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June 2, 2012

Big Three states may have company

Few people would argue the fact that top states for producing college football players are California, Florida and Texas, in no particular order.

Who's No. 4? That's a question that might spark a difference of opinion. But a closer look at the numbers reveals there really isn't much room for debate.

Georgia has separated itself from the pack just that much.

"I'm not sure Georgia's getting the respect they deserve," said Loganville Grayson coach Mickey Conn, whose team won the state title in Georgia's highest classification and finished fourth in the RivalsHigh 100 national rankings last season. "I think we've got the best football in the country, in my opinion. We may not have as many teams as Texas and California, but we have more players than most people have any clue about."

That respect is coming now.

To get a sense of which states rank just behind the so-called "Big Three" of California, Florida and Texas, we asked each of the six Rivals.com recruiting analysts (Mike Farrell, Adam Gorney, Josh Helmholdt, Chris Nee, Keith Niebuhr and Brian Perroni) as well as RivalsHigh editor Dallas Jackson to rank their next five states in order.

Georgia was the unanimous pick as the No. 4 state. Ohio was a clear-cut choice for fifth, Louisiana and Virginia tied for sixth place and Alabama finished eighth.

"The last two or three years of talent in that state has been off the hook," Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said.

The numbers back up those votes.

Three of the 17 five-star prospects in the Rivals100 released this week are from Georgia: Loganville Grayson defensive end Robert Nkemdiche (No. 1), Vienna Dooly County defensive tackle Montravius Adams (No. 10) and Alpharetta Milton defensive end Carl Lawson (No. 14). Florida is the only other state with three five-star prospects.

But the Peach State's emergence actually began a while ago.

Georgia high schools have produced 125 four- and five-star recruits over the last five years. Ohio has produced 83, Louisiana had 62, Alabama had 60, Pennsylvania had 54 and Virginia had 53 over the same stretch.

Ohio had 15,000 more students playing high school football than Georgia in 2010-11, the most recent year measured by the National Federation of High School Associations. Yet Georgia produced 88 more prospects rated with three stars or above than Ohio over the last two completed recruiting cycles (2011 and 2012).

"When you look at the numbers, it's overwhelming in Georgia's favor when you look at four-stars since we started doing this," Farrell said. "But I think there was always some question. Is it Georgia? Is it Louisiana? Is it Ohio?''

HOW THE VOTES WENT
Which state is just behind the "Big Three" of California, Florida and Texas in producing football players? We asked each of the six Rivals.com recruiting analysts as well as RivalsHigh's Dallas Jackson to rate the next five states in order. We awarded five points for each fourth-place vote, four for fifth place, three for sixth, two for seventh and one for eighth. First-place votes are in parentheses.
StatePoints
Georgia (7)35
Ohio25
Louisiana15
Virginia15
Alabama 8
Pennsylvania6
North Carolina1
Farrell said Georgia really started to break away from the pack with the 2011 class that featured eight of the nation's top 56 prospects: Thomasville Thomas County Central defensive end Ray Drew (Georgia), Monroe Area defensive end Stephon Tuitt (Notre Dame), Columbus Carver running back Isaiah Crowell (Georgia), Valdosta cornerback Malcolm Mitchell (Georgia), Atlanta Grady cornerback Damian Swann (Georgia), Griffin defensive end Xzavier Dickson (Alabama), Tucker linebacker James Vaughters (Stanford) and Valdosta tight end Jay Rome (Georgia).

"That year propelled into last year, which propelled into this year," Farrell said. "The 2011, 2012 and now 2013 [classes] have seen such a different caliber of talent in Georgia that pushed them to my immediate answer for No. 4 now."

There now is no question that Georgia stands alone at No. 4. In fact, Georgia has come on so strong that at least one person is ready to argue that the Big Three may deserve to be a Big Four.

Conn pointed out some recent head-to-head victories by Georgia high schools over programs in Florida and California to make his case that the Peach State deserves even more attention.

"You're on the right track putting us in that [No. 4] category, but I think we're as good as or better than any of the states, in my opinion," Conn said.

For now, we'll keep Georgia at No. 4. Here's a rundown of all the states that received multiple votes in our survey, along with the case for and against each of them.

GEORGIA

The case for: Where do we begin? Georgia led all our contenders in three-star (452, not including players from Georgia Military College), four-star (115) and five-star prospects (10) from 2008-12. If you measure Georgia's 165 FBS signees in 2012 against its 2010-11 total of 32,088 high school football players across the state, Georgia had the nation's second-best ratio of FBS signees per high school player; only Florida ranked higher. Georgia's total of three five-star prospects in the current Class of 2013 rankings matches Florida for the most of all states.

The case against: Louisiana and Alabama had more NFL players per capita last season, though Georgia had a higher overall total. Georgia and Georgia Tech are the state's only FBS programs, though Georgia State will join them in 2013. If Georgia has this much talent, why aren't Georgia and Georgia Tech as successful as, say, Alabama, LSU, Ohio State or Virginia Tech?

OHIO

The case for: Traditionalists might point to Ohio and Pennsylvania as the biggest football states after California, Florida and Texas. While the talent level in Pennsylvania has dropped off quite a bit in recent years, Ohio continues to live up to its reputation as a football hotbed. Texas, Florida, California and Georgia are the only states that produced more FBS signees this year. Of the states on this list, only Georgia had a higher total of five-star or four-star prospects from 2008-12.

The case against: It's easy to argue that Ohio deserves to be ahead of all the other states on this list, but it's tough to come up for a reason to put it ahead of Georgia. It's also worth noting that Ohio had over twice as many high school football players as Alabama and over 2 1/2 times as many prep football players as Louisiana in 2010-11, but it had less than twice as many players sign with FBS programs in February than either of those two states.

LOUISIANA

The case for: Louisiana had the most NFL players per capita of any state last year, if you count the number of players it had on season-opening rosters (53) and its total population according to the 2010 U.S. Census (4,533,372). If we measure Louisiana's number of 2012 FBS signees against its total number of high school football players in 2010-11, only Florida and Georgia had better ratios. Louisiana had 18,229 high school football players in the 2010-11 school year, lower than the totals at Pennsylvania (26,505), Virginia (25,549) or Alabama (22,833). Yet Louisiana had a combined total of 62 four-star and five-star recruits from 2008-12, while Alabama had 60, Pennsylvania had 54 and Virginia had 53 (not including players from Chatham Hargrave Military Academy or Fork Union Military Academy).

The case against: While Louisiana's per capita totals in producing FBS players and NFL players are extremely impressive, the state's relatively low population makes it tough to give it serious consideration over Georgia or Ohio, football hotbeds with more than twice as many residents.

VIRGINIA

The case for: Virginia has eight players in the 2013 Rivals100 to rank behind only Florida (15), California (12) and Texas (10). Georgia has seven Rivals100 selections, while Ohio and Louisiana each have four representatives. Virginia Tech has won at least 10 games for eight consecutive seasons, and more than two-thirds of its recruits over the last five years have come from Virginia or the District of Columbia. No program from outside the states of Texas, Florida or California has signed a higher percentage of in-state recruits during that stretch. Virginia's numbers get much more impressive if you take into account players from Chatham Hargrave Military Academy and Fork Union Military Academy, though many of those prospects went to high school somewhere other than Virginia.

The case against: Richmond Heritage linebacker Curtis Grant, who signed with Ohio State in 2011, is the only five-star prospect to come directly from a Virginia high school since 2008. Georgia had 10 five-star prospects, Alabama and Ohio had eight each, Louisiana had seven and Pennsylvania had six from 2008-12. Heck, Georgia has three five-star prospects in 2013 alone. And if you don't include players from Hargrave or Fork Union, Virginia produced 142 three-star prospects from 2008-12, the lowest total of any of the six states on this list.

ALABAMA

The case for: Alabama and Auburn have combined to win the last three national championships, and more than one-third of the players each has school has signed over the last five years have been home-state products. Alabama had less than half as many high school football players as Ohio and more than 9,000 fewer high school players than Georgia last year. But it produced eight five-star prospects from 2008-12, the same number as Ohio and only two fewer than Georgia. The state's top prospects also often meet expectations. Alabama's eight five-star recruits from 2003-08 included three first-round draft picks (Julio Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick and Andre Smith), one second-round pick (Chad Jackson) and one guy who's projected as a potential first-round draft pick next year (D.J. Fluker).

The case against: The same argument we made against Louisiana also applies to Alabama. Louisiana actually is a slightly smaller state that had more players in the NFL at the start of last season (53 for Louisiana, 46 for Alabama) and more combined four-star and five-star recruits (62 for Louisiana, 60 for Alabama) from 2008-12.

PENNSYLVANIA

The case for: History. This is the state that produced Hall of Fame quarterbacks Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath and Jim Kelly as well as so many other legendary performers.

The case against: Pennsylvania's talent level isn't quite what it used to be. Pennsylvania ranks well behind each of the other states on our list in NFL players per capita. It also had the fewest four-star recruits (48) from 2008-12 of the six states on our list. It ranked ahead of only Virginia in three-star recruits and five-star recruits during that stretch.


Steve Megargee is the national college columnist for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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