In college football, the overwhelming factor that decides victory is pure talent. Coaching only gets you SO far; you cannot coach size, speed or strength. You can only manage and shape it as a mentor.
Where a school mines its talent has certainly changed from the “olden” days, when I attended the University of Michigan in the early 1970s. Back then, Midwest schools consisted of players solely from the region and it was a rare sight to see someone outside a 4-5 state region play on Saturdays for U-M.
But we didn’t have cable television and in-conference networks sharing those players’ exploits across the country. You knew about Notre Dame and Penn State (when they were independents) and the Big 10 opponents, but little was actually known about West Coast or Southern schools until it came time to face one of them in post-season bowl competition.
Today, there are dozens of websites and services exclusively dedicated to high school players – not just seniors but anyone on any roster anywhere in the U.S. AND Canada. There are no sleepers anymore – no more recruits like David Gallagher, who got Bo Schembechler’s final offered scholarship in 1969 and became an All-American defensive tackle in 1973 … when no one else wanted him. No more players like Calvin O’Neal who came to Michigan from a 0-9 Saginaw High School team but Bo knew he was a special player and became one of the most feared linebackers during that era.
Among Michigan fans, it has been obvious that there has been a dropoff in talent level over the last five years, if not longer. Players being drafted into the NFL from Ann Arbor have been fewer by the year and the record of the last couple of season speaks for itself.
The obvious question is why? Every recruiting class is touted by every head coach – if for no other reason than to keep fan interest at a higher level. You simply cannot be honest (if you haven’t landed the recruits you had hoped) and expect seats to be filled for next season.
It needs to be said that grades distributed on National Signing Day are as ridiculous as tits on a boar hog. No one, no so-called expert and certainly no head coach, can accurately grade a recruiting class until the junior year. Some players blossom late, some live up to expectations and some never get any better than that senior year in high school.
And with early exiting for the NFL, it makes that level of judgment even harder. The program that actually recruits four-year players is looking for a different type of youngster than those going for those who do not expect to get a degree and will not be around to become seniors.
However, quality programs still do better when going with the “distance” runner than the blazing star. To that, I say two words: Demar Dorsey.
I looked at the U-M roster and what I saw frankly stunned me. Here are some facts to ponder:
Fact: A majority of the U-M 2010 squad is from out-of-state (71 of 123 listed on the roster).
Meaning: Many of the state’s top players are going elsewhere and it costs significantly more in department revenue to provide out-of-state scholarship money and recruiting expenses to garner them.
Fact: Of the remaining 52 in-state players, only four are from Detroit public schools programs (three of which attended Cass Tech, and that connection finds Cass head coach Thomas Wilcher a U-M grad).
Meaning: Where once the Wolverines ruled in terms of attracting the best city players to wear Maize and Blue, it’s all but a dry hole for U-M. These players are going elsewhere to shine.
Fact: After Ohio (with 20 players), Florida (12) is next in terms of most population on U-M roster (followed by Texas with 5). Illinois is down the line at just three players (Pennsylvania, South Carolina and California each have four players). In all, there are players from 21 different states, plus Canada.
Meaning: In the halcyon days, Wolverine recruits mainly (with a few exceptions) hailed from Michigan, Ohio or Illinois. Again, the cost of recruiting these players annually inflates the budget and forces the school to compete against scores upon scores of other nationally-known programs for the same talent. Think about this: there are as many players from suburban Houston as there are from the city of Detroit public schools. Seriously, what sense does that make?
By comparison, let’s examine the two schools from the state where I currently reside – Texas. Granted, it’s a much larger state in terms of population, high school districts and programs and amount of available talent.
Still, what is done at the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University display a completely different attitude towards their recruiting concepts. And with UT’s annual success, no one can argue with its plan.
The Longhorns have a 2010 roster of 107 players and ALL but six of them come from Texas!! Take a moment and mull that number over in your mind. Six out of 107 are not in-state products (meaning additional tuition costs, etc. on scholarship awards; thus saving a ton of dollars for the school). And each recruiting year, Texas leads in the number of Top 100 recruits it lands – all inside the Texas borders.
It is no accident; it’s carefully planned and cultivated by head coach Mack Brown, one of the shrewder recruiters in the country. He has an instantly recognizable brand to sell to players who see his team play every Saturday – either on television or in person … or in their sports dreams.
Not far behind is UT’s in-state rival, Texas A&M, with a scant 13 out-of-state players (five from next-door neighbor Louisiana, which has always been a strong Aggie recruiting base) out of 116 on the roster.
Between the two schools, and University of Oklahoma, Texas Tech and, in a few cases, Baylor, almost the entire upper echelon of Lone Star talent remains close to home.
It should be said UT does not monopolize all the in-state talent. More quarterbacks leave Texas to shine elsewhere than stay at home; that’s because there are so many of them to share. While the Longhorns had Vince Young and Colt McCoy for seven years, players like Matthew Stafford, Drew Brees, Greg McElroy, Andrew Luck, Chase Daniel (just to name a few) crossed the state line for playing time.
But Texas isn’t complaining about who stuck around… Can the same be said about the state of Michigan? Hardly, and for the Wolverines, they have NOT been getting the best of the brightest lately.
One has to stabilize the home base in its recruiting before venturing into “enemy” territory. If a third of the Michigan roster was out-of-state, it might be expected. But 60 percent?!?!? That’s abnormal and unhealthy for any program’s future.
This isn’t a small area of base recruiting; there is plenty of talent in this state, and in the Midwest, to stock a championship program. So I ask again: where are all the Michigan players wearing a Michigan uniform?
Someone needs to provide an adequate answer.