For years, northern schools have flocked to get second slurps from the fertile talent pools of Florida and Texas because both states are overflowing with talent. According to a report by National Federation of High School Sports, Florida had the most FBS signees per capita in 2015 and Texas had an astounding 453 FBS signees, 70 more than the next highest, Florida, and 170 more than the third highest, California (which we'll get to later in the week).
There are other fertile territories in the south, including Georgia and Louisiana -- second and third highest per capita in FBS signees, respectively, in 2015. Illinois -- whose home state produced 74 FBS signees in 2015, 28th per capita -- has tried to dip its toes into those pools in the past.
There is another Southern state with overflowing talent, but it's a state that feels a bit under-recruited: Alabama. The Yellowhammer State produced the sixth highest per capita rate of FBS signees (89 total) in 2015.
But many programs fear recruiting the state because of the two powerhouse programs it houses: Alabama and Auburn. But those schools each can only sign about 50 prospects combined, and with their reach across the South and the country, they won't build all-Alabama classes. That leaves a lot opportunity for other programs to steal a player or two.
In February, the previous Illini staff signed three-star running back, Tre Nation, out of Alabama. Now, Illini offensive coordinator Garrick McGee will delve the program further into the Bama pool. He knows the state well, especially from his two years as head coach at Alabama-Birmingham.
Can he and the Illini land some true difference makers from a state full of Roll Tide and War Eagle fans? Scout.com Alabama recruiting analyst John Garcia breaks it down.
John Garcia, Alabama recruiting analyst
Opportunity: The talent in Alabama has steadily increased over the last five years to the point the state had more than 100 FBS signees in 2016 for the first time. 2017 will also hit the mark and it has caused many Power 5 programs to take a second look at the state. Only a handful end up at Alabama and Auburn and the perceived lack of depth in the state caused few additional Power 5's to hit the area hard. Several still ignore it, so Illinois getting in with kids now makes a lot of sense, especially with Garrick McGee on the coaching staff. Mobile (Ala.) was the No. 1 NFL-producing city per capita in 2015, so every major program should do what Illinois has done of late, or at least look into it.
Challenges: Depending on the targets, it could be tough for Illinois to compete with SEC and/or ACC schools, as well as some in the Sun Belt, when it comes to location. Most Yellowhammer State prospects haven't spent much time in colder weather areas and it is a major factor for most of them. In addition to the proximity concerns, Illinois hasn't been very prevalent in the state until recently, so overall knowledge of the program isn't where Smith's staff would like it to be.
Keys to success: Continue what it is doing. Illinois has been the first Power 5 offer for at least seven prospects in the class of 2017 in Alabama already, a real turning point in any prospect's recruitment. It has resulted in visits and planned visits from several in the state, which is the best recipe to compete with fellow out-of-state P5's who have dipped into the state considerably of late including Mississippi State, Louisville and Minnesota, among others. The sooner an offer is extended, the more a prospect and his family can learn of the program and potentially set up a visit. Those trips will be paramount because of the climate difference and proximity to Alabama.
Intriguing prospect: Having offered well over a dozen prospects but having been the initial Power 5 offer for a handful could potentially put the Illini in good position for many at this early juncture. Three of those prospects are running backs Jamal Hourel, Alex Thomason and Terence Dunlap, who have yet to add a second offer of the same stature. Hourel is a balanced, power-first type, as is Thomason; while Dunlap is a home-run hitter with good speed. If you go by classic Big Ten thinking, one of the first two could be the best match for Illinois at this time, although neither is expected to come off the board very soon.