Mack Brown has been famously nativistic in his recruiting outlook at Texas. Between 2004-2008, Texas took 93.2% of its recruits from in-state with an amazing 71.8 percent of those players hailing from within 200 miles of Austin. Much of that approach is vindicated here and here and of course by our record on the field: a 115-26 record during his tenure.
The question then is not whether our current approach is advisable (it is), but rather is it optimal? Is our good ever getting in the way of great? Is there some low hanging fruit somewhere that we should pluck?
This is a map of the Top 100 Rivals recruits in the country from 2008. If you know some basics about the college football landscape, and/or possess a business/strategic acumen comparable to that of a 4th grader running a lemonade stand, some of those flags should get you thinking.
Although this map only depicts those recruits who are considered elite, you can also be assured that similar distributions exist for the next 200 or so. In short, a goldmine of recruits doesn't suddenly appear in New Mexico or New Hampshire if you bring this view to a Top 300. Great recruits generally sit right next to good ones. So these dots are good indications of where you should be drilling. Nor was 2008 an anomaly. This is, more or less, how it looks in most years.
Let's be clear: taking less than 70-80% of our recruits from in-state is mindless adventurism for its own sake or simply an indication that we're probably getting our ass kicked by someone on our border or internally. I don't need to hire McKinsey to tell me that. It's also dangerous to stray far from what you know. OU found this out with a couple of their big national recruiting classes. The Sooners eventually realized that they'd recruited a bunch of guys that weren't cultural fits, weren't well scouted, couldn't take hard coaching, and were generally overrated wanks. Since then, they've stuck to their knitting, even if it means taking a 3 star from Dallas that they have copious scouting on over pursuing a Tom Lemming hyped 4 star empty suit from Illinois. You don't want to get Notre Damed.
Given that OU example and that we're so fat and happy in-state, why recruit out of state at all?
1. No state produces equal quality at all positions, year in, year out. No, not even Texas. And certainly not Florida. I can recall dry spells in Texas at QB, OL, DL, LB, DB (amazingly), WR, TE in just the last ten years. We've also had overall down years. The only in-state solution is to either pray that you can load up the next year (uncertain) which often leads to unbalanced classes. Example: look at our secondary composition over the last two years - who we've played, and at what stages in their career. Further, taking the questionable Robert Joseph types is a direct result of unbalanced recruiting, laziness, desperation, and an unwilligness to go out of state at DB during some crucial periods. Need I speak of LB?
2. Finding game changers. Marcus Dupree, Adrian Peterson, Vince Young, any Selmon brother. Everyone knows who they are and getting them in your program is the difference between good and elite.
Go back to the map. Look at the talent distributions. What clump gets your attention? Forget football: let's pretend we're running a business and we're looking for quality markets for our widgets.
Yes, SEC country sure has a lot of flags, but state regional identities are strong, the existing businesses in the key states (Georgia, Florida, LSU, Alabama) are powerful and numerous, they will circumvent fair practice to beat you, pressure from the populace on clients to stay local is profound, and the SEC represents the best football conference in America about to embark on an exclusive TV contract and hypefest on ESPN. These are barriers to entry.
To my amusement and nausea, I have read thoughts on various boards urging us to recruit Florida. These are the same people who look to pick up women in the Engineering wing of a college, look for synagogues and churches in Saudi Arabia, and seek cheap real estate in Monaco. You can pretty much rest assured that they're assigned the most remedial, least strategic jobs in their companies.
So, back to that map: does your eye keep coming back to California, specifically Southern California? California
has more than almost twice our population, a populace that is highly transient with minimal identification to regional college football, and has only three potential football universities: Cal, USC, UCLA. Imagine that. The whole goddamn state. Bring Fresno State to this discussion only at the risk of a slap. The SEC/ACC overlaps at least fifteen legitimate football schools over a comparable population. And only one California school - USC - truly cares about college football. The neighboring California states - their version of our OU or LSU - are non-entities compared to Texas: Arizona, Arizona St, Oregon, Nevada.
So where is it you'd like to compete?
But, but. but...what about USC, Scipio?!?! What about them? USC is one school with scholarship limits. Just like us. And here's a little secret: for every USC fan in California, you can find another that hates their guts. Let's do this then: I'll concede to USC every recruit in California that they want. Now we're left with only forty guys who will end up in the NFL. Gee, I sure hope we can beat Cal or Arizona for some of their signatures. Or should we go compete with Georgia, Alabama, and Florida for a kid from Jacksonville?
My recommended OOS approach?
1. Stick to the in-state knitting. When the state lacks in an area, look outside.
2. The obvious place to look to explore a need is California.
3. Obviously check out OOS legacies (Kasey Studdard) and any special coaching staff "in"
4. If there's a game changer somewhere (yes, even SEC country) who expresses a consistent interest in Texas and makes the requisite effort to demonstrate this (camp attendance, unofficials), pursue them.
5. Don't throw random darts at the national Top 100 or do Dennis Franchione-style scholarship cropduster drops. California is interesting to me because it's easy. Luring a kid from Miami isn't.
I'm interested in your thoughts....