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Dantonio's Recruiting Map- Part 2

Shifting Spartan demographics and fighting the 'Southern Invasion' story-line.

Leon Halip

In the last post, we looked at the recruiting map over the whole 8 (or maybe more accurately 7 1/2) recruiting cycles of the Dantonio era thus far. Today, we're going to start by splitting the data into 2 four year chunks.

The demarcation between 2010 and 2011 can be helpful in examining the Dantonio tenure in a couple of ways. First off, it separates between when the team was merely playing well and when it was playing great (source: some combination of my eyes/opinion, and the work of these two guys, who I trust quite a bit). Second off, it compensates for a couple of important coaching changes. And third off, for the purposes of this discussion, it separates when MSU wasn't a 'name' school and when it now either flat-out is, or, at least, is to a much greater extent.



You could hand this map to anyone and get the same first impression. A little over 78% of MSU's recruits over this four year period came out of Michigan and Ohio. Let me reiterate that: essentially eight out of every ten kids in these recruiting classes were from MI or OH.


There are two strong reasons, probably in this order:

1. You can only recruit who listens

John L. Smith may have exited with a 22-26 record that would've indicated some semblance of mediocrity, but perception of the program was of a laughing stock: a team that had lost 8 of their last nine games in 2006, gotdang coaching mistakes, and a loyal, but traumatized, fan-base.

In late November of 2007, Dantonio was handed a class from Johnelle on that contained two (two!) players, both from Michigan (One of which, thankfully, was Mark Dell). Dantonio quickly signed 11 players in December, another 7 in January, and two after signing day (some names picked up in this scramble: Kirk Cousins, BJ Cunningham, Greg Jones, Joel Foreman, Chris L. Rucker, Garrett Celek, Aaron Bates. Not a bad haul). This class contained players from Tennessee, Kentucky, Arizona, New York and Texas, and the staff was clearly calling in favors or working connections gained at Cinci and OSU to fill the class with bodies. MSU would never, to date, reach back into those states, or even in most cases, very seriously recruit them. In the staff's first batch of 'real' classes that they recruited from start to finish we saw: 19 out of 21 kids from OH or MI in 2008; 19 out of 23 kids from OH or MI in 2009; and 16 out of 21 kids from OH or MI in 2010.

I think a big part of this is that these were the two states where the staff could really walk in and get right into the door. In Pennsylvania, MSU was still just that school that got its ass kicked on the reg by Penn State. In Illinois, they were struggling in contests with the Illini and Wildcats. Nationally, there had been just the two bowls games in the last seven years, and the team lacked players that coaches could point to recruits and say, "We think you can be the next ________ or we can use you like we used ____________." No name recognition.

In Ohio, that was different as Dantonio wasn't just "MSU football coach", but also "butt-kicking national championship coordinator and former head coach of an instate BCS university." People, coaches, and by that link, their players, knew his name, especiallyin Mid and Southern Ohio. It probably didn't hurt that the MSU DC and OC during these years were both Miami (OH)/Youngstown State guys either.

And in Michigan, the Spartans had at least remained competitive on the field with their in-state rivals, Dantonio presumably still had some connections dating back to his Saban days, and had a relentless recruiting point-man (and former MSU QB) named Dan Enos leading the charge. Efforts in Michigan and Ohio were also aided by...

2. The ineptitude/indifference of Richard "Rich" "RichRod" Rodriguez

Who did his best to, depending on who you believe:

A. Prioritize out of state talent over Michigan's local talent

B. eff up UM's long standing relationships with various Michigan and Ohio high schools

C. Just get outworked and out-coached by his in and out of state rivals.

This created a niche for MSU to pick up a few guys they might not normally have gotten, particularly in 2009, but was probably much less of a big deal than factor #1, as the Wolverines still picked up their fair share of Michigan recruits.

Then after MSU broke through to 11 wins, we saw a few important things happen, leading us to...



Doesn't that just look more like the type of recruiting map you want your team to have?

Less reliant on any one state or states for players, with far more states proving to be sources MSU could pull a recruit from and then dip back into in subsequent years (i.e. relationships are being built between MSU and important states/schools).

Number of states with X MSU recruits
Era One Recruit Two Recruits Three Recruits Four or More Recruits
2007-2010 8 2 1 3
2011-2014 5 3 0 6

How'd we get from the previous map to this one?

Three things

1. Brian Kelly, Brady Hoke,and Urban Meyer

Alright, let's get these three jerks out of the way at the top. They've each picked up a LOT of players who almost certainly weren't going to Michigan State anyways, but along the way each has snapped up their share of guys who were considered MSU leans or commits at parts of their recruitment (Mario Ojemudia, Steve Elmer, Lawrence Marshall, SeVon Pittman, Drake Harris etc.). Losing these players obviously forced MSU to head elsewhere, but that wasn't as big a deal as it might have been because...

2. Michigan State didn't have to dig as deep in-state anymore

After 2010, MSU stopped picking up nearly as many players who were located in the teens of twenties of Michigan recruiting rankings ("MAC level recruits") than they had in previous years. From 07-10, MSU would pick up three, five, half a dozen guys who were considered in Michigan's lower tier of players. Some of these players worked out, more of them didn't, and though MSU will still pluck a player or two out of the teens and twenties of these lists, they seem willing and able to find players they like better out of state. They can do this because...

3. People love a winner

After that 11 win season brought a Big Ten championship, the team followed up with another 11 win season packaged with multiple mid-high drafts picks, followed up with a disappointing 7-6 campaign that still managed some high profile victories and multiple mid-high draft picks.

Recruits know the names of Kirk Cousins, Le'Veon Bell, Keshawn Martin, Jerel Worthy, and Will Gholston, and they mention them. A Florida kid like MacGarrett Kings is way-pumped to be a Spartan, and jumps on that offer over other big names. A Georgia kid like Nick Tompkins likewise. A Pennsylvania kid like Demetrious Cox ditto, and the same for an Illinois kid like Enoch Smith.

The trick with this sort of thing, is you're not really allowed to stop winning, at least not for a while. Slip up for three years and get your coach fired and you're right back where you started. But the young sports mind is ultimately a front-runner. Win and put kids into the NFL and even a staff lacking dynamite recruiters will pull recruits they aren't 'supposed' to. And do well enough and you (or your successor) might see some surprising things a bit further down the line (if somewhere around, say, 2016, 2018 or 2020, we see an abnormally large contingent of Spartan fans in the state's recruiting ranks, don't count out the effect of a run of Spartan success with a long rivalry winning streak during their childhoods.)

4. What about Ohio, I head that Kentuc-


5. Louisville


6. Tenness-


Oh man, this meme. THIS MEME y'all. This is one of those things where I'm worried that enough prominent internet voices are going to repeat enough (here, here, here, and here, to provide a sampling) to the point where it just gets accepted.

Now I can't, and won't, speak for the Iowas, Nebraska's, and Wisconsin's out there, and who knows, maybe as a whole this argument carries weight. Maybe the harbinger of death for the rest of the Big Ten's 'mid-tier' cometh (which I wouldn't really mind, actually). But I'm sure willing to push back against the 'impending Southern OHIO INVASION' narrative in MSU 's individual case.

Here are the two things, and only two things, Spartan fans really need to care about here:

A. How many recruits are we getting beaten for? I mean, really beaten for?

Alright, so this group of schools is apparently picking up a lot 3* Ohio types that have been an important part of MSU's past rosters. But how many of these recruits actually have Spartan offers? Let's take a look.

Kentucky, Tennessee, and Louisville- recruits from Ohio
Class Name Position 24/7 Composite MSU offer
2014 Darius West DB 0.911 Yes
2014 Thad Snodgrass WR 0.903 Yes
2013 Marcus McWilson ATH 0.899 Yes
2014 Ethan Wolf TE 0.888 Yes
2014 Mike Edwards DB 0.885 No
2014 Mikel Horton RB 0.884 No
2014 Joe Henderson DE 0.872 Yes
2014 Nilijah Ballew S 0.868 No
2013 Kyle Meadows OL 0.863 No
2014 L.J. Scott RB 0.863 Yes
2014 Jarrett Larubbio OL 0.86 No
2014 Dewayne Hendrix LB 0.86 No
2014 Darryl Long TE 0.857 No
2013 Jaleel Hytchye CB 0.853 No
2013 A.J. Branisel TE 0.85 No
2014 Danny Burns OL 0.85 Yes
2014 Micky Crum TE 0.848 No
2014 Jared McCray OL 0.847 No
2013 Keith Towbridge TE 0.843 No
2013 Dylan Wiesman OL 0.835 No
2014 Tymere Dubose DT 0.816 Yes

So, right off the bat, even after a sort of annoying couple of weeks (West, Burns, and Scott all committing over MSU offers), 13 out of these 21 guys (62%) didn't even have an MSU offer when they committed (I looked into Vandy as well, they've pulled a couple 3 star guys out of Ill the last few years, but no one from Ohio), which makes me pretty suspicious about any claims that the 'mid-tier' South is eating MSU's lunch in Ohio. 'These three schools picked up 21 Ohio players the last two years!' sounds scary, but the reality of it for Spartan fans is not nearly that grave. The only reason I'd be freaked out over these losses or wondering why we didn't offer these guys would be if we weren't replacing them with comparable talent. So....

B. Who are we replacing these missed recruits with?
Class Name Position 24/7 Composite Name Position 24/7 Composite
2014 Darius West DB 0.911 Vayante Copeland DB 0.88
2014 Thad Snodgrass WR 0.903 ? ? ?
2013 Marcus McWilson ATH 0.899 Delton Williams ATH 0.868
2014 Ethan Wolf TE 0.888 Matt Sokol TE 0.87
2014 Joe Henderson DE 0.872 ? ? ?
2014 L.J. Scott RB 0.863 Gerald Owens RB 0.887
2014 Danny Burns OL 0.85 Chase Gianacakos OL .843
2014 Tymere Dubose DT 0.816 Enoch Smith DT 0.882

Here are the gaping holes these Southern raiders having punched into our Spartan recruiting class so far:

-One barely 4* wide receiver

-One high-mid 3* defensive end

If you really want to push back against me, you could argue that those seven 2014 players up there that we missed on don't get 'replaced' by our current 12 commits, but rather by our next 12 commits. But this presupposes a world where MSU is recruiting in a 2008 position instead of a 2014 position, in the face of years of data to the contrary. In other words, "Welp, there's NO WAY Dantonio is going to be able to round out this recruiting class with similarly rated players at those positions, except for seemingly every recent recruiting class where he does exactly that."

When it comes down to it, I ain't scared of no man but Saban, and I sure as hell ain't scared of Mark 'Third best Stoops brother' Stoops.

If your premise is that MSU is going to get choked out of good three star players in Ohio and Michigan you're going to be real disappointed as the staff slips into Illinois (MSU probably pulls 5, maybe even like 7 kids out of this state.), Pennsylvania, Florida, Georgia, Wisconsin, the Mid-Atlantic, and (yes, still) Ohio and Michigan and manages to find their 20-24 guys.

Let me address two final arguments:

1. Ohio was crowded without these Southern schools coming in. Limited Players + More Suitors = Tougher road for MSU.

Not as much as you'd think. Observe:

Committed Ohio Players with MSU offers
Year MSU UK, UL, Tenn Other 'Mid-Tier' programs Total
2013 5 1 8 14
2014 (so far) 3 6 1 10

UK, UL, and UT have indeed pulled off a stunning reversal so far, BUT it is only a reversal, not a continuation on a theme. In 2013, MSU lost a handful of recruits to teams like Wisconsin, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Nebraska. In 2014 they've lost a handful to Kentucky, Louisville, Tennessee, and Northwestern. BUT, in neither of these years did both those factions exhibit pressure and squeeze the Spartans out of their customary haul of Ohioans.

What it looks like we have is a situation where Michigan State picks up about one out of every three recruits that it dogfights with against these non-'Bama/OSU/UM/ND/OK schools. Not only is that strike rate essentially unchanged so far, it seems about normal, doesn't it?

2. Every miss in Ohio could be a good player MSU is missing out on.

Yeah, but like, duh, so it goes for all recruiting misses. And every school, even somewhere like Texas, misses recruiting targets. The problem in applying this type of zero-sum logic in this case, is it's intentionally dismissive of the amount of good football players there are in MSU's traditional hotbeds. To illustrate this idea, in Ohio alone, there are still 36 uncommitted composite 3-star prospects. In Illinois there are 22. Pennsylvania claims 20 who fit that description. Florida has 156(!) uncommitted 3*s. Even Michigan still has 11 such prospects. Not only can MSU fairly easily find its share of the type of players these mid-tier Southern schools are now supposedly hoarding, so too, I think, can Nebraska, and Iowa, and Wisconsin, and the others for whom this year's trend is supposed to terrify.

MSU isn't going to fall off just because the mid-tier of Southern football combines to pilfer a dozen or so Ohio guys with MSU offers over the course of a year or two. They can just go somewhere else. If you're appealing enough to recruits, there's ALWAYS more good 3* recruits in the BANANA STAND (Did- Did I get that reference right? I have never watched any episodes of Arrested Development, but people are always talking about banana stands and making huge mistakes and also that BEES/BEADS GIF is pretty funny, and why is a characters name 'Gob', like Gobstoppers, and ow, stop pelting me with sharp rocks, internet, that hurts, ow-)

I suspect most of the Southern Invasion narrative are based on a combination of 1. disbelief at some of the sheer amount of players, total and Ohioan, that these three Southern schools have brought in in such a short time, 2. Trolling rival fan-bases (Kentucky is traditionally very bad, Tennessee and Louisville have been wildly inconsistent in the past decade) in a "You're losing recruits to THEM?" sense, 3. an inability to separate a (so far) single year trend from past or future considerations, 4. hopes that this sort of external force can do the dirty work that Michigan and Ohio State themselves have proven incapable of: knocking out these 'pesky' Big Ten teams and making their rivalry mean something nationally again.

But all of those factors seem much more emotionally persuasive than logically persuasive, at least in the specific case of the Spartans.

Honestly, the parties advancing this narrative should stick with the irrefutable (and annoying) fact that the Michigan/Notre Dame/Ohio State Triumvirate have cleaned MSU's clock for most of Michigan and Ohio's highly rated recruits over the past two (or five, or ten or fifty) years. And then they should find another good reason why MSU, as currently constructed, is going to fall off, despite their recent success in the face of that consistently extant fact. I recognize the 'Southern Invasion' theory is an attempt to do just that, but frankly, it doesn't hold up that well under scrutiny.


We've seen a fairly sizable demographic shift over the last quartet of recruiting cycles as around 2 fewer recruits per 10 are coming from MSU's traditional MI and OH strongholds. The factors that have caused this are varied, but as various recruiting pressures have exhibited themselves from traditional powerful rivals (OSU, UM, ND) and irritating invading upstarts (UK, UL, TN) , the Spartans have shown admirable flexibility and skill at being able to branch out and continue to field solid recruiting classes. Undeniably, the team's recent success has opened new avenues in states where initially Dantonio's Spartans were flatly unable to recruit. To increase this momentum, it would be really super-cool if the team could win 9, 10, 11, or possibly 14 games this year.