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Urban Meyer and James Franklin have transformed the Big Ten

In just a few years, the pair has reversed the reputation of the conference.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

“Urban and I had a pretty good conversation about this at the Big Ten meetings in Arizona. It was about how the league has changed from when he first got here to now. It’s interesting, but that’s what has made it so exciting. That’s why people are so prideful in the Big Ten and what the Big Ten is doing.”

-Penn State head coach James Franklin, via Mike Poorman,

In 2011, the state of affairs in the Big Ten didn’t look so good. Ohio State was in its interim year under Luke Fickell, ultimately resulting in its first losing season since 1988. The program was recovering from scandal and working to find its way toward a long-term solution. Fortunately, that’s where Urban Meyer stepped in. In six seasons in Columbus, Meyer is 73-8 and has brought home a national championship.

Also in the Big Ten East, Penn State is experiencing a similar resurgence under James Franklin. In 2012, Penn State, deservedly, was at its lowest point as the NCAA announced some of the most severe sanctions in history against the program amid the Jerry Sandusky abuse scandal. In just three seasons, the Nittany Lions were coached by Joe Paterno, Tom Bradley and Bill O’Brien. Instability reigned. Then, James Franklin arrived from Vanderbilt.

Both Meyer and Franklin brought a higher standard to their respective programs. Franklin had built Vanderbilt, once the doormat of the SEC, into a respectable program, earning a 24-15 record in three seasons. Meyer, obviously, brought two national championships to Florida after putting Utah on the map as a contender in the west. Since Meyer joined the conference, there have been 38 different head coaches in the Big Ten. Only Iowa, Northwestern and Michigan State have been more stable over that same period.

Now, both Meyer and Franklin’s teams finished in the top-10 of the final 2017 AP Poll, and both boast top-five recruiting classes. While the Big Ten might be imbalanced in favor of the East, the pairing of the two teams gives a major boost to each’s strength of schedule. Combined with matchups against Michigan and Michigan State, a team that goes undefeated in the East (and wins the conference title game) should have a virtual lock on a College Football Playoff bid... 2017 notwithstanding.

“Once he finally found his comfort zone--after a failed experiment that had Campbell exclusively playing on the outside--he flourished last year.”

-Bill Landis,

Far and above one of the most athletic players on the Ohio State roster this year, Parris Campbell looks to be a major weapon on offense heading into 2018. After a breakout season last year, in which Campbell recorded 40 catches (including three touchdowns), Campbell is poised to be the top target of Dwayne Haskins this fall. The rising senior, widely considered the fastest player on the team, led the Buckeyes in receiving yards last year with 584. A team captain last year, Campbell also brings significant leadership to an offense which lost its on-field general in J.T. Barrett. This veteran ability will be crucial as the team works to break in a new quarterback.

Campbell’s ability to make plays stems from his pure athleticism. He is not a true receiver—which has posed problems in the past in terms of both his route running ability and his hands—but he has proven an able receiver in the slot. More than capable of making the short reception, Campbell’s legs are what truly differentiate him as he is able to escape even the most fleet-footed defenders—something which also differentiated Campbell when it came to special teams, an area where he will likely sit out this coming season.

With so many downfield options for Haskins, including Johnnie Dixon, Austin Mack and Terry McLaurin to name a few, that slot position enables the offense to further spread the field and open up the long ball. Campbell’s strength is not so much in downfield route-running as it is in finding open space from the line of scrimmage, which further opens up the field for his teammates.

Like the rest of Zone 6, Campbell opted to return for his final year of eligibility in Columbus. This decision was more significant for Campbell, who would have assuredly been a draft pick.

“Sullinger was one of the most sought-after recruits in the country, but thankfully for the Buckeyes, he went to school less than 10 miles from Ohio State’s campus and Thad Matta was able to keep him home.”

-Kevin Harrish, Eleven Warriors

Ohio State basketball recruiting has certainly taken a leap this summer as Chris Holtmann prepares to enter his second season as head coach in Columbus. With the addition of D.J. Carton, a five-star point guard from Bettendorf, Iowa, to the class of 2019, Ohio State suddenly has a top-five recruiting class nationally. Carton, the 21st-ranked player in the country, is joined by Alonzo Faggney, a forward who is listed as the No. 30 recruit in his class nationally and the best player in Ohio. The pair will provide the basis for a class that comes on the heels of a 2018 recruiting class which featured two four-star prospects.

This recruiting legacy is nothing new, however. Despite his final two, less-than-impressive seasons in Columbus, Thad Matta managed to bring in a number of the nation’s top recruits over the past decade. At the top of the list is Jared Sullinger, who came to Columbus as part of the 2010 recruiting class. Sullinger was one of two five-star recruits in his five-man class, which happened to include DeShaun Thomas and Aaron Craft. The No.4-overall player in the country, Sullinger was a McDonald’s All-American, Naismith Prep Player of the Year and the top power forward nationally. In two seasons with the Buckeyes, Sullinger earned national freshman of the year honors and was a two-time All-American before being taken with the 21st-overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics.

D’Angelo Russell, the first one-and-done player for the Buckeyes since Greg Oden and Mike Conley, came to Ohio State as the No. 16-overall player nationally in 2014. Thomas, Sullinger’s teammate, was not far behind as the nation’s 19th-ranked player in 2010. Keita Bates-Diop, who came to Ohio State with Russell in 2014, was considered the 29th-best player in the country. Finally, in between these two powerful recruiting classes, Shannon Scott emerged as the nation’s No. 35-overall player in 2011.