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The B1G Uglies: 3 Questions From Signing Day


Posted Feb 13, 2013


Each week during the offseason, Phil Harrison, Bart Doan, and Terry Johnson discuss three hot topics on the minds of Big Ten football fans. It’s three guys with three opinions that could change the course of human history--or at least add some clarity to football being played in the Midwest. It’s the weekly B1G Uglies roundtable.


The B1G Uglies: 3 Questions--National Signing Day edition

(i) What Big Ten recruit in the 2013 class will have the biggest impact next year on the field?

Phil H:

There’s a lot to choose from in this year’s crop with the blue-chip recruits OSU and Michigan hauled in, but to find a freshman that has a shot at impacting things there has to be need plus talent. And if that’s the case, look no further than Ann Arbor and the tailback position.

As dynamic of a runner as Denard Robinson was, it has been like mining for a golden needle in a bundle of haystacks to find a durable, talented running back to compliment him. Robinson is gone, but the need is still there to have balance between the potential passing exploits of Devin Gardner and a semblance of something of a gamebreaker on the ground.

Enter stage left Derrick Green out of Richmond, Virginia. Many recruiting websites have the 5’11” 220 lb. Green as the No. 1 back out there--and he’s headed to Ann Arbor. Green has a unique blend of power and speed and comes out of the box already assembled for big-time college football. If he remains healthy, he should get a shot at staking a claim to some playing time this fall.

Bart D:

I’m game. It’s pretty hard not to nominate the aforementioned Derrick Green for this spot. Like, more obvious than Call Me Maybe being a finalist for song of the year (I still keep my man-card as I watched ZERO of the Grammys).

One thing that’s been missing from meshing Michigan past to Michigan present with the momentary upchuck that was the Rich Rodriguez era has been the elite running back. When Michigan cut its teeth as a traditional power turned staying modern power, it always had an elite back, be it Anthony Thomas, Tim Biakabutuka, or Chris Perry to name a few. And with a slew of questions surrounding Fitzgerald Toussaint from both an injury and discipline perspective, Michigan needs that one game breaker back there to change its fortunes.

Green’s signing broke the hearts of many other teams and might have ushered in the modern revival of the MIchigan running back. Aside from consistent pass catching, the pieces are there for Wolverines to make a title run, but they can’t do it without some shock and awe in the backfield. Green might be the tonic for what ails.

Terry J:

This is a really close one. As Phil already pointed out, both Ohio State and Michigan filled their respective rosters with five-star talent.

With that said, Ohio State's Mike Mitchell earns the nod. Sure, Scout.com listed Derrick Green, Vonn Bell, and Patrick Kugler as better prospects, but Mitchell is the most intriguing newcomer in the Big Ten this year.

At 6' 4" 225 pounds, Mitchell has the size to play any of the linebacker positions in the Buckeyes 4-3 scheme. However, what separates him from every other LB in the country is his 4.39 blazing speed. This unique combination gives Luke Fickell the option of using him as a speed rusher or as a linebacker in nickel situations.

In other words, Mitchell has the skill to play a number of positions for Ohio State. With this type of versatility, it’s hard to envision a scenario where he doesn't make some sort of contribution to an already-talented Buckeye squad this fall.


(ii) Do you believe the statement that Urban Meyer made about the Big Ten needing to step it up in recruiting?

Bart:

I’m probably not supposed to say so, but I love me some Urban Meyer trolling the remainder of the conference. Meyer clearly lives by the “hotter the fire, the stronger the steel” mantra. He’s basically telling the rest of the conference (absent of Michigan and Nebraska) that his job is too easy. Do I think he’s right? Not so sure on that. The B1G isn’t the SEC. Up here, occasionally ethics and academics make their way into decision making.

But is he correct? If you buy recruiting rankings, yep, he is. Scout.com put three B1G teams in the top 11. And the top 20. And 30. And nearly 40. Aside from the usual suspects, the remainder of the conference ranked woefully awful by comparison. Ostensibly he’s saying that he’s playing a skins game every year with a bunch of dudes who can’t break 85.

But recruiting rankings are nothing biblical. The real issue seems to be that Meyer is all but saying his job in getting who he wants, when he wants them, at whatever position he wants...is too easy. That’s the real message here. The B1G is a different world, where Ohio State and Michigan have historically won nearly 70 percent of the conference crowns. That’s a staggering number, and one that shows where the elite talent in the Midwest goes. Couple that with the fact that Notre Dame has a strong hold too on elite Midwestern talent, and the remainder of the B1G is left to fend for often, lesser players.

So in essence, Meyer is correct, but it probably won’t change. The B1G won’t see massive recruiting budgets, and Notre Dame is going to steal more recruits than ever. Meyer wants a challenge, even at the potential expense of his own success. You gotta love it.

Terry:

Yes, Urban Meyer is right on this one. After struggling through a mediocre season in which some college football experts suggested that the B1G was actually weaker than the ACC, it’s absolutely imperative that the teams in the conference do everything in their power to improve. That includes signing more of the nation’s top high school football players.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen this year.

Let’s be honest: most of the schools in the Big Ten laid an egg on National Signing Day. Sure, Ohio State, Michigan, and Nebraska had excellent recruiting classes, but no one else finished in the Top 35 in Scout.com’s final rankings. The bottom of the conference was especially dreadful with Minnesota’s incoming class (73) ranking lower than Conference USA middleweights East Carolina (69) and Marshall (71).

That’s not going to help bridge the gap between the Big Ten and the other major conferences.

Whether we like it or not (and personally, I don’t), recruiting is becoming a much bigger priority in college football. It’s no longer enough to let the program sell itself: coaches must take a more active role in convincing the nation’s top talent to come to their campus. If they don’t, other programs will, and the country’s best athletes will start heading elsewhere.

On the other hand, if the member institutions take Meyer’s advice, there’s no reason why the Big Ten shouldn’t become the top conference in the land. What recruit wouldn’t want to play in a tradition-rich league that competes for the national championship every season?

Time to pound the pavement (or more appropriately, the keyboard), gentlemen…

Phil:

Yeah there’s some truth to it. If you’re going to catch up with the five-star diner across the street, you have to start matching the ingredients that go into making the four-course meals that have people coming back.

Bart’s right that OSU, Michigan, and Nebraska are getting the goods, but the rest of the league has to catch up by starting to storming the front-lines of recruiting and elevate the conference by elevating the talent across the board.

One only needs to look down the street at the basketball complexes within the same league as the gold standard of how to get it done. The Big Ten was lacking in basketball talent a few years back and then the Izzos, Painters, Mattas et al, began bagging the groceries with more intensity. The result? The Big Ten is now hands down the best basketball conference in the country. And it all started by aiming high, working hard, and closing out the talent coming to the Midwest.

Now football coaches, take out your tracing paper and align it with that picture.


(iii) How does the level of recruits that OSU, Michigan, and Nebraska hold up against those of the SEC?

Terry:

At the risk of sounding like the "Debbie Downer" of the group, I should point out that recruiting classes don't really mean anything until all of the signees arrive in the fall. Unfortunately, there are a lot of things that can happen before the start of the regular season, and what transpires during that time could have a major impact on the success (or failure) of a particular recruiting class.

With disclaimer in mind, I'll say that the talent Ohio State, Michigan, and Nebraska signed last week is every bit as good - if not better than - any 2013 SEC class.

A closer look at Scout.com's recruiting rankings will bear this out. Much to the chagrin of football fans in the Southeast, Ohio State and Michigan signed the top two classes of 2013, with Alabama finishing a distant third. The Buckeyes (average recruit 4.04) and Wolverines (3.81) also ranked in the Top 5 in quality recruits as well.

That's an excellent showing for a conference that had a subpar year in 2012.

Phil:

It took me a very long time to finally be bludgeoned to death and understanding that recruiting matters so much more than anyone in the Midwest wants to believe. It also took far too long to resign to the fact that speed in certain positions is in fact an issue that needs to be addressed in the Big Ten.

But it’s not a league-wide thing. It’s at the top of both leagues where speed on the lines and consistently across the skill positions that stand out. If you look at the recruiting rankings for Ohio State over the last decade, you’d be hard pressed to find many teams--SEC or not--that had a better body of work from year to year.

Yet, year after year, we sit back and watch an SEC team win the national title. It’s clear that to be a top recruit doesn’t necessarily translate into being a dynamic difference maker on the field. But that gap closed significantly this year at the top.

Don’t forget about the Cornhuskers, but Ohio State and Michigan deserve a closer look under the microscope. Why? Because this year, there is four and five star recruits again, but this time, we’re talking about guys that can get out and run across the board. From RB Derrick Green at Michigan, to LB Mike Mitchell at OSU, to up and down the rosters, these kids might need parachutes to slow down.

Now, if only the trend continues, and the rest of the league also falls in line.

Bart:

With all due respect, I’m not on board with this game of stacking up talent. Who cares how it compares to the SEC, a conference that in the BCS era barely even has a winning record against the B1G yet is given credit for doing so much more.

It stacks up fine though. Scout.com rates the top two classes out of the B1G as Ohio State and MIchigan, respectively. That stacks up against anyone. If there’s a way of being better than 1 and 2, I don’t know what it is. Nebraska also threw their weight around nationwide, pulling players from 12 different states, proving the move to the B1G comes with the ability to further recruit nationwide. The ‘Huskers tapped California well, which is an area that B1G teams in the upper crust typically navigate well.

As for the remainder of it, Michigan and Ohio State got as many elite recruits as anyone else from any conference. If you’re expecting the conference to be wide open, not the old B1G where traditional powers tend to squeeze out the lower breeds...you were wrong. Adding Nebraska apparently will only give another team to throw more gas on the fire.


Follow Phil on Twitter @PhilHarrisonCFN, Bart @Bart_CFN, and Terry @TPJCollFootball