Of all the (rightfully-earned) SEC propaganda I heard during the 2013 NFL Draft, this note stuck out to me the most: the SEC East, with 32 draft picks, had more players drafted than any other conference. The SEC West tied for second with the ACC with 31 players drafted. Overall, the SEC had 63 players drafted, while the Big Ten had 22. This was a particularly down year for the Big Ten, and having a lot of drafted players doesn't always lead to success on the college field — after all, 10-3 Northwestern had no picks in 2013 and 2-10 Illinois had four. However, it does indicate the talent gap present in college football.
Over the past decade, the Big Ten has suffered due to a drain of talent that has moved south to SEC country. That talent imbalance is obvious in the 2013 recruiting class, as 30 players from Florida, 18 from Texas, 16 from Georgia and 14 from California are all in the ESPN 150. Florida, Texas and Georgia all have SEC schools, while the top two states in Big Ten country, Ohio and Pennsylvania, had 7 and 6 players, respectively, in the rankings. Obviously, this gives a built-in recruiting advantage to SEC schools.
But as if that wasn't problem enough, Big Ten schools are now faced with a new problem, which has started to become a trend over the past few years. Not only are SEC schools winning battles for southern recruits, they're reaching into Big Ten country for recruits, as well. In the 2013 recruiting class, the top five kids from Big Ten country in ESPN's rankings all went to schools outside of the Big Ten: Notre Dame, Alabama, Ole Miss, Pitt and Auburn. South Carolina, LSU, USC and Florida also jumped in to snatch players on that list, while Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State were the only Big Ten schools to get an ESPN 150 player from Big Ten country, and Penn State only got one. The biggest "culprit" was the state of Illinois, which had five ESPN 150 players, but only one — Michigan recruit Logan Tuley-Tillman — went to a Big Ten school. The others opted for Ole Miss, LSU, USC and Notre Dame.
Even though they didn't get any of the top five players from Big Ten country — but ironically, got some stars from elsewhere — Ohio State and Michigan have shown the ability to fight SEC schools for recruits in their backyards. Michigan got eight of the 23 players from Big Ten country that were named to the ESPN 150 list, while Ohio State got four. However, the rest of the conference wasn't able to swipe a single one of the 11 remaining players on the elite list, which could cause the gap between the SEC and the Big Ten (minus Ohio State and Michigan) to widen.
The 2014 class could have similar problems for the Big Ten. There's still a long way to go before the next National Signing Day, so it's tough to draw conclusive evidence, but the Big Ten's best current recruit from that class is Iowa commit Ross Pierschbacher (No. 47 overall) and he has an Alabama offer. Unless you count Maryland and New Jersey — adding those states will help the Big Ten expand its talent base — Pierschbacher, an Iowa native, is the highest-ranked recruit in Big Ten country.
A number of uncommitted players from Big Ten country in the 2014 class are also mulling SEC offers:
Marshon Lattimore (OH) — Alabama, Tennessee
Clifton Garrett (IL) — LSU (his favorite), Alabama, Florida, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Texas A&M
Nyles Morgan (IL) — Alabama, Florida, Ole Miss
Parrker Westphal (IL) — Florida, Ole Miss, Tennessee
Elite SEC schools have also made a run at high/mid-tier recruits in Big Ten country, as Alabama swooped in to offer Ohio quarterback Deshone Kizer and Ohio wide receiver Derek Kief, who both have Northwestern offers. Of course, Big Ten teams aren't losing all of these battles to SEC schools, and they shouldn't lose all five players listed above. Illinois native Jamarco Jones, who has four SEC offers, has no SEC schools in his top four, which includes Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State. Northwestern has beaten out Tennessee and Ole Miss for recruits in its 2014 class, and as we mentioned earlier, Iowa has a commitment from a recruit with an Alabama offer. But it's definitely likely that, like the class of 2013, a number of players from Big Ten country in the class of 2014 will head south for school.
It's a tough task for the Bit Ten to keep up with the SEC when the countries most talented players are coming out of the South, but it will be even more devastating to the Big Ten if the SEC starts having more recruiting success in the North. Big Ten coaches certainly need to figure out new ways to attract southern players, but now the priority may need to shift to the homefront. If Big Ten schools can't even keep players home, things are going to get even tougher for the conference.