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Thursday, February 4, 2010
Big Ten stays out of signing day mania

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

As signing day mania reached a fever pitch Wednesday, the Big Ten almost seemed like a forgotten conference.

Big Ten teams certainly signed their share of top prospects, but the landscape around the league seemed much quieter than the ones in the SEC, Pac-10, ACC and Big 12. If I had to list the major newsmakers on signing day, it would look something like this: Urban Meyer, Lane Kiffin, kid picking from several hats, Mack Brown, Seantrel Henderson, kid mispronouncing the name of his new school, Derek Dooley, Kiffin, Meyer, Jimbo Fisher, Mack, Gene Chizik. Did I mention Kiffin? Kiffin!

You get the point.

Aside from Demar Dorsey's surprise signing with Michigan and the testy Rich Rodriguez news conference that ensued, the Big Ten was completely out of the spotlight.

Is that a bad thing? I don't think it is.

"There hasn't been much drama or excitement," Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said, "which is OK with me."

Fact: the Big Ten didn't have a banner year in recruiting. The league certainly lost some key homegrown players (Henderson, Jordan Hicks) to other programs. And recruiting plays a major role in winning national championships. I get that. But so does coaching. And player development. And guys truly blossoming after they arrive at college.

I don't think the hoopla of signing day matters as much to the Big Ten as it does to teams from other leagues. How many times have you heard how great Clemson will be after signing day? Or North Carolina? Or Mississippi? Or Auburn? Or California? When was the last time those teams won anything significant?

The Big Ten doesn't need to make a lot of noise about new players who might be good. Certain Big Ten teams like Wisconsin and Iowa make noise when it counts, during the season, largely with unheralded recruits.

"I'd rather be ranked at the end of the year than the start of the year, and the same thing holds true in recruiting," Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema told me Wednesday. "It doesn't really matter, coming in, how many stars you have behind your name. It's about what you do while you're there. We recruit to that motto a little bit.

"It was brought to my attention today, we're ranked by one recruiting service at 30th and another at 83rd. There's so many factors into this recruiting that are off-the-wall ridiculous."

And some of those things take place on signing day.

"I don't cohabitate very well with prima donnas," Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "The hat charade and the decommitting and the recommitting, I'm not looking to recruit those kind of young people. Those aren't the things that we believe in and value in our program. ... I don't really care what anybody ranks our class right now. They fit us, we believe in who they are, and more importantly, we trust our evaluation."

Although Ohio State was involved in post-signing day drama with Terrelle Pryor in 2008, several of the Buckeyes' recent stars (James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins) weren't big names on the day they signed. A bunch of first-team All-Big Ten players in 2009 -- Daryll Clark, Greg Jones, Tyler Sash, Tandon Doss, Sherrick McManis -- arrived as largely unheralded recruits.

Does a quiet signing day really hurt the Big Ten? Doubtful.

"I don't want to win signing day," Fitzgerald said. "I want to win on Saturdays in the fall."