The SEC's Invasion of Ohio is Bad News for the Big Ten
By Tony Gerdeman
If you pay more attention to recruiting than you probably should, then you already know that Kentucky has five Ohioans committed to their 2014 football recruiting class.
That's right, five.
Wait, let me check really quick-like to make sure no more commitments have come in since I started writing this...
...okay, still five.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Big Ten (not including Ohio State) has four. In total, the SEC currently has six Ohioans committed, with the sixth being tight end Ethan Wolf, who is committed to Tennessee.
All six of those Ohioans had offers from Big Ten schools. Here is the rundown (per Scout):
Tymere Dubose - Offer from MSU
Darryl Long - Illinois, Indiana, Purdue, Minnesota
Mikel Horton - Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue
Thaddeus Snodgrass - MSU, Nebraska, PSU, Purdue, Wisc
Dorian Hendrix - Illinois, Indiana
Ethan Wolf - Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, MSU, Minn, Neb, Pur
Here are the Ohio kids who are committed to Big Ten schools not named "Ohio State":
Ben Oxley (Northwestern)
Chris Durkin (Michigan State)
Tito Odenigbo (Illinois)
Michael Ferns (Michigan)
Ferns is the lone commitment with offers from the SEC, by the way. Which, if you would like to draw conclusions, means that the only reason Northwestern, Michigan State and Illinois were able to land Ohio commitments is because those players had no Ohio State, Michigan or SEC offers.
To be honest, we can leave Michigan out of this following discussion, because they will always recruit Ohio very well. After all, they know where their program would be without the Buckeye State.
And anyway, for as much grief as I enjoy giving Michigan fans, Brady Hoke may be the best recruiter in school history. He's certainly one of the best in the nation, and he can walk into any school in America and have a pretty good chance of walking out with whatever he wants.
Kentucky isn't going to come into Ohio and take a player from Ohio State or Michigan, but other than that, all bets are apparently off. Meanwhile, schools who have built success off of Ohio high schools are getting beaten to the punch by an SEC basketball school in Big Ten country.
But even taking Ohio State and Michigan out of the picture, that means that Kentucky, statistically the worst program in the SEC over the last five years– winner of four SEC games over the last three seasons – is coming into Ohio and taking recruits from schools who have lived off of Ohioans forever.
You have to credit Kentucky for targeting Ohio. Head coach Mark Stoops is from Youngstown, so he knows what the state has to offer. He also brought in Vince Marrow as an assistant, and Marrow has contacts all over the state.
While some may consider an Ohio kid who doesn't have offers from Michigan or Ohio State a "lesser" prospect, the Big Ten is littered with such prospects who have had major impacts on their schools. Where would those programs be without Ohio players?
Here are a few from just the last five years:
Chi Chi Araguzo
Now similar players are headed to Kentucky instead of going to Big Ten programs where they would actually compete for bowl games – and beyond.
You'll notice that Penn State, Purdue, Minnesota and Nebraska aren't on this list. Penn State's success in Ohio has waned over the years, but they've got plenty of hotbeds of their own to dig through.
Purdue has had a few Ohioans lately, but none who would be considered impact players, and Roy Roundtree probably doesn't count. With new head coach Darrell Hazell, however, I expect Ohio to become a larger priority, but he has to gain some ground first. Though if Mark Stoops can do it right off the bat, why can't Hazell?
Minnesota used to recruit Ohio when Glen Mason was the coach. He had players like Gary Russell, Alex Daniels, Ernie Wheelwright, and Bryan Cupito, who was the school's all-time leading passer until Adam Weber overtook him by default under Tim Brewster. Perhaps it's just coincidence that Minnesota went in the tank when they stopped paying attention to Ohio.
Nebraska has stretched into Ohio more of late, but they never really had a reason to head this far east before Youngstown native Bo Pelini got there. They have become a bigger player in Ohio the last few years, however.
I've said many times that recruiting is more important to the SEC than the Big Ten, and this is just one small – yet significant – example. Where would Iowa have been without Ricky Stanzi? Or Michigan State without Le'Veon Bell or Javon Ringer? Right now, those teams may be getting beaten for their next great player by a bottom-rung program with a head coach who has zero career wins to his name.
Yes, the newness and hype helps Kentucky, but so does the hard work. It almost feels like the Big Ten recruits because it has to, while the SEC recruits because it wants to. They seem to enjoy the hunt, while much of the Big Ten views it as a necessary evil. With the disproportionate talent bases trending southward by the day, it's actually the Big Ten who should be working harder to find talent. The SEC just has to step outside and ask a neighbor.
"Hey, have you seen a 6-foot-1 corner who runs a 4.4 around here?"
"Yes. I just saw him catching various wild animals with his bare hands down by the trading post."
Yet the by-product of the SEC's attitude is undeniable. The reason SEC schools work so hard in recruiting is because every other SEC school is working hard as well. If you stop fighting, you start getting beaten up. The middling Big Ten schools have lived with collusion for decades. "If you promise not to recruit hard, I'll promise too. Pinky swear!"
Trying is hard. Trying hard is even harder. Not trying hard is much easier.
Though maybe accusing coaches of not trying is oversimplifying things. Maybe kids just have no desire to attend their schools any more. Though that doesn't sound any better.
But Ohio talent leaving the Big Ten isn't just a 2014 thing. Look at the 2013 class. Five Ohio quarterbacks signed with BCS teams this past February. None of them went to the Big Ten. Instead, Notre Dame, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Boston College and Oregon State were the beneficiaries.
In 2012 there were two quarterbacks in Rivals' Top 60 in Ohio. Tyler O'Connor went to the Big Ten (MSU) and Maty Mauk went to the SEC (Missouri). In 2011, the Big Ten kept three of the five Ohio BCS quarterbacks in Rivals' Top 60, though two of them signed with the Buckeyes.
In 2010, there were three BCS quarterbacks in Rivals' Top 40 in Ohio. Two went to Notre Dame, and the other went to Pitt. I'm just using quarterbacks as an example, but since they are the most impactful player on the football field, I think it's an apt example.
The NFL Draft has already shown us how far ahead the SEC is, and I'm not saying that keeping Ohioans in the Big Ten will change that, but it will certainly help.
Ohio has been a Big Ten resource for a century plus, and for all of the middling schools in the conference, they are in danger of having that resource tapped out.
The SEC is where it's at right now. There is an entire media empire pounding this into the heads of children every day. Kids start asking for two things once they're able to talk– McDonald's and the SEC. Ohio is starting to follow suit.
I don't expect the SEC to have more Ohio commits than the Big Ten minus OSU and Michigan, but every kid that comes off the board right now is a kid that the Big Ten won't have and the SEC will. They won't all be home runs. They won't even all be singles. But what about the ones who are? The Big Ten can't afford to be missing on the kids in their own backyard. (And yes, I understand that Kentucky is literally Ohio's backyard.)
Ohio State and Michigan will be fine. The major SEC teams will steal some Ohio kids from OSU and UM here and there, but they'll be able to make up for it. (Though it could be argued that Ohio State still hasn't made up for losing Trey DePriest to Alabama.) But will Michigan State be able to make up for it? Could they have made up for not having Javon Ringer or Le'Veon Bell?
Right now, the bottom of the SEC's barrel is more appealing than Purdue, Indiana, Illinois and Minnesota. That is the fault of each of those schools, but it's also the fault of the Big Ten as a whole. The conference has a stigma right now, and as much as recruits talk to eachother every day, there are very few secrets. Kids talk about the Big Ten, but more importantly, they talk about the SEC.
It's going to take every football program in the Big Ten to change a nation of perceptions, and just maybe that first step toward change is keeping the SEC out of Ohio.
Ohio State and Michigan can only do so much in this regard, and some might argue that Michigan is already doing enough. The rest of the Big Ten needs to step up.
Either that or just wait for Kentucky to tank again and then poach their 2014 commits as they begin to look around.
That actually sounds more like the Big Ten. Just sit back and wait for kids to come back to them.
"Rather than go out and pull players in, why don't we all just sit here and see who falls back to us. How does that sound for everybody else?"
"Sounds amazing! We're in!"
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