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Wednesday, June 12, 2013
SEC recruiting has home-field advantage

By Craig Haubert

Recruiting is the lifeblood of every program in the country, and every conference has its own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to landing top prospects. In the start of a weeklong series, we'll examine the BCS conferences plus Notre Dame to find each's strength, the biggest obstacle each faces and the overall view of the conference. The SEC is up today.

Biggest obstacle: When it comes to recruiting in the SEC, the biggest obstacle arguably comes from within. No conference recruits as consistently strong from top to bottom as the SEC and the margin for error is very small. From 2006 through 2013, the SEC has had no fewer than six programs finish within the top 25 of the class rankings in any given year, and the 2013 final class rankings saw all 14 teams finish in the top 40, including 10 in the top 25. A program could be having good success on the recruiting trail and still find itself in the middle or even the back of the pack. Mississippi State, for example, finished with the 25th-ranked class this past cycle only to finish 10th within its own conference.

Being able to recruit as a member of the SEC brings with it many benefits, but as a result of that there are no weak links among SEC teams on the recruiting trail. Alabama has posted back-to-back top-ranked classes and a group that includes programs such as Florida, Georgia and LSU are usually top 10-15 staples, if not top class contenders themselves year in and year out. Other programs within the SEC have shown the ability to have success and even make a big impact as well. Ole Miss this past cycle broke from the pack to land a top-five class that included the nation's top-ranked prospect (Robert Nkemdiche). Even Vanderbilt, long considered a back-of-the-pack staple, made a surge on the recruiting trail as well under the direction of James Franklin and finished with a top-25 class for 2013.
Competition on the recruiting trail is tough all over, but in the SEC it has proved to be extremely fierce and a class that would be great in any other conference simply might not be good enough as a member of this conference.

Jadeveon Clowney
Teams in the SEC don't have to go far to find elite players like Jadeveon Clowney, who stayed home to play for the Gamecocks.
Biggest strength: There are a few factors, but the biggest is the excellent talent available within the heart of this conference's footprint. Most programs in the SEC can build at least a strong foundation for their classes from within their home state and then don't have to stray very far to supplement those classes with so much talent in nearby states. Florida and Georgia have proved to be among the nation's premier states for producing top talent, and Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina might not have the consistently deep talent pools of Florida and Georgia, but they still each produce excellent prospects. The No. 1 overall prospect in the 2011 class came out of South Carolina (Jadeveon Clowney) and went to an SEC school (South Carolina). The top three prospects in the 2013 class came from Georgia and Florida -- Nkemdiche, Carl Lawson and Vernon Hargreaves III) and all three went to SEC programs (Ole Miss, Auburn and Florida, respectively). Louisiana was home to the nation's No. 2 prospect in 2011 (current LSU DT Anthony Johnson) and is home to the nation's current top player in running back Leonard Fournette.

Now add in new member Texas A&M and it opens up a pipeline to another very talent-rich state. The wealth of talent available within reach makes competition tough as SEC programs don't only have to battle conference foes, but programs from all over the country that want to try to take advantage of the talent in the Southeast and Texas. But the bottom line is that most of the programs in the SEC don't need to stray very far to recruit some of the premier talent in the nation.

Overall view of the conference: There are a lot of positives surrounding the SEC. There is a wealth of talent located within the conference's landscape and the value of that can't be overstated. To help draw that talent, programs within the SEC have several factors to aid them. Winning can be the best tool to help recruit top talent and no conference has been more successful than the SEC in recent years as it has been home to the past seven national champions. Additionally, its members can also boast that it has produced four of the past six Heisman Trophy winners and has a proven record of getting players to the NFL, most recently setting a modern era record for players drafted from a conference in the 2013 draft.

The league also can boast stability in a time of recent uncertainty and realignment and a recently announced launching of an SEC Network won't hurt on the recruiting trail either. The conference is undoubtedly riding high and has established itself as the premier conference in college football right now. This can make for intense battles from within, but overall is a huge asset in recruiting.