Do bowl game success and recruiting success go hand in hand? I take an in-depth look at the past 19 recruiting classes for all Big Ten football teams. For each school, I took a look at the bowl records, subsequent recruiting classes (via 247 Sports), and the coaches for each team since 2000. Some teams have had good postseason success. Unfortunately, not every team has had stable leadership. Can we link bowl success and recruiting? It is all about coaching?
Is There A Link Between Bowl Success And Recruiting in the Big Ten? Part 1.
Indiana (Average Class Ranking: 59.25)
Coaches: Cam Cameron, Gerry DiNardo, Terry Hoeppner, Bill Lynch, Kevin Wilson, Tom Allen
If you follow Big Ten football, it should come to no surprise that the worst average recruiting class belongs to Indiana University. The Hoosiers are the proud owners of an 0-3 bowl record since 2000. In that time, they have zero Big Ten championships and have gone through five coaches. Their best recruiting class was their Class of 2000, which ranked 38th. Indiana did not appear in a Bowl game after the 1999 season. Their worst ranked class was their Class of 2007. This rating is probably due to Indiana’s bowl drought of 13 years, mercifully ending the following season.
Coaches: Randy Walker, Pat Fitzgerald
Northwestern is quite the enigma within the conference. Since 2000, the Wildcats have only shared the Big Ten title once. After their 2018 campaign, however, they earned the right to get beat by Ohio State in the title game. Northwestern possesses a 4-8 record in bowl games (currently on a three-game win streak), and yet they have only changed coaches once. When they won the Big Ten, they signed their best-ranked class (26th ranked). Just four years later, they signed the 90th ranked class. I recognize and love Pat Fitzgerald, but how many coaches in today’s game could survive as long as he has?
Coaches: Joe Tiller, Danny Hope, Darrel Hazell, Jeff Brohm
Purdue has only won one Big Ten title since 2000; they shared it with Michigan and Northwestern in 2000. Ever since then, Purdue had been at the bottom of the Big Ten year in and year out. Since Brohm took over, it certainly seems like their suffering may end. The Boilermakers own a less-than-ideal bowl record of 4-8. Their best recruiting class was in 2004 when they had the 17th best class. Outside of that year, the classes have been rather abysmal. The worst class actually came in 2016 when they signed the 80th ranked class. Their most recent class is ranked 25th, so maybe they will begin to challenge for the Big Ten West Division.
Coach: Kirk Ferentz
By far the longest tenured coach within the Big Ten is Ferentz. Similar to Fitzgerald, it is mind-boggling that Ferentz is still coaching. The Hawkeyes have two Big Ten titles since 2000, and nothing since 2004. Iowa is another enigmatic case. In 2001, they signed the 111th ranked class. In 2002, they won the Big Ten and subsequently signed the 40th best class. Then, in 2004, they inked their worst class which was 114th. They went on to win the Big Ten again and signed their best class, which was ranked 6th. The Hawkeyes are one of four teams with a winning record in bowl games with an 8-7 record. Maybe recruiting success is less linked to bowl success as it is to winning your conference. Iowa certainly provides evidence to support this idea, but let’s keep researching.
Coaches: Glen Mason, Jeff Horton, Tim Brewster, Jerry Kill, Tracy Claeys, P.J. Fleck
Up next, sporting a 6-9 Bowl record with zero Big Ten championships, is Minnesota. Looking back at the Golden Gophers’ recruiting classes, they have maintained their middle of the road presence. Following their 2007 campaign where they failed to make a bowl game, they signed their best class which was ranked 26th. This is odd considering the fact that their 2001 season was capped off with no bowl appearance and they signed the 74th ranked class. Perhaps their lack of success on the recruiting trail is due to the fact that they have had six coaches in 18 years. This is not ideal for any high school recruit who prioritizes stability.
Coaches: Terry Shea, Greg Schiano, Kyle Flood, Chris Ash
If I would have asked you who the four teams in the Big Ten are that possess winning bowl records since 2000, would you have guessed Rutgers? No. Have they won their conference since 2000? Also, no. They signed their best class in 2012, which was ranked 23rd in the country. Their worst class came four years later when they posted a 64th ranked class. When Rutgers joined the Big Ten, one could have assumed that their recruiting would benefit. Honestly, it got worse. Would it be just as bad if they remained in the ACC? Probably, considering Clemson is absolutely dominating.
Coaches: Ron Turner, Ron Zook, Vic Koenning, Tim Beckman, Bill Cubit, Lovie Smith
Honestly, Illinois was doing quite well for a stretch. They won the Big Ten in 2001 and had a run of four years where they signed top 28 classes (2006-2009). Despite that, they own a 3-3 bowl record. When they signed former NFL coach Lovie Smith, I thought that it would get better. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. With the emergence of the Transfer Portal, Illinois has been pulling athletes left and right. Maybe Illinois will turn the corner in the next few years.
Coaches: Barry Alvarez, Bret Bielema, Gary Anderson, Paul Chryst
Outside of the blue-chip programs around the country, Wisconsin has produced top NFL talent year in and year out. They have a type. Their best class was in 2001, ranked 22nd in the nation, which came a year removed from a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl victory. Do Big Ten titles and Rose Bowls help to recruit? Maybe not. Their worst class was in 2012, which was situated in the middle of three consecutive Big Ten titles and Rose Bowl appearances. Unfortunately for them, they lost all three. Wisconsin is the epitome of doing the most with the least. Since its inception, Wisconsin leads all teams with five Big Ten Championship games. They also possess a winning bowl record with 11 wins and 8 losses. After their run of four losses, they have since won five bowl games in a row.
The Last Word
The bottom of the conference’s average recruiting class rankings is probably as one would expect. Recency bias would allow you to believe that the bottom seven are as expected. Outside of Wisconsin, each of these teams spends most of their time at the bottom of the standings.
Since the Big Ten Conference has fourteen teams, this study will be split up into two sections. Of the remaining six teams, who do you think will have the best average recruiting ranking? Check back soon for the top six programs and a verdict on whether or not bowl success and recruiting are linked.
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