The Nationalization of Recruiting: How Much Should Texas Recruit Out of State?

Collin Johnson (Will Gallagher/IT)

Collin Johnson (Will Gallagher/IT)

SCIPIO TEX: Is Texas finally optimizing out of state recruiting?

A sizable number of Texas football fans believe that the Longhorns need only recruit state of Texas athletes (> 90% or more) to maximize the program, supplementing occasionally with a few legacies, a sprinkling of JUCOs and the random who recruits himself to Texas. Homegrown recruits should certainly form the core of the program, but the perception of a healthy in state vs out of state ratio is skewed by prideful regionalism and a failure to appreciate the level of talent that can be acquired elsewhere. There’s also a lack of awareness of the practices of our peer institutions.

Navel-gazing is a bad idea that ignores the current realities of college football. I’d put a healthier number at around 30% or more for out of state athletes. And our talent abundant peers offer us some insight as to why…

How Do Other Talent Abundant Peers Recruit?

Any college coach would give a pinky toe to have Texas as their recruiting base. They’d offer the same to be placed in Florida, Southern California, Georgia or Ohio. Obviously at a primary (or the only) football school in each. The reason is local talent. Unsurprisingly, these five states comprise the Top 5 producers of NFL talent. 

Conveniently, Texas has six major college football peers anchored in comparable talent enclaves: Florida, Florida State, Miami, USC, Georgia and Ohio State. They’re useful, if imperfect, comparators for examining out-of-state vs in-state recruiting emphasis.

I omit Pennsylvania (Penn State), Louisiana (LSU) and Alabama (Saban U) from this analysis, despite abundant talent (the states are ranked 6th-8th in NFL talent) and the fact that each school greatly enhances my argument. Louisiana and Alabama have fantastic top line talent and significantly outperform Texas per capita in NFL players, but there’s a volume issue. Like LSU in Louisiana, Penn State is the only Pennsylvania game in town, but again, volume. I had to cut it off somewhere. Besides I don’t want to win THAT easily.

How do the six schools I selected attack out-of-state recruiting?

Here’s a two year data trend from these schools (and that trend holds beyond two years) with respect to out-of-state vs in-state recruiting. The first number is signed OOS recruits, the second is overall class size, followed by percentages:

2017

Ohio St 14/21, 67% OOS
FSU 12/24, 50% OOS
USC 10/24, 41.7% OOS
Miami 9/24, 37.5% OOS
Georgia 9/25, 36% OOS
Florida 6/23, 26.1% OOS

Total 60/141, 42.6% OOS

2018

Ohio St 21/26, 80.8% OOS
FSU 12/21, 57.1% OOS
Florida 9/19, 47.4% OOS
Georgia 11/26, 42.3% OOS
USC 6/18, 33.3%
Miami 5/23, 21.7%

Total 64/133, 48.1% OOS

The above twelve total classes range in national ranking from #1 to #14, so we’re not dealing with anyone totally bombing and queering the data in any direction. Half of the classes were Top 5 or better. Eight of these 12 classes were Top 8 or better and the overall mean was a #6.5 national ranking. This is elite recruiting, by any reasonable standard.

Ohio State is not a misprint. Ohio State, despite being the only real football option in a populous football mad state that has around 80 active NFL players recruits 74% of its talent from out of state, with an emphasis on Texas and Florida elites. That’s unprecedented in Ohio State football history, as you might guess. Urban Meyer could easily recruit more than half of his team from home and still win the Big 10, but he’s trying to win titles, not be a regional bully. For the purposes of my argument, this is a dunk from the free throw line.

If you don’t like my dunks and just want to throw Ohio State out altogether…just because…the overall percentages still sit at 38.3% in 2017 and 40.2% in 2018 for remaining peers.

These are all teams that should be content, at least theoretically, to eat their meals at home. But they like take out. The composition of the classes suggests that they all go after each other pretty hard in addition to adding players from places as disparate as Hawaii, North Carolina, Illinois, Iowa and Texas. Georgia/Florida state crossover recruiting (pitched battles between Georgia, FSU, Florida for the same recruits with Alabama, LSU, Ohio St and Clemson also weighing in) is a well understood phenomenon (and why I argue to Go West) and can influence the numbers, but that doesn’t explain the stubbornness to contest across distant state borders when they have many solid in-state options.

Nor does it explain USC (probably UT’s best pure peer comparator by geography/talent comps) taking 38% of its crop from out of state when the Trojans are almost unchallenged in a football talent hotbed. Or consider that Kirby Smart locked down 2017/2018 Georgia elites with his #1 and #3 nationally ranked recruiting classes while still taking nearly 40% of his class from out of state.

These programs are interested in player distributions. Not state geography.
 Hyper localism is dead. More than ever, ambitious coaches know where and what talent is available. It also demonstrates the national (or at least super regional) nature of recruiting when locality once reigned. Notre Dame always lived in this world, but we’re seeing aggressive out of state recruiting from schools already located in talent enclaves. It’s a function of TV, social media, super conferences, expanded analytics staff, easy initial scouting via HUDL, Youtube and ESPN combine testing and easy travel options.

Texas isn’t immune from these trends despite protestations to the contrary and our belief that we’re a unique special snowflake immune to the laws of the Recruitocosm and football physics. The fortunate few in college football located in talent rich areas are trying to expand their world, not retreat into it.

Expand your football universe or be marginalized.

In Part II, I’ll dig into the state of Texas, Tom Herman’s approach (spoiler: we’re recruiting OOS, people) and how Mack Brown skewed Texas fan’s understanding of the current reality.