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FSU's new DC Mark Stoops recruiting history

Written by and Credit goes to: Aussierat. 

Is Mark Stoops' ability to recruit being judged too early? Some of you are hesitant about the Mark Stoops hire.  I think it's a good move and want to start by discussing the recruiting conditions he faced at Arizona.  I'll leave the Xs and Os of his defensive performance to other authors here who are much more qualified to discuss such things.  Hopefully someone will follow this post with metrics demonstrating this.  I want to focus on the difficult area that UA has to recruit and where recruits go, to show why Stoops has had what we would call mediocre recruiting classes and to suggest the numbers his defenses have produced are very good considering what he's working with.

 Continued after the jump.

I spent two years at University of Arizona in grad school ('05-'07).  I have a cousin with a son who played high school football in Tucson so some of this comes from conversations with his family as well as articles I read at the time.  I am by no means an expert on AZ football and hope that if I misrepresent something here, a better-informed person can contribute/correct me.

It goes without saying that high school football in the University of Arizona's backyard is much different than in Florida State's, but I want to reiterate the point with some details:

  • Tucson's high school system is divided into districts.  Within a district, students can choose which school they want to attend.  I'm not certain if this applies to the rest of the state, but I'm pretty sure it does. Kids that want to play football will go to the school in their district that fields the best football teams.  The majority of good football players in Tucson come out of two schools - Ironwood in Oro Valley and Salpointe Catholic in Tucson.  If a kid is an athlete in multiple sports, but prefers other sports to football (i.e. football is secondary), he may choose a high school with a better basketball or baseball program, thus shying away from the school with the best football coaches in his district.

  • The culture in Arizona is very different as well.  Football isn't a part of life like it is in Florida.  My cousin was raised in Fort Walton Beach, where I am from, and attests to this.  In Tucson, it is viewed differently and is often a secondary sport.  UA is a huge basketball and baseball school.  Football is 2nd or 3rd in the eyes of the student body and local high school kids.
  • Another area of difficulty for UA coaches is that if high school football players want to stay in state, they have two campuses to choose from - ASU, which is in the heart of Phoenix, or UA, which is in the heart of Tucson.  I love Tucson - it lies in the middle of some of the most beautiful country in the US and there's a Route 66 appeal to the local culture.  But I think there's way more to sell a high school kid at ASU.  Phoenix is a metropolitan area and just has a lot more to offer.
  • Even though ASU is probably more desirable, neither school competes when universities further west come in, dazzle Arizona's few elite high school football players, and pluck them away.  Arizona's best football players go to other Pac-10 schools with better programs, facilities, coaches, etc. 

We've discussed the culture they are recruiting from.  Now let's look at the numbers.

I used rivals data to put together the table below.  From left to right, you're looking at the top ranked players coming out of Arizona according to Rivals, the number of these players from Tucson, the number from Tucson that chose UA, and the number of top ranked players that went to the two in-state schools.  From top to bottom you're looking at two time periods, the total from 2004-2009 and the total from 2006-2009, when ratings for all of the state's top prospects were included in the online data, as well as the distribution of player ratings during the 06-09 period.



Key Takeaways:

  • Rivals reports 15 to 25 top players in Arizona every year (mostly 3* and higher, with a few 2-stars possibly showing up on the lower end of each class).  This is a very small group of kids that project to play in D-1.  In Florida, roughly 50-60 kids a year would grade out among the five best prospects in Arizona.
  • Assuming the top players in AZ are all D-1 caliber, only 10-12 percent of these players are from Tucson/Oro Valley, UA's immediate backyard.  There have been no classes with more than 3 players from the Tucson area in the top 15-25.  Remember that Arizona really only has three major cities (Phoenix, Flagstaff, and Tucson) - the majority of Arizona's decent football players are coming from the Phoenix area.  ASU has an automatic lead in this area.
  • Of this 10-12 percent, UA has been able to pull less than half (43-44%) of the kids.  In other words, they have less than 50 percent success recruiting kids within a 20 mile radius of campus.
  • In the past 5 years, the state of Arizona has only produced 3 5-Star recruits.  Although one of these was from Tucson, all three of these went to USC.  For comparison, Florida has produced 16 in the last 5 years.
  • In the same time period, the state produced 15 4-Star recruits (Florida? 183).  Only one was from Tucson and did go to UA.  However, that was the only one of the 15 that went to UA.  In other words, Arizona has only had 7 percent success recruiting in-state four-stars, assuming they would want all of them.  ASU had much better success and landed 6 of these.  Other 4-stars went to Nebraska (2),North Carolina, Oregon, Cal, Colorado (2), and Michigan (2).
  • Depending on which years you use, only 40-42 percent of the top rated players in Arizona chose to stay in Arizona and attend UA or ASU.  This could be skewed downward slightly as some of the top players project as 2-stars and neither school may have been interested.  Even so, only 47 percent of 4-stars and 44 percent of 3-stars stayed in state.

Clearly this is a very tough area to have a major D-1 football team.  Arizona has less than 10 percent of Florida's talent at 4-star or higher, and despite two in-state schools to split this small player base, their talent is poached by PAC-10 and Big 12 schools.  To compound matters, UA's in-state rivals are situated in the middle of the state's most concentrated group of recruits (Phoenix area) and thus pull roughly double the in-state talent than UA.  

Now let's look at Arizona's recent recruiting classes.  What types of players do they get? This includes recruiting classes from 2004 to 2009.




  • They have recruited slightly better talent on the defensive side of the ball. This remains true even if you expect that most of their ATH recruits would end up on the offensive side of the ball. This is probably expected with defensive minded coaches named Stoops at HC and DC positions.
  • They only got one 5-star player over the entire period. For comparison, FSU had 10 in the same timeframe.
  • 55 percent of recruits are 3-stars and just under 20 percent project as 4-stars. Under Stoops, these numbers have improved slightly. 64 percent of their class was 2* or less in 2004, and this has declined to about 25 percent the last two classes (meaning 3 and 4 star recruits climbed from 36% of the class in 2004 to roughly 75 percent in the last two classes). In 2006 they landed a stellar class (for them) with one 5-star and 6 4-stars. This class was roughly in league with FSU's (unheralded) worst recruiting year of the decade in 2007.

Finally, where do they get players from? Again this includes recruiting classes from 2004 to 2009.




  • UA gets much fewer players from its own state than it does California and Texas. These states have huge player bases and Arizona is competing with both major schools and lower tier D-1 schools (e.g. Fresno State) for these recruits. Big local schools like Texas, Texas Tech, USC, Cal, and UCLA often get first pick/interest from the major players in their respective states. It appears that UA coaches are occasionally able to lure a solid player or two away from these schools. But it is just as hard recruiting these states as it is recruiting down the street, and in both cases against the same competition.
  • Arizona gets the large majority of its 4-star players from California. This is partially because there are so few 4-stars in Arizona.

Now let's compare these results to Florida State (you know, for kicks). 



 The takeaways from this are pretty obvious.  Arizona dedicates a lot of its coaches’ time and resources to recruiting other states because there is a limited talent pool and that pool is hard to recruit.  FSU has a huge recruiting base comparatively and gets roughly half of its players (much more last year) from in-state.  Keep in mind the FSU numbers include a big chunk of the lost decade when we got away from our roots and our recruiting tactics were quite bad.

I gave you all of that to lead you to this point:  athletic kids in Arizona are often focused on other sports than football.  This leads to few elite football prospects.  To compound matters, few of these elite prospects even stay in state.  Even that handful leans toward ASU over UA.  When the Stoops brothers came to Arizona, they came to a very difficult recruiting area/school.  They are not considered bad recruiters.  They are actually doing much better than their predecessors; it is just a very difficult school to recruit for.  The lead author at AZ Desert Storm(link) stated that while Dykes was their recruiting head, the Stoops brothers "were kind of a one two punch on the recruiting trail", and Mark is a big loss for their program. They have to combine what talent they can get locally with attempts to raid the cellar in other states like California and Texas where the high school player base is much larger. 

Now look at Stoop’s defensive numbers (go to Football Outsiders for this).  I think they are quite good considering the talent he has to work with.