One of the rumors swirling about in realignment circles is Virginia Tech and NC State to the SEC. This is a cause of concern to some who feel that this will destroy our recruiting progress in the DC-Metro area and 757 as Tech will be able to sell its place in the SEC to recruits. But will that really happen? In this post I'm going to cite some examples of how being in a major conference does not necessarily help in recruiting as much as you might think. No Troy is never going to compete with Auburn and Alabama, and no Ohio is never going to flip a kid from Ohio State, but there are programs that are perennial powers in lower conferences that hang with, and sometimes even beat, their in state, big conference counterparts.
This article is written with two major assumptions. The first is that if Tech were to leave the ACC it would come on the heels of other major programs departing. FSU and Clemson to the Big 12, and NC State and Virginia Tech to the SEC. Assuming the Swoff goes out and gets UConn and Rutgers we are looking at a 12 team conference consisting of:
UVA, Maryland, Duke, UNC, Wake, Miami, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Pitt, Rutgers, BC, and UConn.
This assumption leaves UVA in a conference in which it could easily compete on a yearly basis, if not dominate depending on how the chips fall.
The second assumption is that Tech becomes a middling SEC team. think Tennessee in recent years or South Carolina. They have their good years, but all in all they are a program that you mention in the second tier of the SEC, never really posing a threat to the big dogs like Alabama and Florida for supremacy.
With those assumptions made there are four in-state battles I've chosen to highlight, each of which I think will help calm the nerves of everyone who is sweating Tech's possible jump to the SEC. Each entry will have a chart of each school's Rivals recruiting score from the last five years, which should give you an idea of how well each school has done out on the trail. Let's get into the details.
Scenario 1: Kentucky
Participants: Kentucky and Louisville
This I think is going to be the closest comparison that we can draw. Kentucky is a flash in the pan school that occasionally will surprise some people with teams that are randomly good, ask Andre Woodson. Conversely after hiring Charlie Strong in 2010, Louisville is looking like a perennial powerhouse in the Big East. If you look at their comparison you can see that since hiring Strong, Louisville has consistently recruited better than Kentucky. This scenario stresses the importance of having success on the field as well as having a strong head coach over the prestige of a conference.
Scenario 2: Pennsylvania
Participants: Pitt and Penn State
This is the one that would give me the most pause. Penn State seemingly consistently out recruits Pitt. However let's think about the last few years. Pitt has been on a coaching roller coaster for the last decade it feels like, while Penn State is still Penn State. Given the traditional clout that Penn State carries, it's impressive that Pitt managed to beat them at all. If Pitt gains some coaching stability I think this battle will tighten up. Look at 2008, when Dave Wannstedt's regime was still solid. Pitt out-recruited Penn State rather handily.
Scenario 3: Florida
Participants: Florida and Florida State
Both of these schools are big boys in the recruiting world. When you think of SEC powers, Florida is pretty high up on that list. But with the exception of Jimbo Fisher's first class in 2010, you see a pretty even recruiting battle in Florida. And this doesn't even include the U and up and coming USF and UCF. There are a plethora of non-SEC programs in the state of Florida and they all seem to turn in top-50 classes every season, and two turn in top-20 classes annually. Obviously Florida State has no problem landing recruits, even though they are in a lesser conference.
Scenario 4: South Carolina
Participants: South Carolina and Clemson
Everyone ready to feel a whole lot better? Clemson beats South Carolina pretty consistently in recruiting. In fact with the exception of 2009 which was a perfect storm of the coaching transition to Dabo Swinney and South Carolina landing Jadeveon Clowney - the number one recruit in the country - Clemson is much better at recruiting than South Carolina. This is what UVA fans should hope happens. Clemson is a big-time program that gets big-time players for the ACC. If UVA can sustain success in the ACC it can out-recruit a Tech team that will likely experience some struggles as it moves to the SEC.
So what do all these charts prove? Well let's examine that. First off, it proves that playing in a big time conference is not necessarily as big a deal as we think. While you can sell being in a better conference to a recruit, it appears that they care more about other things, things that UVA can control. Some factors that I think kids would favor that we have direct control over include:
- Relationships with Coaches: I would argue we have the best in the business in that department. Mike London and Chip West (among others) are elite-level program salesmen.
- Quality of Facilities: Yes this is helped by having increased TV revenue, but it also helps to have rich alumni that eagerly stroke checks for fancy buildings with their names on them!
- Pro Potential: College is pretty much the NFL's minor league, anyway.
- Sustained Success
I'm not trying to say that the ACC won't be damaged if Tech, NC State, FSU, and Clemson jump, but it will certainly not crush UVA's recruiting momentum either, as long as football continues to put it together on the field.