Football Recruiting in the era of Coronavirus Shutdown


It is uncertain if the 2020 college football season will be played, and the 2021 football season isn’t even a glimmer on the distant horizon, yet a fair number of college football teams are extremely active as it relates to 2021 recruiting.

In fact, nearly 120 of 131 D-1 Schools have received at least one verbal commitment for 2021, while nearly 30 schools have received verbal commitments from 10 players or more, and that includes the Spartans which have received verbal commitments from 12 players and that’s an extraordinary number of commitments this far in advance of 2021.

Pursuant to the “85 Scholarship Rule”, every D-1 school is entitled to 85 scholarship players on their respective rosters at any given time. Therefore most schools will recruit between 20-25 players each year to replenish their rosters due to graduation, attrition, transfer and so on, so a fair number of schools have seemingly achieved half their allotment for 2021, while a few schools have nearly reached a full allotment of recruits for 2021.

For example, Tennessee has received verbal commitments from 22 players (the most of any D-1 School) while Ohio State has received verbal commitments from 17 players, and North Carolina has 14 verbal commitments.

Meanwhile, Big Ten schools have been especially active inasmuch as 9 schools have received verbal commitments from 10 players or more, with the aforementioned Ohio State receiving verbal commitments from 17 players, all the way down to Wisconsin which has received 10 verbal commitments. Only Illinois, Indiana, Purdue, Nebraska and Northwestern amongst Big Ten teams have yet to receive verbal commitments from at least 10 players (as at May 18).

Spartans commitments:

As cited, the Spartans have received “verbal commitments” from 12 players and those players hail from 6 states as well as 1 player from Oceania.

The players hail from Florida (2); Maryland (1); Michigan (4); New Jersey (1); Ohio (1); Texas (2) while the player from Oceania hails from Australia nearly 12,000 miles away (an import from Aussie Rules Football). The players also represent seven position groups including Quarterback (1)…Running Back (1)…Wide Receiver (1)…O-Line (2)…D-Line (2)…D-Back (4)…and Special Teams/Punter (1).

Of course, recruiting doesn’t occur in a vacuum so recruiting is relative to talent acquired by other schools. It’s also worth noting, that “Star Rankings” are subjective and therefore imperfect, yet “Star Rankings” are highly regarded as prime indicators of a players relative skill.

In that context, according to (aka 24/7 Sports), the Spartans recruiting class currently ranks #29 nationally, which is a major improvement from 2020 whereby the Spartans ranked a dismal #43 and while the Spartans have a good start for 2021, there is still a lot of work to do if the Spartans hope to compete for a Big Ten Championship, and after all, that’s the goal isn’t it?. Yet, to consistently compete for Big Ten Championships it requires consistently finishing amongst the Top 15 in the country in terms of recruiting, or the Top 5 within the Big Ten.

Recruiting across the national landscape:

It goes without saying, the 2021 recruiting race is a long way from the “early signing date” in December 2020, and by every measure, at the moment, it is in a state of flux, changing almost daily, and yet a lot of high powered schools have yet to exert their recruiting muscles.

For example Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Texas A&M are traditionally ranked within the Top 10 in terms of recruiting, yet none of those schools are currently ranked within the Top 15. But that will change!. It would be fair to say those schools are patiently awaiting for “on campus” recruiting to be reinstated, because when prospects get to their campuses, those schools are especially adept at converting verbal commitments into “signed letters of intent”.

Amongst the 6 schools cited above, Alabama currently ranks #44, but don’t be fooled because Alabama hasn’t even scratched the surface.

Alabama has ranked #1 in recruiting in 3 of the past 5 seasons (never lower than #5) so the “early snapshot” that ranks Alabama #44 will change dramatically by the time official “Letters of Intent” are signed in December 2020…and when the “all clear” is signaled regarding “on campus” recruiting visits, the current national rankings are likely to be turned upside down as a multitude of recruits who have given verbal commitments will defect.

So, can the Spartans hold onto current recruits and improve their lot by adding to their recruiting roster, or will they get devastated by “defections” when “on campus” recruiting is reinstated? We’ll see.


Big 10 recruiting provides an interesting snapshot: 

So far, 9 Big Ten teams have received verbal commitments from 10 players or more for 2021 and that’s extraordinary to receive that many verbal commitments this far in advance.

Of course, it’s no surprise Ohio State currently ranks #1 in the country as well as #1 Big Ten in terms of 2021 recruiting, and immediately below are Big Ten teams with 10 verbal commitments or more, identified according to National Ranking…followed by Big Ten Ranking…followed by number of 5 Stars, 4 Stars and 3 Star commitments (as at May 18):

Big Ten Team: National Recruiting Rank…Big Ten Rank (number of 5 Stars, 4 Stars, 3 Stars)

  • Ohio State #1…#1 (4…10…3)
  • Minnesota #7…#2 (0…5…11)
  • Iowa #9…#3 (0…3…11)
  • Michigan #11…#4 (1…4…7)
  • Maryland #13…#5 (0…3…10)
  • Penn State #15…#6 (0…4…7)
  • Wisconsin #17…#7 (0…3…7)
  • Rutgers #22…#8 (0…1…11)
  • Spartans #29…#9 (0…0…12)

It’s notable that upstart Big Ten coaches such as PJ Fleck, Minnesota (4th year); Mike Locksley, Maryland (2nd year); and Greg Schiano, Rutgers (1st year) are each making great progress by way of virtual recruiting, and while their schools have historically trailed the Spartans in terms of recruiting as well as Big Ten finish, nevertheless each of those teams lead the Spartans in terms of 2021 recruiting: Rutgers, a traditional doormat is especially noteworthy.

For example, last year, prior to Greg Schiano being hired, Rutgers ranked #65 Nationally and #13 Big Ten, yet less than 5 months after hiring Greg Schiano, Rutgers ranks #22 Nationally and #8 Big Ten (that’s a huge leap) and Greg Schiano is not done!

Of course, Greg Schiano has NFL Head Coaching experience and Big Ten Championship experience as a Defensive Coordinator at Ohio State under Urban Meyer, and it’s notable that Schiano is a master recruiter along the East Coast, especially adept at recruiting players from talent rich New Jersey. So, Big Ten teams that previously marked Rutgers as an “automatic win” on their football calendar, will now have to give special attention to “game planning” for Rutgers.

In addition, Michigan and Penn State which have historically “mined” players from talent rich New Jersey in the past, will now find recruiting against Greg Schiano in the Garden State to be exceedingly difficult.

But back to the Spartans: while a lot has been written about the early success of Spartan recruiting, it’s important to note the Spartans currently rank #9 amongst Big Ten teams…or said another way, the Spartans rank last amongst Big Ten teams that have recruited at least 10 players.

And while Nebraska and Northwestern have remained relatively inactive during the “virtual” recruiting process with less than 10 players each, their lot will improve dramatically once on campus recruiting is reinstated.

It’s also important to note the Spartans recruiting class is comprised 100% of 3-Star players, of course “3-Star” players are valuable because they are the glue that holds virtually every football team together, but 4&5 Star playmakers are needed to compete for championships and yet the Spartans have “zero” 4 &5 Star players up to this point.

In fact, the Spartans are “the only” Big Ten team cited with “zero” 4 or 5 Star players: even Rutgers have 1 “4-Star”…Nebraska has 2 “4 Stars”…and Northwestern has 3 “4-Stars”, while Minnesota has 5 “4 Stars” and Ohio State has 10 “4 Stars”.

So, it’s still early in the recruiting process, but the “tale of the tape” sends a signal that the Spartans current coaching staff have a lot of work to do if they intend to compete for a Big Ten East title.

At the bottom line:

If the current “coronavirus shutdown” is unsettling for adults, then it is especially confusing and unsettling for high school seniors pursuing a college football career.

A lot of decisions have been made via computer and virtual meetings. So, the Spartans must be wary because a good many recruits who have extended Verbal Commitments during the Coronavirus shutdown, are likely to change direction once “on campus recruiting” is reinstated. And that applies not only to the Spartans, but across the college football landscape.

Nevertheless, for the moment, “virtual recruiting” is the new reality, at least until “on campus recruiting” is reinstated so the goal for the Spartans is adding quantity to its current recruiting class, as well as adding quality by gathering commitments from 4 & 5 Star playmakers, and thereafter convert those “verbal commitments” into “signed letters of intent”.

There has always been a premise that recruiting “inside/out” or “recruiting your backyard” is optimum for a number of reasons, and a “key” reason is enabling family and friends to visit on gameday, and while the Spartans have 4 players from Michigan, they only have one commitment from the 400 mile recruiting radius of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, so apparently the current coaching staff has chosen not to make the upper Midwest or talent rich Ohio a recruiting priority.

As it relates to recruiting position groups, every school seeks balance between Offense and Defense, but if the Spartans are going to err, then they need to err on the side of recruiting an abundance of quality Offensive Linemen, ala the Wisconsin model. Of course, Wisconsin is consistently amongst the most efficient and productive Offenses in the land, and it starts by deploying one of the most dominant Rushing Offenses in the Country. By contrast, the Spartans Rushing Offense has inexplicably struggled since 2014 even though there are good O-Linemen on the roster, yet competition is good. So first order of business for the Spartans is: “Fix the Offensive Line” because a great Offensive Line is the best fix until the Spartans can recruit a cadre of high profile playmakers at Quarterback, Running Back and Wide Receiver.

In closing, the Spartans new coaching staff have promised to develop a new culture and build a new identity, yet they haven’t really articulated just what that means, but whatever identity they choose, they must start by becoming a major factor in recruiting.

After all, the Big Ten East is a “tough neighborhood” given member schools such as Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan all of whom recruit at a high level. Meanwhile, Tom Allen is quietly resetting the compass at Indiana: the Hoosiers finished 8-4 overall last season and 5-4 Big Ten, one spot ahead of the Spartans in the Big Ten East. Meanwhile Greg Schiano will arguably remake Rutgers into a “tough out” so the Spartans coaching staff have their work cut out.

A lot of good things have been written about the Spartans 2021 recruiting class, yet the Spartans currently rank #9 (or last) amongst Big Ten teams which have recruited at least 10 players…and let’s be clear, a recruiting class ranked #9 amongst just 14 Big Ten teams won’t win Championships.

It’s still early for the Spartans, but it’s early for every school, yet the “tale of the tape” sends a signal that the current Spartans coaching staff have a lot of work to do with their first recruiting class between now and the early signing date in December 2020 if they hope to compete for a Big Ten East title.

The goal is clear, and to win championships, the Spartans coaching staff must consistently sign a Top 5, Big Ten recruiting class: let’s wish them well.