Recruiting is the lifeblood of college football, and there are a few states that are critically important for the entire nation, but particularly for the Big Ten. Florida, Texas, California and Georgia — these are the states that produce the most talent, but none of them are inside the conference’s footprint. Land of 10 is taking an in-depth look at how the Big Ten has fared recruiting players from these key battleground states.
As Southern migration shifted the United States’ population, Florida, Texas and California became the epicenters of high school football. Georgia’s potent mixture of ideal geography, passion for football and rising population has turned America’s new “Big Three” of high school talent into a Big Four.
The Peach State does not have as many large cities as those other three states, but the Atlanta Metro region has become one of the most fertile recruiting areas in the nation. Coaching staffs around the country have quickly made Atlanta and other areas nearby a priority.
It’s apparent that Big Ten programs have focused more on Georgia as well. From 2005-11, a span of six recruiting cycles, current Big Ten schools signed a total of 45 players from Georgia.
In the six most recent cycles (2012-17), those same programs have collected 85 recruits, including 20 in 2017.
|School||2005-11 recruits||2012-17 recruits|
Florida has several hot spots, from Miami to Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and Orlando, for coaches to canvas looking for talent. Texas has a triangle of cities, from Dallas to Houston to San Antonio and talent-rich towns in between.
Los Angeles and Orange County might produce the most players in California, but the San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose Bay Area and places like Sacramento, Fresno and San Diego churn out prospects well.
Atlanta is the hub of everything in Georgia, and that includes football players. There are other small cities in the state, but Atlanta and growing sprawl of suburbs around the city are filled with college football prospects.
The population in Georgia has grown by at least 18 percent in each of the past four national censuses. A state that had less than 4.6 million people in 1970 had more than 9.6 million by 2010. Much of the recent growth has been concentrated in Atlanta and the surrounding counties, and the metro area’s population surpassed 5.7 million last year.
There are also more top-flight football players for college football programs to woo. Georgia had 59 blue-chip (4- or 5-star) prospects in the past two recruiting cycles, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, and 423 players who earned at least 3-star status. Five years prior, in 2011 and 2012, those totals were 48 blue-chip prospects and 234 players with at least 3 stars.
Predictably, Big Ten teams have had the most success in and around Atlanta. The Atlanta Metro area is something of a divider between North Georgia and Central Georgia, but there are players in those regions that really aren’t far from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
Minnesota’s dynamic running back duo of Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks, for example, are technically from Central Georgia and North Georgia, respectively. Smith’s school, in Jonesboro, Ga., is about 15 miles south of the airport. Brooks’ school is about 70 miles to the north.
Here’s a look at where recent Big Ten recruits from Georgia have come from:
The Big Ten has found plenty of impact players in Georgia in recent years. Ohio State landed one of the top defensive players in the state in 2013 and 2014, and both Vonn Bell and Raekwon McMillan became stars for the Buckeyes.
As was the case with Florida, Texas and California, Michigan didn’t recruit very well in Georgia in the years before Jim Harbaugh arrived. That has changed. Harbaugh has added three players from Georgia in the past two recruiting cycles, including 5-star defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon earlier this month.
Ohio State lured Cam Heyward from Peachtree Ridge, one of the top programs in the state, in 2007. Ten years later, his younger brother, Connor, decided to sign with Michigan State.
This is how the numbers break down in the past six recruiting cycles, with the average rank of each recruit from the 247Sports composite:
|School||2012-16 recruits||Avg. rank||2017 recruits||Avg. rank|
One of the reasons the Atlanta Metro area has been a great place for schools to recruit is the abundance of talent in a relatively small area, but another was because said talent felt very available.
Georgia Tech, the biggest school in Atlanta, has not been able to land many elite in-state recruits. Mark Richt recruited well at Georgia for most of his time there, but never quite at the level (i.e. like Alabama) that many Bulldogs fans would have hoped.
He also didn’t exactly “seal off” the state, or the Atlanta area. Athens is a short drive to the east, but SEC rivals were able to grab elite talent anyway. Clemson’s national champion backfield, DeShaun Watson and Wayne Gallman, were both from the city.
One of the reasons Georgia replaced Richt with Kirby Smart was his recruiting acumen. Smart’s first full recruiting class in 2017 was fantastic, ranked No. 3 in the nation behind Alabama and Ohio State. While Stanford landed the top player in the state, quarterback Davis Mills, and Michigan nabbed Solomon, the No. 3 guy, Smart made sure the vast majority of the top Peach State prospects became Bulldogs.
Georgia landed 14 of the top 22 players in the state in 2017. Richt signed seven, six and eight of the top 22 in his final three classes (2013-15).
A new cradle of quarterbacks?
It’s going to be tougher to lure the top kids from the state, but Smart and his staff can’t keep all of the quarterbacks. The 2017 quarterback class in Georgia was incredible, one of the best for an individual state in a long time, and the 2018 crop isn’t far behind.
Mills, the No. 1 quarterback in the country, went to Stanford, but Jake Fromm, the No. 4 prospect, signed with Georgia. Four of the top 22 quarterbacks in the country were from Georgia, and another blue-chip prospect, Tray Bishop, was likely going to play quarterback at Auburn but de-committed from the Tigers and is expected to be a defensive back for Smart’s crew in Athens.
Georgia has Jacob Eason, a sophomore in 2017, and Fromm, so each of the top five quarterbacks in the state in 2018 are committed elsewhere. Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 player in the country, chose Clemson instead of the Bulldogs.
The next two are, for now at least, Big Ten-bound. Five-star prospect Emory Jones committed to Ohio State and 4-star quarterback Justin Fields is committed to Penn State. Jones and Fields are both among the top 50 players in the class, and could be the future at the position for both programs.
Texas A&M and Kentucky have secured commitments from the No. 4 and 5 quarterbacks in the state. Given that Smart missed out on Lawrence, don’t be surprised if Georgia continues to recruit Jones and Fields in the next 11 months.
Even if Smart is able to turn Georgia into the SEC East version of Alabama, and Georgia Southern and Georgia State become more established programs at the FBS level, there will still be plenty of talent available for other schools to poach.
Given that the Big Ten teams have nearly doubled the number of players signed in the past six years from the previous six, it certainly seems like the conference will continue to scour the Peach State for more prospects.