What's wrong with Big Ten football?

What's wrong with Big Ten football?
January 29, 2013, 8:00 am
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The Big Ten isn't as fast or as big or as strong and doesn't have has much depth as the SEC or other national teams.
—CBS Sports Network recruting analyst Tom Lemming

After driving for a month and more than 15,000 miles through Texas, New Mexico,Arizona, California, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, after filming a TV show at the Grand Ole Opry and having breakfast with Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network had some time to reflect on the state of college football recruiting and other timely subjects.

As national signing day approaches, it is clear that only two Big Ten teams -- Ohio State and Michigan -- are competitive with the leaders from the SEC and Big 12 and Pac-12. The others are struggling to earn a spot in the top 25, even top 50.

"The Big Ten isn't doing well," Lemming said. "Coaching changes have something to do with it. But the Big Ten has to expand its horizons. They have to bring in kids from Florida, Texas and California. They have to go national with their recruiting. They need to establish connections that will enable them to go national and be successful."

As usual, the conference was unimpressive and disappointing in postseason play, losing five of seven bowl opportunities. In most cases, compared to the strengths of other conferences, the overall weaknesses of Big Ten programs were revealed to one and all.

"The Big Ten isn't as fast or as big or as strong and doesn't have has much depth as the SEC or other national teams," Lemming said. "And there is no consistency. Colleges must show more loyalty and patience to coaches to develop winning programs. Instead, the alumni panic. The Big Ten is in a perpetual downward spiral by changing coaches all the time."

What the Big Ten needs to once again become a serious player on the national scene, Lemming said, is ferocious recruiting, the kind that coach Urban Meyer is implementing at Ohio State.

"Show me a coach who has golf as a hobby and I'll show you a lousy recruiter," Lemming said. "Recruiting has to be his hobby."

Lemming believes a new NCAA rule which will become effective on July 1 could give Big Ten coaches an opportunity to enhance their relationships with young recruits -- but they will have to work hard to take advantage of the new ruling by outworking SEC, Big 12 and Pac-10 coaches.

Beginning July 1, sophomores who will be juniors in the fall will be allowed to be called by college coaches on an unlimited basis.

"Kids want to hear from coach coaches but head coaches will have to work harder. There will be no time for golf or fishing or speeches," Lemming said. "Five years ago, the NCAA implemented  a rule to cut out travel in May. It was instituted to stop the likes of Pete Carroll, Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Charlie Weis and Ron Zook, who were on the road all the time in May.

"Now, according to the new rule, assistant coaches can be on the road in May and head coaches can call all the time. So who will outwork other coaches and get the great players? It comes down to aggressiveness, hard work and personality."

Lemming suggested that the new rule works in favor of USC's Lane Kiffin, Alabama's Nick Saban, Ohio State's Urban Meyer, Miami's Al Golden, Vanderbilt's James Franklin, North Carolina's Larry Fedora and LSU's Les Miles, who are recognized as the leading recruiters in the country.

At the moment, with less than two weeks to go before the national signing day on Feb.6, only three schools in the Big Ten outside Ohio State and Michigan have commitments from top 100 players.

Illinois has quarterback Aaron Bailey of Bolingbrook, Wisconsin has defensive lineman Alec James and Penn State has tight end Adam Breneman, quarterback Christian Hackenberg and defensive lineman Garrett Sickels . USC has 12, Alabama has nine, Texas six, Florida five. Notre Dame, Michigan and Auburn have four each, Ohio State three.

At Illinois, first-year coach Tim Beckman has battled criticism from big-money donors, fans, alumni and students. But he is overcoming the negativity by recruiting one of the five or six best classes in the Big Ten.

Headliners in the class are Bolingbrook quarterback Aaron Bailey, Peoria Manual running back Kendrick Foster, defensive back Caleb Day of Columbus, Ohio, nose tackle Merritt Jackson of Beileville West, linebacker Reggie Spearman of Simeon and five highly prized junior college players -- defensive tackle Abens Cajuste, linebacker Eric Finney and safety Zane Petty from California and wide receiver Martize Barr and offensive lineman Dallas Hinkhouse from Iowa.

"Beckman did well in combining high school and junior college talent," Lemming said. "You have to do that when your roster is lacking in talent."

Northwestern recruit Matt Alviti, a quarterback from Maine South, impressed observers at the Semper Fidelis All-American Game with his leadership and pinpoint accuracy. Coach Pat Fitzgerald also will get help from center Tyler Lancaster of Plainfield East, tight end Jamie Taylor from Texas and a pair of promising athletes -- Godwin Igwebeike of Columbus, Ohio., and Kyle Queiro from New Jersey.

"It is a very athletic group, a lot of kids who can run," Lemming said. "They were very productive as seniors."