Iowa Football: Recruiting is an Uphill Battle

I know what some of you are thinking.

“Oh boy, here goes Miller with another ‘woe is Iowa recruiting piece’.”

Well, it’s not ‘woe is Iowa’, as the Iowa football program has been doing just fine, thank you very much. I guess it depends on how you look at this sort of thing. If anything, I believe the data below will support just how well the Iowa football program has been performing amidst the most difficult challenge they face; recruiting geography.

I don’t need to dwell on the following too long, as the results are there for all to see; the Iowa coaching staff is among the best in college football at identifying and developing talent that other BCS conference teams don’t offer and/or don’t have to offer, given the strengths of their recruiting geographies.

Recruiting Geography is going to be the theme of these post, so let me post a graphic now that we’ll refer back to throughout the rest of the item. I have a lot of friends who are in the scouting business. One of them compiled a spreadsheet based upon Class of 2011 signees and broke the data down by state. He obtained the data from the National Federation of State High School Associations.

The large ‘players’ column is the number of high school football players in that state and the ratio is the number of players who signed with an FBS program from that state compared to the number of kids playing high school football in that state.

Since 2001, Iowa has the 17th best winning percentage in the sport. If you take away Boise State, TCU and Utah, teams who did not play BCS conference schedules during those years, Iowa jumps up to 14th. That’s a really good number, considering the other teams in the mix and the recruiting advantages they enjoy over Iowa.

Oklahoma, Texas, USC, LSU, Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Georgia, Florida and Auburn are all higher than Iowa on the winning percentage list. As you can see from the graphic, the states of Texas, Florida, California, Georgia, Ohio, Louisiana and Alabama are 1-7 on the list as far as gross number of FBS signees in concerned. The only outlier on the school list above is Oklahoma, but that state still produced 44 signees and had a 272 to 1 ratio, the sixth best ratio of any state in the nation.

Iowa? This data showed nine FBS signees and Iowa’s ratio of 2161 to 1 was 42nd out of 50 states.

In Iowa’s case, both the raw number and the ratio are poor, far too low to be a consistent feeder for an FBS program, much less a state that has two such programs.

Florida has the highest ratio of 111 to 1. There were 38,268 high school players and 1 of every 111 of them signed with an FBS school, an amazing number. Louisiana was second on the ratio ranking, followed by Georgia and Alabama. Utah was next at 270 to 1 and with 30 players…those are not amazing raw numbers, but that is a solid base with which to draw from for Utah and BYU.

Recruiting is the most important aspect for all of the big boys. It’s important for Iowa, but they have to work harder and smarter to compete with the blue bloods of the sport who have a much, much easier job of maintaining a successful programs due to the non-stop supply of talent in their back yards.

I have felt this way for years, though some fans don’t want to hear ‘excuses’. It’s not an excuse when it’s reality; it’s not easy to win at Iowa and it’s even harder to win consistently at Iowa. The same can be said of Wisconsin, Kansas State and several other programs. These numbers above puts what Nebraska has done in their history in an even better light.

It’s not hard (or should not be) to win at USC, Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Auburn, Texas, Texas A&M, Penn State, Michigan, Miami, Florida State and Tennessee…that’s where the players are from and each of those programs are among the Top 23 winningest programs in the history of the sport.

Here are some additional observations I drew from looking at the data:

-How can Florida State and Miami have hiccups? SOOO much talent, especially for FSU. Miami is a bit more regional and Dade County can be more uncertain. Florida has been and remains one of three best coaching jobs in the sport.

-While the state of Florida has the most talent density, the state of Ohio produced 144 FBS prospects and Ohio State is the primary player in that state. There is no Florida State to recruiting against and while there is a Miami to recruit against, it’s the Redhawks and not the Hurricanes. In my opinion, Ohio State is certainly one of the four best jobs in the sport, behind Texas, USC and Florida. Urban Meyer is making the Ohio State job even more national in its recruiting scope than it has been. That will be of benefit to Michigan and a few other Midwestern programs who can come in and get some of the cream Ohio talent.

-Ohio with 144 is far and away the Midwest’s leader in talent production, with Illinois a distant second with 73. Ohio has a ratio of 382 to 1 while Illinois is at 679 to 1. More kids play football in Ohio and there are more, better players in Ohio. Pennsylvania comes next in gross Midwestern talent with 60 (and a 446 to 1 ratio) with Michigan right behind Pennsylvania at 59 (740 to 1). Given the state population, Michigan does not produce as many FBS players as you would expect, looking at their ratio. Kentucky, Kansas, Colorado, Nevada and Arkansas have higher talent ratios.

-Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska and West Virginia are the clear outliers in this list as it relates to talent ratio and overall gross FBS talent. Iowa produces fewer than 10 FBS players per year and West Virginia produced three. Wisconsin had 22 players and that is a decent local base for them to augment their regional efforts, while Nebraska typically gets the instate kids they target as well as pulling in national and regional prospects.

-Minnesota’s ratio is one slot lower than Iowa’s, which is surprising. They had 6,000 more kids playing football with just two more FBS signees.

What are some of the things you see from this data?

  • Mikesright

    When it comes to Iowa football, I don’t disagree with the fact that KF has been an outstanding fit for Iowa and that unless things completely collapse he should always have a safe seat here. But I do disagree with the woe is me post about recruiting, Iowa is very nearly an in-state Illinois school being only 5 hrs away from the top talent in the Chicagoland area, we aren’t too far from St Louis either, and Iowa has more money and better facilities by far over our nearby competitors. Make no mistake about it, to be any good Iowa will have to continue to out scout and out develop other, bigger name schools and success won’t be easy for us like OSU. KF has also perfectly fit our goals here.

    I think sometimes especially since Iowa went thru a 20 year winless stretch in the 60’s and 70’s that older people think Iowa has a ceiling that isn’t very high or that Iowa is a step away from a “winning grave” – that stretch is a statistical and managerial oddity. Over the years Iowa has proven that they are a solid, but inconsistent program that wins Big Ten championships about 1 out of every 10 years, in other words, average.

    In terms of fan/donor support, Iowa is elite. In an 8 year period, Iowa has/will pour in $145 million into the football facilities. More will come. This is without state subsidies. You know who can’t do any of this without help? Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Minnesota, Northwestern, Indiana, Purdue, Kentucky, Louisville…save 2 schools, ND and Nebraska, no program in our region can compete with us in that regard – that keeps Iowa higher on the totem pole…you can’t really tie that to Ferentz specifically though he is a cog who has successfully kept the wallets open…

    I’ll tie this together and say, in the last 7 years, Iowa has done about average under KF – to really earn that pay he’d better come up with a few good seasons quick – because while he has one of the most rich and one-sided contracts in CFB – he is also coaching at a school that can afford to fire him…not that we’re looking to…but he shouldn’t be too comfortable with how the last few seasons have turned out, when we have 7 (or 8 this yr) home games and 2 games per year against gimmie opponents, Iowa can and should do better than 7-5.

    • HNStaff

      The fans help make it a very good job as does the financial commitment of the Athletic Department. But the recruiting issues are real and a huge challenge. Being 3hrs from Chicago is great and all, but most Big Ten Schools at less than 6 from Chicago and Iowa hardly has a monopoly there. St Louis’s first loyalties are not to Iowa football.
      Having a solid base of in state kids is invaluable because those kids likely want to play for your team. Not having that, which Iowa doesn’t have, means you are battling for kids in other states where they likely grew up cheering for someone other than you. This just makes the job that much harder

      Jon Miller
      (from my iPhone)

    • sandhawk20

      Iowa is “very nearly” an in-state Illinois school???  That is an absolutely ridiculous statement.  Madison, Champaign, Evanston, South Bend, and West Lafayette are all closer to Chicago than Iowa City, and Bloomington and East Lansing are almost the same distance.  This entire article is about the geography of recruiting, and it is laid out well (although the ratios don’t really take into account all of the factors.)

      I guess that also means that Iowa State is very nearly an in-state Minnesota and Missouri school as well.

    • HawkeyeTech

      “one-sided contract”.  “Coaching at a school that can afford to fire him ” … where do you come up with this stuff?  You have a vivid imagination. Or at least a little explanation is called for. You throw out a lot of unsubstantiated “facts”.

    • Sobi#12

      well said… I just hope that more influential people will realize that what you just said is very logical, because I think KF has the almost entire population of Iowa fans wrapped around his finger because of his level of success in this supposed “dry recruiting area” when really Iowa has a lot of unnoticed talent who end up walking on and producing very well, and the ratio is dumb, because every 5 foot 0 kid at a small school goes out for football kid because he loves the game, and we have a LOT of small schools. that screws up our “ratio”

  • vosov

    I think the ratios are very misleading, but the overall data is certainly worth talking about as it relates to Iowa’s disadvantage.  The reason I feel the data is misleading has a couple of factors.  

    First, of the 19,451 kids who play football in Iowa, how many are just warm bodies.  I come from a small town, and we had dozens of kids on our team that likely wouldn’t have even considered playing football if they were from Tampa, because there is no chance they ever would have made the team.  Comparing Iowa’s ratio to Florida’s is an apples to oranges comparison.  I doubt there are only 38,268 kids in the entire state of Florida that would have liked to have tried football.  If they had grown up in Monroe with me, one, Monroe would be much larger (haha,) but also they would have had the opportunity to play football. Also,  Iowa only has two FBS schools and both are in BCS conferences.  Take Ohio as an example.  As you said there is Ohio State and that is really it.  Then you have off the top of my head, Cincinatti, Miami, Ohio, Toledo, and I’m sure I’m missing 1 or 2.  If Drake and UNI were in the MAC, I’m guessing you could at least double the number of in state kids that get D1 scholarships, if not more.  

    How many Iowa and ISU walk ons, and UNI kids with partial scholarships would be on a full ride at Ball State if they had grown up just outside of Indianapolis.  I’m guessing that it would be more than a few.  

    • HNStaff

      Ok. Forget the ratios. 5-9 FBS kids per year makes the job a big challenge
      Jon Miller
      (from my iPhone)

      • rhl

        “the Iowa football program has been doing just fine”……I’m not sure we’re viewed quite that way nationally today.  The trend line has been down in recent years not up.

        Geography is a part of the equation.  I think the quality of the “recruitiers” on your staff is equally important.  I believe recent changes to the staff will help on the recruiting trails but we still struggle in finding difference makers at the skill positions.

        Yes, more WINS would help as well. 

        • Drleer

          Thanks for the interesting article.  As to its detractors…

          “There is nothing more irritating than a good example.”

          Mark Twain

      • vosov

        Jon, I completely agree, and it doesn’t make the Iowa job any easier, but I think the ratio gave a really poor representation of the talent of the average Iowa high school football player.  The actual number of D1 players is more than enough to show what Iowa is up against.  

  • Dhksc

    We should get more out of the state of Iowa, just by the poor ratio.

  • IowaFan81

    Can we get off the recruiting thing? We all know it’s tougher for Iowa to recruit than some schools. However, do you know what helps alleviate that problem?  WINS!!! Especially against the likes of Minnesota, ISU, NW, Indiana, Purdue, and non-conference opponents.  Win those games and surprise a few like usual and recruiting will get better simply because of wins and postseason play. It’s as simple as that. Win those games your supposed to and most wouldn’t be talking about it. 

    • Jeffbuck7

      I was wondering if anyone was going to make this point about wins, “success breeds success,” etc. The odd thing is when it doesn’t work. For example, in the early 2000s, we kind of fell backwards into two conference titles in pretty quick succession. This did result in a bit of a recruiting bonanza. Remember when Mitch King and three other big prospects out of Chicago-land committed to Iowa all at once? Only King really worked out. Then there was Drew Tate, also, and I dunno but some of our best signing years ever. Result? Not too much. No titles, one really exciting surprise year with a very depressing ending and two extremely disappointing years. A great deal of lackluster coaching on the offensive side of the ball throughout the decade, and in three or four spectacular instances some really awful time managment by our zillion dollar head coach. I’m back to the 2010 Wisconsin Fiasco again. Sorry.

      • IAHawkFan

        Mitch King was from Burlington, Iowa

        • Jeffbuck7

          Well, do you remember what I’m talking about? It was like the ’03 or ’04 recruiting class (I thought King was in this mix) and like 4/5 guys kind of as a group decided to come to Iowa. I thought it was a bunch of Chicago guys. It was a big hyped deal at the time.

  • IowaFan81

    Are the Iowa coaches/staff out of this world when it comes to developing players and getting them drafted or signed as NFL free agents? Or do the recruiting rankings have to with there not being as many scouts around to evaluate talent? Probably both, but I know I’ve seen somewhere that says there a lot less talent evaluators in the Midwest than there is in the East, South, and West. That has something to do with recruiting as well.

  • Jongraves2120

    I find the # of total players interesting.  Look at Oregon.  A State of 5M  only has 13k total players.   Iowa has 19k.   Mass  with only 20k total players  7M  in pop.  Iowa has a great deal of grass roots interest in football.  Rivaling the southern states for # of players to population.   

  • Jc1pnut

    I would like to see someone carry through the statistics process and clarify the NFL placement ability of programs as it relates to highly ranked recruiting programs and lower ranked recruiting programs. I know there is a commonly referred to stat out there about raw placement into the NFL. However; I think many of the top young athletes are mislead into thinking they need to go to these top tier recruiting programs to have a better shot at getting into the NFL. Sure everyone hears that Iowa puts a lot of players into the NFL but they don’t statistically point out that Iowa does that with two and three star recruits consistently. To use a point you made in your article why don’t programs like USC, Florida, Alabama, LSU Ohio State, Notre Dame and so on place two to three times as many athletes into the NFL? They certainly start with a much higher percentage of top tier athletes. Something like how many 5 and 4 star athletes go to one of those top programs and end up never being drafted. I could surmise that maybe it is because some superstar always kept them off the field? Even if you were a highly rated HS athlete this is a what have you done for me lately business. HS records don’t get you into the NFL… If you don’t get to play in the NCAA you don’t get to go to the NFL.  

  • PatrickAdamo;vicz

    I agree with Mikesright. Well said.

  • PatrickAdamovicz

    30 years of sustained success and fertile recruiting grounds near by in Illinois, Missouri and Minnesota. It’s not as difficult as some are trying to make it out to be.

    • HNStaff

      Minnesota is not exactly a fertile recruiting ground. And it’s not as if Iowa is the only school recruiting the states of Illinois and Missouri. Everyone in the Big Ten recruits Illinois, and the competition for the best players in the state of Missouri just got a lot tougher given their exposure to the SEC, as some of those schools will make more of an effort to recruit in that state.

  • Sobi#12

    The main thing I see from this data is that there are roughly 10 Iowa HS football player who received a scholarship, and roughly 20,000 total players.

    This means that by the numbers any player who receives a scholarship is in the top .0005% (or 1/200 th of a percent) of all Iowa HS football players… Now that’s some serious bragging rights for those kids!

    I would also like to point out that the state of Iowa seems to produce a large number of successful walk on athletes. I attribute this fact to the common hard working mentality of these successful walk ons, and Chris Doyle. 

    ‘Nuff said

  • If you’re gonna fire Ferentz…you better hire a big name to replace him.  And that big name will probably cost more than Ferentz.

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  • bsozak

    wow, this is pretty eye opening. i wouldn’t have guessed the disparity would be that big between some of the midwestern states, but man…that is a bit of a disadvantage. i actually just saw this infographic that shows Iowa & Wisconsin get the most out of their talent –

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