Basketball may always be king in North Carolina, but that doesn’t mean the state doesn’t play a significant role in the world of college football.
Though none of the state’s five FBS schools are currently in position to compete for a national championship, the Tar Heel state’s prep football talent may be the key to the championship hopes for a number of programs, including South Carolina and Clemson.
A 2009 Sports Illustrated study showed that North Carolina produced 229 BCS-conference recruits from 2004-08, ranking ninth in the country. Neighboring states Virginia (10th place - 209 players), South Carolina (13th - 169) and Tennessee (16th – 149) all produced fewer players over that span. Florida led the rankings with 981 players.
North Carolina features another deep class of prospects this year. The state has nine four-star recruits, according to rivals.com, and a may send upwards of 40 players to FBS programs. With none of the in-state schools currently dominating recruiting – UNC was the last do so under Mack Brown in the mid-1990s – the state has become a free-for-all.
“Nobody has put a fence up around the state,” Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer recruiting analyst Sammy Batten said. “I don’t think you can do that anymore. With the Internet these days, even people in California know who the best players in North Carolina are. You’ve got more people coming into this state than you ever have.”
USC, Clemson, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Georgia Tech, Virginia, California and Notre Dame are among the out-of-state schools that have already landed commitments from North Carolina-based players in the Class of 2011.
If one of the in-state schools could keep the bulk of those players at home, it could potentially compete for a national championship. Instead, the state serves to boost the hopes of other dominate programs throughout the country.
The state could be the key to South Carolina’s chances of competing for a division or conference championship in the SEC. Recruiting success in North Carolina could buoy the Gamecocks’ hopes while hindering those of SEC East rival Tennessee, which doesn’t have a natural recruiting base and relies on success to the east.
“North Carolina is an extraordinary state for talent,” Athlon recruiting editor Braden Gall said. “I wouldn’t put it on the same level as Georgia, but it’s probably right there with Mississippi and it’s definitely better than Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee. It’s definitely a great state for talent, and a lot of heavy powers are coming in to get players.”
Gall believes that North Carolina may be a major swing state on the recruiting landscape – and thus the overall status quo in college football.
“If Tennessee were to be able to go in there and clean house that could affect big-picture college football in two different conferences,” he said. “If North Carolina continues to dominate in-state – that’s not something they have done, but let’s say they do – that could really swing momentum toward their favor. So, it’s a very important recruiting state, especially for Tennessee. Virginia Tech has the state of Virginia. Georgia has Georgia. Tennessee doesn’t have a lot in its own state.”
South Carolina produces enough major-college prospects every year to support USC and Clemson. However, those schools inevitably lose several players each year to out-of-state schools – many of them are conference rivals – and their inability to assert dominance over the other in recruiting has largely split the bounty down the middle.
That forces them to seek talent in more fertile states like Georgia and Florida. However, UGA usually gets most of the in-state prospects it wants, and the four BCS schools in Florida – Florida, Florida State, Miami and South Florida – are hard to beat for in-state players in the Sunshine state.
Plus, every school in the nation does some recruiting in the state of Florida, the nation’s foremost recruiting battleground. That means the Gamecocks and Tigers might be better served to focus on North Carolina instead.
USC has one North Carolina-based commit in the Class of 2011: Marvin Ridge (N.C.) receiver K.J. Brent, who lives just across in the border in Waxhaw, N.C., a Charlotte suburb. The Gamecocks have offered and missed on a number of other high-profile prospects from the state.
Still, they are doing their best to make inroads and lay the foundation for long-term success there. Assistants Shawn Elliott (western), Jay Graham (central) and Brad Lawing (eastern) all recruit a section of North Carolina.
“There is great high school football coaching in North Carolina,” USC recruiting coordinator Shane Beamer said. “It’s a heavily populated state. It’s growing. That needs to be a good area for us. We’re the closest SEC school to a lot of those places. Charlotte is a major metropolitan area that is close to Columbia. We’ve had a lot of success with North Carolina guys in our program.
“There are just so many reasons and positives to be in the state of North Carolina recruiting. We’ve got three coaches that recruit that state for us. We’re in on a lot of great players from that state and hope to continue to be.”