As important as it is for our favorite college football team to beat its most hated rivals on the field, it’s just as crucial that our coaches win battles on the recruiting trail.
You could argue that successful preparation for big games starts four full recruiting years prior to the actual contest.
The following slideshow, based on the assumption that recruiting is the foundation of eventual success, pinpoints 10 of the biggest recruiting rivalries in college football.
Although it's impossible to identify teams battling for particular high school talent in any given recruiting cycle, this presentation serves as an indicator of who fights whom for the highest-rated athletes year in and year out.
These rivalries for the talent oozing out of the nooks and crannies of our great nation are the key battles that determine which programs will dominate our great sport.
Every element of the relationship between Ohio State and Michigan oozes with palpable friction, and that includes recruiting football talent.
Though the on-field relationship between these two superpowers adds to the drama on the recruiting trail, do not forget that these two schools pull talent from the same geographic location.
Add in some concrete success in signing top-tier talent, and the Ohio State vs. Michigan recruiting clash is every bit as compelling as the gridiron meetings.
From 2009-13, the Buckeyes have hauled in five classes with an average ranking of No. 9.2 while the Wolverines earn an average rank of No. 12.2.
In terms of the current clash, Ohio State and Michigan have made offers to 16 of the same athletes from the Top 50-rated players in the Rivals 100.
Even though the Crimson Tide have pulled away from LSU and the rest of the field in terms of recruiting and championships, coaches from Alabama and its adversary LSU still knock on the same doors for the same guys.
Alabama has earned a spellbinding No. 2.4 average ranking in terms of overall recruiting class ratings from 2009-13, while LSU ranks around No. 7 over the same time period.
What this tells us is that while the Tigers and Tide might be competing for the same athletes, Alabama is winning more head-to-head battles.
This year, the two have made offers to nine of the same athletes listed in the upper half of the Rivals 100.
Of these nine offers, LSU has a strong commitment from one (OL Ethan Pocic from Lemont, Ill.), three are still considering both schools and five have opted to pledge their loyalty to other programs.
In another on-field hate fest that duplicates on the recruiting trail, Florida and Florida State are the two biggest football powers in what is arguably the best state to recruit from in the nation.
This adds up to an annual battle royale for the services of a slew of athletes.
In terms of how each school is doing, the two are neck-and-neck, with Florida averaging a No. 6 recruiting ranking from 2009-13 and Florida State one slot back at No. 7.
This is a strong indicator that both teams, given solid coaching, will continue to be successful and compete for championships on the field.
Of the Top 50 players in the Rivals 100, the Seminoles and Gators have made 16 offers to the same athletes, with seven of these prospects coming from the state of Florida.
Of those 16, Florida State has commitments from two (DE DeMarcus Walker from Jacksonville, Fla. and LB E.J. Levenberry from Woodbridge, Va.), while Florida also has two pledges (DB Vernon Hargreaves from Tampa, Fla. and RB Kelvin Taylor from Belle Glade, Fla.). Five recruits are undecided, and seven have chosen other programs.
Despite the fact that the Tide and the Trojans haven’t clashed on the gridiron since the 1985 Aloha Bowl (Alabama won 24-3), the two may represent the nation's biggest recruiting rivalry.
Not only can you almost guarantee that each program will show up on the doorstep of every top-rated athlete in the nation no matter where he lives, these two schools will also be very successful at getting the kid to sign on the dotted line.
To illustrate, Alabama’s average recruiting class ranking from 2009-13 is No. 2.4, while USC takes a small step back at No. 4.8.
Over the past five years, no two schools have been more successful on the recruiting trail than Alabama and USC.
This very real statement makes you pause to consider the impact of coaching on the bottom line of wins and losses.
In terms of this year’s battle for the best players in the nation, USC and Alabama have made offers to 22 of the same Top 50 athletes listed in the Rivals 100.
Though the Trojans currently hold a 4-0 advantage in terms of commitments from the 22 head-to-head battles, the Tide hold an advantage in four of the nine prospects who are undecided.
From a broader perspective, Alabama has pledges from four of the Top 50, while USC has six.
In the same way that Ohio State and Michigan border each other geographically and compete for recruits to translate into Saturday victories, the rivalry between Georgia and South Carolina transcends on-field hate.
Though the Bulldogs have outgunned the Gamecocks in recruiting since 2009 (Georgia has an average ranking of No. 9.4 from 2009-13 while South Carolina holds the No. 17.6 slot), South Carolina manages to keep things interesting.
Currently the Bulldogs and Cocks have made offers to 12 of the same athletes from the upper portion of the Rivals 100, with South Carolina scoring one solid commitment (LB Larenz Bryant from Charlotte, N.C.).
Two of these battles are over athletes hailing from Georgia, while two are from North Carolina-based players.
Of the seven shared offers still undecided, the Bulldogs hold at least a minimal advantage over the Cocks in three instances.
When two major college football programs hail from the same state, and both are in the midst of an upswing, you have the definition of a recruiting battle.
While Clemson and South Carolina may not be top 10 recruiting powerhouses, they have both averaged top 25 hauls over the last five years. That's no small thing when you’re scouting talent in the South.
The Gamecocks average class ranking is No. 17.6 from 2009-13, while the Tigers rate just below at No. 21.6 over the same period, a number that should improve if the current class gains momentum.
In the current race, the two programs have squared off for 13 of the same Rivals 100 Top 50 athletes, indicating both a “shoot-high” mentality and a shared interest in the same guys.
Of the head-to-head battles, South Carolina and Clemson have one commitment apiece (the Cocks with LB Larenz Bryant from Charlotte, N.C., and the Tigers with LB Dorian O’Daniel from Olney, Md.). Six recruits are still undecided.
Though the Sooners and the Longhorns pretty much have their pick of top-tier recruits from their respective states, the two powerhouses skirmish for enough talent to call it a battle between what are two very appealing destinations.
In terms of which school has had more success on the recruiting trail, Texas has been more successful with a No. 5.8 average ranking (No. 3 overall) in recruiting classes from 2009-13, while Oklahoma holds a No. 12.6 rank (No. 11 overall).
This Longhorns' advantage makes the difference in on-field results (including head-to-head meetings) between the two over the last several years all the more intriguing.
For 2013, the Horns and Sooners only offered three of the same potential signees from the Top 50 a spot, with two of the recruits from Texas.
This number is a lot lower than the other rivalries on our list; it can be explained by the fact that Texas has tendered fewer offers to Top 50-ranked athletes than in recent years.
This also might explain why the Longhorns' class of 2013 is ranked at No. 16 by Rivals, a huge drop from the top five classes they have hauled in since 2009.
Either way, there is no doubt that these programs are fighting over the same athletes in the Southwest region and beyond, which can be illustrated by looking at the bottom half of the Rivals 100.
The Iron Bowl of recruiting is just as heated as the one played on the field, with the real irony that the contest on the trail is closer than recent meetings on the turf.
Though Alabama has blown everyone away, including in-state rival Auburn, in recruiting since 2009, the Tigers have earned an average ranking of No. 11.8 in five years, which is no small potatoes.
To illustrate the scale of the recruiting rivalry, in 2013, the Tide and Tigers made offers to 23 of the same athletes from the Rivals 100 Top 50, the biggest number on our list.
And to show the stunning level of success between the two, Alabama has already received commitments from four of these head-to-head match-ups, while Auburn has secured a very healthy three pledges.
Though the bulk of these efforts are for guys in SEC country, the Iron Bowl of recruiting stretches to Indiana, Washington, Virginia, Illinois and Maryland.
Over the last five years, only Alabama has recruited more successfully than USC, but sneaking up the charts is a UCLA program that continues to attract top talent despite a bumpy road.
With the exception of 2011, when the Bruins pulled in the No. 45 ranked class, UCLA has signed top 15 ranked groups every year since 2009, and the class of 2013 currently holds the No. 12 spot on Rivals.
That’s a stunning development for the “other” team from Los Angeles.
Though the recruiting battle between USC and UCLA is still firmly in the Trojans' grasp, if the tide starts to turn on the field, what is already a heated affair for West Coast guys could get even steamier.
In 2013, the Trojans and Bruins are knocking on 13 of the same doors from the top half of the Rivals 100, with four battles fought in the state of California.
USC has already garnered commitments from three of these shared targets (DB Su’a Cravens from Murrieta, Calif., DT Kenny Bigelow from Elkton, Md. and DB Leon McQuay from Seffner, Fla.).
But if the Trojans keep pumping out subpar seasons while UCLA soars higher than expected, the door-knocking campaign could get ugly.
You could make an argument that in the Midwest, the real recruiting battle is between Ohio State, Michigan and Notre Dame.
And even though the Buckeyes and Wolverines pretty much own their home states from a recruiting standpoint, things get complicated when Notre Dame tenders an offer to a homegrown product.
This is even truer given the Irish’s recent climb almost to the summit of BCS-back Mountain.
As far as Michigan straight-up vs. Notre Dame (a closer race than Ohio State, which tops both schools), the Wolverines claim the recruiting edge over the Irish since 2009.
Michigan has a No. 12.2 average recruiting class ranking over the last five seasons, while Notre Dame lags just a hair behind at No. 13.2.
Towering over both foes, the Buckeyes have a No. 9.2 ranking average since 2009, including the very un-Ohio State-like class of 2010, which ranked a relatively low No. 25.
Looking at the class of 2013, the Midwest trio looks even stronger, with Notre Dame currently holding the No. 1 spot on Rivals.com team rankings, Ohio State is at No. 3 and Michigan is at No. 5.
The trio of schools has collectively offered scholarships to 12 of the same athletes from the top half of the Rivals 100. Of these three-way battles, Notre Dame and Ohio State each have two commitments, while the Wolverines are yet to score a win.