<
>
Insider

The battle over in-state recruits

Lane Kiffin and USC currently have four commitments from California ESPN 150 prospects. Rich Kane/Icon SMI

College coaches often tell me that in-state recruiting is a measure of health for a program. Central to that idea: When your state has elite prospects, are you getting some of them? Most? Any?

In fairness, Oklahoma, for instance, isn't annually going to match, say, Florida for the number of high-end FBS-ready players. Not every state is the same, just like not every program is the same.

But a look at the past five years of ESPN 150 prospects (2008-12), weighed against the 2013 crop that will sign and fax paperwork Wednesday, yields myriad interesting facts.

Which teams do the best at landing elite in-state talent? Which states get raided by out-of-state programs the most? And where do top prospects from the "big three" talent-producing states -- California, Florida and Texas -- go? We've got your answers to those questions, plus several more.

A look at the top-tier states

Three states -- California, Florida and Texas -- immediately jump to the top for the number of prospects, including high-value ones, that they produce each year. In particular, I wanted to see how in-state schools did in keeping those players at home -- even when faced with fierce competition from respected programs outside the states and regions.

California: The Golden State had 72 ESPN 150 prospects from 2008-12, with 51 of them (70.8 percent) sticking with in-state schools. That's an incredibly high figure, especially compared with what you'll see from Florida and Texas.

You might think that the number of solid programs in the state figured into that, but that is not necessarily the case. The Stanford Cardinal (three) and California Golden Bears (six) combined for just nine of the 72 signees. The UCLA Bruins chipped in with 12, 16.7 percent of the lot.

The USC Trojans, even with the transition from Pete Carroll to Lane Kiffin, still managed to retain a healthy number of elite local prospects -- 30 of them, or 41.7 percent.

The NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions are perhaps hurting the Trojans more in 2013. They've secured just four of the 14 "150" prospects (28.6 percent).

Defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes and defensive end Kylie Fitts remain uncommitted, but some suspect they'll land across town at UCLA. That would at least boost the in-state school's retention rate to 50 percent, still well below its five-year average.</

The difference in 2013: the Washington Huskies. Steve Sarkisian, once the USC co-offensive coordinator with Kiffin, has been building the Huskies' recruiting efforts and that's seen with U-Dub grabbing three "150" prospects from California when it had signed a total of two from 2008-12. One of them was rising star Shaq Thompson in 2012.

Washington is not out of it, either, with Vanderdoes and Fitts. Even one would just add to the haul.

Florida: Nearly 21 percent of all ESPN 150 prospects from 2008-12, 155 of 750, came from Florida. That was even more than I expected from the most fertile recruiting ground in the country. Heck, the state had 41 of the 150 in 2009, a group that included former Alabama running back Trent Richardson, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, former West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith and former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. That's a flex of Florida's muscle, there -- and those are the players who left the state that year.

The Big Three in the state -- Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles and Miami (FL) Hurricanes -- not only have to compete against one another, but a fierce contingent from the outside. In the past five years, 19 different schools have scored at least one "150" prospect from the Sunshine State and some of them more than one.

So it isn't surprising to see that trio divide the elite players more evenly, and at a lower rate than USC or Texas do when the other in-state competitors have not been as formidable.

From 2008-12, Florida signed 32 of the 155, 20.6 percent. Miami landed 27 (17.4 percent). FSU signed 25 (16.1 percent). Adding in three total elite prospects for USF and one for Florida International in 2010, the in-state schools have kept 88 of the 155 "150" players -- 56.8 percent. That's somewhat reflective of the national average, making Florida a functioning representative of the entire country's recent recruiting trend.

South Plantation High running back Alex Collins' decision Monday night to go to Arkansas means seven of the 30 "150" prospects in 2013 have decided to go out of state. Thirteen have said they'll stay home and 10 more are still undecided. So the balance could tilt back toward the average, or the homestate teams could be big winners in '13.

It could go either way. Evidence: Offensive tackle prospect Jeremy Tunsil is considered an Ole Miss lean, while linebacker Matt Thomas could be a player who stays in state.

Texas: The Lone Star State's 108 "150" prospects in the past five years are second only to Florida and, as you might suspect, the flagship school has run something close to a monopoly in recent years. The 41.7 percent retention rate of elite players is equal to USC, but on a far higher number of targets. The Longhorns kept 45 of the 66 (68.1 percent) who stayed in state.

That, folks, is why the pressure has gradually increased under Mack Brown's seat, even if he still has a good deal of support within the administration. The idea is essentially what got Gene Chizik fired at Auburn: He recruited too well not to have some success. The Longhorns are having some success, but only some. You win in February, you have to win to some extent in the fall.

And now they're suddenly finding the recruiting road more treacherous. Texas A&M has as many committed ESPN 150 players (five) as the Longhorns do after defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson's flip over the weekend from UT to Alabama.

If the ratio holds through Signing Day, it will be the first time in the five-year window that a program has been even with the Horns. The gap from 2008-12 was an average of 5.6 top 150 prospects, including a stunning 10-player-wide chasm in 2010. Texas' 5-7 season in 2010 -- and subsequent so-so years since -- opened the door for someone else, and Kevin Sumlin is sprinting through it now that he's at A&M.

It takes more than one year for a shift to occur, but that seems to be what's happening. Note that the Aggies have those five commitments from elite players when they had seven the past three classes.

Heads up, Mack. A&M is in a new conference, has a rock-star QB and coach, and an energized fan base.

Programs that keep top prospects in-state

Alabama Crimson Tide: Outside those three primary recruiting turfs, I noticed a trend among the second-tier states: They either really guard their borders well, in some cases (sort of) teaming up with an in-state rival, or they watched others pillage and usurp their state's treasured talent.

Not that it comes as a shock, but Alabama under Nick Saban has been excellent at protecting its back yard. The Tide kept 20 of 34 in-state "150" players from 2008-12, including all six in 2009 -- a crop that yielded Cincinnati Bengals corner Dre Kirkpatrick, soon-to-be-drafted offensive tackle D.J. Fluker and returning quarterback A.J. McCarron.

Already in 2013, the Tide has commitments from four of the seven in-state players from the ESPN 150. Linebacker Reuben Foster - who went to Auburn High and reportedly has an Auburn tattoo - became No. 4 when he flipped late Monday night from the Tigers to Tide. Muscle Shoals D-tackle Dee Liner could become No. 5 by Wednesday.

As well as Chizik recruited, especially across the Georgia state line, Saban was dominant. Auburn signed just three in-state ESPN 150 prospects from 2008-12 and it has one, Montgomery quarterback Jeremy Johnson, committed for 2013.

Gus Malzahn, of course, hopes to create a better balance in the state. Right now he doesn't care what their home address is; Malzahn gladly welcomed Atlanta-area defensive end Carl Lawson (No. 2 overall) reaffirming his commitment. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, no stranger to coaching talented linemen in the SEC, would be pleased to have South Georgia defensive tackle Montravius Adams (No. 13), too.

Clemson Tigers and South Carolina Gamecocks: I mentioned earlier that sometimes in-state schools, rivals, combine forces in a way to maintain a strangehold on local talent. I'm sure Clemson and South Carolina fans would struggle to admit it, but it makes for a generally better product -- for the entire state -- if an elite player goes to one or the other compared to, say, Georgia, Florida, FSU or LSU.

You saw that play out the past couple of seasons, years in which the Gamecocks and Tigers were ranked higher than they normally are -- making their November game a bigger deal than it has been more often than not. That's the cause-and-effect of keeping good players at home for a few years, allowing talent to build. And that's especially the case for the Gamecocks, who finally turned a corner when some in the game had given up on Steve Spurrier elevating the middling program.

Look at the numbers: Nineteen of 26 in-state "150" prospects remained in South Carolina the past five years, 11 of them going to Columbia and eight to Clemson. The Tigers had the bigger names early in the period, scoring players such as end Da'Quan Bowers and running back Andre Ellington. Then the Gamecocks surged, with first-round corner Stephon Gilmore, second-round receiver Alshon Jeffery, future No. 1 overall Jadeveon Clowney and All-American-when-healthy Marcus Lattimore.

This year, it's a light year on high-end in-state kids. There are just two "150" players, compared to eight in 2010 and nine in 2009. Clemson has a commitment from linebacker prospect Ben Boulware while receiver Tramel Terry, following A.J. Green's Charleston-to-Georgia pipeline, has long been committed to the Bulldogs.

But there are fewer Greens, fewer Carlos Dunlaps (Florida), fewer Sam Montgomerys (LSU) in the state. South Carolina got going to catch Clemson in state and make staying home a cool thing with Palmetto State high-schoolers.

Second-tier states that get raided

North Carolina: The Tar Heel State had 20 "150" players from 2008-12, but the Tar Heels managed to get only three, and just one in the past three classes. Clemson, meanwhile, signed four in the five-year period.

In fairness, Butch Davis did do well out of state, putting many players in the League -- but there is enough talent from inside the state's walls to help. The same goes for North Carolina State, which just fired Tom O'Brien.

Larry Fedora is entering his second year at UNC, so give him time to change the attitude. And that applies for first-year coach Dave Doeren at N.C. State. Their styles and youth could be exciting enough to shift some attention.

The Tar Heels have one in-state "150" commitment, Charlotte corner Brian Walker, but LSU and Tennessee have the other two and the only '13 undecided, offensive lineman Tyrone Crowder, is expected to choose either Clemson or Georgia.

Pennsylvania: Penn State and Pitt have done a little better than the North Carolina schools, keeping 10 of 26 in-state "150" prospects (four for PSU and six for Pitt) from 2008-12. But several big names, such as former Florida defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd and former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, have left the state.

Pitt's revolving door of head coaches surely stunted any sort of in-state growth, but Paul Chryst is now providing some semblance of stability. The recent Penn State debacle goes without rehashing; Bill O'Brien has been nothing short of a magician in leveling out the panicky environment -- even on the recruiting trail. The fact that the Lions are currently 25th in our class rankings is quite stunning, regardless of the in-state composition.

Both schools will be intriguing to watch as the state continues to churn out about five to eight ESPN 150 prospects per class.

Third-tier states that get raided

Arizona and Illinois: Detecting a theme? The schools and states that are being raided have new coaches. There are second-year coaches at both major Arizona programs and at Illinois.

Retaining elite home prospects has to be a priority for Todd Graham at Arizona State, Rich Rodriguez at Arizona and Tim Beckman at Illinois.

Illinois kept just one of 12 "150" players from 2008-12 and all five from '13 -- the biggest in-state crop in the period -- are leaving the state. Ole Miss, LSU, Michigan, USC and Notre Dame are currently where those players are committed.

Illinois is essentially the antithesis of Alabama in this exercise, making Arizona and Arizona State the opposite of Clemson and South Carolina. The Wildcats and Sun Devils combined to sign two of the 11 "150" prospects from 2008-12 (both by ASU). That includes exciting UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and USC defensive end Devon Kennard.

The only 2013 player on the "150" plans to join Hundley at UCLA.

What about Georgia?

Georgia is just off the pace of the three main states I broke down earlier. Including the 16 in 2013, the Peach State has produced 66 "150" players since 2008. UGA signed 24 of 50 from 2008-12 and has four more commitments in 2013 (four remain undecided).

That's neither an indictment nor a praise of the Bulldogs. While you'd think they could sign a higher rate, in looking back, there weren't a ton of names that made me feel like, "Wow, Mark Richt really whiffed there."

One of the rare cases, Jarvis Jones, eventually turned in UGA's favor when he transferred home from USC. On top of that, Richt's ability to hand-pick out of state -- Keith Marshall from North Carolina last year, Murray from Florida a few years before that -- negates some of the in-state impact. Some of it is selectiveness. As evidenced by consecutive division titles, winding up five yards short of the BCS title game in 2012, even, the Bulldogs are doing enough to field competitive teams.

Three of UGA's top four recruits in '13, including corner Shaq Wiggins, are in-state products. With the way things go in Georgia, even if the overall Nos. 1 and 2, Robert Nkemdiche and Carl Lawson, aren't interested, there's plenty to go around. Montravius Adams could possibly still go UGA's way, as could running back Alvin Kamara.

How does Notre Dame fit into the mix?

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish aren't included in this discussion for their in-state recruiting prowess, obviously, but instead their ability to land top out-of-state recruits. The Irish currently have a "150" commitment in 2013 from the following hot-spot states: California, Florida (two), Georgia, Texas, Virginia.

Each year from 2009-12, Notre Dame had two such signees from those states, and it had three in 2008. But it had never had one from Texas or more than one from Florida in a given class.

Brian Kelly, building on the success on the field in 2012, is expanding the recruiting efforts when some had wondered what it would take for the Irish to again be considered among the nation's elite on Signing Day. It's currently fourth, holding behind Florida, Alabama and Ohio State, and just ahead of Michigan. Good company.

The battle for Ohio

On the subject of OSU and Michigan, the Buckeye State has proved to be quite the battlefield for the border rivals.
Urban Meyer's Buckeyes have commitments from four of the seven Ohioans on the "150." But Brady Hoke's Wolverines have the other three, going into enemy territory to pluck athlete Dymonte Thomas (No. 93), linebacker Mike McCray II (No. 114) and defensive end Taco Charlton (No. 116).
Michigan, if nothing else, has won the war against Ohio State for players with fun names.

With the teams currently fourth (OSU) and fifth (UM) in our current rankings so it's good to see things stay heated through the winter months.

One final disclaimer

I know some of you reading this will automatically flinch and say, "Well, how can you evaluate based solely on the ESPN 150?" I get that. There's a lot more to recruiting than just the top players. But you've got to admit that the "150" is a good place to start as a general barometer.

If you continue to sign a bunch of high-end players year after year, you will ultimately meet one of two fates: Win big or be fired, Saban or Chizik. That's a handsome segue to the idea of development, something that figures heavily into spring ball.

It'll be here before you know it.