- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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The NFL scouting combine kicks off Saturday in Indianapolis, and we'll have plenty of updates on how the Big Ten contingent fares in Underwear Olympics.
Taking a page from my pal Chris Low, I wanted to look at the recent lists of combine invitees and compare the Big Ten teams. Thirty-two Big Ten players received invitations to this year's event.
Ohio State leads the Big Ten group with seven combine invitees, followed by Michigan State, Illinois, Penn State and Wisconsin each with four players in Indy.
The Big Ten had 45 players invited to last year's event. Wisconsin led the way with eight selections, followed by Penn State and Iowa with seven each.
Let's look at the invite totals from the past three scouting combines (2013, 2012 and 2011). These are going by the official invite lists ...
Ohio State: 20 total (7 in 2013, 4 in 2012, 9 in 2011)
Wisconsin: 19 total (4 in 2013, 8 in 2012, 7 in 2011)
Iowa: 18 total (2 in 2013, 7 in 2012, 9 in 2011)
Nebraska: 16 total (3 in 2013, 4 in 2012, 9 in 2011)
Michigan State: 14 total (4 in 2013, 6 in 2012, 4 in 2011)
Penn State: 13 total (4 in 2013, 7 in 2012, 2 in 2011)
Illinois: 11 total (4 in 2013, 4 in 2012, 3 in 2011)
Michigan: 6 total (1 in 2013, 3 in 2012, 2 in 2011)
Purdue: 5 total (2 in 2013, 1 in 2012, 2 in 2011)
Indiana: 3 total (0 in 2013, 0 in 2012, 3 in 2011)
Northwestern: 1 total (0 in 2013, 1 in 2012, 0 in 2011)
Minnesota: 1 total (1 in 2013, 0 in 2012, 0 in 2011)
What do we make of these numbers? It's no surprise to see Ohio State and Wisconsin on top. The Buckeyes and Badgers have been the Big Ten's dominant teams the past few seasons, and though Wisconsin doesn't gain the same recruiting accolades as Ohio State, it has produced NFL-caliber players for quite some time, especially along the offensive line.
Iowa is another program that rarely cracks the recruiting rankings but produces plenty of NFL players. The scouts love Kirk Ferentz and his program. But Iowa's combine numbers dropped quite a bit from 2012 to 2013.
Michigan's low total certainly jumps out. The Wolverines' on-field performance and recruiting dipped during the Rich Rodriguez era, and so did their number of next-level players. But all signs point to things turning around under Brady Hoke, who runs a pro-style offense and has upgraded recruiting.
Michigan State and Illinois have steady numbers of combine invites. The big difference is that the Spartans have translated next-level players into a success on the field, while the Illini have not. Illinois' success on draft day and struggles on Saturday simply don't add up. Talent isn't the issue in Champaign.
Which Big Ten team is getting the most out of its talent? Northwestern. The Wildcats have won 23 games the past three seasons and sent only one player to the combine. That's a bit of a concern going forward, as Northwestern produced a few more pros under Randy Walker. But Pat Fitzgerald is gradually upgrading recruiting, and if he continues to win, the total should increase.
It'll be interesting to see if Minnesota's numbers go up as MarQueis Gray is the first Gopher at the combine since three players went in 2010.
Curious about the future Big Ten members? Rutgers had a team-record six players receive combine invites to this year's event -- the most in the Big East -- while Maryland is sending one player.