Every Tuesday, Matt Hayes tackles the 10 hottest topics in the Big Ten …

1. The B1G story

They’ve been focused on each other for so long, they’ve lost sight of what’s important.

Hyper-focused, in fact, for the past decade.

Ohio State and Michigan. Michigan and Ohio State.

It’s all that mattered, and to some, still all that means anything. And that’s the problem.

Forget about each other, and focus on the real boogeyman: the SEC.

It’s no coincidence that the Big Ten has fallen well behind the SEC in on-field play, the struggles in annual bowl matchups merely the display the failure. The bigger, and more important level of distress: the Playoff.

The Big Ten hasn’t had a national champion since Ohio State in 2014, the first year the college football postseason graduated from the BCS to a selection committee deciding which 4 teams would participate in the Playoff.

Prior to that, the last Big Ten national title was 2002 from Ohio State. That’s 2 national titles in 2 decades for a conference that generates more revenue for member institutions than any other.

That’s 2 national titles in 2 decades for a conference that is built around 2 programs and 12 others that are — for the most part and with a few rare exceptions — no factor in the national championship hunt.   

Want to know why the SEC is so dominant on the field over the past 2 decades, why the league is 10-1 in Playoff semifinal games, and has had at least 1 team playing in the Playoff National Championship Game the past 8 years (winning 5)?

It begins and ends with players.

Coaching is important, and the right staff of recruiters and teachers will go a long way in putting players in position to reach their ceiling. But players change everything.

The 5 SEC teams (Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Florida, Auburn) that have combined to win 13 national titles in the past 2 decades were built with better players. It’s not a secret formula, but there is a specific path to follow.

Recruiting is everything. Or as one Big Ten told me, “We’ve got to change the way we’re recruiting. All of us. The world has changed.”

2. The open market

A few weeks ago, on early national signing day, the SEC landed 10 of its 14 teams in the 247Sports top 25 composite ranking.

The Big Ten had 4.

A year earlier, the SEC had 10 in the final 247Sports top 25 ranking, and the B1G had 5.

That number shouldn’t be decreasing for the Big Ten in the new world of NIL and free player movement. It should be drastically increasing if their schools are doing it right.

The new world is all about collectives and their power to assist in high school and transfer portal recruiting. You want an elite high school player, or an impact player from the transfer portal, the collectives are the key to everything.

This is the B1G’s path to breaking free from the 2-team fistfight at the top of the conference. The way it wins national titles (plural).

The way it changes the direction of a conference whose commissioner has the stones to build an Alliance and promote it as friendly likes minds — and then absolutely cut one of the Alliance members to pieces by taking its 2 top properties. It’s time to be ruthless in recruiting.

Forget the Big Ten ideals of “doing it the right way” or “playing by the rules” — whatever that means. It’s time to do it the only way that works — and it’s the same road everyone else is traveling.

You want to get into the south and beat SEC schools for elite high school players? Get bigger and stronger and more influential collectives.

You want to beat SEC schools for impact transfer portal players? Fill the coffers of collectives any way possible.

Indiana has won 6 games over the past 2 seasons, and may as well be a world away from the 2020 season when the Big Ten changed COVID return to rules midstream to get Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game ahead of the Hoosiers.

Three weeks ago, Indiana landed the No. 25-ranked recruiting class. That didn’t happen because the Hoosiers are still feeling residual from 2020, or because they have the best facilities in the Big Ten.

IU coach Tom Allen is an elite recruiter, and has been since his days as an SEC assistant. But even Allen isn’t luring Top 25 recruits the Indiana without the help of NIL.

3. The new age, The Epilogue

The enormity of what happened last weekend in the Fiesta Bowl can’t be overlooked:

TCU is in the Playoff National Championship Game after beating the best Michigan team in a long, long time. Even better than the Wolverines’ national championship team of 1997.

Let that sink in for a moment.

TCU uses a shared weight room for all its student-athletes. It doesn’t have a fancy football-only facility where players are pampered 24/7.

It’s just a small private school in the Big 12 that got hot at the right time, and may just ride that momentum to win it all. And if TCU does?

It’s not the end of the world at Georgia, because Georgia will reload and make another run with another roster loaded with high school and transfer portal signings — with the help of collectives.

Michigan lost to TCU, and now what? How does the best Michigan team in years, with the most talented quarterback in school history, respond?

If it doesn’t include landing impact players on defense from the transfer portal, they’re not doing it right.

Forget about Ohio State and focus on the real problem: the SEC.

4. On the move

Ladies and gentlemen, the impact of recruiting, exhibit A: The rise of Penn State.

The Lions landed a top-5 class in 2022, and if recruiting classes were graded after the fact, might have had the best class in the nation.

Penn State coach James Franklin isn’t holding the Rose Bowl trophy high over his head Monday night in Pasadena without the 2022 recruiting class. Among the impact players:

  • TB Nick Singleton (1,061 yards, 12 TDs)
  • TB Kaytron Allen (867 yards, 10 TDs)
  • LB Abdul Carter (56 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 2 FF)
  • DE Dani Dennis-Sutton (3 sacks, 1 INT)
  • OT Drew Shelton (starting left tackle)

Those 5 players — and a handful of other freshmen from the 2022 class in critical backup roles — were the reason Penn State elevated from a lost program that won 11 games in 2020-21, to a team that lost only to Michigan and Ohio State and is trending to reach the top of the Big Ten in 2023.

5. The Weekly 5

The top 5 2023 nonconference games.

1. Ohio State at Notre Dame

2. Wisconsin at Washington State

3. Washington at Michigan State

4. West Virginia at Penn State

5. Minnesota at North Carolina

6. Your tape is your resume

An NFL scout analyzes a draft-eligible Big Ten player. This week: Michigan CB DJ Turner.

“A physically freakish guy. Strength, speed, explosion when breaking on the ball. A really fluid player with really good change of direction. He’s really handsy because his technique is hit and miss, and that’s going to be something that will have to change. He’s going to impress people at the Combine, and his Pro Day.”

7. Powered up

This week’s Power Poll, and 1 big thing: Best transfer portal pickup (so far):

1. Michigan: Edge Josaiah Stewart, Coastal Carolina: 16 sacks, 4 FF from 2021-22.

2. Ohio State: No transfers committed or signed.

3. Penn State: CB Storm Duck, North Carolina: 103 tackles, 5 INTs, 18 PDs from 2019-2022.

4. Purdue: QB Hudson Card, Texas: 1,523 yards, 11 TD, 2 INTs from 2020-2022.

5. Illinois: QB Luke Altmyer, Ole Miss: 3 TDs, 3 INTs as top backup in 2021-22.

6. Minnesota: WR Corey Crooms, Western Michigan: 114 catches, 12 TDs from 2019-2022

7. Maryland: S Ja’Quan Sheppard, Cincinnati: 50 tackles, 10 PD.

8. Iowa: QB Cade McNamara, Michigan: 20 TDs, 7 INTs from 2020-2022

9. Wisconsin: QB Tanner Mordecai, SMU: 7,791 yards, 80 TDs (4 rush), 23 INTs from 2018-2022.

10. Michigan State: DT Tunmise Adeleye, Texas A&M: Top 40 player in 247Sports 2021 composite recruiting rankings.

11. Nebraska: QB Jeff Sims, Georgia Tech: 4,464 yards, 30 TDs, 23 INTs from 2020-22.

12. Rutgers: S Michael Dixon, Minnesota: 28 tackles, 3 PDs in 2022.

13. Indiana: DE Andre Carter, Western Michigan: 67 tackles, 6.5 sacks in 2022.

14. Northwestern: No transfers committed or signed.

8. Ask and you shall receive

Matt: I really wanted Jim Leonhard as the Badgers coach. Should I be concerned about Luke Fickell? — Sam Thomson, Milwaukee.

Sam:

Get ready for nothing you’ve seen before. The obvious change will be the Air Raid with new offensive coordinator Phil Longo.

If you have any questions about him, look at the North Carolina quarterbacks (Sam Howell, Drake Maye) over the past 4 seasons: 130 TDs, 30 INTs.

Now look at 2023 quarterback: SMU transfer Tanner Mordecai, who threw for 3,500-plus yards and 30-plus TDs this season. Can the Air Raid thrive in colder weather, you ask?

Mike Leach’s Washington State teams were among the nation’s leaders in passing yards and touchdowns for all of his 8 seasons in the Palouse.

The big difference with Fickell — and here’s the key moving forward — is Wisconsin will recruit like it never has before. There’s only 1 way to compete consistently at the top of the Big Ten with Michigan and Ohio State: players.

9. Numbers

18. A win over Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl gave Minnesota back-to-back 9-win seasons under coach PJ Fleck, the 2nd time in the past 5 years that his teams have won 18 games over 2 seasons.

The significance? The 18 wins over 2 seasons were accomplished only 1 other time in the modern era of Minnesota football: in 2002-2003 under Glen Mason.

The Minnesota record is 27 wins over 2 seasons, set in 1903-04 when the Gophers played in the Western Conference and when — get this — both seasons included games against high school teams.

That’s right, high school teams.

10. Quote to note

Ohio State coach Ryan Day: “It doesn’t mean anything if you don’t win. That’s what hurts the most. When you put that much work and time, and you’re right there and you don’t get the victory. It hurts to our core.”