January 29, 2010
With one of the top-ranked prospects in Ohio, five-star linebacker Jordan Hicks, opting for Texas over Ohio State Friday morning, my Yahoo colleague Dan Wetzel notes an incredible trend in the Buckeye State: Of the top four recruits in Ohio this year according to Rivals, none are headed to OSU. In fact, between five-star headliners Latwan Anderson (West Virginia), Jordan Hicks (Texas) and Spencer Ware (LSU) and elite running back Braylon Heard (Nebraska), not one of the top four talents in the Midwest's most talent-rich state is even staying in the Big Ten.
Looking around the conference, the trend is the same everywhere. Aside from the exodus from Ohio, the best player in Illinois, all-everything receiver Kyle Prater, is already enrolled at USC; Indiana's only top-50 prospect, offensive lineman James Hurst, is going to North Carolina; the only five-star player in Pennsylvania, massive defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, is bound for Florida. The best prospect in the region (and possibly the nation), Minnesota offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson, may choose Ohio State next week, but may also opt for one of the warm-weather sites he's visited since December -- USC, Florida and Miami.
You can trot out the old argument that Big Ten states don't produce as many top players as the Sun Belt states, but the issue here is that the conference isn't retaining the players that it does produce. Overall, of 26 five-star players nationally, seven of them hailing from Big Ten states, only one -- Detroit defensive end William Gholston (below), who's headed for Michigan State -- is currently committed to a Big Ten school. Only one Big Ten school (Penn State, at No. 9) is among Rivals' top 20 classes as the curtain on the '10 recruiting season begins to fall, where the SEC (from which no blue-chip escapes), Big 12, Pac-10 and ACC have at least four teams in that group. Outside of Penn State's foothold in Pennsylvania, the rest of the conference is facing a dramatic drain:
Losing more than a third of the region's home-grown talent is a disaster for any conference, but why now? It's not a trend: Last year, of the top 10 prospects in Ohio, Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania, all of three committed to non-Big Ten schools, and one of those was to Notre Dame. Ten of 12 players from Big Ten states in last year's Rivals 100 stayed in the Big Ten, consistent with the retention rate in 2007-08.
Part of the answer may be in the gaping hole left at the top of the conference by Michigan's recent descent to the bottom of the league; Iowa and Wisconsin aren't exactly in a position to replace the Wolverines among the recruiting powers in the region, much less the nation. Some of it may be in the hammering the Big Ten has taken in the media over the last three years, thanks to its string of ugly BCS flops (six straight losses, all by double digits) from 2006-08. But if anything, that stigma should have lifted this year, after Ohio State ended the conference's decade-long drought in the Rose Bowl and Penn State and Iowa both won high profile January bowl games over Southern schools to finish in the top 10 of the final polls. With the exception of Michigan's ongoing woe, 2009 was the year the Big Ten fought back.
Maybe that will carry over to more success next year, when Ohio State has its best chance to break through with a national championship-caliber season since running the table in the regular season with a Heisman-winning quarterback in 2006. If not the Buckeyes, someone has to step up: Whatever the divide in real vs. perceived perception on the field, there shouldn't be any doubt that the conference can't afford another year like this on the trail.
Other popular Yahoo! Sports blog posts:
• NFL Pro Bowler kicked off team for ditching practice
• Video: NBA player makes block with one shoe on
• Shaun White takes nasty spill during practice