Ranking Big Ten schools on recruiting appeal

I was on a radio show in Omaha today and was asked to rank the top five Big Ten schools on their recruiting appeal. That got me thinking about how I would rank the schools 1-12 based on what they have to offer from a recruiting standpoint. Here is a fun, interesting exercise with Signing Day in our rear-view mirror.

[ MORE: What’s the success rate of Big Ten recruits ]

1. Ohio State. Urban Meyer has the complete package to sell to prospects: incredible facilities, great fans, bottomless resources fueled by a vault of money, boffo tradition, massive recruiting base and motherlodes of success. This place basically recruits itself. And, the staff is able to sell its product from coast to coast because of the OSU brand. How many Big Ten schools can do that? Not many. The Buckeyes are the Cadillac of the Big Ten, a school that typically chooses—and doesn’t recruit.

2. Penn State. I had an agent whom I trust who represents coaches tell me time and again that the three best jobs in college football are Florida, Ohio State and Penn State. It’s difficult to argue against that notion. The recruiting base at PSU is a mega plum. Penn State has all the requisite bells and whistles to offer recruits, including being its state’s flagship institution of higher learning. Yes, State College, Pa., is remote. But I think it’s the prettiest campus/setting in the Big Ten. History … tradition … it can’t be topped. And the facilities are fab.

3. Nebraska. If you ever get a chance to tour the facilities in Lincoln, do it. They will blow you away—for just about every sport. You quickly learn that money is no object. Football-wise, few schools have more deluxe accommodations than Nebraska. And fan support and tradition are unmatched, as players are treated like gods in a perfect-sized college town. Perhaps the biggest issue is an almost non-existent recruiting base that forces coaches to cast a wide net to assemble talent.

4. Michigan. Like Ohio State, the Michigan brand has appeal from the Pacific to the Atlantic. And when it comes to academic heft, no public Big Ten school can match the mortar board appeal of this place. The facilities have been overhauled. And there is lots of talent within 300 miles of campus. But, Michigan has to share its state with Michigan State. Not ideal. And game day isn’t an electric experience, as is the case at some other places.

5. Wisconsin. Since Barry Alvarez arrived in 1990, Wisconsin has been one of the Big Ten’s best programs. It can be argued no league schools have been better in that time, save for Ohio State and Michigan. Heck, let’s go ahead and say it, because it’s true. The Badgers have been to six Rose Bowls since the 1993 season. And produced loads of NFL talent, too. The facilities recently got a much-needed facelift. Want more? The academics are top-notch and the game-day experience is a frat-party-gone-wild. Oh, and Madison is nirvana among Big Ten towns. And, it’s not even close. Just walk down State Street after a game on an October night. You’ll sign a letter-of-intent before you get to the Capitol.

6. Michigan State. No doubt, the Spartans rule the roost in the state of Michigan at this moment. But it never may have the appeal of hated neighbor Michigan. I know MSU fans don’t want to hear that, but it’s true. Still, Michigan State has a lot to sell—including nice facilities. Winning the Rose Bowl after last season was fantastic. But it was 26 years between appearances. To move up the pecking order, the Spartans need more consistent big-time success. Maybe it’s coming. It certainly looks that way for a program with great history that sits in a nice recruiting base.

7. Iowa. Product sales got a boost from recent facility upgrades. They were needed—big time. The program has had lots of success it can point to dating to Hayden Fry’s arrival in 1979. Kirk Ferentz can boast of two BCS bowl appearances under his watch, among other successes. If small-town charm is your thing, then Iowa City is your place. But one recruit’s “charm” is another’s “isolation.” And a limited recruiting base forces coaches to look far and wide for talent.

8. Illinois. This is the Big Ten’s mystery team. There’s no reason why the Fighting Illini shouldn’t be in a bowl every season. Alas, this program flounders with little consistent success. A remade Memorial Stadium is a jewel to behold. You can feel the history. Plus, the school has a nice academic profile. And there is plenty of talent in-state to fill many roster spots, with Chicago just two hours up I-57. A big issue has been coaching turnover: There has been too much of it. Since 1991, Illinois has seen John Mackovic, Lou Tepper, Ron Turner, Ron Zook and Tim Beckman cycle through. As for location, you won’t find Champaign-Urbana on many postcards. This place is a conundrum.

9. Minnesota. Look, it’s the Golden Gophers’ state. There are no other major football-playing schools, just like for Wisconsin and Nebraska. And coaches have something to sell that no other public Big Ten school can: A major metro area. Yes, Columbus, Ohio, is big, but it can’t compare to Minneapolis-St. Paul. Still, the recruiting base is small. Yes, TCF Bank Stadium is sweet. But the other facilities are among the Big Ten’s worst. Once those get improved, this sleeping giant could fully awake. Why can’t Minnesota be as good as Wisconsin and Iowa? It’s a mystery in the Big Ten universe.

10. Purdue. It boggles the mind that a school of this size would struggle like it does. Some question the commitment from the top. How important are sports? Investment in facilities continues to drag. And no one ever will accuse Purdue of overpaying any coach. You know the saying: You usually get what you pay for in life. History? Tradition? Both are middling. The recruiting base lacks depth and breadth, forcing coaches all over America to fill the roster for a program that sits in an almost non-existent media market. The school’s best asset may be its academic image.

11. Northwestern. If you want a tradition-dipped program, keep looking. If you want a knock-your-socks-off game-day experience, keep looking. If you want Taj Mahal facilities, keep looking. Still, NU has some nice things to sell. It’s the only private school in the Big Ten with an ivory tower academic rep to die for. Plus, it sits on the edge of Chicago. You can see the skyline from the Ryan Field press box. Lastly, the recruiting base is good. In fact, NU is able to go across America and sell, as its unique package has a lot of appeal to a targeted demographic.

12. Indiana. Let’s just say this is an uphill battle for whoever coaches in Bloomington. The positives? The practice facility is nice; ditto the weight room. The campus is among the nicest—and most fun–in the Big Ten. But fan support is—ahem—inconsistent. Tradition is scarce. The stadium is a spartan monument to concrete. And success is an even more precious commodity. Get this: IU has been to one bowl since 1993. One. And this is an era of bowl excess. Plus, the coaches forever will have to deal with the “basketball school” label.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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Your Opinion?
Show Comments (40 Comments)
Cool Hand on 2/6/2014 @ 6:55pm EDT Said:

Are these the rankings of schools that most appeal to Tom Dienhart? Because recruiting battles, national tv exposure, attendance, etc. suggest everyone else disagrees with your assessment.

Kris on 2/6/2014 @ 7:35pm EDT Said:

well you got OSU right…fail after that

Mike on 2/6/2014 @ 8:04pm EDT Said:

Are you kidding me!? Michigan has one of the best gameday atmospheres in the entire nation .What do you mean it’s not an electric atmosphere!? Shocked that U of M is #4 on this list…..thats stunning

judith Marans on 2/6/2014 @ 8:35pm EDT Said:

Michigan does not hate Michigan State. Many of us always root for Michigan State unless it affects our standings. We hate Ohio State.

Jake on 2/6/2014 @ 8:44pm EDT Said:

No, Michigan does not have one of the best atmospheres. I’ve been there twice, and it is impressive because of the tradition, but it is not as loud as other big ten schools and the fans are not as crazy.

Kerry Ragsdale on 2/6/2014 @ 8:47pm EDT Said:

I am an Ohio State grad and I have been to every Big Ten stadium to watch my Buckeyes play…I am assuming that we get the A+ fan base that day to watch their team play us. FLAT OUT, other the the Horseshoe…..Penn State is the most electric game day experience. Michigan is big…buttttt….Wisconsin is also exciting. Penn State on a white out is louder than the “Shoe” ( although our over all experience is better….The Penn State stadium is like a giant erector set and sits in the middle of NOWHERE!!) There is a reason why Ohio State went to more BCS bowl than ANY OTHER TEAM IN THE NATION!! Also won a few too!! Our state produces soooo much football talent, both players and coaches. Don’t believe me….check Big Ten coaches and see where almost HALF of them come from!!!!!! O-H-I-O… hate if you want…but facts are facts. Go Bucks! Go Big Ten!!

Sandra Biassey Mantz on 2/6/2014 @ 8:49pm EDT Said:

OSU is great for football but you never here much about their academics.I sure they are good but they are never emphasized. .U of M, Northwestern and Wisconsin have that edge..as well as many of the others. I would post OSU at the bottom for that.

Jim Barnes on 2/6/2014 @ 9:21pm EDT Said:

Have you ever been to a game at Kinnick?

Doug on 2/6/2014 @ 10:02pm EDT Said:

Mike, for as big as the big house it, it is remarkably quiet. Having season tickets to MSU footbal for a number of years, fans from other teams say how much louder spartan stadium is, it’s just the way it is.

Craig Johnson on 2/6/2014 @ 10:13pm EDT Said:

Sandra…..please check national university ratings and you will find that tOSU is not at the bottom of the academic list. 50,000+ students can’t be wrong!

Gary L. Hale on 2/7/2014 @ 12:44am EDT Said:

Indiana might be last base on this criteria but in terms of beautiful campus, IU is at the top of the Big Ten. IU is just as nice as Penn State if not better. Northwestern in the fall is very nice. Penn State’s stadium looks like they built it 5 different times. Ohio Stadium rocks, Michigan Stadium is ok but the noise level isn’t like other places. Ohio State is 3rd this year in the Big Ten’s APR behind Wisc and Northwestern, so OSU’s academics is doing better than most. Michigan is dead last. So if there are more Michigan grads than any other school in the nation yet they are last in the athletic/academics scale does that mean its easy to get a degree from Michigan? Hmm….

Jon Palmer on 2/7/2014 @ 3:00am EDT Said:

Gary Hale. You are right about Beaver Stadium. I’m not sure of the exact number of times, but it has been expanded numerous times and at one point long ago was even moved from the opposite side of campus to its current location. I’m not trying to knock your school. Just saying stadium growth comes from many decades of on field success which resulted in ever increasing demand for tickets.

Justin on 2/7/2014 @ 5:13am EDT Said:

The Michigan games being quiet is a myth. I’ve been to Kinnick Stadium, Spartan Stadium, Beaver Stadium among others and the two Michigan Notre Dame games and Michigan was way louder. I was surprised by how quiet Kinnick was the few times I was there. I guess it’s all perception.

    jim on 2/7/2014 @ 2:56pm EDT Said:

    It’s very simple. If the home team is losing or doing poorly the home stadium is naturally going to be much more quite than if the opposite was happening. A no brainer. Michigan’s past few years at home have not been very friendly to them. A lot of losses.

jim on 2/7/2014 @ 6:54am EDT Said:

If I’m going to college for a great education (And that you should be) # 1- Northwestern. A chance to be #1 in the poles – Ohio St. recently all others are somewhere in the middle.

The Rhoff on 2/7/2014 @ 9:44am EDT Said:

If this had been written in 2012 I would probably agree on the positions in the bottom half of this list. However, since then IU has significantly upgraded its gameday experience and stadium atmosphere. True that the crowds are inconsistent, but the (comparative) success and style of play have brought in ticket sales. Look at other teams there and I think the Hoosiers have passed Purdue, NW, Illinois and Minnesota. The success that Kevin Wilson has had in recruiting the past two seasons are exhibit #1 as to the fact the Hoosiers are gaining swagger in recruiting.

    jim on 2/7/2014 @ 3:06pm EDT Said:

    I think IU has a ways to go in passing the resent surge Northwestern has seen in their football program. Look out Big Ten for a possible Stanford quality team in Evanston. All the right peace’s are in place.
    IU might be up now with Minn. , Pur. , and ILL.

Hayden on 2/7/2014 @ 10:14am EDT Said:

Very fair assessment, I agree with everything implicitly.

Bill on 2/7/2014 @ 11:32am EDT Said:

Michigan is way over rated. Those who say “it is the best game day” likely have not been to another stadium. AA types are very insular. Wisconsin is under rated.

Dave on 2/7/2014 @ 12:29pm EDT Said:

I don’t know if any properly-thinking person would say Northwestern or U of M aren’t the B1G’s best academic institutions. But to imply that tOSU isn’t a great academic institution would be to ignore US News and World Reports college rankings #52 out of national schools (a list that includes such stalwarts as Harvard, Yale, etc.) and individual schools within Ohio State in the teens and twenties. Ultimately, to be in the B1G requires AAU membership (though Nebraska lost their’s after joining the B1G). So to even be part of the B1G means your institution as an academic one is excellent. You’re one of 60 in the US to have that distinction – among others are Yale, Harvard, Stanford, MIT, etc. That’s some good company.

    jim on 2/7/2014 @ 3:53pm EDT Said:

    very well stated Dave. And for the reasons you mentioned is why Missouri couldn’t join the Big Ten a few years ago.

Derek on 2/7/2014 @ 12:34pm EDT Said:

Michigan game day experience is definitely worst amongst the top conference teams (pretty much everyone but IU, Purdue, and NW). There doesn’t seem to be as much genuine interest from the students and the place is just not that loud. Maybe it is due to the stadium design which is essentially a wide-brimmed soup bowl? I grew up a Michigan fan so I’m not trying to hate.

brh on 2/7/2014 @ 12:49pm EDT Said:

Best academic reputation(s) in the Big Ten: first is Northwestern, second Michigan (and both rank in the top 30 Nationally as well). Ohio State and Michigan State rank at the bottom. Source: U.S. News and World Report Annual Ranking of the Best Colleges in America, both public and private.

John on 2/7/2014 @ 1:17pm EDT Said:

Obviously this list is from the the perspective of the recruiter, not necessarily from the recruited. Tough to argue the top two- Two huge fan bases with awesome tradition in talent rich states that they are the only game in town. I’d agree with many that the Michigan game-day experiance isn’t great. Lot of people, not a ton of energy. They also don’t have a ton of talent in the state and what they do have, they have to share with MSU. Not the best setup. For the most part, I think I’d agree with this list, though, I may kick the Cats up a bit. Great college location, great education.

Marty Friedman on 2/7/2014 @ 1:21pm EDT Said:

You are correct in your statement that Michigan has a better record than Wisconsin since Barry Alvarez arrived in Madison. But if you remove the first three years of Barry’s tenure (when he was playing with someone else’s players) and count only the last 21 years, Wisconsin has a better record. SURPRISE!!!

Brian on 2/7/2014 @ 1:22pm EDT Said:

I’ve been to the Shoe, Beaver Stadium, Michigan Stadium, Purdue and Minnesota and Penn State and the Shoe were about neck and neck in terms of being loud. Penn State is great for night games and tailgating is great. I also don’t know why Michigan is number 4 on this list. A great education, a beautiful campus and a great historic tradition. Take away the adidas uniforms and Michigan is at least number 3 on this list. Minnesota also has a beautiful new stadium with a great view of the city. My rankings:

Tie PSU and MICH

Ron Paelicke on 2/7/2014 @ 2:12pm EDT Said:


For someone focusing on academia, you haven’t done your homework as to OSU’s academic standing. Most typical college rankings (US News and World Report, Kiplinger) have Ohio State between #4 and #7 overall ranked in the conference (typically behind NW, UM, PSU, Illinois and Wisconsin in that order) and rising. It’s not Ivy League but nothing to be embarrassed about either.

B1Gfan MI on 2/7/2014 @ 2:35pm EDT Said:

Michigan game weekend is a great experience no matter the weather. Quiet stadium? I don’t think so. I do know that stadium services does NOT pipe in crowd noise. A farm school to the northwest maxes out the volume to the “crowd noise” CD at every opportunity. Televised games especially get the full treatment. I have sat near the speakers in Aggie Stadium and have experienced this phenomenon first hand.

Jim Barnes on 2/7/2014 @ 4:35pm EDT Said:

In terms of which school has the most beautiful campus (based on the campuses I have seen) and I am a Hawkeye, below is how I would rate the Big 10 schools:
1. MSU
2. Indiana
3. Wisconsin
4. Iowa
5. Northwestern
6. Minnesota
7. Ohio State
8. Illinois
9. Purdue
10. Michigan

Matt Marta on 2/7/2014 @ 4:55pm EDT Said:

Tom wrote, ” Why can’t Minnesota be as good as Wisconsin and Iowa? It’s a mystery in the Big Ten universe.” That’s a question that this Gopher fan has been asking for years.

    jim on 2/13/2014 @ 1:10pm EDT Said:

    You have a very good coach there in Kill. I hope his health stays with him.
    I’m a huge Northwestern fan and I will tell you it can happen when the right people are in place, as is the case now at Northwestern. Minnesota I think is on the brink. Illinois and Indiana it’s not going very well. Purdue better be careful of loosing there once strong recruiting base. They have been on a slippery slope the last few years.

Pete T on 2/8/2014 @ 7:31am EDT Said:

“The Beave” is great on game day. I’ve never talked to an opposing fan who said our folks treated them badly (tho everyone has bad seeds). We love our B10 brethren. Its a solid stadium & all seats have a decent view. (I’ve had some nose bleed seats & have always been surprised.) They’re putting in 2 massive video boards. The next thing they have to do upgrade wireless for fan experience…and the press box is supposedly bad. The thing no one in the comments mentions but Dienhart hits on is the recruiting base. PSU sits in the middle of the Mid-Atlantic so, they can easily reach east coast kids, eastern midwest kids & parts of SEC country. Energetic young coaches like Franklin have a jewel if they work hard. Reportedly half of JoePa’s staff didn’t even recruit and still won B10’s a couple times late. As far as academics, I looked at the QS World University rankings and ALL are highly ranked. Be proud. Here’s how the B10 institutions rank…ON THE ENTIRE PLANET:

22. Michigan
29. Northwestern
37. Wisconsin
56. Illinois
99. Purdue
102. Minnesota
107. Penn State
113. Ohio State
116. Maryland
171. Michigan State
236. Iowa
240. Indiana
255. Rutgers
491. Nebraska

Marc Linhardt on 2/8/2014 @ 9:19am EDT Said:

As a Northwestern alumnus who has been to every B1G stadium I agree with the rankings.

Between tOSU, Nebraska, Michigan, and PSU you can’t go wrong ranking one above the other it just depends on who is playing the best football at the moment.

NU has academics, proximity to Chicago, and campus beauty. Only a few schools in the nation have their own beach. NU does however have little buzz, a boring town, so-so stadium, and a poor gameday atmosphere, which is I why have no problem being 11th.

I you are a recruit who values academics and wants to play big time football why go anywhere else, but if your first priority is to stay close to home or football is more important than “playing school” Northwestern is not for you.

Adam on 2/8/2014 @ 9:23pm EDT Said:

Northwestern at #11???? You can have a great career. So few of these kids go to the pros … apparently Tom forgets that. Sure, other schools offer good educations. But Northwestern offers the best in Division 1, and they make sure you actually graduate. *DROPS MIC*

Logan on 2/9/2014 @ 9:54am EDT Said:

Let’s face it stadiums well be louder on different games I’ve only been to kinnick and I can tell u it’s definatly louder when it’s a night game and a big game. But as you no if it’s 11 am and were playing a weak team and not taking care of business it doesn’t matter how drunk we all are, it’s tough to get the place going and I assume that’s how every stadium that sells out consistently is.

Donn Mayoras on 2/10/2014 @ 11:36am EDT Said:

As Purdue Football Alumni….I think Purde Football is DEAD! Purdue has had only 2 Winning Coaches since Jack Mollenkopf retired in 1969. There is no commitment to football at all. Morgan Burke is a swimmenr and more interested in balancing the budget and getting his name in the New York Times….It is a sad situation that will not improve with Mitch & Morgan.

Jon on 2/10/2014 @ 11:20pm EDT Said:

Minnesota may not have any other FBS schools in the state, but they do have to compete against a school just across the river in North Dakota that has a threepeat and consistently beats FBS teams each season.

    jim on 2/11/2014 @ 7:13am EDT Said:

    North Dakota is hardly much competition for a big ten school in recruiting. I further think most kids would rather be around Minneapolis / St. Paul than Fargo.

JGBuckeye on 2/27/2014 @ 3:00pm EDT Said:

Wait, what? Minneapolis-St. Paul is a major metropolis that Columbus cannot compete with? So I guess the combined 700,000 people in MSP are somehow cooler or more fun than the 800,000 in Columbus? How did the 47th and 66th largest cities in the US get to be so much more impressive than the 15th largest US city? Yeah, makes perfect sense, Ohio State surely cannot sell being the heartbeat of a major metropolis anything like Minnesota…#LMAO

Michigan in 2003, when they beat Ohio State at home and were heading to the Rose Bowl was a quieter stadium experience for me than going to East Lansing in 2004 when Teddy Ginn ran laps around the Spartans…Michigan’s in stadium experience is lame for the number of people they squeeze in there…awful stadium, even with the upgrades…

Penn State is amazing, hats off to them, what a great program, stadium, campus, etc. OSU’s biggest competitor in recruiting long term…

Wisconsin is great, agree with most of Dienhart’s points, but it’s odd that they don’t get many five star skill players in there…they would be scary good if they could remedy that…

Nebraska needs a coach that is larger than life to get the recruits to come back there…you can see they do pretty well solely based on program tradition, which is great, but without the big time coach, this is about as good as program tradition and great fans will be able to do for them…

People who can’t compete on the field with OSU love to dog our academic rep, but being #52 overall nationally and something like top 20 among public institutions is quite impressive…not to mention they are replacing mediocre faculty with much higher quality over time and the acceptance standards have gotten exponentially harder/higher over the last decade plus…the problem with rankings through USNWR is that moving up isn’t very easy when one of the heaviest criteria is a “reputational score” that is garnered by surveying academics at all the elite institutions and flat out asking them to list their top 50 institutions without any stats or info to back it up…

    jim on 2/28/2014 @ 12:23pm EDT Said:

    My only complaint of Ohio State – if it’s even a complaint. I am a Northwestern fan and I have been to a game against every Big Ten team in the past few years. The Ohio State fans do not represent the university as fondly as the others. They are more vulgar , loud, and very arrogant. The best surprisingly were Michigan and Penn St. fans. Nebraska, Wisconsin , Iowa, Michigan St. and Ill. are all about the same. Not bad at all. I really didn’t notice enough fan base of the follow to form an opinion. Purdue, Minn. and Ind.