Which Conference Can Close the Gap on SEC Football's Recruiting Dominance?

Tyler Donohue@@TDsTakeNational Recruiting AnalystApril 16, 2014

TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 09:  (L-R) Head coach Les Miles of the LSU Tigers talks with head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide before the game at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 9, 2013 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Florida State enters the 2014 season as the defending champ, but make no mistake—the SEC is still king of the castle in college football.

The conference claimed seven of the final eight BCS National Championships. It produced four Heisman Trophy winners and three No. 1 overall NFL draft picks during that span.

The SEC reign also has deep roots in recruiting. According to 247Sports' composite team rankings, the conference boasted seven of the top 10 classes on signing day 2014.

An SEC squad has finished No. 1 in national recruiting rankings every year since 2008 when independent Notre Dame snagged the top spot. Alabama is currently in a class of its own when it comes to the recruiting trail, racking up four consecutive top-ranked classes.

Florida State finally put an end to the conference's national title game win streak with a win over Auburn in Pasadena. Perhaps the Seminoles or another non-SEC contender like Oklahoma or Oregon will keep the dominant conference off the pedestal again next January.

Postseason trophies aside, you have to wonder if there's even a shred of a threat to the SEC's supremacy in the recruiting spectrum. Programs have settled for slim pickings in SEC territory for years, while conference members routinely extend out of the region for top-tier talents.

Few conferences are able to put the borders up like the SEC. Now that Texas A&M and Missouri are in the mix, that landscape has quickly grown.

The Aggies gave offers to 13 Georgia juniors through the third week of February, according to The Atlanta-Journal Constitution. That's five more scholarship offers to players in the Peach State than Texas A&M extended during the past two years combined.

College Station is nearly 900 miles from Atlanta. Do you think Michigan is putting the same kind of effort into its recruitment of players from Maryland, the home of its new Big Ten Conference foe?

For the record, Ann Arbor is approximately 600 miles away from Baltimore.

The SEC's geographical expansion has widened its recruiting reach, extending across states known for producing perennial blue-chip prospects. We're talking Florida, Louisiana, Texas and Georgia.

A quick rundown of recent recruiting cycles provides a clear picture of the current situation.

There's the SEC. Then there's everybody else.

5-Star Prospects by Conference
YearSECPac-12Big 10ACCBig 12
2015 (incomplete)62021
Four-Year Total54179188
247Sports composite rankings

So which of the cluster of teams formerly known as BCS conferences stands the best chance of making inroads?

Put my vote down for the Pac-12 where star coaches, conference expansion and a growingly intriguing Southern California storyline have the conference on an upswing.

Think about the kind of head coaches this conference has cultivated and kept in recent years.

David Shaw has maintained momentum at Stanford without pause, even after the departure of Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck. He's turned down high-profile opportunities elsewhere to stick with his squad.

The same can be said for Jim Mora Jr., who has swiped significant SoCal limelight away from USC during his tenure at UCLA. Saddled with sanctions and an unsettled situation, Lane Kiffin struggled to gain stability with the Trojans and quickly drew detractors during his underwhelming tenure.

Steve Sarkisian, another member of the Pete Carroll coaching tree, returned to USC in December after turning around Washington's fortunes during a five-year stretch. He managed to secure commitments from three of South California's top 2015 prospects on signing day (Adoree' Jackson, John Smith and Damien Mama) to solidify the Pac-12's top-ranked class.

The successful flurry of commitments gives USC immediate hope for continued strides under the direction of Sarkisian. The coach quickly got to work on his 2015 class, flipping 5-star quarterback Ricky Town from Alabama in January.

UCLA responded in a big way by securing a pledge from fellow 5-star passer Josh Rosen two months later. That development sets the stage for a fresh, compelling dynamic in the rivalry between USC and the Bruins.

Rosen and Town are rated the top two pro-style quarterbacks in the country, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.

Steve Sarkisian already has USC aiming high.
Steve Sarkisian already has USC aiming high.USA TODAY Sports

The Pac-12 has benefited as a whole because of a strong 2015 class of West Coast passers.

Washington, who responded to the loss of Sarkisian by prying head coach Chris Peterson from Boise State, picked up 4-star California quarterback Jake Browning.

Brady White, another 4-star recruit from the Golden State, remains uncommitted but is likely to land in the Pac-12. His top contenders include Cal, Arizona and Washington State.

California is home to five of the top seven pro-style passers in 247Sports' rankings. Aside from Blake Barnett—a Notre Dame pledge—they seem set to square off as conference rivals for years to come.

The state also features two 4-star dual-threat quarterback prospects.

Anaheim standout Travis Waller is a top target for Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez, who has kept his explosive offensive game plan on track with the Wildcats. Fellow Southern California star Sheriron Jones also has Arizona in hot pursuit along with Arizona State and Colorado.

David Shaw and Stanford have become annual contenders.
David Shaw and Stanford have become annual contenders.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

If Pac-12 members manage to scoop up these regional quarterback recruits, the future looks bright—and very high-scoring—out west.

While the Pac-12 doesn't rival the SEC's recruiting reach, conference title contenders have proven their ability to pluck premier talent from other regions.

New Orleans defensive back Mattrell McGraw signed with Oregon in February, spurning offers from Texas A&M, Miami and LSU. Defensive end Solomon Thomas, a 5-star recruit from Texas, picked Stanford over Arkansas, Ohio State and the Longhorns.

UCLA reeled in 4-star linebackers Zach Whitley (Houston) and Kenny Young (New Orleans) during the last cycle and has already extended far beyond Hollywood for 2015 talent.

The Bruins landed electric Virginia athlete Jaason Lewis in February and added Jacksonville linebacker Victor Alexander late last year.

If Pac-12 teams continue to follow suit with strong out-of-area recruiting efforts, the conference will continue to see a rise in national prominence. Superstar prospects don't always equate to on-field success, but they sure do give you a better shot at piling up wins.

The SEC is untouchable when it comes to recruiting prowess right now as it's continuously replenished with elite talent. It's an undeniable fact that translates annually during bowl season and the NFL draft alike.

Still, this is a sport of ebbs and flows. Remember, the SEC won just one national championship between 1999 and 2006.

In order for college football to maintain competitive balance, another conference is due to rise up and challenge the SEC in the fight for future stars. Right now, the Pac-12 appears to be the best bet.


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