A Word (or two) About Recruiting Rankings

You hear a lot of talk of bias in the media when it comes to college football. Everyone thinks the press has it out for their team or conference. I personally think that there is a tremendous amount of favoritism and benefit of the doubt accorded to the SEC. Of course the only people who deny this are the SEC honks.

One area where we don’t hear much about bias is in recruiting rankings. But it looks to me like the recruiting services are beginning to go the way of the rest of the college football media in pumping up players from the South–in particular, Florida–at the expense of other regions. The result is that, naturally, teams from the South will get most of these players and they will then dominate the recruiting rankings.

Just last year, much of the early talk was of Florida possibly having the best recruiting class of all time (even though it did not sign a quarterback–a criterion usually associated with top-flight classes). ESPN was declaring this to be the case before the ink was even dry on the letters of intent. When the dust cleared, however, the so-called greatest class was by no means a unanimous choice across the recruiting spectrum, as Rivals.com had USC atop its list.

But what helped lead ESPN to this conclusion in the first place?

A look at the ESPN top 150 of 2010 gives us some clues.

Of the 150 players ranked by ESPN, here is the breakdown of the top four states:





Note: Ohio, population 11.5 million, had one selection.

So, what we were led to believe is that Florida and Georgia, with a combined population of approximately 29 million, produced more elite players than California and Texas, with their combined populations of 72 million. Naturally, the Florida Gators signed a large chunk of those players and that’s how we get talk of their class being the greatest of all time.

Just in case you might be thinking that this is a one time deal, THIS year’s ESPN top 150 is even more skewed toward the Sunshine State and the South in particular–and, once again, away from the mega-populous states of California and Texas:




South Carolina–4




Note: Ohio was given four selections this time.

That’s 58 players from Florida and Georgia vs. 31 from California and Texas.  Four Southern states–Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and South Carolina–comprise half the 150 total despite having a combined population of 43 million.  Furthermore, Louisiana and South Carolina (combined population: 9 million), have the same number of selectees as California (population: 37 million).

Does anyone truly believe these rankings?  Do you think Florida has more elite prospects than California and Texas COMBINED?

Does ESPN ever venture west of the Mississippi River to rank its prospects?

At worst, these rankings are a brazen attempt to cater to the rabid SEC fan base by focusing on prospects from that region.  At best, it’s a scattershot selection process that fails to properly account for huge swaths of the country.

Either way, I think ESPN’s recruiting service has some explaining to do.


Oh, I’m sure some of you are thinking that most of the talent really does come from Florida, Georgia and other parts of the South and that I’m being paranoid.  But checking USA Today’s NFL database, the results are much different:

A comprehensive database of the past 20 NFL drafts, assembled by USA TODAY, illuminates trends in geography (school and conference), position and player size.

It is no surprise that California, along with Florida and Texas, produce large numbers of draftees. After all, they are three of the four largest states in the USA, making up 26% of the population.

 But those three states out-produce their population when it comes to NFL draft picks. They account for 1,808 of 5,395 players drafted — 34% — according to a USA TODAY analysis of the NFL draft from 1988-2007.

So, California and Texas out-produce their populations when it comes to sending players to the NFL, but are woefully under-represented when it comes to how their players are ranked heading into college.

Anyone have any clue as to why that is?

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Chris Huston, A.K.A. ‘The Heisman Pundit‘, is a Heisman voter and the creator and publisher of Heismanpundit.com, a site dedicated to analysis of the Heisman Trophy and college football. Dubbed “the foremost authority on the Heisman” by Sports Illustrated, HP is regularly quoted or cited during football season in newspapers across the country. He is also a regular contributor on sports talk radio and television.

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28 Responses to A Word (or two) About Recruiting Rankings

  1. ADP June 2, 2010 at 11:21 am #

    HP, I thought you knew that HS players in Florida are bigger, stronger and faster than their counterparts in California and Texas because…ummm…errr…yeah! So there, take that!


  2. Chris June 2, 2010 at 1:01 pm #

    One problem I see just on the face of the analysis is that you are comparing samples from different times, with the NFL Draft analysis going over almost 20 years and the recruiting rankings over the past two years. So there are certainly some issues with ESPN’s rankings but that NFL Draft to Past two years comparison doesnt work.

    Incidentally Rivals Top 100
    Florida – 20
    Texas – 12
    California – 10
    Georgia – 7
    North Carolina – 6
    Louisiana – 6
    Ohio – 5
    Alabama – 4
    South Carolina – 3

    2009 Draft By Home State
    Tx – 14.4%
    CA – 12.5%
    FL – 7.8%
    OH – 5.8%
    GA – 5.07%
    AL – 4.68%
    LA – 4.3%
    NC – 3.5%
    SC – 2.7%

    2008 Draft
    CA – 12.8
    TX – 9.6
    FL – 9.6
    LA – 5.2
    OH – 4.8
    GA – 4.8
    NC – 3.6
    SC – 1.6
    AL – 1.2

    From that small sample you could argue that the only real problem with Rival’s top 100 is that Florida is overrepresented. Of course that assumes correlation between Top 100 lists and a Draft taking place 4 years later.

    So really what you would need to look at to make a really good statistically significant argument would be to look at a 10 year period or so, of course the world of recruiting has really changed in those last ten years as the internet has become more prevalent.

    So yes, on it’s face ESPN is making a smart business decision by focusing resources on areas where people care the most about it, just like why there is a ESPN-Boston,LA, Chicago etc and why Yankees-Redsox get so much press.

    Not sure why anyone expects to get an unbiased view from ESPN since I dont think Ive ever heard them to claim to provide fair balanced objective coverage.

  3. Heismanpundit June 2, 2010 at 1:29 pm #

    Yeah, my data comparison isn’t perfect, but I thought it was important to note that states like Texas and California consistently produce a ton of NFL talent. It’s an overall indicator of the level of talent coming out of those states. It may not be a direct correlator to recruiting rankings, but it appears to be closer to accurate than ESPN’s list, which woefully underrepresents states West of the Mississippi.

    Rivals isn’t much better: 27 from Florida and Georgia vs. 22 from California and Texas. Come on!

  4. Not You June 2, 2010 at 6:49 pm #

    “So, California and Texas out-produce their populations when it comes to sending players to the NFL, but are woefully under-represented when it comes to how their players are ranked heading into college.

    Anyone have any clue as to why that is?”

    A few explanations come to mind. One would be that Florida, having been a hotbed of talent that was historically underrated (Giving rise to Florida, Florida State, and Miami variously dominating the past two decades), that has now had the pendulum swung the other way, and is being over-scouted and over-recruited.

    Meanwhile, Texas and California, hotbeds of Talents that have historically been over-recruited and over-scouted, are now on the downswing due to marginal talents being more highly touted and then flopping.

    Which would mean there are prime recruiting bargains to be had in California, while avoiding Florida and Georgia (Unless you’re in that state) unless to pluck a truly exceptional talent.

    I could go into cultural differences (such as The Muck Bowl being a huge deal, and only recently prominent), but whatever. All things shall pass, the statistics will eventually regress to the mean.

  5. Hogbody Spradlin June 3, 2010 at 4:27 am #

    Well what do you expect California boy. They’d rather have a sensitivity seminar than play football out there. ;<).

  6. Southernvoice June 3, 2010 at 5:36 am #

    We lost the war of Northern agreession, this is our revenge. It is 100 years in the making, we plan to take back what we lost! You have no idea how much effort has went into this calculated plan! JOKE! Interesting article!

  7. Chris June 3, 2010 at 6:15 am #

    Another thing to consider is the difference between what a pro team looks for in a player and what a college team looks for. There are many highly successful college recruits and players that never get drafted. Alabama took an unranked player from Florida in Javy Arenas and wound up with a great DB and the guy that almost reset the punt and kickoff return records for a career.

    Just because a California guy or Texas guy are drafted doesn’t mean they should have been rated higher out of highschool. Perhaps they worked hard and really developed during college, or they just have the “build” and skills of a pro player.

    Also while Texas high school football is certainly big, in the south it is huge. I can turn on my TV at anytime and watch anything from peewee league to high school football. Friends from college knew the names and results for the high school games in the state(Alabama). Recruiting in college is a lot about performance in high school and in southern states we just reward the players with more attention at the high school level. That leads to a lot more players taking the game seriously as a stepping stone to try for college and makes the competition tougher to even get on the field.

  8. johnny douche June 3, 2010 at 7:00 am #

    Is it really that hard to explain why the South?
    How many top prospects are black athletes? I would venture to say most.
    What region of the country has the highest black populations? I’m betting the South.
    California and Texas are able to make up ground just by their huge populations.

  9. Ricky McDurden June 3, 2010 at 7:34 am #

    Take it from an avid Dawg and SEC fan, even we don’t buy into the ESPN rankings. Shit, even when theyve got Christian Lemay ranked something like 3rd best player overall, he’s surrounded by Florida commits in the top 25! ESPN is just doing what they’ve always done: cater to the masses of the teams on a hot streak. Florida is on one so if the kid is good enough for Florida, he’s good enough to be the next GPOOE. They did the exact same thing with USC throughout the early to mid 2000’s. But if you really have penis envy for the South, you could always just move here and join us ; ). Join us, HP. JOIN US.

  10. Inert1 June 3, 2010 at 11:11 am #

    I agree with Mr. McDurden. After all, the first letter in ESPN stands for Entertainment, just like the E in WWE.

    I think that they also pay undue attention to measurables, and SEC players have amazing size to speed ratios.

    Finally, I think that they don’t see everyone, and players in the same place get more attention. It takes a lot more effort to see a guy in North Dakota than to see the guy at the same school as another guy that they are scouting.

  11. LBU June 3, 2010 at 11:32 am #

    The SEC country is hot sh*t right now. ESPN signed that TV mega-deal worth a gazillion dollars. Florida and Alabama are god’s gift to everyone. And… OMG ESS EEE SEE SPEED!!!!!

  12. Glen June 3, 2010 at 12:02 pm #

    I think it works like this:

    The recruiting rankings are developed by for-profit businesses who are looking for paying subscribers. In the long run, the recruiting services get the most subscribers by being more accurate than the other recruiting services, but in the short run they boost subscribers by pandering to fanbases.

    The most rabid clutch of fans that does die-hard stuff like subscribing to recruiting services (guilty; two services currently) are most heavily located in the Deep South. Ergo, recruiting services pander to their best potential customer base, and yes indeed, that does bias the rankings.

  13. oledawg June 3, 2010 at 4:05 pm #

    I’m a dyed-in-the-wool SEC fan, but you sir have a valid and data-objective good point!

  14. Dawgy June 4, 2010 at 5:38 am #

    The BCS began in 1999. There have been 12 championships of which the SEC has won 6 and, 2 were won by Fla. State and Miami. USC has won 1 and Texas has won 1.

    Some might even argue that Auburn should have won the 2005 Championship.

    There may be some bias but, some of us can see why.

  15. Macallanlover June 4, 2010 at 4:02 pm #

    Your use of population figures to question rankings is bizarre. Do you seriously think talent is spread proportionately and equally through the US population? Sounds like a leftist program to articially redistribute the wealth (and will be about as successful!)

    How can you be surprised the talent in skill positions are overdeveloped in Florida, Georgia, and Texas? Kids grew up with Herschel Walker, Peyton Manning, Bo Jackson, etc., as their heroes not Derek Jeter, or Bobby Orr. CFB is a cult in the South, and sunbelt states have a disproportionate number of athletes all focused on the major sport. No one cares about the NHL, NBA, soccer, lacrosse, or to a lesser degree, MLB in the sunbelt. at least not as passionately as CFB. The best athletes pursue the sport that will make them famous in their own communities. It is what their fathers and uncles (even their mothers)talk about. What tghe pretty girls are attracted to. No splitting of their time in what talents they develop.

    Recruiting rankings are like pre-season polls, they really don’t matter in the end. Great for fans to argue about, and feel optimistic about, but the only thing that matters is winning one the field. And sunbelt teams do that, consistently. Rankings aren’t perfect but the records on the field and in the NFL draft verify all population is just not a reliable indicator.

  16. Jim June 5, 2010 at 1:50 pm #

    I know I am a little late to the party but I actually have a non fan based reason for the disparity between the number of FL, CA, TX players in the NFL compared to there population figures. By far the biggest reason is New York so under produces talent compared to its size. I would imagine that this is because over a million children have little to no access to football living in NYC. The same thing effects Mass. and Illinois to a much lessor extant. Florida does produce a much higher rate than there size would suggest but not to the extant that the recruiting services claim due mostly to the Miami area where prospects are targeted young and funneled into power schools. Miami is basically football version of Chicago in high school basketball.

  17. Jim June 5, 2010 at 2:00 pm #

    Sorry about the 2 quick posts but just wanted to add on for clarity. Because New York so under produces talent the other 3 huge states have an effective population percentage not of 26 percent but closer to 30 percent. That alone accounts for about half the difference throw in the cities of Chicago and Boston and any other city where football is not a primary sport and that adds another half percent or so to the effective populations of TX, CA, FL.

  18. Annonymous June 8, 2010 at 7:53 am #

    I agree that 40 players from Florida is too many, but 25-30 (which is typical) is consistent with the pattern we’ve seen in the first round of the NFL draft. It’s true that high school athletes from Florida are about 3 times as likely to be in the ESPN 150 than athletes from California. But Florida high school athletes are also about 3 times as likely to be an NFL first round draft pick (from USA Today data). In this respect, the NFL draft data validates the ESPN data and undermines a Florida or SEC conspiracy theory.

    I expect that a greater passion for football plays a role, but speed is probably the biggest factor. Like it or not, Florida and the south have disproportionately more speed athletes. Just look at the NCAA 100 meter dash finalists:

    2009 1 of 8 from Florida, 6 of 8 from the South
    2008 2 of 8 from Florida, 8 of 8 from the South (counting Texas)
    2007 3 of 9 from Florida, 8 of 9 from the South

  19. PAC 10 Pundit June 15, 2010 at 9:02 am #

    Typical PAC 10 Pundit doing anything to promote the PAC 10 over others and in particular to denounce his two favorite buggy men: the SEC and ESPN. Dig deeper HP/PAC 10 Pundit and look at demographics (ethnicity) number of players on HS football programs, success of CFB in the state of Florida (UF, FSU, Miami, USF, UCF), etc., and then merge that info with your observation to come up with an analysis that actually has some depth and value to it, not just a simplistic comparison of population and top rated recruits. PAC 10 Pundit…you are not a journalist, you are PAC 10 advocate. Nothing wrong with that, but be honest about it.

  20. bear June 28, 2010 at 4:14 pm #

    Hmmm…and why does Florida have the overwhelming majority of wins in the HS All Star Florical series…matching Florida all stars against California.

    And…one might wonder why Ohio State has lost their last nine matches with SEC teams. Usually it is the defensive speed eating up slow offensive lines.

  21. bear June 28, 2010 at 4:19 pm #

    and…California underperforms in puttin out NFL players…It’s percentage of NFL players is lower than it’s percentage of US population.

    Now, I know of no studies, but I’ll bet that there are a lot more black athletes at the elite level of football talent than there are Hispanic (not talking Futbol), and California’s population is more hispanic weighted than Georgia, Bama, LSU..and yes, even Florida.

  22. bear June 28, 2010 at 4:27 pm #

    JIm…I live in Tallahassee. The state capitol. And North Florida is a thriving pipeline of football talent.

    No big urban machines as you suppose for Miami…but great kids from Pensacola, Tallahassee, Jacksonville….but also kids from Panama City, Two Egg, Milton, Quincy, and a bunch of small towns.

    The fact is, that Florida puts out almost double the NFL players per million of population then does California, and a third more thasn Texas.

    That’s a fact…jack!

  23. Chris July 31, 2010 at 9:52 pm #

    It’s not bias. Players are in all seriousness more talented in the South, perhaps due to how much more serious high school and college football is down here.

    Don’t believe me? Recently in the Gridiron Kins 7-on-7 tournament in Florida, two all star teams faced off: the Southwest team, made up of mostly Texas players, and the Southeast team, made up of mostly Florida and Georgia players. These all star teams played twice.

    The Southeast won the first game 37-0. Then they rematched in the championship game and the Southeast won 36-0.

    Quit whining. Southern athletes are superior to West Coast athletes. Certainly there is some talent in California and Texas, but a greater percentage of high school students in the Southeast are legit prospects.

  24. Trevor December 17, 2010 at 2:04 pm #

    You miss the most obvious reason for this discrepancy: ESPN’s multi-billion dollar contract with the SEC.

    Duh. ESPN is a marketing machine that primarily promotes its own product. Just ask the NHL, which ESPN stopped covering when its contract expired — a move that nearly killed the league and sent it scurrying back to The Leader, hat in hand.

    The internet recruiting sites also know who pays the bills — SEC fans. Of course they will tilt their coverage to the geographical region where most of their paying subscribers dwell.

  25. meeting November 21, 2011 at 10:50 pm #

    Pretty great post. I simply stumbled upon your weblog and wished to say that I have really loved browsing your weblog posts. In any case I will be subscribing in your feed and I’m hoping you write again soon!


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