To Match Meyer, B1G Must Evolve
By Joe Coughlin
Welcome to modern recruiting, Big Ten. This will be your professor, Urban Meyer.
This is a volunteer class in which you will not be forced to heed the lessons taught by Mr. Meyer; however, Mr. Meyer is an expert in the field of new-age recruiting. The professor is teaching this class as a courtesy to his comrades and counterparts in hopes of stronger competition and a league worthy of national praise instead of ridicule.
While the application of these lessons is optional, the results have been proven and following protocol may be the only way to keep pace with an already-evolved FBS landscape.
The way it is
In his first year in the league, Meyer lit up the competition – on and off the field – with his Ohio State Buckeyes.
While under a postseason suspension, not only did Meyer turn around a 6-7 unit (Under interim coach Luke Fickell, the Buckeyes were under .500 in 2011 for the first time since 1997) and go undefeated (12-0), he also secured the second-best recruiting class in the nation (Rivals.com).
He plucked players from all over the country, including those verbally committed elsewhere, like to other Big Ten programs. Using his Southern influence, he also nabbed talent from power states like Texas and Georgia. And he’s been doing that since he was hired Nov. 28, 2011. At that point, Ohio State had a decent, but slim recruiting class. After that date, Meyer picked up 10 more recruits, including a five-star and nine four-star talents, turning the 2012 class into one ranked in the top five.
Because many of those preps were ready to sign with others, Meyer drew the ire of his new opposing coaches in the league. Call it pirate recruiting or unethical, but it’s not illegal. Meyer knows what he’s doing in today’s FBS. To be the best, you need to be relentless on and off the field. Meyer-led programs win. He’s never had a losing season (at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida prior to OSU) and is 7-1 in bowl games, including two national titles (2006, 2008).
Meyer knows he is the head of the class when it comes to recruiting. He’s confident he can do it year in and out, even in his brand new environment. But he’s not too happy with what he sees in the rest of the league. Coming from the SEC, Meyer is used to more competition on the recruiting front lines. He feels the Big Ten needs to challenge him for the league to get to where it thinks it should be.
And Meyer isn’t running and hiding with his recruits, keeping quiet to benefit just his program in Columbus. He wants to take the Big Ten to school.
“We do need to, as a conference, keep pushing the envelope to be better,” Meyer told 97.1 The Fan in Columbus before the Big Ten meeting in February. “Our conversations need to be about how we recruit. … That is something we need to continue to work on and improve.”
Meyer pointed directly at the list of best recruiting classes in 2013, which features 11 SEC schools in top 25, and only three (OSU, Michigan, Nebraska) from the Big Ten.
The way it needs to be
Big Ten football has the most loyal fanbase of any conference in the FBS. You can rationally assume that from top attendance numbers and TV ratings.
These are historic and iconic programs deeply rooted in the Midwest. Similarly, the programs are deeply rooted in their ways – smash-mouth offenses, 4-3 defenses, and regional and modest recruiting. To many in the league, there’s no other way.
That has to change because those unwritten rules don’t apply to Meyer and Ohio State.
Take a look at these two recruiting OSU classes (both top-three in the country):
2013 (Urban Meyer): 24 total recruits, 16 four- or five-stars (four from Ohio, seven from Southern states)
2009 (Jim Tressel): 25 total recruits, 17 four- or five-stars (eight from Ohio, three from Southern states)
Meyer is going to fill his program’s needs no matter the geography. In 2009’s class, 14 of Ohio’s top 60 recruits chose Ohio State. Nineteen others chose fellow Big Ten schools. In 2013’s class, nine (of top 75) chose OSU while 36 signed to other league schools. There is a huge opportunity for other Big Ten schools to go into OSU’s home turf and snag talent. Ohio is widely regarded as one of the country’s top breeding grounds for prep football stars.
That’s Step 1. Step 2 is to own recruiting instate. Once you get a commitment make sure to ride it until it’s on paper because if Meyer needs your guy, he’s not going to ask permission.
The final step, one similar to Step 1, is to broaden your horizons – and not just in the recruiting world. Teams in the Big Ten need to adapt to the sexier on-field trends out there – two-quarterback schemes, spread formations, read-option looks, aggressive secondaries, upright pass-rushers, and plenty more.
Many Big Ten coaches see this as a sham, just a way to attract recruits. This is not just the new look of the FBS. It’s a way to win and do so consistently. It also has plenty of momentum in the NFL, which means you are preparing capable players for the next level.
This needs to happen to bring the Big Ten back into relevance. Currently, there’s Ohio State and Michigan and no one else. Even Michigan isn’t feared on the national level, not faring well out of the Big Ten (losing to Alabama, Notre Dame and South Carolina in 2012).
Wisconsin, Nebraska and Michigan State make the rankings, but none can piece together elite campaigns year after year. And to gain respect nationally, that’s where it starts – consistent national success by more than one school. That’s what gets recruits. And there is nothing wrong with taking a page out of a successful playbook, like Meyer's, Ohio State's or the SEC's.
If the Big Ten doesn’t adapt to the changing landscape, then, Meyer and Ohio State will make the league a one-team show.
And then, well, there’s always basketball season.