Every college football coach across the country preaches the importance of recruiting and winning their home state, but to what level do they actually follow through on that intent? The 33rd Team wanted to know which teams are successfully defending their state against other schools and which states have just acknowledged their states don’t supply enough talent to stock their team on a National Championship-contending level.
Trying to find a consistent scale to apply to these schools proved to be a little challenging, as each state and individual year has varying numbers of highly sought-after recruits. The decision was made to compare teams based on their ability to consistently sign in–state recruits that are in the top 15 of the 24/7 composite state rankings over the past 10 years, totaling 150 opportunities to sign a top 15 player in their state. While the vast majority of states were able to meet this threshold, it needs to be noted that there are several states that were unable to produce enough talent to have 15 ranked players in their state on a consistent basis. Teams within those states will have an asterisk next to their name as they appear.
There is one school that stands above the rest in regard to locking down their state. LSU locks up more than half of the top 15 players out of Louisiana (53%). With the next closest teams on this list signing 40%, LSU is an impressive outlier among power 5 programs. It is impossible to ignore their on-field successes when looking for what gives them such an impressive track record of in–state recruiting, but a ton of credit needs to be given to their location. They very well could be in the most lucrative recruiting hotbed in the country, considering the incredible amount of football talent and the lack of any other major schools within the state. Despite all that, there seems to be a sense of state pride in Louisiana that is unique to Louisiana. I know that football is taken seriously in most southern states, but there’s a reason why Death Valley in college football and the Superdome in the NFL are notorious for being some of the most difficult places to play in the country.
Ohio State has done an incredible job of meshing a national recruiting presence while still building a wall around their home state. Ohio produces high quality football players, but not enough to build up the juggernaut Buckeyes to what they are on the field. The No. 1 OT in the country was an Ohio native in 2020 and was basically a lock to OSU for most of his senior year, but 15 of their 17 blue-chip players that year grew up outside of Ohio. Having a national brand like OSU makes national recruiting a little easier, but there are very few game-changing players from Ohio that enroll anywhere but OSU these days. OSU is following the blueprint of how to most effectively recruit locally as well as nationally, which explains why they are a perennial CFP contender.
Shocker, I know. Alabama recruits well. They have an average recruiting ranking of 1.45 over the past decade — a ridiculous, unbelievable stretch of recruiting. Saban and his staff have the ability to walk into the home of any recruit in the country, but they aren’t letting their best players leave the state, either. Alabama is ranked ninth in our metric at 34%, despite having an in–state conference rival in Auburn that has competed for national titles in the past decade. Over 60% of the top 15 players in the state of Alabama sign at either Alabama or Auburn, making the state of Alabama the most difficult in the country to pull recruits from. Alabama’s unrivaled success makes their recruiting strategy more about choosing the right players rather than choosing the best players. Much like previously mentioned Ohio State, the Tide takes the in–state prep players that it wants and perfectly combines them with talented national recruits to fill in the rest of their roster.
The Hawkeyes tied with Ohio State for second on this list, but the on-field results yield a different outcome. The difference seems to be their ability to venture outside of state borders to convince recruits to join them. OSU averages over 3 wins more per season than Iowa, a stat that isn’t simply an in–state talent deficiency. Iowa proves that you can build a competitive team by locking up your state, but out-of-state recruiting needs to improve for them to truly compete for a College Football Playoff bid.
California is one of the four most talent-producing states in football recruiting (rank California, Georgia, Texas and Florida in any order you want, the point still stands). Having the ability to win the state of California is a massive asset to the Trojans. With the majority of the Pac-12 coming to the Golden State to pull their best recruits and other national brands fighting to steal players away, USC has managed to hold down their state despite some down years. Winning the state is even more difficult for USC considering how many other programs are within the state. Stanford and UCLA tend to consider academics more than most other schools, but they remain competition for the elite athletes that also excel in the classroom.
Look, in–state recruiting success does not guarantee on-field success. The analytical disclaimer would be “correlation doesn’t always equal causation.” Looking at it from the perspective of a recruiting staff member, it is significantly more difficult to take talented players from a state if an in–state program can pitch staying home to contend for championships. Signing the best players in your state may not always be enough for a program to compete for a national championship, but history shows that it builds the foundation for a solid team.
The numbers show that teams over the 25% threshold have won 8.01 games/season over the last decade. Most coaches in the country would gladly take 8 wins a year and a guaranteed bowl game berth. Even better yet, the top 10 teams in this metric have averaged almost 9 wins a season (8.86) over the past decade. A majority of the most successful in–state recruiting teams are perennial contenders for conference championships, which doesn’t seem like a coincidence. There is more than one way to build a college football program, but building a program with talented players from the home state is going to make a better team more often than not.
The table below lists the top 20 most successful teams when it comes to recruiting their home states and how it relates to their average wins/season and their average recruiting ranking.