The two participants in this year's SEC Championship Game are unique in the SEC because of their location in very talented states. In addition, LSU and Georgia are both the biggest names inside their borders.
Make no mistake – pulling a player out of either Georgia or Louisiana is a difficult task for foes. When asked, Mark Richt laughed at the notion of another school pulling top-level recruits out of Louisiana.
"You're not going to have much luck going to Louisiana and trying to get a great player out of there. It's just not going to happen," he said – laughing as the questioner finished asking the question.
LSU head coach Les Miles says that Richt is correct: it is difficult to describe the lure of LSU and Tiger Stadium to recruits in Louisiana.
"It's probably a historic family tie to the people of Louisiana that's a little bit more personal – a little bit more intimate than maybe some other places," Miles said.
That's not always a luxury Georgia can claim. To put it in simpler terms if you are from Louisiana you are from Louisiana. If you are from Georgia you may be from Georgia, but your parents may or may not be from the Peach State.
That makes Georgia's task of keeping all of their in-state talent a touch more difficult than for LSU. That fact – and the problem of Georgia's location – not far away from a slew of traditional college football schools makes the Dawgs's in-state recruiting more complex than LSU's.
The Bulldogs' enemies intimately surround them. Consider: Clemson and Georgia Tech are both less than an hour and a half drive from Athens. Auburn sits on the state's western border – on top of talent-rich Columbus, GA. Florida State sits half an hour south of the Georgia border – in striking distance of the fertile recruiting grounds that have produced dozens of NFL players through the years. Tennessee's football program has only been very good when they are able to recruit multiple top prospects from Georgia – usually from Atlanta suburbs.
LSU's top rivals in recruiting – Alabama, Auburn and Texas – are all at arms length from the Tigers, which also helps their recruiting cause. LSU's ability to keep nearly all of their in-state recruits to themselves has powered the Tiger program for years.
"I think there's a great loyalty in the state to file into Tiger Stadium and root for the Tigers," Miles said. "I think that when a young man grows up in a community in Louisiana, that he rightfully looks to playing with the Tigers in Tiger Stadium as a natural place to go to college. So it has been a real advantage for this school and for our team."
Richt, too, has seen the fruits of in-state recruiting labors. The Bulldogs' 2011 "Dream Team" recruiting class has already paid off in big ways. Three newcomers to the team – Isaiah Crowell, Jarvis Jones and Malcom Mitchell, all Georgia natives – spotlight the talent-rich nature of Georgia prospects. It also emphasizes just how fast a program like Georgia can use it's own talent base to quickly turn a 6-7 season into a 10-2 in a matter of months.
The Tigers and Dawgs have a very similar recruiting philosophy – load up the base of the team with in-state talents. Then add elite out-of-state prospects as premiere players in the program.
Georgia has only one out-of-state player starting on defense – but that player is a key player who was not available in state: Connecticut native and starting nose John Jenkins. The offense is very similar – quarterback Aaron Murray and tight end Orson Charles are both from Tampa, FL while starting center Ben Jones is from Alabama.
18 of the Dawgs' 22 starters are from Georgia. The bulk of Georgia's recruiting base, perhaps unexpectedly, comes from areas other than the Atlanta area. West Georgia, the area west of Atlanta to the Alabama border – stretching between I-20 and I-85 – is perhaps the most talented area for this version of the Bulldogs.
Chris Burnette, Kenarious Gates, Alec Ogletree, Isaiah Crowell, Jarvis Jones and Bruce Figgins are all starters from west Georgia. In fact, Crowell, Jones and Figgins are all from Columbus – a city 135 miles closer to Auburn than Athens. Five of the Dawgs' starters are from what most would consider "South Georgia" – Mike Gilliard, Malcom Mitchell, Shawn Williams, Justin Anderson and Bacarri Rambo.
Meanwhile, LSU continues to hit up the I-10 corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge to gain a slew of their in-state (and out-of-state) talent. Nearly half of their starters come along that corridor stretching from southern Louisiana to Houston, TX.
Recruiting, after all, is a bit like robbing a bank – you go where the talent is. And for the Tigers and Bulldogs it's all around them in their states.