have produced their two best recruiting seasons in 2018 (43) and 2019 (41). These two classes were the first two full years of coach P.J. Fleck’s time in Minneapolis, so expectations are rising. Carter Coughlin continues to produce for the Gophers, while former four-star Daniel Faalele has the potential to play at the next level.

Farrell’s take: Recruiting is up under Fleck and that’s a good thing, but the Gophers are still up against it because of a lack of home-state talent and how competitive the Midwest has become. They’ve done a good job of spot recruiting Florida and some other areas down south, but overall it has to be about player development for Minnesota to be successful.

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11. INDIANA

Average national ranking: 54.4

The skinny: For the third time this decade, the Hoosiers finished at No. 38 in 2019, their best ranking. However, they also have five finishes at higher than No. 53, including a disastrous 2010 class that saw them at No. 92. Top-level recruits have not flocked to Bloomington, but there is optimism surrounding former four-stars Tiawan Mullen, Sampson James and redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Penix Jr.

Farrell’s take: Recruiting has picked up a bit, but like many schools in the Big Ten, home state talent is lacking, so they need to go elsewhere to fill needs. I don’t think much more can be expected in recruiting for Indiana as top-25 classes are not on the horizon and in-state stars such as Gunner Kiel and Jaylon Smith head to places like Notre Dame.

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12. ILLINOIS

Average national ranking: 57.8

The skinny: Through the coaching changes and on-field disappointments of this decade, the Illini’s recruiting has also lagged behind. Never finishing better than No. 42, while having five classes worse than No. 64, the Illini are hoping that this make-or-break year with coach Lovie Smith rights the ship. Positive stories from top-level recruits has also been minimal, as the most successful has been Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who transferred to Vanderbilt.

Farrell’s take: Smith has done a good job landing some big-name marquee players in the last few years, but the lack of winning has hurt their efforts especially in state. The talent level in Illinois has regressed over the last decade and that hasn’t helped either. If Smith doesn’t make it through this season, can a new coach be expected to raise the level of recruiting? That’s a tall task.

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13. PURDUE

Average national ranking: 59.1

The skinny: While this decade has seen the Boilermakers finish as low as No. 93, excitement is building in West Lafayette after a No. 26 finish in 2019. And a good part of that excitement comes from former three-star Rondale Moore, who may be the key into bringing more big-time players to Purdue. One of these, who is already turning heads, is true freshman George Karlaftis.

Farrell’s take: Moore was a three-star get for Purdue so rankings don’t mean everything, but recruiting has been hard with so many coaching changes and a lack of consistent wins on the field. Things are getting a little better, especially after last year’s haul, so there is hope for the future. While others are trending down Purdue is trending up.

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14. NORTHWESTERN

Average national ranking: 61.2

The skinny: This is proof that recruiting isn’t everything, as the Wildcats have continuously fielded an extremely competitive team. This was proven again last season when Northwestern played in the Big Ten Championship game against Ohio State. Strict academic standards make it difficult for the Wildcats to recruit against the elite, but they do a magnificent job finding players who fit their program.

Farrell’s take: With academic restrictions and a home state that isn’t loaded with talent anymore, Northwestern finished last in the conference and have the fewest big name wins. Despite this, Pat Fitzgerald continues to put out a competitive team and develop players very well.

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