Get the Athlon Sports Newsletter
Which states produce the most five-star talent in the nation these days?
The phrase “SEC Speed” instantly conjures images of glory, victory and pride for one region in the country and thoughts of depression, agony and exasperation for every other part of the nation. But after claiming seven consecutive national championships in a row, the SEC had the right to boast that it had the best programs, players and coaches.
Yes, SEC fan bases, power boosters and administrations are more dedicated to winning — from top (Alabama) to bottom (Kentucky) — than any other conference in America. Which also means they’ll do whatever it takes to win, at times, pushing more envelopes than anywhere else in the country. Simply put, the Southeast cares more about college football than any other region of the country.
But another conference, the Pac-12, has pulled even with the SEC for the time being as elite coaching hires and a renewed financial commitment to success have totally changed the competitive balance out West. And who knows, maybe in five years on the backs of James Franklin and Urban Meyer, the Big Ten will join the fray as the nation’s best league as well.
Even now, after Florida State ended the SEC's run of national supremacy and the Pac-12 officially caught up, why is it that the SEC will continue to surge on as the nation’s premier league?
One word: Geography.
Using the last five recruiting cycles — 2010 through 2014 — and with some help from the good people at 247Sports, it is very easy to accurately project the geographic distribution of high school talent in this country.
When the College Football Playoff Era begins this fall, it will be clear where all of the best players came from. I looked at the 1,000 best players who have (or will) entered college football between 2010-14 — or the Top 200 players as ranked by the 247 composite rank over each of the last five signing classes — to determine where are the nation’s best prospects come from.
Here is what I learned…
Note: Of the 1,000 players used, 162 of them were considered “five-star” recruits in the composite rankings.
The Big Three Still Dominate… Duh.
This isn’t news. California, Texas and Florida have been and will always be the most fertile recruiting states in the country. Of the 1,000 players studied, 404 of them hail from one of these three states. Of the 162 five-star signees during the span, 71 come from either The Sunshine, Lone Star or Golden States. So a staggering 40.4 percent of Top-200 talents come from these three states and 43.8 percent of five-star recruits come from The Big Three. The SEC can claim both Texas and Florida as “footprint” states and is this is why many are so bullish on Kevin Sumlin and Texas A&M as a sleeping giant. Florida tops all states with 156 top-200 prospects and 31 five-star talents over the last five cycles. Texas is second in both categories with 132 and 24 respectively.
Georgia is closing the gap
If fans want to point to one state in particular that has helped keep the SEC stocked with elite players, it is the Peach State. Georgia has delivered no less than 13 top-200 prospects and at least two five-stars in each of the last five classes. In all, Georgia ranks fourth in the nation with 78 top-200 players over the last five — well ahead of Ohio, which ranks fifth with 47 signees. The 13 five-star prospects to come from The Peach State are just three behind the state of California (16) despite having a significantly smaller population base. California is the biggest state in the nation with an estimated 2013 population of over 38 million people while Georgia is ninth with an estimated ’13 population of just less than 10 million. Of those 78 top-200 players, 58 of them have (or will) signed with the SEC with two still left undecided from the ’14 class. Of the 13 five-stars from Georgia over the last five years, 11 of them have inked with an SEC school.
SEC footprint overachieves
The State of Alabama is ranked 23rd nationally in projected 2013 population. Louisiana is projected to be 25th. Yet, Alabama is sixth nationally in terms of producing elite football prospects with 39 top-200 recruits over the last five years and Louisiana is seventh with 37 such recruits. Each boasts the highest percetnage of five-star talent as well with 20 combined (10 each) five-stars out of those states over the last five years. Additionally, South Carolina is ranked 24th in population and Mississippi is 31st — behind Puerto Rico. But both of those states overachieve as well, ranking 14th and 15th with 24 and 22 signees respectively over the last five years. The SEC footprint boasts five of the top seven states for talent but only three of the top 16 states in terms of population. Would you like to know why Virginia and North Carolina are atop the Mike Slive’s wish list of states in which to expand? Because those two territories rank eighth and ninth respectively in producing talent AND are two of the 12 biggest states in the nation in terms of population. Let me be the first to welcome Virginia Tech and NC State to the SEC family.
The Big Ten has upside
There is no secret about the major population decline in the state of Pennsylvania over the last few decades and how that has hurt Midwest football as a whole. As jobs have left the state, so too has the elite football talent. Having said that, the one league in America that has the natural recruiting base to potentially press the SEC is the Big Ten. Jim Delany's league already makes the most money of any league in America based mostly on huge populations and cities. But while the Big 12 depends too much on the state of Texas for everything, the Big Ten, post expansion, can now claim six of the top 16 states in talent production. Ohio is fifth nationally with 47 top-200 recruits over the last five cycles while The Keystone State (30, 10th), Illinois (26, 11th), New Jersey (25, 12th), Michigan (24, 13th) and Maryland (21, 16th) each feed a Big Ten school. There is a reason Delany went after the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights and why he would be interested heavily in schools like Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia Tech or Miami for expansion. Which brings us to...
The battle for Virginia and North Carolina
As previously stated, both the SEC and Big Ten are looking hard at both North Carolina and Virginia for expansion for a reason. Not only are they two unique markets for both leagues as neither has a school in either state, but both are two of the more talent-rich areas in the nation. Virginia is eighth nationally with 36 top-200 signees over the last five years and The Tar Heel State is ninth with 32. The two states have combined to produce 13 five-star prospects and both states boast powerful athletic institutions: North Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech, NC State and Duke are all very attractive options for expansion. This is why John Swofford and the rest of the ACC are grasping tightly to its Grant of Rights agreement because they realize how valuable this real estate could be in the future landscape of college football.
How has the Pac-12 done it?
Certainly, having a foundation like the state of California to work with helps, but the Pac-12 has made a rise to the top of the college football landscape without the help of a natural recruiting base. Just look at where the league has found its star quarterbacks. States like Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Washington and Oregon have some quality players but no other state in the Pac-12 footprint ranks inside the top 15 in terms of talent production. Arizona (16th) has developed 21 top-200 recruits and three five-stars over the last five years. Washington produced 10 (22nd), Colorado seven (24th), Oregon seven (24th) and Utah just six (28th). Can the Pac-12 sustain its current high level of success without a deep and rich recruiting base from which to cull talent?
No. 1 in the nation
Leonard Fournette is a running back from New Orleans (La.) St. Augustine and he is the No. 1 player in the nation for the class of 2014. He is scheduled to sign with the LSU Tigers in a few weeks on National Signing Day. He is the fifth consecutive No. 1 overall-rated player in the nation to sign with an SEC school. What is more impressive, however, is that all five hail from a different state and all five signed with a different SEC school. Robert Nkemdiche was the top player in the 2013 class and he hails from Georgia and signed with Ole Miss. Missouri landed Dorial Green-Beckham in the 2012 signing class and he came to the SEC from Springfield, Mo. Jadeveon Clowney, from Rock Hill, S.C., signed with the Gamecocks as the unanimous No. 1 overall-rated prospect in 2011. That means each of the last four No. 1 players hail from a different state — each of which is within the SEC’s mighty footprint. Ronald Powell hails from California and signed with Florida as the No. 1 guy in the ’10 class.
The top 1,000 recruits in the nation over the last five seasons have come from 40 states and the District of Columbia. Alaska, both Dakotas, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Wyoming, Montana, West Virginia and Maine are the only state that didn’t produce a single top-200 recruit over the last five years. Not surprisingly, all 10 of those states are ranked 38th or worse in terms of overall population. Nebraska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho and New Mexico each produced just one elite prospect over the last five cycles.
Below is a chart of the last five recruiting classes and where the top-200 recruits in each class came from (five-star athletes are in parentheses).
|1.||Florida||30 (4)||36 (10)||32 (5)||28 (7)||30 (5)||156 (31)|
|2.||Texas||28 (5)||27 (4)||27 (5)||28 (5)||22 (5)||132 (24)|
|3.||California||26 (4)||21 (2)||23 (4)||23 (3)||23 (3)||116 (16)|
|4.||Georgia||18 (3)||13 (2)||15 (2)||17 (4)||15 (2)||78 (13)|
|5.||Ohio||8 (1)||10 (2)||12 (1)||10||7||47 (4)|
|6.||Alabama||8 (1)||6||10 (3)||8 (2)||7 (4)||39 (10)|
|7.||Louisiana||5 (1)||10 (3)||3 (1)||7||12 (5)||37 (10)|
|8.||Virginia||8||6 (1)||6||9 (3)||7 (3)||36 (7)|
|9.||N. Carolina||3 (2)||6||8 (3)||6||9||32 (6)|
|10.||Pennsylvania||7 (1)||5||7 (2)||8 (1)||3||26 (4)|
|11.||Illinois||4 (1)||5||3||7 (1)||7 (1)||26 (3)|
|12.||New Jersey||1||8 (1)||4 (1)||7||5 (1)||25 (2)|
|13t.||Michigan||5 (1)||5||5||5||4 (1)||24 (2)|
|13t.||S. Carolina||9 (1)||5 (1)||2||3||5||24 (2)|
|15.||Mississippi||5||6||4 (1)||4 (2)||3||22 (3)|
|16t.||Arizona||2||5 (1)||4 (1)||3||7 (1)||21 (3)|
|16t.||Maryland||1||6 (1)||7 (2)||5 (2)||2 (1)||21 (5)|
|18t.||Tennessee||2||2||2||4 (1)||4||14 (1)|
|20.||Indiana||3||2||3 (1)||3 (1)||2||13 (2)|
|21.||Missouri||3||0||5 (1)||1||3||12 (1)|
|22.||Washington||3||2||3||1 (1)||1||10 (1)|
|24t.||Oregon||3 (1)||2||1 (1)||1 (1)||0||7 (3)|
|27t.||New York||1 (1)||1 (1)||2||0||2||6 (2)|
|30.||D.C.||1||0||1 (1)||1||1 (1)||4 (2)|
|31t.||Minnesota||1 (1)||0||0||0||2||3 (1)|
|31t.||Nevada||1 (1)||1||1||0||0||3 (1)|
|37t.||New Mexico||0||1||0||0||0||1 (0)|