PJ Fleck Has Forced B1G West Rivals to Change Their Recruiting Best

Photo: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

January 6, 2017 in Minneapolis, Minnesota might as well have been the deserts of Alamogordo New Mexico on July 16, 1945. We found out quickly, that when Mark Coyle hired PJ Fleck as the Gophers new head football coach, he was dropping an atomic bomb on everything we knew about college football in this state.

That’s how PJ wants you to feel. This is a new age of Minnesota Gophers football and Fleck’s been clear about that from the very beginning, which in itself, has brought plenty of critics. Striving for greatness really pisses some people off but he doesn’t care because, “we aren’t going back to that”.

PJ completely changed the culture across Gopher nation and, after posting 11 wins in 2019 for the first time since the early 1900’s, we’re all hoping he’s woken a sleeping football giant, in the University of Minnesota; a giant most thought was dead.

Fleck’s arrival has sent shock waves through the Big Ten West, both on the field and off. One area where the difference can be clearly measured, is recruiting.

The Athletic is running an amazing series on recruiting in college football. It lays out where every major school has stood historically, where they are right now and where they seem to be heading in the future. It’s clean, easy to track and tells you a lot. The best type of content.

Minnesota Recruiting (via The Athletic)
45.252.938 (’18, ’20)67 (2013)9.210.8

What it told us about Minnesota recruiting, we already knew for the most part. We were really bad at it before PJ Fleck arrived and now that he’s here, we constantly find ourselves in discussions we never dreamed of being in. PJ has been here for three seasons and has the two best recruiting classes in recorded history (the internet age). He’s currently working on 2021, which is currently ranked 28th in the the country.

I opened this story to find out more about Minnesota recruiting. Instead, I found myself much more interested in the recruiting patterns of our biggest rivals across the Big Ten West.

Iowa Hawkeyes Recruiting (via The Athletic)
40.844.326 (2011)59 (2015)8.48.8

PJ Fleck has constantly talked about making Minnesota into an Iowa 2.0, when it comes to the consistency their program has created. He envies the stability the Hawkeyes have had since Hayden Frye took over in 1979, before eventually passing the torch to Ferentz 20 years later (1999).

So we know how long Kirk has been heading the Iowa football program… but why did it take until the last few seasons for him to hit the recruiting gas pedal? After great recruiting success in the early 2010’s, Iowa fell off the recruiting bandwagon during the Jerry Kill era (to bring it back to a timeline Gopher fans will understand).

From 2013 to 2016, the Hawkeyes averaged the 55th ranked recruiting class in the nation (via 247Sports). Compare that to the last few years (2017-2020), where the Hawkeyes have averaged the 39th position, nationwide. For 2021, they currently rank 24th. Coincidence?

Wisconsin Badgers Recruiting (via The Athletic)
35.039.726 (2020)65 (2012)6.67.4

The Badgers have dominated the Big Ten West since it was created, winning their division 6 out of a possible 9 times since the conference split in 2011 (originally “Legends” vs “Leaders”).

The stark recruiting difference over the last two offseasons, however, is revealing. Paul Chryst took over at Wisconsin in 2015. From 2015-2018, recruiting wasn’t top of Paul’s mind. He never surpassed #35 and averaged #40 in that 4-year span.

Since, something (who knows what?) has lit a fire under Chryst’s recruiting ass. Wisconsin’s 2019 class ranked #29 nationally, 2020 ranked #26 and 2021 is currently #16 in the country.

Changing the B1G West’s Recruiting Best

In retrospect, this uptick in recruiting isn’t surprising. We knew PJ Fleck was going to come into Minnesota and recruit like we’ve never seen. Did we expect our biggest rivals to stand back and watch? Imagine the hate mail coming into Madison if Minnesota started pulling in better recruiting classes on the regular…

They might not admit it and neither will their fans, but it’s clear that Fleck has forced other teams in the Big Ten West to up their focus on recruiting. You can’t sit in the 40’s and 50’s of college football recruiting rankings, if you want to compete in the Big Ten West in 2020 and beyond.

Iowa and Wisconsin can thank PJ Fleck for that.

Nebraska (LOL)

I have to touch on Nebby, before I got out of here. Did you know they are the best team (recruiting-wise) in the Big Ten West? Yup, and it’s not that close.

21.824.416 (2011)35 (2014)4.44.1
The Athletic

Minnesota’s best year of recruiting landed them at #38 in the country (above). The worst Nebraska has EVER finished is #35. Their 5-year and 10-year average both land in the top-25, nationwide.

That incredible recruiting acumen has led to exactly ZERO double-digit win seasons since 2013. They’ve also posted sub-.500 records every year since 2017, when Scott Frost took over as head coach.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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