Steven M. Sipple: Pelini faces formidable colleagues in Big Ten recruiting

2013-05-11T23:50:00Z 2013-06-12T20:08:08Z Steven M. Sipple: Pelini faces formidable colleagues in Big Ten recruiting JournalStar.com

His words came off as haughty, as often is the case.

Urban Meyer, the second-year Ohio State football coach, said in February that the entire Big Ten needs to do a better job recruiting.

Who does this guy think he is?

Well, he is merely one of the two biggest coaching names in the college game. Meyer and Nick Saban. You won't find another in that realm. Les Miles? Bob Stoops? Chris Petersen? They're somewhere on the second tier along with a few others.

Meyer and Saban possess the most powerful "wow" factor.

"The day Urban Meyer goes into a high school is almost a school holiday," said Josh Helmholdt, Midwest recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. 

That's not quite the case for Brady Hoke. But watch that guy. Hoke is a pain in Meyer's you-know-what. The third-year Michigan coach leads a staff that already has racked up nine verbal commitments for its class of 2014, four of whom have four stars by their names, according to Rivals. Ohio State has accumulated seven verbal commitments, including three four-star players.

In other words, it's the same ol', same ol' in the Big Ten, where Ohio State and Michigan almost always lead the pack in recruiting. From 2007-13, no Big Ten teams other than OSU and UM cracked the top 10 of the Rivals.com recruiting rankings.

Ohio State's class of 2013 was ranked No. 2 by Rivals, Michigan's No. 5.

Ohio State and Michigan have the obvious advantages of history, tradition, prestige and gargantuan fan bases. Of course, Nebraska boasts similar advantages. The Huskers, though, are new to the Big Ten scene. They're adjusting to new territories, Helmholdt said. But the adjustment must occur quickly, lest they get left in the dust.

Think of Nebraska as a defensive back who must adjust to a wide receiver's route. If the adjustment occurs too slowly, the wide receiver breaks free and sprints away, sort of like Ohio State and Michigan have done in Big Ten recruiting in recent years.

The key for Nebraska, Helmholdt said, will be to build and maintain recruiting momentum, especially in the talent-rich state of Ohio -- which produces roughly half of all Division I-caliber recruits in the Big Ten region.

NU sixth-year head coach Bo Pelini, a native of Youngstown, Ohio, and his staff landed seven scholarship players from Ohio in the past three recruiting classes. The Huskers, with two verbal commitments in hand for 2014, currently have scholarship offers out to no fewer than a dozen Ohio prep stars, including four-star quarterback DeShone Kizer of Toledo and four-star inside linebacker Dante Booker of Akron.

"As long as Nebraska has a competent coach in that recruiting chair, it should be able to recruit at a high level year in and year out," Helmholdt said.

Helmholdt thinks Nebraska, as a staff, has "very competent recruiters." NU's class of 2013 was ranked 17th by Rivals, the Huskers' second-highest ranking under Pelini.

"The toughest thing they've had to do is switch recruiting territories," Helmholdt said of the move from the Big 12 to the Big Ten. "I don't think people realize how difficult that is. The kids in Ohio, Indiana, Chicago, Michigan -- a lot of those kids didn't grow up watching Nebraska football."

Many of them grew up watching and hearing about Meyer, who guided Florida to national championships in 2006 and 2008 and Utah to a 12-0 season in 2004. Meyer made a huge splash last season by guiding Ohio State to a 12-0 record in his first season at the school.

Helmholdt said that without Meyer, Ohio State likely would not have drawn five-star linebacker Mike Mitchell of Plano, Texas, into its class of 2013. Ditto for five-star safety Vonn Bell of Rossville, Ga.

Meanwhile, Hoke continues to make noise by piling up elite prospects early in the recruiting cycle, as he did for UM's 2013 class.

"What I hear from recruits most is there's a genuine down-to-earth quality about Brady Hoke and his staff," Helmholdt said. "And it's not just the kids who say it -- the parents and high school coaches also seem to gravitate toward that."

Thing is, not all the best prospects can gravitate toward Michigan and Ohio State. Big Ten Network lead analyst Gerry DiNardo has said Nebraska and Penn State need to be in the top 10 of the recruiting rankings almost every year if the Big Ten is ever to threaten the SEC's dominance.

Penn State has nine verbal commitments to its class of 2014, three of whom have four-star rankings by 247sports.com. Given the massive NCAA sanctions imposed on PSU, Nebraska seems a more significant long-term threat to match or bypass the league's two recruiting heavyweights.

"We've seen teams do it in the past on occasion," Helmholdt said. "Can they do it year after year?"

Three quick strikes and I'm out:

* Although Illinois limped to a 2-10 record last season, second-year coach Tim Beckman and his staff shouldn't be overlooked as recruiters. "It's probably the hardest-working group in the Big Ten," Helmholdt said. "They're just relentless. They put out a ton of offers."

* Safety recruit Jason Hall of Grand Prairie, Texas, who verbally committed to Nebraska last week, probably should be considered a "soft commit," HuskersIllustrated.com reports. It's an example of why piling up early commitments is a bit overrated.

* SEC bottom-feeder Kentucky has six verbal commitments for 2014, including five from the state of Ohio. Vince Marrow, the former Husker graduate assistant, is listed as the lead recruiter for each of the five Ohio players. 

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.

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