If you can’t convince the kids in your own backyard to sign with your football program, who can you?
The regional fervor associated with college football lends credence to the idea that big time programs have their pick of local talent, but the reality is often different.
That said, the importance of winning recruiting battles in your own state isn’t diminished by how successful you are.
To illustrate, check out what JC Shurburtt of 247 Sports, via CBS Sports, had to say about how Florida State built its national championship caliber program.
The resurgence of Florida State…can be directly traced to the recruiting prowess of head coach Jimbo Fisher and his coaching staff, particularly in one recruiting cycle  where the in-state talent base featured many of the top prospects in the country and the ‘Noles got the lion’s share…
Of significance in that cycle is that 22 of the players in the class played high school football in the state of Florida. Given the amount of talent on an annual basis in the Sunshine State…it’s important for any aspiring college program within the state to keep the best of the best at home. That really has been the secret recipe to Florida State, Miami and Florida being among the best in college football during the past three decades.
So, which schools are the best at keeping their local talent, and which have struggled to keep the home-grown prospects at home?
The Success Stories
A review of 247 Sports’ Top 250 prospects for 2014 gives an intriguing perspective into which programs recruit well in their home states.
Take a look at which teams are leading the race for recruit retention (with a minimum of five top-ranked in-state recruits).
|Top 10 Programs in 2014 In-State Retention|
|Program||Total In-State Top 247||Signed||%|
A common thread which links three of the programs is that each is the only big time school in their home state. This equals the lack of a formidable recruiting foe within state lines.
This is the case for Tennessee, Ohio State and LSU. It also doesn’t hurt that each of these schools have historically had both on-field success and wildly dedicated fan bases.
The Volunteers only in-state loss came to independent Notre Dame, while Ohio State’s four drops went to the Irish, rival Michigan and the SEC’s Kentucky and Alabama. LSU, on the other hand, suffered all of its losses to in-conference foes.
The Tigers’ seven misses are headed to Alabama (three signed with the Tide), Florida, Texas A&M and Ole Miss.
What’s more impressive is the other seven schools on the list, programs which have managed to thrive despite having to duke it out with one or more local adversaries.
Auburn’s six wins against in-state rival Alabama pays tribute to the momentum associated with the Tigers' run in 2013. It’s worth noting that the two highest-ranked recruits in the state of Alabama (at No. 23 and No. 29 according to 247 Sports) both chose Auburn.
Ole Miss continues to rule its home state in 2014, conceding only one top-ranked recruit to Mississippi State and then losing out on an additional athlete to LSU.
Struggling Virginia may be a wolf in sheep’s clothing as it has managed to completely trump Virginia Tech, a program which has no in-state signees in the Top 247.
For Oklahoma State and South Carolina, nabbing two home-grown guys out of five may not seem like a big deal, but compared to Oklahoma’s one and Clemson’s zero, it’s good stuff indeed.
Perhaps most impressive are Pat Fitzgerald’s efforts in Illinois. Northwestern didn’t concede a single top-ranked recruit to Illinois but did lose out to LSU, Ohio State and Notre Dame.
What will be interesting moving forward is tracking these programs over the next couple of seasons to see if in-state success equals on-field triumphs. In other words, are any of these teams sitting on the gold mine that Florida State unearthed in 2011?
Schools Which Struggle
On the flip side of in-state retention, here’s a look at programs who failed to keep kids home in 2014 (with a minimum of five in-state commitments in the Top 247).
|Bottom 10 Programs in 2014 In-State Retention|
|Program||Total In-State Top 247||Signed||%|
The link shared by the struggling programs is that they hail from states with loads of competition. This is especially so for both Arizona schools, Florida, NC State and Cal.
Florida got manhandled this season by Florida State, which posted a 29 percent in-state rate. The Gators also fell short of Miami, which was a man better with 16 percent signing on.
The Sunshine State collectively lost a guy to Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio State, Tennessee and Virginia Tech and also sent two kids packing for Notre Dame and three to Georgia.
Next up are Arizona and Arizona State, which collectively lost the battle for their home state to Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas A&M (the Aggies signed three kids away).
North Carolina State signed only one local athlete, a small step below the Tar Heels who inked only two. This makes North Carolina one of the least successful states in the nation in retaining top-prospects.
Competing with the likes of USC, Stanford and UCLA, it’s easy to see where Cal might lose out, but, rather than making gains, it seems to be losing ground locally under Sonny Dykes.
Though it’s easy to understand Rutgers not retaining a huge chunk of the eight top-ranked kids from New Jersey, based on schools like Northwestern’s success and the move to the Big Ten, more could have been expected.
What’s most concerning is the performance—or lack thereof—by Illinois, Penn State, Clemson and Virginia Tech, all which completely missed out on top-ranked in-state talent.
With the exception of Illinois, these teams have all been successful in wins and losses in recent years, making the lack of recruiting traction seem alarming.
Penn State’s five losses went to Florida State, Michigan State, Virginia Tech, West Virginia and in-state rival ACC Pitt.
Clemson conceded two kids to in-state rival South Carolina and then bid a fond farewell to kids signing on with Alabama, Florida State and Georgia.
As for Virginia Tech, it missed on four top prospects who inked deals with Virginia and one each to Alabama, Ohio State and North Carolina.
In the same way as it will be interesting to follow-up with the in-state winners in 2016, it will be fascinating to see how the schools which struggled with retention fare in the future.
All recruiting data and rankings courtesy of 247 Sports.
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