The 2017 recruiting class expands, explains the West/East gap in the SEC. Here's how.
If you’re paying attention, you couldn’t help but notice that there are two distinct SECs.
The easiest way to track them is this: The West is filled with the best talent, top coaches and teams that compete for and win national championships. The East is filled with teams that would do well to finish in 6th place in the West.
Sure, Tennessee, Florida, and Georgia are historical college football powers, but the SEC lives in a land called “What have you done for me lately?” So with the final touches on another recruiting class, let’s look at the divide again and see if the East has done anything to cut into the West’s dominance.
2017: The West still owns recruiting.
The short answer is “no.” The recruiting site 247Sports.com (whose rankings are used throughout this article) selected 32 5-star prospects across the nation for the class of 2017. And among these players, 11 chose SEC schools. Of those 11, eight are in the West: Alabama signed six, LSU and Auburn one each.
In the East, Georgia signed two and Tennessee signed one.
The edge swells in 247Sports’s top 100 players. The West leads the East 27-12, with Alabama (15), LSU (8), Texas A&M (2), Auburn (1) and Mississippi State (1) all included. The East is represented by Georgia (7), Tennessee (3), Florida (1) and South Carolina (1).
Overall of the top 247 players (a designation prominently featured by 247Sports), the SEC West netted 51 such players. Alabama (20), LSU (10), Auburn (8), Texas A&M (6), Mississippi State (3), Arkansas (2), and Ole Miss (2) all signed multiple players from the list. But in the East, which signed 35 players, Georgia (17) dominated, and Florida (8) was merely OK.
Beyond that, Tennessee (4), South Carolina (4), and Kentucky (2) were somewhat underwhelming. And Missouri and Vanderbilt were off the list entirely.
How big is the gap between East and West? Consider this: 27 of Alabama’s 29 players signed were ranked higher than the highest-rated signee from Vanderbilt. Tennessee, a traditional power, would have ranked 5th in the West in terms of signing the most players from among the top talent.
But let’s set the clock back … to 2008
In an effort to understand the West’s dominance, let’s move back to an earlier time. Has the West always dominated recruiting? Well, the answer again was “no.” In 2008, Nick Saban was coming off a 7-6 season at Alabama. And recruiting was — frankly — much more even.
Sure, the West beat the East in signing 247Sports.com’s top 247 players. But the count was 33-28. And more top 100 players signed in the East than the West, 15-9. In 2008, the West was led by Alabama (18 top 247 players), LSU (9), Arkansas (4), Ole Miss (1), and Mississippi State (1). Auburn signed no top 247 players. The East was led by Georgia (12), Florida (11), Tennessee (2), Kentucky (2), and South Carolina (1). Vandy signed no top 247 players.
So what does it mean? First, Alabama is killing the East (and everyone else).
So what can be we learn about the competitive gap today in studying how things were in 2008 and how they were in 2017? First, we can learn that Alabama is bad for the competitive balance of college football. This is hardly a shock. Alabama nabbed top 100 players from California, Florida, Texas, Hawaii, Kentucky, Georgia and Louisiana.
Sure, California and Hawaii aren’t big SEC recruiting bases. But by nabbing multiple players from Florida, Georgia and Louisiana, the Tide hurt the schools who would be their toughest competition. They don’t just own the state, they own the nation.
Also, watch out for Georgia.
The second thing we can learn is to watch Georgia. If you look back at the 2008 recruiting standings, what jumps out, other than that Tennessee was on the way down, was that Alabama was recruiting far better than on-field performance would suggest.
The Tide were 7-6 then and far removed from a Gene Stallings title. But on the basis of his recruiting, at a phase when he was essentially selling a dream of future greatness instead of selling present greatness, Saban began building his decade of dominance.
Who looks like that in the 2017 numbers? That would have to be Georgia. An 8-5 UGA team from 2016 would seem to have less momentum than two-time division champion Florida or maybe Tennessee.
But instead, UGA crafted the No. 3-ranked class in the nation, and almost signed more top 247 players (17) than the entire rest of the SEC East combined (18).
When you combine that with Kirby Smart’s ability to keep almost all of his NFL Draft eligible talent, it looks like Georgia is the team to watch in the East.
Also, expansion crushed the East (thanks, Mizzou).
The third thing is that the SEC’s expansion further slanted the playing field. Texas A&M is a player in the recruiting war. Its six top 247 players signed in 2017 would place them third in the East, and just two behind Florida for second place.
Meanwhile, Missouri added no top 247 players. In signing the 50th-best recruiting class in the nation, the Tigers’ top recruit was ranked No. 353 overall. And of course, Vandy’s recruiting was even worse — topped by the No. 612 player in the class.
The case for flopping Mizzou to the West and Auburn to the East is intriguing. In that case, the West/East gap for top talent narrows — in fact, it would be a 43-43 tie in the top 247 rankings. Granted, the West would still win the 5-star battle 7-4 or the top 100 battle 26-13, but it would be a start.
For now, the West continues to own the day. But watch Georgia as the team that could start a return to form for the East. Particularly if Missouri ever gets moved to the West, where every mapmaker knows it belongs.