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Big Ten’s on-field resurgence leading to big success on 2018 recruiting trail

Big Ten teams are hitting it big on the recruiting trail on the heels of one of its most successful seasons on the field in decades.

Is it the recruiting that leads to success or success that leads to better recruiting? Perhaps this is college football’s version of “did the chicken or the egg come first.” Whatever you believe, it is hard to ignore what is happening on the 2018 recruiting trail across the Big Ten.

Usual suspects Michigan and Ohio State are up there in the rankings, while resurgent efforts from Penn State and Nebraska are leading the way as well. Just how good has the Big Ten been on the 2018 recruiting trail?

Heading in to the Memorial Day period, there are no fewer than seven of the Big Ten’s 14 teams in the top 25 of 247Sports team rankings. Ohio State sits at No. 2 in the nation, trailing only Miami (FL) in the battle for the best class in the country. Right behind the Buckeyes are fellow East division dwellers, Penn State, at No. 3 nationally.

Surprisingly, Mike Riley has hit the recruiting jackpot early on in the 2018 class and rounds out the Big Ten’s contingent in the top 10, coming in at the No. 8 spot. Riley has 10 players in this class, five of them are four-star players.

It should be worth noting that Riley has hit on three wide receivers that are four-star players out of California as well as an in-state tight end and the leading player in this class is four-star cornerback Brendan Radley-Hiles who is at IMG Academy this season.

After two years of getting his recruiting bearings at his new location, the Huskers name and his West Coast recruiting connections seem to be paying off. However, he isn’t the only Big Ten West division team hitting it big this recruiting season.

Nebraska is followed in the West division by Northwestern at No. 13, Minnesota at No. 14 and Wisconsin at No. 22. Michigan, from the Big Ten East comes in at No. 17 as well.

Those who wanted to doubt the Big Ten’s potential strength pointed to its recruiting being top-heavy, with Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State running the Big Ten’s efforts usually.

No longer is that exclusively the case.

It should be noted that this also happens after one of the most competitive seasons in Big Ten history with four teams inside the top 10 at multiple points last year. Ohio State got back to the College Football Playoff and there was a serious debate about a second Big Ten team making it to the four-team playoff, as Penn State won the B1G title and was off to the Rose Bowl instead.

Wisconsin was team No. 3 in the New Years Six bowl games, taking on and beating previously undefeated Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl. Meanwhile Michigan locked horns with Florida State in easily the most memorable bowl game of the season, a 33-32 loss.

No one will accuse schools like Northwestern or Wisconsin of being flashy, but they have a great knowledge of who they are and do a great job of targeting players who fit that mold, regardless of star rankings and/or geography.

Minnesota has hit the ground running on the recruiting trail under new head coach P.J. Fleck. To date, Minnesota have 13 players already verbally committed, which shouldn’t be surprising given the energetic nature that Fleck and his staff attack every aspect of the program with.

However, we should caution that these class rankings are going to fluctuate a lot over the summer and it will be interesting to see where the likes of Northwestern and Minnesota end up once the summer is done. Part of their high stature in the national rankings comes from the pure number of recruits already in the fold. Take the Gophers for instance — they have no four-star players and all 13 of their recruits are of the three-star variety, yet they rank inside the top 25.

Northwestern is much the same story, although they have one four-star player in the mix and 11 of 13 players of the three-star variety.

What seems to be different for schools like Minnesota, Northwestern and Wisconsin is that they are getting the high three-star players in the fold instead of wadding in the pool of lesser ranked recruits.

To put this in to perspective, the only non-East division team to finish in the final 247Sports team rankings was Nebraska, which ranked No. 25 exactly. Ohio State finished second, while Michigan was No. 5 in the country. Rounding out the Big Ten contingent were Penn State at No. 15 and Maryland at No. 18.

Right now the rankings reflect an interesting switch to programs with clear identities and strong leaders getting their commitments earlier than in other years.

Will any of this recruiting momentum mean even more competitive football on the field? It certainly has born out that way in the East division, but we may be seeing Wisconsin’s days of dominating the West division in jeopardy as its rivals up the recruiting ante.

It also means Big Ten football is likely to stay at a very high level on the field for a while. That’s good news as far as we’re concerned.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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