Bret Bielema came up with a radical idea when he was a young assistant at Iowa: He wanted to start recruiting Florida.

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It took a comparative statistical analysis for Bielema to convince coach Hayden Fry that Florida’s prospects were worth the 1,400-mile trip.

“Coming from a small town in Illinois, I’ll never forget the first week of recruiting down there,” Bielema said.

Bielema, now in his fourth season as coach at Arkansas, clearly hasn’t. The Razorbacks have 10 Floridians on the roster for today’s game against the No. 10 Gators.

His old league hasn’t forgotten, either. Florida talent has helped put as many as five Big Ten teams in the mix to make a giant splash in the Sunshine State with a trip to Tampa for the Jan. 9 national title game.

Consider where the league was in 2006, when Urban Meyer’s Gators blew out Ohio State for the BCS championship. Those Buckeyes featured only four players from Florida. In February alone, Ohio State signed three Floridians — four if you count Tyler Gerald from Bradenton’s IMG Academy.

The rest of the Big Ten has seen a similar influx. In 2006, the league’s 11 teams had 52 players from Florida. Those same programs have 88 this year. Newcomers Nebraska, Rutgers and Maryland add 31.

It’s not a coincidence that Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan were among the first schools to host satellite camps in Florida. Or that Nittany Lions coach James Franklin attended one at Jefferson High in June. Or that Michigan held spring break practices at IMG.

“Wisconsin — there aren’t that many kids here,” Badgers coach Paul Chryst said. “You’re going to go supplement. Florida’s been one of those areas.”

Big Ten teams aren’t just getting more players from Florida.

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