We're taking a closer look at facilities across college football today at ESPN.com, and colleague Brian Bennett wrote about the omnipresent arms race to build and renovate and upgrade. Football facilities always are a big topic in the Big Ten, especially because of their impact in recruiting, and nearly every school has either built new facilities or upgraded them in the past decade.
Now it's time to rank the facilities. I've visited all 12 campuses and have a pretty good handle on who has the best digs. These rankings consider stadium, football offices/meeting rooms, weight rooms, indoor practice fields and outdoor fields. I place the biggest emphasis on the football complexes/weight rooms because that's where coaches and players do the bulk of their work. Stadiums count for something, too, as do indoor and outdoor fields.
There aren't any awful facilities in the Big Ten, but there are definitely tiers of facilities: the top four, the next three and everyone else. Some schools are making much-needed upgrades in the near future.
1. Ohio State: The Buckeyes have the total package, from a massive, iconic stadium to a stand-alone, football-only facility (Woody Hayes Athletic Center) that includes offices, meeting rooms, a weight room and memorabilia displays. They renovated their outdoor practice fields and have a decent indoor facility. Ohio State has plenty to show off for recruits.
2. Nebraska: Multiple Big Ten coaches and officials have told me how impressed they were with Nebraska's facilities after visiting Lincoln last year. A massive weight room is the highlight, but the coaches' offices, meeting rooms and locker room aren't too shabby. I love how everything is so well connected at Nebraska -- stadium to football HQ to practice facilities -- and the East stadium expansion will be another nice upgrade.
3. Michigan: It's a close call between Michigan and Penn State, but Michigan's recent upgrades to both its stadium and its indoor practice facility give it a slight edge. The Al Glick Field House might be the best indoor practice facility in the country, the weight room is impressive and the Big House upgrades have been a big hit. Schembechler Hall is the only minor drawback, but a renovation is coming.
4. Penn State: PSU has a similar setup to Ohio State, with a massive stadium and a separate, first-rate, football-only facility. The Lasch Building boasts all the amenities players need (including a massive lounge), and a revamped weight room is already a big hit with Bill O'Brien's crew. Beaver Stadium has some pluses and minuses, but Penn State's Monday-Friday facilities are terrific.
5. Michigan State: The Skandalaris Football Center took Michigan State from the second tier to the first tier, plain and simple. It's an excellent facility complete with large meeting rooms and coaches' offices, and a gorgeous lobby. The practice facilities are decent and while Spartan Stadium needs some upgrades, some are coming.
6. Iowa: Kinnick Stadium is a real treasure, one of the nation's more underrated facilities. Iowa will climb higher on this list once it completes facilities projects for a new indoor facility and football offices. The "bubble" thankfully has been deflated, and Iowa's dungeon-like football complex keeps it in the middle of the pack.
7. Illinois: Like Michigan State, Illinois would be several notches lower if these rankings were done 10 years ago. But Illinois completed a terrific stadium makeover in 2008, and made some upgrades to other areas in the north end zone. The practice facilities are middle of the pack.
8. Indiana: IU's Memorial Stadium gets a bad rap, but it's much, much better after the recent renovation. The Hoosiers have nice new coaches' offices and meeting rooms, and the weight room is new and huge. The indoor and outdoor practice fields aren't anything special, but not bad, either.
9. Minnesota: Although I'm placing more emphasis on football complexes and the like, Minnesota's sparkling newish stadium (TCF Bank) keeps it out of the basement. The Hump Dome era is mercifully over, and Minnesota hit a home run in every way with TCF Bank Stadium. The next step is obvious: upgrade the everyday facilities that lag behind most of the Big Ten.
10. Purdue: The Boilers' facilities are fine. Nothing special, but nothing that makes you cringe, either. Ross-Ade Stadium underwent a major renovation from 2001 to 2003, and some additional upgrades have been made since. The offices, meeting rooms and weight room are so-so, while the practice facilities, particularly the indoor one at the Mollenkopf Center, are solid.
11. Wisconsin: It's amazing that Wisconsin has had so much football success despite limited or outdated facilities. I'm a huge fan of Camp Randall Stadium, but Wisconsin has to use it for all outdoor practices. Every other Big Ten team has an outdoor practice field. The indoor facility is so-so, and the locker room and weight room lack sizzle you see at other Big Ten venues. The good news: Wisconsin is building an athletic performance center that could be a game-changer.
12. Northwestern: The facilities are better than they were before a mid-1990s renaissance, but Northwestern still lags behind most major-conference programs in this area. Like Wisconsin, Northwestern hasn't had a major renovation or upgrade in some time. Ryan Field is a decent venue, and a newish outdoor practice field has helped. But Northwestern needs some significant upgrades and is still waiting for approval on a facilities plan launched in October 2010.