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Big Ten programs doing more with less

Recruiting is an inexact science, and it seems like for every cluster of five-star players, only one or two actually evolves into a star at the college level. It's one reason why I'll never obsess about recruiting as much as, say, many of you folks do. Not that there's anything wrong with making spreadsheets about star ratings. That's just how you roll.

One trend I've noticed since this blog launched is that while the Big Ten hasn't made waves on national signing day, it does quite a bit better on NFL draft day(s). It's led me to concur that Big Ten teams, while signing fewer of the nation's elite recruits, continue to develop players for the next level.

ESPN The Magazine's LaRue Cook takes a look at the FBS teams that sent the most players to the NFL combine in 2011 and 2012, and which of the players were ESPNU 150 recruits coming out of high school. The goal: to find the programs doing more with supposedly less.

After narrowing down the field to the 13 schools that were responsible for at least 12 total invitees, we ranked them by the percentage of those players that were non-ESPNU 150 prospects. ... these teams can find elite-level talent and prepare players for the next level. Some schools just capitalize on potential more often than talent.

Four of the top five teams on Cook's list come from the Big Ten, including Nebraska, which is tied for first place with Boise State, having sent 13 players to the combine, none of whom were former ESPNU 150 prospects.

Here's the rundown:

T-1: Nebraska

2011-12 combine invitees: 13

Former ESPNU 150 recruits: 0

3. Iowa

2011-12 combine invitees: 16

Former ESPNU 150 recruits: 2

4. Wisconsin

2011-12 combine invitees: 15

Former ESPNU 150 recruits: 3

5. Ohio State

2011-12 combine invitees: 13

Former ESPNU 150 recruits: 3

I'm interested to see how fans will react to these numbers. Bo Pelini has taken some heat from fans for his recruiting methods and not bringing more decorated prospects to Lincoln. Will the fact Nebraska is sending a large contingent to the combine soften the criticism? Probably not, but it will make some folks stop and think about it.

Iowa and Wisconsin fans take pride in these numbers, although they, too, want to see more four-star and five-star players on national signing day. Both programs have some inherent obstacles in recruiting, but they're producing NFL-quality players.

Ohio State's appearance on the list might surprise some, as the Buckeyes have brought in some of the Big Ten's highest-rated recruiting classes for most of the past decade. The Buckeyes signed eight ESPNU 150 prospects in the 2008 class, but they had only two in the 2007 class. Only two of the eight ESPNU 150 prospects from the 2008 class appeared at this year's combine -- offensive linemen Mike Adams and Mike Brewster -- although three players remain at Ohio State and will be fifth-year seniors this fall.