Ranking the 10 States with the Most Talent in College Football Right Now
Every college coach in the country knows where the talent hotbeds are. If they don't allocate resources and plant coaches in the fertile recruiting soil of certain states, they'll fail to hang with the elite.
When it comes to producing top-tier college football talent, you can probably guess the top four states. That, of course, would be Florida, California, Texas and Georgia. The only problem you may have is putting those in order.
That's why we're here.
Selecting the states producing the most (and best) college football players is an inexact science.
We analyzed the top 100 prospects of the past four recruiting classes (2015-18), according to the 247Sports composite rankings, and took a sample set of 150 of the best players or those with the highest ceilings coming back in 2018.
The states with the highest number of players mattered, of course, but this exercise wasn't just about recruiting rankings. It also takes into account already-established playmakers, and states that have produced the best players get bonus points.
What we came up with may surprise you. The on-the-field production doesn't lie, but neither do the states that churn out star prospects year in and year out. Let's take a look at the states that produce the most college football talent right now.
10. South Carolina
It was a difficult choice deciding between South Carolina and New Jersey, but in the end, the former had more established players.
Though New Jersey produced nine top-100 players in the past four recruiting classes to just five for South Carolina, there isn't any getting around the production from Palmetto State residents already playing on Saturdays.
Yes, Jersey boasts Michigan's Rashan Gary (a former top-ranked prospect), Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins and Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen, but look at what South Carolina has.
You can call it the Wide Receiver State.
Buffalo receiver Anthony Johnson is the best pass-catcher you've never heard of, finishing last year with 76 catches for 1,356 yards and 14 touchdowns. He'll be a pro prospect after this season. Stanford go-to guy JJ Arcega-Whiteside is bound for a big year in '18 with K.J. Costello throwing his way.
There's also Gamecocks receiver Deebo Samuel, who was Jake Bentley's top target before injuries cost him the season. He's a playmaker who does big things with the ball in his hands.
South Carolina has also produced Clemson starting quarterback Kelly Bryant. So even though there aren't as many of them among the rankings' top-tier prospects, South Carolinians have shown what they can do where it matters most: on the football field.
Each year when Alabama and Auburn get together for the Iron Bowl, there are players from the Yellowhammer State all over the place. Bama coach Nick Saban's ability to keep the state's best players at home is a big reason why he was able to turn the Crimson Tide around so quickly.
The state doesn't consistently produce a ton of elite players, but you can count on a handful every year. Out of the past four classes, the Cotton State yielded 11 top-100 prospects, such as Tide linebacker Mack Wilson and Auburn defensive lineman Marlon Davidson.
Those guys have gone on to produce in college, and their best days are still ahead of them. Both guys could have All-America potential.
Another player you probably didn't know was from Alabama is South Carolina signal-caller Jake Bentley, who played at Opelika High School when his dad was an Auburn assistant. Bobby Bentley left to join Will Muschamp's staff in Columbia, and that helped secure a pledge from the younger Bentley.
He's turned into one of the SEC's top quarterbacks in his two seasons in Columbia.
Then there is Miami defensive back Michael Jackson, who can produce plenty of thrilling plays.
Finally, his teammate, quarterback Malik Rosier, burst onto the scene as a freshman a season ago, leading the Hurricanes on a national championship hunt before fading late in the year. He's a Mobile native.
There are several guys in the '19 class who will be highly coveted as well, so it's going to be interesting to see if Alabama continues to produce enough stars to stay on this list next year.
There aren't too many times on this list where you'll venture out of the South, where many of the top athletes reside. But they play a little football in Ohio, too, and that isn't just in Columbus on Saturdays.
Yes, coach Urban Meyer's Buckeyes are near the top of the rankings every year, and a big reason for that is his ability to keep the top in-state players at home. He outfits his roster with studs from Florida and Texas, but there is normally a nice group of players from nearby.
Other programs have enjoyed luck pulling players from there, too.
For the Buckeyes, top returning defensive lineman Dre'Mont Jones is a future NFL star who will be a big reason why they keep dominating on the defensive line in 2018.
There is also a trio of talented running backs who hail from Ohio in Iowa State's David Montgomery, Michigan State's LJ Scott and Kentucky's Benny Snell Jr. All of them have an NFL future and could carry their teams with 1,000-yard seasons.
Wisconsin offensive tackle Michael Dieter and West Virginia offensive tackle Colton McKivitz—two of the best at their position in the nation—are from Ohio, as is Buckeyes receiver Parris Campbell.
The state produced 12 total top-100 players in the past four classes, but there is no shortage of guys who've translated on the next level.
For years, LSU built a championship-caliber roster out of players from the Bayou. Over the past few years, the Tigers have been forced to fend off former coach Nick Saban, who's lured some of those prospects to Alabama, as well as Texas and others.
If coach Ed Orgeron doesn't get back to dominating his home state in recruiting, he won't be at the SEC West powerhouse for long.
Louisiana tallied the fourth-most prospects in the top 100 in the past four recruiting classes, trailing only the Big Four of Texas, California, Florida and Georgia. But there were several states that produced fewer prospects but had bigger star power.
Even so, some of Louisiana's favorite sons are positioned to have big seasons in 2018. With James Washington and Marcel Ateman gone from Oklahoma State, Jalen McCleskey could have a breakout season if coach Mike Gundy can find a capable signal-caller to get him the ball.
LSU defensive back Andraez Williams is such a ball hawk that his nickname is Greedy. As a redshirt freshman a season ago, he finished with 38 tackles and six interceptions and looks like the next great defensive back at "DB U."
Though Dylan Moses finished his prep career at IMG Academy in Florida, the Alabama linebacker is a Louisiana native who is primed to have a breakout year in '18.
LSU linebacker Devin White, Arizona receiver Shun Brown, Nebraska receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. and Notre Dame defensive tackle Jerry Tillery are a few other names from Creole State.
Mississippi is an odd place to scout when it comes to recruiting. It seems like every season there are unheralded athletes who haven't been fully evaluated by the recruiting services and emerge from some obscure town to be superstars.
When the Magnolia State does produce stars that everybody wants, however, they seem to always burst onto the scene.
Florida State won the Cam Akers sweepstakes in the 2017 recruiting class, and the running back was an immediate-impact playmaker, rushing for more than 1,000 yards and unseating Jacques Patrick as the starter by the end of the season. With Willie Taggart at the helm, Akers will blossom.
Ole Miss receiver A.J. Brown is probably the best pass-catching prospect in the nation. He's a big-bodied athlete who can high-point the ball and beat cornerbacks deep, and if Jordan Ta'amu can get him the ball consistently, he'll put up massive numbers in '18.
Mississippi State defensive tackle Jeffrey Simmons is a terrific athlete who'll have NFL scouts drooling, and linebacker Raekwon Davis looks like he is line to be one of Alabama's next big-time linebackers, along with Mack Wilson and Dylan Moses.
Louisville receiver Jaylen Smith led Louisville with 60 catches for 980 yards and seven scores a year ago, and he'll return to school even if Lamar Jackson isn't. Coach Bobby Petrino needs him to have a huge season to help in the transition period.
So, though Mississippi had just 10 players make the top 100 in the past four classes (seven fewer than Louisiana), the Hospitality State's star power is much better.
5. North Carolina
When you talk about states that haven't churned out too much top-tier talent (at least in the recruiting services' eyes) but had players who wound up soaring above their rankings, North Carolina is the poster child.
The Tar Heel State has produced just six top-100 players in the past four recruiting classes, but the state has top-level producers all over the country. The major reason why it's in this position is because of two guys. But when you have arguably the nation's top running back and quarterback, it deserves notice.
The running back, Stanford's Bryce Love, was last year's Heisman Trophy runner-up and should be the best returning player in the college game. He ran for 2,118 yards a season ago and is a dynamic athlete who went across the country to get a world-class education and become a world-class playmaker.
Though Will Grier left Carolina to go to Florida, he has since departed Gainesville for West Virginia, where he's a perfect fit for coach Dana Holgorsen's Mountaineers offense. Teaming with David Sills V another year in '18, Grier could be a Heisman contender as well.
North Carolina is also the home of one of the top defensive tackles in the country: Clemson's Dexter Lawrence, who is a monstrous athlete for a man his size.
Duke cornerback Mark Gilbert is a player who'll get a lot of NFL looks and he's a star on the Blue Devils defense. Coach David Cutcliffe also has a Tar Heel native running the offense in quarterback Daniel Jones.
A lot of the superstar talent from the state of Georgia, like Bradley Chubb, Nick Chubb and Roquan Smith, ran out of eligibility in 2017. So the number of top-tier players from the Peach State coming back next year looks lower than usual.
Don't be fooled. It's just a matter of time before the country is full again of studs from Georgia.
Three elite quarterbacks in Clemson's Trevor Lawrence, Georgia's Justin Fields and Florida's Emory Jones came out this year. UGA kept home essentially everybody in what was a star-studded 2018 class. Adam Anderson, Brenton Cox and Jamaree Salyer are just some of tomorrow's names.
Other studs like JJ Peterson (Tennessee) and Jarren Williams (Miami) could be stars, too.
Of the past four classes, the state has produced 46 top-100 prospects, which is good enough for fourth nationally. The state already has a few stars in college football, too.
Bulldogs freshman quarterback Jake Fromm became one of the game's stars a season ago, leading UGA to the national championship game.
Mississippi State enjoys a couple of stars from Georgia in quarterback Nick Fitzgerald and defensive end Montez Sweat. The former is one of the top college signal-callers, and the latter will be a top NFL prospect.
Oklahoma has a future star running back in Trey Sermon, who is from the Atlanta area, and California receiver Demetris Robertson has the potential to be a top receiver if he returns from a season-ending injury last September.
Defensive end Austin Bryant may be overshadowed by the other studs on the Clemson line, but he is a playmaker as well.
Even though the proven talent from that state may be down in numbers, it's still stout.
The unbelievable California quarterback class of 2015 produced waves of signal-callers that outfitted rosters throughout the country. The state would easily be No. 1 on this list had USC's Sam Darnold and UCLA's Josh Rosen stuck around for their senior seasons.
Instead, they left for the NFL, robbing the Golden State of two dynamic players that would have put them atop this list.
There are still tons of players across the country from Cali. The state ranks third with 52 top-100 players from the past four classes.
Though Rosen and Darnold are gone, there are other quality quarterbacks from California. Washington signal-caller Jake Browning will go down as one of the most prolific players at his position in Pac-12 history. Arizona dual-threat signal-caller Khalil Tate is another player from California, as is Stanford's K.J. Costello.
Alabama plucked a couple of future stars from that state in offensive tackle Jonah Williams and running back Najee Harris. Trojans inside linebacker Cameron Smith is one of the top defenders in the nation, and he elected to return for his senior season.
Washington defensive tackle Greg Gaines, Texas receiver Collin Johnson, Stanford linebacker Bobby Okereke, UCLA tight end Caleb Wilson and Oregon linebacker Troy Dye could be top players this year, too.
USC has a couple of potential in-state stars in quarterback JT Daniels and receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown.
The king of talent production is Florida, far and away, which churned out a whopping 73 players in the past four classes.
The state gets a boost in that number because of prestigious football factory IMG Academy, which brings prospects from all over the country, but Sunshine State does just fine on its own, too. Would the number be lower if IMG wasn't in Bradenton? Sure. But Florida has long been fertile recruiting grounds.
While the state has 20 more top-tier prospects than the next-highest contender (Texas), the Lone Star State arguably has more stars.
Still, Florida does just fine.
Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa looks like he's going to follow in brother Joey's footsteps. Florida Atlantic running back Devin Singletary is the best returning Group of Five player not named McKenzie Milton coming back. Oklahoma receiver Marquise Brown is one of the speediest playmakers in the sport.
Miami safety Jaquan Johnson and linebacker Shaq Quarterman were in-state stars. Quarterbacks Deondre Francois (Florida State) and Shea Patterson (Michigan) are from Florida, as are Arkansas offensive lineman Hjalte Froholdt, Florida defensive end CeCe Jefferson and Seminoles defensive end Brian Burns.
It's impossible here to name everybody who has a major impact on his team.
An argument can be made that Florida should be No. 1 on the list based on its depth of players like Clemson offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt and Utah running back Zack Moss. But Texas, in this exercise, holds the tiniest of edges.
Florida has more elite prospects, but when it comes to producing top talent in college football, nobody does it bigger than Texas.
That's why it was unfathomable that Charlie Strong and Kevin Sumlin struggled so much at Texas and Texas A&M, respectively, and why big-money boosters there won't tolerate losing to continue. There is too much talent in-state to not produce quality football programs.
The Longhorns wound up with the nation's third-ranked recruiting class in 2018, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, that was loaded with elite defensive backs. With classes like that, it's a matter of time before Tom Herman has them back.
The state produced 53 top-100 players in the past four classes, and a number greater than that will wind up being elite playmakers. Perhaps the best is Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver, who won the Outland Trophy as a sophomore and told ESPN.com's Sam Khan Jr. he plans on leaving for the NFL after this season.
Though Baker Mayfield left Oklahoma, the Texas native will be replaced with another one in Kyler Murray, who could have a huge season in Norman throwing to another Texan, CeeDee Lamb.
Two of the best defenders who reside under the radar in Northern Illinois' Sutton Smith and Texas Tech's Dakota Allen are from Texas, as is one of the top up-and-coming collegiate quarterbacks in Baylor's Charlie Brewer.
Oklahoma starting running back Rodney Anderson, Ohio State defensive end Chase Young, TCU defensive end Ben Banogu, Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham, Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins, Missouri receiver J'Mon Moore, Northwestern linebacker Paddy Fisher and Ole Miss offensive lineman Greg Little are also from the Longhorn State.
There are many, many more. That's why Texas is at the top when it comes to producing college football players.
Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @Brad_Shepard.