Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, February 6, 2014

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.

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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 senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, 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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