You've read the big story. You've maybe listened to Kirk Herbstreit hope for an Urban Meyer sighting, or perhaps read Mike Freeman's Jon Gruden ruminations. You've definitely read about what one might expect following a coaching change, as well as reflections on the Jim Tressel Era. But what does this mess mean for the conference, and what might be its lasting implications?
How does Tressel leaving affect the Big Ten this season? How does this affect the conference’s newly established divisions?
Ted: Other than the fact that Tressel is gone, which is huge in and of itself, it will be significant. Ohio State was the prohibitive favorite in the Leaders division for 2011, and they still have a loaded team. I don't think Luke Fickell would be named the interim head coach if he was an idiot, but if what came out in Sports Illustrated is true, I can't see Pryor, Posey, and the other Tattoo 5 playing for OSU again. Terrelle Pryor is persona non grata in Columbus, and will be viewed (wrongly) by many as the reason Tressel is gone. That means the QB will be freshman Braxton Miller or the noodle-armed Joe Bauserman. Ohio State will still be in the mix for the Leaders Division, simply for the fact that every team in that division has more questions than answers, but none more than OSU.
With respect to recruiting, I'm a firm believer that it will be determined by whoever the coach is, and as damaged as the OSU brand is right now, it's still OSU and will draw recruits, and once this scandal is in the rear view mirror they will be consistently back in the top 10 of the recruiting rankings. A good recruiter will keep the pipeline open, but it will take a hit; it's impossible not to. If you're a top recruit that has it narrowed down to an Ohio State team that isn't going to a bowl for a couple years and can't compete for a championship, or a Michigan team that can...where are you going to go? If OSU gets a guy that has a hard time recruiting on a good day, it could be devastating.
That being said, I see Michigan as the big beneficiary here. Brady Hoke is starting to get back into Ohio for recruiting, and this will definitely be to their benefit. He's chucked the RichRod spread and is going back to a more traditional Big Ten offense and defense, and those are the same players that OSU targets. Less scholarships for OSU means more guys don't go to OSU and go elsewhere, and traditionally that means Michigan is the winner in that.
Wisconsin. As mentioned in this piece and likely other places, the Badgers may very well be pre-season favorites for the division. If we manage to ignore Wisconsin’s tradition of stinking when tabbed a pre-season favorite (2000, 2007, 2008, etc.), the case is clear. Bucky returns a strong secondary, has depth along the defensive line (even after J.J. Watt’s early departure), gets Chris Borland back from injury, and brings back the two-headed monster that is James White and Montee Ball. On paper, the Badgers are poised to win the division this year and next (if I’m being a homer, feel free to hammer me in the comments section). Beyond that, Wisconsin has quietly begun recruiting at the national level, moving beyond its traditional pastures in the Dairy State and the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Glace over the rosters of some of the better Wisconsin teams from the last fifteen years (1998, 1999, 2004, 2006, 2010), and if you look closely you will see something: players from Ohio. Those players (as far as I am aware) were not offered scholarships to Ohio State (meaning little competition), and I do not believe for one second Wisconsin (or, for that matter, Michigan or Penn State) will simply waltz into Ohio and start cleaning house. In fact, I think Ohio State will prove quite resilient in this regard. But will Wisconsin, with a larger number of scholarships and the promise of post-season competition, be able to entice one or two four-star recruits to head to Madison? Yes. And those recruits might just provide the Badgers that extra playmaker they always seem to lack.