Here's how college football recruiting hotbeds have evolved since 2000

Andy Wittry

By landing the top-ranked recruiting class in college football in 2018, Georgia became the first non-Alabama school since Florida in 2010 to sign the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, according to the the 247Sports Composite rankings. Then the Bulldogs earned the top spot again in 2020, thanks to a recruiting class that featured 10 of the top 60 recruits in the country.

After Georgia football coach Kirby Smart was hired in December 2015, the Bulldogs’s first five recruiting classes of Smart’s tenure were ranked No. 6, No. 3, No. 1, No. 2 and No. 1 nationally, respectively, according to the 247Sports Composite, and their 2021 recruiting class is currently ranked third nationally. Georgia had 20 players sign their National Letter of Intent in the first two days of the college football early signing period, which comes to a close on Friday.

247Sports says Georgia’s roster is the most talented in the country this season and there are a number of reasons – some quantifiable and others more intangible – why the Bulldogs have enrolled such talented recruiting classes, ranging from the recruiting strategy, relationship building and acumen of Smart’s staff, to a generally high level of on-field success, to what appears to be a series of blank checks that the university is willing to write when it comes to its football program’s recruiting expenses.

But in addition to Georgia spending a boatload of money on football recruiting, a 2017 season that culminated in an SEC Championship and nearly a national championship, and the Dawgs winning three consecutive SEC East division titles, Georgia has also benefited from its home state increasing the number of top-100 high school football recruits it produces more so than any other state in the country over the last two decades.

In order to examine how recruiting hotbeds have changed since the turn of the century, I analyzed the hometowns of the top 100 college football recruits, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, over the last 22 recruiting classes, from 2000 to 2021. The 247Sports Composite rankings for the 2000 recruiting class stop at 120 players and the 2001 rankings stop at 129 players, which is why I chose to examine the top 100 recruits per recruiting class.

For context, there are roughly 30 five-star recruits per recruiting class – there have been anywhere from 26 to 37 per year in the last decade – so the top 100 players in a class include every five-star recruit, as well as the top 60 to 70 four-star recruits. You’ve probably watched the No. 38, No. 90 and No. 93 recruits in the 2000 recruiting class still play on Sundays this fall; that’s LA Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, New York Jets running back Frank Gore and Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

Recruiting rankings are an inexact science, but there’s a reason the three teams ranked behind Georgia in 247Sports’s talent composite rankings are Alabama (No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings), Ohio State (No. 4) and Clemson (No. 3). You have to scroll all the way down to…No. 8 to find Notre Dame, which is ranked No. 2 in the latest CFP rankings.

Georgia on my mind

From 2000 to 2004, the state of Georgia produced a total of 25 top-100 recruits across those five recruiting classes, per 247Sports.

In 2020 alone, the state had a national-best 15 top-100 recruits.

As of the current 247Sports Composite rankings, there are 12 top-100 prospects from Georgia in the 2021 recruiting class – second only to the state of Texas, which has 15 – and the Bulldogs have received commitments from the top three in-state recruits and seven of the top 12.

Georgia is a state that used to be a peer of Alabama, Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, in terms of the number of top-100 recruits it produced on an annual basis, but it has recently joined the exclusive recruiting neighborhood that was previously limited to California, Florida and Texas.

Not just anyone can enter that neighborhood, but Georgia has made a rare leap, as shown in the line graph below. Georgia has now outpaced both Florida and California in the number of top-100 recruits that each state has produced in both the 2020 and 2021 recruiting classes, after Georgia had a lower output than Pennsylvania and Louisiana in 2001.

Note: Many players who attend the Bradenton, Florida-based football factory IMG Academy have their hometown listed as Bradenton on 247Sports, so for those players, their listed hometown is the city they lived in prior to attending IMG Academy.

Now, the data above and the Georgia-centric lede to this newsletter is obviously not to suggest that the Bulldogs have signed every four or five-star recruit who has a 404 area code or every blue-chip recruit who lives within Georgia’s state borders, nor is it meant to imply that the Dawgs exclusively recruit in-state players (although they’d still be pretty damn good if they did), but it helps to contextualize the benefit of being the namesake school in the state that produced more top-100 players than any other state in 2020.

The Peach State is also ripe for the picking for top programs in neighboring states, such as Clemson and Alabama – the two of which can offer a track record of multiple recent national championships, a proven path to the NFL and a campus that’s a relatively short drive from home. The Tigers signed the highest-rated 2021 prospect from Georgia who didn’t commit to the Bulldogs – five-star linebacker Barrett Carter from Suwanee, Georgia – and the Crimson Tide landed a pledge from offensive guard Terrence Ferguson, who’s ranked as the No. 54 recruit in the 247Sports Composite.

However, while Georgia can’t completely close off its borders from its SEC and Power Five brethren – there are too many good players in the state for the Bulldogs to take them all and there are too many prominent programs within a three to five-hour radius – the University of Georgia has claimed a 40-percent share of the top-100 recruits (75 of 187) from its home state since the 2000 recruiting class. The second-best program at recruiting top-100 prospects from the state, Auburn, has landed just 16 such recruits, or 8.5 percent of the Georgia’s top-100 prospects over the last 22 recruiting classes.

By the numbers, it’s almost been Georgia vs. the field over the last two decades when it comes to landing a top-100 prospect from the state, as shown by the network graph below.

One hundred and thirty-six of the 187 top-100 recruits from Georgia from the 2000 recruiting class through the 2021 recruiting class have committed to a school that’s currently in the SEC, which is almost 73 percent. Behind Georgia and Auburn are Tennessee (14), Alabama (10), Florida (nine), South Carolina (five), LSU (four), Ole Miss (one), Arkansas (one) and Missouri (one).

Clemson is the top non-SEC school with nine top-100 commits from Georgia this century. Florida State, Georgia Tech, Ohio State, Stanford, South Carolina and USC have each received five commitments from top-100 players from Georgia since 2000.

While Georgia isn’t the only Power Five school in the state, it’s certainly the state’s flagship football program, as affirmed by Stanford and South Carolina pulling away as many top-100 recruits in the last 20 years as Georgia Tech was able to keep home.

Many of the best high school players in the country live in Georgia – and increasingly so, as explained here – and college football coaches are going to follow the talent.

Twenty years ago, there were just as many top-100 prospects in Ohio as there were in Georgia. There were several who lived within an hour or two of Chicago, and the same goes for Detroit. There were even more in New Jersey.

Below is a map of the hometowns of the top 100 football recruits in the 2000 recruiting class, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.

But by 2020, the number of top-100 recruits in Georgia had tripled from 2000, as Georgia produced a national-best 15 top-100 prospects in the 2020 recruiting class.

Many of those recruits lived in or around Atlanta, as shown by the map below.

You’ll also notice that compared to the map of the hometowns of the top 100 recruits from the 2000 recruiting class, the top 100 recruits in this year’s freshman class were much more concentrated in Georgia and Florida, and much less concentrated in the Great Lakes region.

In 2000, 18 of the top 100 recruits were from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, but in 2020, just five top-100 recruits came from those eight states.

The following lists show how many top-100 prospects were from the top 10 talent-producing states in the first five years of this century (2000-2004) compared to the top 10 talent-producing states from the five most recent recruiting classes (2017-2021).

Number of top-100 recruits from 2000 to 2004:

1. Florida: 71

2. California: 64

3. Texas: 62

4. Ohio: 28

5. Georgia: 25

6. Pennsylvania: 24

7. Louisiana: 23

8. New Jersey: 16

T9. Illinois/North Carolina: 14

Number of top-100 recruits from 2017 to 2021 (change from 2000-2004 in parentheses):

1. Texas: 72 (+10)

T2. Florida/Georgia: 63 (-8/+38)

4. California: 61 (-3)

T5. Alabama/Louisiana/Maryland: 20 (+7/-3/+14)

8. North Carolina: 14 (no change)

9. Pennsylvania: 13 (-11)

T10. Ohio/Virginia: 12 (-16/no change)

Obviously, Georgia’s meteoric rise as an elite producer of top-100 recruits is the biggest takeaway from those two lists. Despite Georgia having roughly 29 million fewer residents than California (39.5 million compared to 10.6 million), according to the United States Census Bureau’s official population estimates as of July 1, 2019, Georgia produced two more top-100 recruits than California from 2017 to 2021.

Meanwhile, Texas added two top-100 recruits per year over the last five recruiting classes, on average, compared to the first five years of this century. Texas’s increase of 10 top-100 recruits from the 2000-to-2004 window to the 2017-to-2021 range is the third-biggest leap nationally during that stretch, behind Georgia and Maryland.

The increased concentration of blue-chip recruits in Texas and Georgia has resulted in a thinning of the middle-class producers of elite college football prospects. Whereas four states produced between 23 and 28 total top-100 recruits in the first five recruiting classes this century, there has been a dramatic drop-off over the last five recruiting classes from California (61 top-100 recruits, No. 4 nationally) to Alabama, Louisiana and Maryland, each of which is tied for fifth nationally after producing 20 top-100 recruits from the 2017 recruiting class to 2021.

Amid the creation of this second-tier void, Maryland has undergone a transformation as a sneaky, yet relative, college football recruiting hotbed. The Old Line State had just one top-100 recruit in the 2000, 2001 and 2002 recruiting classes combined, and in five of the first 16 years of this century, Maryland didn’t have a single high school player ranked among the top 100 recruits.

However, from the 2021 recruiting class dating back to the 2016 class, Maryland has produced four, five, three, five, three and five top-100 recruits, respectively, which is all the more impressive when you consider that it was just the 19th-largest state in the country last year, according to the United States Census Bureau’s population estimate as of July 1, 2019.

Plus, there were three other top-100 recruits from Washington, D.C. in the 2020 recruiting class, after the U.S. capital was responsible for just two top-100 recruits from 2000 through 2004.

As the maps of the hometowns of the top 100 recruits in the 2000 and 2020 recruiting classes showed, Maryland has arguably taken New Jersey’s claim as the No. 1 recruiting hotbed for elite college football recruits on the East Coast. From 2017 to 2021, New Jersey was responsible for just 10 top-100 recruits – half of Maryland’s total.

That changing of the guard is reinforced when you look at the map below of the hometowns of the top 300 recruits in the 2020 recruiting class, based on the 247Sports Composite rankings. Once again, players who attended IMG Academy had their hometowns listed as the city they lived in prior to moving to Bradenton, Florida.

We now know how recruiting hotbeds have changed but do we know why?

Using the United States Census Bureau’s population estimates from this century, here are the states whose populations increased the most, based on percentage increase, from 2000 to 2019, along with the percent change in the total number of top-100 college football recruits for each state from 2000-2004 to 2017-2021:

rank | state | % increase in population | % increase in top-100 recruits

  1. Nevada: +52.58% | +700%
  2. Utah +42.84% | +100%
  3. Arizona +41.04% | +167%
  4. Texas +38.44% | +16%
  5. Idaho: +37.53% | Undefined (two top-100 recruits divided by zero)
  6. Florida: +33.84% | -11%
  7. Colorado: +33.09% | -71%
  8. North Carolina: +29.78% | No change
  9. Georgia: +29.05% | +152%
  10. Washington: +28.84% | +17%

At risk of oversimplifying this discussion, seven of the 10 states that saw the greatest percentage increase in population over the last two decades also saw an increase in their production of top-100 college football recruits. An eighth state, North Carolina, saw no change.

The top three states all increased their output of top-100 recruits by at least 100% and the No. 5 state, Idaho, went from zero top-100 recruits in the first five years of this century to two in the last five years. That’s a subtle change in terms of the raw data, that’s also not nothing. If Alaska or North Dakota produced even one top-100 recruit in the next recruiting cycle, that would probably raise some eyebrows, right?

At a very basic level, at least part of this equation comes down to anthropology.

Think about all of the maps and data and trends that you saw during the election cycle. You can probably repurpose some of that data from the election season when thinking about where the top college football recruits live.

Once again pulling from the United States Census Bureau’s estimates, the population in the South increased by 24.9 percent from 2000 to 2019 and the population in the West increased by 23.5 percent, while the population in the Midwest saw just a 5.9-percent increase.

The Northeast’s population grew by only 4.3 percent.

The part of the country that has seen its population increase the most, based on percentage, is the part of the country that dominates college football, by and large.

Five SEC schools have won a national championship since Michigan and Nebraska – two of the Big Ten schools with the richest football history – split the 1997 national title. Three of those five SEC schools – Alabama, Florida and LSU – have won multiple national titles since ‘97, and in total, those five schools have combined for 12 titles in the last 22 seasons.

Part of this analysis also comes down to somewhat immeasurable things like the cultural value that’s placed on football.

That’s likely part of the reason why, say, Tennessee’s 19.7-percent increase in population from 2000 to 2019 led to an 83-percent increase in top-100 recruits from 2000-2004 to 2017-2021, and why despite the 17-percent increases in population in South Dakota and Wyoming, those two states are still among the eight states that haven’t produced a single top-100 football recruit since 2000.

OK, so you put together a few maps and graphs. What does this all mean?

A higher percentage of blue-chip recruits are coming from the states that are home to many of the most successful college football programs in the country.

Since the 2000 college football season, 16 college football national champions have been schools from the South, or Texas. Ohio State won two titles, as did USC, with USC and LSU both having a claim to the national championship in the 2003 season, which was the last split national title.

And Oklahoma won the first title of the century.

But the Buckeyes, Trojans and Sooners are all national brands, too. There’s a reason Ohio State and USC have each landed as many top-100 recruits from Georgia since 2000 as Georgia Tech has.

Recruiting costs are rising – or at least they were prior to the pandemic – as public Power Five schools spent an average of more than $100,000 more on college football recruiting in 2019 than they did in 2018, and as top recruits have become more heavily concentrated in states such as Texas and Georgia, those geographical changes will also be reflected in recruiting boards, flight itineraries and rental car reservations.

It also potentially gives local schools in the South, Texas, California and even the DMV a leg up on their out-of-state competition in recruiting, especially during the pandemic, after the NCAA Division I Council has extended the recruiting dead period and when travel has become more difficult, or at least when it poses a greater risk.

These trends in recruiting, or at least the realization and acceptance of them, could be a bitter pill to swallow for schools that have a proud football history and/or aspirations on the gridiron but that also lack a high-level pipeline to Texas, Georgia, Florida or California, or even one to the greater metro Charlotte, Baltimore or Detroit areas. At the very least, it puts a ceiling on in-state recruiting efforts in parts of the Midwest and places a premium on player development.

For example, the state of Nebraska – whose namesake university is just 11-20 in football so far in coach Scott Frost’s tenure – hasn’t produced a top-100 recruit since 2008. The state of West Virginia has been home to just two top-100 football recruits this century and it’s four states away from Texas, which is home to four of the Mountaineers’s nine Big 12 peers, as well as 291 top-100 recruits from 2000 to 2021.

There are more than 20 recruits in the 2021 recruiting class from Florida who are ranked higher than the seventh-best recruit from Ohio. And there’s a reason that upstart Indiana, ranked No. 7 in the latest AP Top 25 poll and No. 11 in the latest CFP rankings, enrolled seven players from Florida in its 22-man 2019 recruiting class, and eight Florida natives among its 28 enrollees the year before that.

Alabama and Michigan signed the top two recruits in Indiana in 2018, and Indiana and Purdue split the state’s four top-300 prospects in 2019.

When the well is relatively dry to begin with, or when others get to fill their buckets first, then you have to go find places with water, and sometimes that means quite literally in the world of college football recruiting, as the best recruits in the country are increasingly based out of Georgia, Maryland and Texas.

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I publish original, enterprise reporting about college athletics that focuses on off-the-field topics, such as name, image and likeness rights and the financial side of athletics, from a public records and data-based reporting lens. My work has been published by Sports Illustrated, Sporting News, Stadium,, the IndyStar and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Chicago, IL

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