Iowa Hawkeyes Recruiting: One of the Toughest Jobs in College Football

David Fidler Correspondent IMarch 5, 2012

They say recruiting is the lifeblood of any college football program, and the Hawkeye program is no exception.

Certainly, there are many other elements to a college football program's success, but there is no chicken and egg scenario. A team needs quality players that fit into what it is trying to do, and that begins with recruiting those players.

Recently, Rivals named Iowa running back coach Lester Erb one of the top 25 recruiters in the nation, though at times, I wonder if Hawkeye fans appreciate just how difficult a job it is to bring recruits—let alone high-level recruits—into Iowa City.

First of all, put yourself in the place of the average 18-year-old.

If you're a highly-recruited player, you have at least some offers to play in places like Florida, California, Texas, Georgia and Louisiana. 

Those are places with 70-degree weather in January, beaches, bikinis, starlets and a whole lot of facetime on ESPN and national television.

Meanwhile, Iowa City has an average January temperature in the 20's. There are no beaches, bikinis and starlets, and the facetime on national television is usually associated with one thing—corn. How many times does ESPN show cornfields during an Iowa broadcast?

Corn is tasty, but it is hardly appealing to the average 18-year-old.

It is true that places like Ohio State, Michigan and Notre Dame are equally as cold and seasonally hostile as Iowa, but OSU, Michigan and Notre Dame are nationally prestigious schools that do not lack for national facetime.

Furthermore, there is another issue about which Iowa is at a severe disadvantage to institutions like Ohio State and Michigan, not to mention Florida and Texas.

According to a 2011 Rivals poll, the state of Iowa produces the second-fewest Division I/FBS prospects per capita of any state in the country that has an AQ school within its borders.

This poll prompted me to do some number crunching, albeit a year late.

I took every Big Ten program and counted every recruit during the most recent five-year recruiting cycle.

Then, I counted how many in-state prospects each program recruited during that time. In the end, I came up with an in-state percentage that represented how large a percentage of the given program's recruits came from within the state.

I then did the same for the top 20 winningest AQ programs over the last 10 years, of which Iowa is No. 16. However, instead of computing their most recent five-year cycle, I computed their most successful five-year cycle over the last 10 years.

The following are my results:

Between 2007 and 2011, Iowa had 111 commits. Twenty-two of those commits, or 19.8 percent, were from Iowa.

The rest of the Big Ten were:

  • Ohio State: 53.4 percent were Ohioans
  • Wisconsin: 33.6 percent
  • Michigan State: 43.5 percent
  • Michigan: 21.4 percent
  • Indiana: 31.4 percent
  • Purdue: 13.1 percent
  • Penn State: 35.7 percent
  • Illinois: 31.7 percent
  • Northwestern: 24.2 percent
  • Nebraska: 13.6 percent
  • Minnesota: 22.1 percent

First of all, it is my opinion that one of Rich Rodriguez's many failings at Michigan was that he didn't lock down the state. He chased Florida recruits, which allowed Mark Dantonio to snag a number of in-state recruits that MSU would typically have lost to Michigan.

It is no coincidence that in Brady Hoke's first year of recruiting, 31.5 percent of his recruits were from Michigan. That, as much as anything else, is a sign that Hoke, more than Rodriguez, knows what he's doing and will turn things around.

Secondly, Purdue is another program that, in my opinion, needs to concentrate on what it is doing at home. Again, that is symptomatic of Danny Hope's poor recruiting tactics, which, in the long run, could doom him.

Thirdly, Northwestern is a private school with strict academic standards and has different criteria and allowances—as well as academic limitations—that other Big Ten institutions aren't subject to.

Finally, Minnesota, which resides in the lowest per-capita FBS state, recruited 22.1 percent in-state. However, that doesn't take into consideration the issue that Minnesota usually loses its best prospects to out-of-state schools.

Larry Fitzgerald is from Minnesota. James Laurinaitis is from Minnesota. Michael Floyd is from Minnesota. More recently, 2010's No. 1 recruit in the country, Seantrel Henderson, is from Minnesota.

What they all have in common is that none of them attended, or for the most part even considered, going to their home-state school.

In other words, while it is true that Minnesota is a tough place to recruit to, it is made worse by the school's inability to keep in-state talent at home.

As for Nebraska, I have often said that what Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne did in Lincoln between 1962-1997 was a small miracle for which they deserve all the credit in the world.

However, my opinion is that Nebraska will never repeat that level of success, and much of the success they currently have—NU is the 26th-winningest program over the last 10 years—still feeds off the prestige and momentum created during that 30-year-span.

This brings me to the top-20 winningest AQ programs over the last 10 years.

Their percentages over a five-year span are as follows:

  • Southern Cal: 78.3 percent were from California
  • Ohio State: 53.4 percent
  • Oklahoma: 26.8 percent
  • Texas: 94.3 percent
  • LSU: 47.7 percent
  • Virginia Tech: 67.5 percent
  • Georgia: 61.9 percent
  • West Virginia: 7.8 percent
  • Auburn: 33.6 percent
  • Florida: 61.5 percent
  • Wisconsin: 33.6 percent
  • Oregon: 8.2 percent
  • Iowa: 19.8 percent
  • Penn State: 35.7 percent
  • Texas Tech: 75.4 percent
  • Oklahoma State: 12.4 percent
  • Boston College: 18.4 percent
  • Michigan: 21.4 percent
  • Miami (FL): 61.5 percent
  • Alabama: 40.6 percent

Most of the statistics are self-evident.

If the institution in question resides in a state that produces vast amounts of DI/FBS prospects, and that school takes care of business at home, that school is usually, though not always (notice no Florida State, Cal or UCLA) successful.

Moreover, consider the anomalies that are Oregon, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Boston College.

Oregon doesn't have much in-state talent, but bordering California, the second-most talent-rich state in the country, has paid huge dividends. 54.9 percent of Oregon's recruits between 2007-2011 were from the Golden State.

It is much the same with Oklahoma State, which shares the state, and loses most of the state's best recruits to Oklahoma. Between 2007-2011, 61.2 percent of OSU's recruits came from Texas.

While Illinois, which comprises Iowa's eastern border, produces a good number of DI/FBS recruits, it is nowhere near California or Texas.

As for Boston College and West Virginia, let's face it, playing in the Big East has helped. Since joining the ACC, BC has not has as much success as it had in the early part of the decade. Furthermore, I'm curious to see what becomes of WVU in the Big 12.

In closing, I don't mean to pull the "lil' old Iowa" card and try to say that Iowa can never compete with the big boys on the grand stage because, "well, shucks, it's Iowa."

Nevertheless, I do feel it is necessary to consider the uphill battle that Iowa has in terms of recruiting against other Big Ten institutions, let alone all other institutions in the country.

While I have qualms with some of the things Kirk Ferentz has done—or failed to do—over the last two seasons, recruiting has not been an issue.

In this respect, he and his staff have done a fine job in bringing in recruits that fit with what the program is trying to accomplish.

Of course, keeping them in Iowa City has been another story.


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