Ranking The 15 Best States To Land College Football Recruits
One glance at a map showing the location of every top 100 recruit from 2009 will tell you where the top talent is in the country.
But while the location of great recruits is easy to discern, how easy is it to actually get those recruits away from their home state?
After all, some talent-rich states are dominated by one or two successful programs, which means the players are pointless to and useless to approach.
I'm more interested in the states that have a deep talent pool, and not enough great programs to keep them all local.
I've ranked the top 15 states I think are the best places to locate and land college football recruits, based on the talent available and the success schools have had in luring prospects away.
See what you think.
No. 15: Alabama
I picture the area between Auburn, Alabama and Tuscaloosa, Alabama to resemble the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.
Barbed wire, land mines, patrolling guards, the occasional, half-hearted toss of a grenade in the direction of your opponent...
That's how seriously Alabama and Auburn hate each other, and it's a war that plays out every year on the field and on the recruiting trail.
Of course, there are never enough recruits to satisfy both schools, and the ones they meet head to head on have had to make their hatred of the other team known.
In the most recent cycle, Auburn seems to have made SEC speed at other states more of a priority. That has only helped Nick Saban put the top talent on lockdown.
Every once in a while, a Clemson or a Florida will pick off a player here and there. But for the most part, Alabama's best players—and there are many—are headed to one Korea or the other.
2011's players to watch for: DE Jabrian Niles, S Stephen Rose, DE LaMichael Fanning, WR Daryl Collins, QB Stephen Rivers
No. 14: Arizona
Call it a hunch—and one I can't back up with numbers quite yet—but I get the feeling that Arizona will be one of the up-and-coming states in college football recruiting in the next decade.
The population shift from the Midwest to the Southwest has made Arizona one of the fastest-growing states in the country, and that doesn't just include tired old people who like sitting in air conditioning.
Scout's top offensive tackle prospect for 2011, Christian Westerman, hails from Chandler, Arizona. Last year, Marquis Flowers of Goodyear was a fringe four/five-star Army All-American (who selected the in-state Wildcats).
My Wolverines took two great line prospects in the 2009 class in DE Craig Roh and OT Taylor Lewan, both of whom were just outside the five-star range on average. In the same year, Rivals' top DE, Devon Kennard, was from Phoenix.
The depth isn't close to the other top states yet, but as far as contemporary rankings go, it's getting there.
And what's more, the in-state programs lack the elite prestige to land the top players year after year. That's why you're seeing USC, Oregon, Texas, and Michigan making inroads—someone has to step up in the power vacuum.
Watch Arizona closely. In a few more years, well see whether its football programs have caught up to the rest of the nation, or surpassed them.
2011's top players to watch: OT Christian Westerman, OT Andre Yruretagoyena, OG Jacob Arzouman, OG Cyrus Hobbi, QB Brett Hundley, DT Todd Peat.
No. 13: Louisiana
The New York Times' Fifth Down Blog ran a short piece a few years back on how Louisiana has the highest per-capita average of future NFL players, most of whom played along a 75-mile stretch along the Mississippi River.
That high per-capita average means the talent may not run as deep as some other states. But if the NFL is a reasonable destination to expect, the payoff is clearly high at the top.
Since hiring Frank Wilson, former director of athletics in the New Orleans public school system, the LSU Tigers have tightened their grip on in-state talent as the relationships with recruits' families have become more organic.
The Tigers have already gained commitments from eight of LA's top 10 prospects and are doing battle with Texas for the tentative best, DE Jermauria Rasco.
Having at least one coach on staff with ties to the Bayou is crucial for teams not named LSU to crack the Delta and land tomorrow's speedsters and solid O-linemen.
But unless Wilson gets his own job or Miles faces termination, there's reason to believe the top 8-10 players off the board will be the order of the day for years to come.
2011's players to watch: DE Jermauria Rasco, S Renaldo Thomas , RB Jeremy Hill (if he decides to decommit), WR Bradley Sylve.
No. 12: Illinois
Illinois has a surprisingly high per-capita average for NFL players (7.5 players per million). From a recruiting standpoint, its players have lingered near the top at a variety of positions over the last few years.
Kyle Prater was 2010's top wide receiver, while CJ Fiedorowicz and Christian Lombard were top five players at the tight end and OL position, respectively.
In the year prior, Illinois' top athletes were Chris Watt, Rivals' No. 2 guard, and Terry Hawthorne, the No. 6 wide receiver.
Despite fielding one of the country's largest populations, the depth isn't quite at an elite level, but it's coming along.
What makes Illinois a good state is not just the talent, but the lack of a heavy-hitting in-state program. The Ron Zook Experiment in Champaign hasn't panned out at all, and with each passing year his mythical ability to recruit seems to lose a bit more lustre.
Hence, the theft of Kyle Prater by USC and of Corey Cooper by Nebraska in the last recruiting cycle.
2011 should be an above-average year. Watch for the heavy recruitments of WR DaVaris Daniels, LB/RB Rodney Coe, OT Jack Konopka, WR Evan Spencer, OT Victor Nelson, and WR Keante Minor.
All these prospects are getting national attention not just because of their ability, but because national programs know they've got a decent chance.
No. 11: Michigan
Michigan was once a more consistent producer of top 10 talent. But because of population shifts and the ever-present economic factor, the Great Lakes state is trending backwards.
The pool is larger than Ohio's, but not necessarily as reliable per capita. Still, BCS-level players flow from schools like Cass Tech, Detroit Renaissance, Inkster, Stevenson, Orchard Lake St. Mary's, and Pioneer year after year.
With Michigan's economic problems appearing more chronic every week, the esteem of high school football in Michigan could suffer.
That said, 2010 was a strong year. Michigan boasted the top two dual-threat QBs in Inkster's Devin Gardner and Penn State's Robert Bolden. DE William Gholston (MSU), DB Dior Mathis (Oregon), and DE CJ Olaniyan (Penn State) were fringe four/five star defensive players.
Judging by the variety of programs those recruits chose, it's evident that between the ailing Wolverines program and the not-there-yet Spartans, Michigan's top talent is sometimes looking elsewhere.
2011 looks to be an even stronger crop. The Mitten State fields the top middle linebacker in Lawrence Thomas, a Michigan State commit; plus WR DeAnthony Arnett, a nationally targeted wide receiver looking for a pro-style scheme; OT Anthony Zettel and DE Brennan Beyer, two skilled linemen who favor Michigan early; and RB Justice Hayes, a speedy back drawing interest from schools throughout the Midwest.
No. 10: South Carolina
South Carolina's high school football programs have been lingering around the top 10 for a few years now.
But as the talent from schools like Byrnes, Sumter, T.L. Hanna, and Manning High Schools has started to heat up on the national stage, SC's two in-state programs are trying to be match that intensity.
Take the case of Marcus Lattimore. At first he appeared to welcome the recruiting attention, and seemed genuinely interested in becoming a national prospect.
But as Steve Spurrier's efforts became more intense, Lattimore's interest in the Penn States and Oregons and USCs seemed to die away, and he finally chose the in-state Gamecocks over Auburn a few days before Signing Day.
Though that kind of national exposure will draw elevated interest from college programs to Byrnes for years to come, it's unclear whether the Gamecocks and Tigers will be willing to let their top prospects leave the Palmetto State without a fight.
Programs like Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee, and even Michigan are trying to crack the Palmetto State.
2010 was loaded at the top, but 2011's is, in my opinion, the deeper class. Check out this great article from Tharinger.com on the Palmetto State Dynamic Dozen (Jadeveon Clowney, Charone Peake, Brandon Shell, Dexter Staley, Shon Carson, Everett Golson, Hakeem Flowers, Justin Worley, Shamir Jeffery, Phillip Dukes, Tony McNeal and Gerald Dixon) for more on South Carolina's bounty in 2011.
Clowney is expected to be one of the top, and possibly the top, prospect in the upcoming recruiting season. Golson, a QB, broke the South Carolina state record for passing touchdowns as a junior. And Flowers, a top athlete, is holding offers from over 30 schools and counting.
It looks like the recruitniks are getting the word about the Palmetto State. More time will tell us whether Dabo Swinney and Steve Spurrier care to make it interesting.
No. 9: Ohio
The Buckeye state turns out top-level talent at a high per-capita rate.
High school programs like Glenville, Moeller, Trotwood, Massillon, and Lakota West graduate consistent BCS talent year after year.
To the relief of traditional programs, the pro-style offense still runs at some schools. But the state has also transitioned well into the dual-threat era, and boasts 2011's top dual-threat QB in Huber Heights QB Braxton Miller.
And the population shift away from the Midwest hasn't seemed to affect the Rust Belt state nearly as much as that state up north.
Finally, though Ohio State has dominated the Big Ten, there are no guarantees a player will grow up a Buckeye fan. Michigan and Notre Dame, and now Texas and Florida, have shown that Ohio is still a viable battleground for the best of the Midwest.
2010 was a so-so year, but 2011 should be epic, as top national players like QB Braxton Miller, LB Trey Depriest, CB Doran Grant, and C Ryan Kelly (represent!) break onto the scene.
Aundrey Walker, A.J. Jordan, Cardale Jones, Ron Tanner, and Steve Miller are a few more 2011 names to watch for.
No. 8: Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania has had a relatively quiet few years on the recruiting circuit, but this is still the land of Chad Henne and Terrelle Pryor.
The Keystone state fielded a pair of strong defensive classes in 2009 and 2010. After a redshirt season for some, Pennsylvania's top defenders are poised to break out in 2010.
I expect big years from Monroeville's Dorian Bell and Corey Brown, both Buckeyes at positions of need; Philly's Sharrif Floyd, who should see time in the D-line rotation at Florida; and Penn Hills CB Cullen Christian, who could start on day one for Michigan.
A strong year should put Pennslvania foremost in the minds of college coaches in New England, the Midwest, and along the Atlantic coast. There are enough prospects to stock Pitt and Penn State and still have plenty of room for more.
2011's players to watch for: TE Ben Koyack (pictured), RB Jameel Poteat, OG Artie Rowell, and ATH Terrell Chestnut.
No. 7: Georgia
Between its geographical position and its tremendous talent, Georgia is a perennial battleground for recruiting efforts from a multitude of in-state and out-of-state programs.
Not only do the hometown Bulldogs and the rival Yellow Jackets duke it out for top players every year, but the in-staters also have to deal with invaders from Tennessee, Florida, Alabama, South Carolina, and Kentucky.
Sometimes those invaders get the better of the Peach State.
Last year, Georgia's top two in-state players were the subject of last-minute defections. Top wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers left UGa for Tennessee on National Signing Day, while Henry County's Markeith Ambles committed to Lane Kiffin's USC program after decommitting from the Vols earlier that month.
Still, the extent of UGa's struggles to recruit at home have been exaggerated. The four next-best players on Rivals' list all pledged to the Dawgs, and all four were, surprisingly, defenders, in spite of Mark Richt's prolonged effort to find a defensive coordinator.
Perhaps Georgia Tech fans should be more nervous—they didn't crack the list until No. 28, DB Ryan Ayers.
In any event, the circus continues in 2011. Expect a fierce battle to ensue over TE Jay Rome, RB Isaiah Crowell, ILB James Vaughters, S Tyler Hunter, DE Ray Drew, and DT Gabe Wright.
Many of Georgia's top in-state prospects have the Dawgs on a list of five or so teams and are waiting to see how Mark Richt fares in a crucial year. If they come out flat, Georgia could become an even more intense battleground right in the heart of the SEC.
No. 6: Mississippi
Second only to Louisiana in per capita NFL talent is Mississippi, which, according to a 2004 Rivals article, produces 17 NFL players per million people.
Ole Miss and Mississippi State have both vowed to make in-state recruiting a priority, and the Bulldogs, as of 2011, look to make good on that vow.
But subpar facilities and mediocre records lead to constant raids from neighboring Alabama, Louisiana and nearby Florida.
In a state with great competition and a relatively deep talent pool, top-tier talent up for grabs is a pretty appealing thought.
In addition to great high school players, Mississippi is loaded with junior colleges and community colleges to which schools can look for immediate help, or store their recruits until they can get their grades up.
Case in point: Gulf Coast Community College, from which Ole Miss grabbed top D-lineman Wayne Dorsey; or East Mississippi Community College, from which the Rebels took JUCO QB Randall Mackey.
Anyone who has read Bruce Feldman's Meat Market knows how important JUCOs were to Ed Orgeron. The Mississippi programs struggle yearly to get their recruits past the NCAA Clearinghouse, and CC's are a huge help.
2011's players to watch for: WR Nikalos Brassell, LB CJ Johnson (Mississippi State commit), WR Joe Morrow, OT Nick Redmond, WR Tobias Singleton
No. 5: Texas
The Longhorn state sometimes turns out as many as 1,000 athletes a year. And due to the high level of competition and the passionate following of fanbases, they're often as talented, mature and committed to the game as they are numerous.
However, interest in Texas comes with a price. This part of the country is controlled by the Longhorn mob, and they demand at least a 20 percent cut off the top.
Once they're through, the rest of the country is free to compete for the speedy receivers, sharp quarterbacks and demonic defensive ends that graduate Texas' high schools perennially.
I haven't been in the recruiting game long enough to tell whether Mack Brown and Texas have gotten better at siphoning the best players away, or if this has been business as usual for some time.
Regardless, the Longhorns lead the 2011 pack with 18 commitments, including from the nation's projected top cornerback (Leroy Scott) and safety (Sheroid Evans).
There are still plenty of players that don't come out of the womb favoring the Longhorns. TCU went to a BCS bowl on the Longhorns' leftovers, and used the snub as motivation.
And even with Brown tightening his grip, Bob Stoops has been able to cross the border and raid Cibolo, Dallas, Fort Worth and Marshall year after year.
But with the charismatic Tommy Tuberville set to make his debut and the turnaround and A&M penciled in for this fall, cracking Texas won't be getting any easier.
2011's players to watch for: RB Malcolm Brown, RB Aaron Green, RB Herschel Sims, S Ladarius Brown, LB Anthony Wallace.
No. 4: Virginia
The unique part about the talent in Virginia, at least according to the Times Dispatch, is that it isn't all funneling to the same school.
Of the 10 players who entered the NFL draft in 2009, only half were from Virginia Tech or UVa. The others played for Richmond, William & Mary, Saint Paul's, Norfolk State, and Liberty.
That speaks to Virginia's sheer size as a state, to the strength and variety of its academic institutions and to the lack of a dominant in-state program (no offense, Hokie fans).
It also shows there's enough talent to go around, which makes Virginia a popular stop for the Mountaineers, Bulldogs, Volunteers, Canes, and Tar Heels, among others.
The Military Academies like Hargrave and Fork Union are another strength of Virginia recruiting. They function like junior colleges, or JUCOs, expect they take prospects who not only need better grades, but also a little bit of straightening out before they hit a college campus, and give them a little military-style discipline.
Recruiters are allowed to snoop around at the Academy for prospects the other programs either forgot about or lost interest in.
This can be very beneficial for programs tired of losing players to the Clearinghouse or the drunk tank. Apparently, that's a problem in the South.
2011's players to watch for: DT David Dean, OLB Curtis Grant, ATH Clifton Richardson, LB Caleb Taylor, S Tim Scott.
No. 3: Florida
As recruiting goes, Florida's impact has been bigger and more deeply felt across the college football landscape than any other state on this list.
The Sunshine State is the most visible producer of speed and athleticism of the SEC brand. The demands on its more than 1,000 annual prospects come from way up in West Virginia and Michigan and from as far west as Oregon and USC.
That four BCS conference schools, including three with a national title in the past 15 years, often split that talent between them doesn't seem to water down its effectiveness.
On the contrary, Florida's stock as a state is skyrocketing as more college programs take notice.
High schools like Apopka, Dr. Phillips, Northwestern, St. Thomas Aquinas, and, of course, the mucktastic Pahokee program are names that have practically entered the lexicon of the above-average college football fan.
LaMarcus Joyner (Florida State), Jeff Luc (FSU), Christian Jones (FSU), Matt Elam (Florida), Chaz Green (Florida), and Corey Lemonier (Auburn) were the highest-rated players, and they all remained in-state. But there were more than 45 more four and five star players in the 2010 class for the rest of the country to choose from.
In my opinion, the competition between Miami, Florida State, and Florida is keeping the Sunshine State decentralized, and that's what's keeping the rest of the country in the hunt for Florida players.
But the walls are closing in as programs like Florida and Florida State start to take over long term, so get your Pahokee kids now, America.
2011's names to watch for: DT Tim Jernigan, OLB/RB James Wilder, QB/WR Teddy Bridgewater, RB Demetrius Hart, and ATH Hasean Clinton-Dix.
No. 2: California
California is the backbone of recruiting for all points west of Texas.
(Unfair) biases against Cali kids aside, schools from San Diego to Sacramento combine to produce the largest talent pool in the country.
Schools in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Colorado, Arizona, Nebraska, Utah, Nevada, and even Oklahoma rely on California as a home-away-from-home for recruiting. And let's not forget about Michigan and Notre Dame.
Mater Dei, Scripps Ranch, Mission Viejo and, of course, the legend of the 151-game undefeated streak at De La Salle are recognized by recruiting junkies the country over as reliable institutions for talent.
Yes, the per capita number of NFL players is very poor. But the top-tier players are the best of the best, because they've competed against the best of the best. And because the state is so big, there are no guarantees a player will prefer USC, Cal, Stanford, or UCLA to the exclusion of all other schools.
They take their football seriously out here—trust me.
2011's top players to watch: RB DeAnthony Thomas, QB Max Wittek, WR George Farmer, DT Viliami Moala, DT Christian Heyward.
No. 1: North Carolina
I can confirm that the Tar Heel state has one of the fastest-growing talent pools in the country with one look at ESPN's watch list.
A multitude of players land on the ESPNU 150 for next year, and the numbers keep going up.
What accounts for the rise of players? I'm not sure, but I'd bet it's some combination of a demographic shift to younger families; increased competitiveness among high schools; and the growing popularity of the sport in the south.
In any event, North Carolina is becoming one of the foremost producers of talent.
And though Butch Davis is getting serious about making UNC a contender, even he can't summon enough scholarships to keep up with the huge number of kids who can really play.
With NC State foundering on the shores of mediocrity, North Carolina's status as the best of the local crowd is a good reason for Tar Heels fans to celebrate.
Forget about that basketball thing, guys. Nobody plays that sport anymore.
2011's players to watch for: OLB Stephone Anthony, ATH Kris Frost, QB Christian Lemay (pictured), QB Marquise Williams, TE Drew Owens.