Location, location, location

A recent message board post about Stanford and Northwestern competing for recruits inspired a little experiment. When one reader suggested that Stanford's recent recruiting success is but a product of its recruit-drenched region, Purple Reign decided to do some homework and look at where exactly NU and Stanford get their recruits. Inside, see if the message-board claim holds water.

A recent thread on the Ryan Field Message Board got Purple Reign thinking geography. Specifically, PR was wondering about how far – on average – recruits live from their college of choice.

Buried in this thought-provoking thread was a suggestion that Stanford's recent recruiting success is but a product of its prowess in and around the vast hotbed – the thermonuclear-bed – of talent residing in the Golden State. The logic was something like, Well, when you compare the recruiting success of Stanford and Northwestern, you have to take into account that Stanford is in California, which puts it in perfect position to get all the Cali kids and anyone else on the West Coast.

(The exact quote: However do note that a lot of it has to do with region. [Stanford gets] Mostly kids from the west coast, TX, AZ etc....

And later:

I stick with my opinion that region plays a major role when it comes to NU versus Stanford recruiting battles.)

So Purple Reign got to thinking: Is Stanford simply plucking up players from in and around California? Or does it have a bona fide national recruiting presence?

First off, it is for good reason that Stanford and Northwestern are compared in the first place. While both schools have had their moments on the gridiron, each is far more renowned for its academics than football. Each is within earshot of a chic, metro city – Stanford next to San Francisco, NU just north of Chicago. Also important – both football programs are on the rise. Stanford's 2006 record was 1-11, 4-8 in 2007, 5-7 last season. Similarly, Northwestern is on its way up: 4-8 in 2006, 6-6 in 2007 and 9-4 last season.

Not surprisingly, because of comparable histories and academics and national reputation, Northwestern and Stanford find themselves vying for many of the same high school prospects.

Just look, for example, at the 2010 class. Devon Carrington, a four-star safety from Chandler, Ariz., was considering NU before he committed to Stanford a little more than a week ago. Cole Underwood, an offensive lineman from Denton, Tex., chose Stanford over Northwestern. And Dillon Bonnell, an O-lineman from Colorado, recently committed to the Cardinal, not the Wildcats, which were also after Bonnell.

On the flip side of that, Davon Custis of Columbus, Ohio, will be playing for Northwestern this fall, not Stanford, which also recruited him. And this summer, Paul Jorgenson, a lineman from Michigan, committed to NU over Stanford.

So the fact that this thread compared Northwestern to Stanford was nothing unusual. It's hard not to notice the similarities, be it the academics, the way the schools are trending or the players they're recruiting.

But what was interesting is the idea that Stanford is little more than a regional hit. After all, Scout ranked the Cardinal No. 15 in national recruiting in 2009, and 43rd in 2008; NU was 69th each season. Therefore, according to Scout experts, Stanford is recruiting better – or at least recruiting more highly-regarded, athletically-talented players. (Fitz, of course, insists that he and his staff are more interested in other things, intangibles, and that's fine.)

Back to the original question: Is Stanford's relative recruiting success compared to Northwestern simply a result of the fact that Illinois and the Midwest don't have the extensive high school football network that California does?


To figure this out – or at least start to make sense of the query – Purple Reign analyzed the last three recruiting seasons, including 2010 thus far. The past three seasons was a good time-frame because it accounts for 100 percent of the "full" recruiting classes of third-year Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, and 75 percent of Fitz's "full" classes. ("Full" as in the coaches weren't introduced as the head coach during the recruiting cycle.)

Next, PR busted out the atlas, and looked up the hometown of each player who had committed to each of the two schools during those three-year periods. And after that, the distance between a player's hometown and Evanston (or Palo Alto) was tabulated.

The theory behind this formula was that if Stanford is merely cleaning up out West and in Cali, then that will be reflected in the distances from which recruits are picking the Cardinal. California is big, sure. But even someone who chooses the Cardinal from the far reaches of the state is only a few hundred miles away. Therefore, the average home-to-school distance would be relatively small – if, indeed, Stanford's recruiting was a regional thing.

A few disclaimers to the project: First, the mileage totals weren't actually done with a map, per se. Instead, Purple Reign plugged the names of cities into Google Maps. So for a Stanford player from Chandler, Ariz., for example, you would simply ask Google Maps to give you a map and driving directions from Chandler, Ariz, to Palo Alto, Calif. This isn't scientific, of course, because it's not a true "miles between" indicator. Rather, it's a "quickest route" indication. While that may be an asterisk on this endeavor, it couldn't have had a hugely significant on the findings. Irrelevant, I would venture to say.

In addition, PR only looked at five-, four- and three-star recruits. That's not to say the two- and one-star guys don't matter. Instead, only the most highly-recruited guys were looked at because a) it made it a lot easier and quicker, and b) those are the players that, let's face it, you really want on your team.

I also want to quickly point out that we're talking about commitments only. At schools like Stanford or Northwestern, a kid can commit, not make the academic cut, and not end up going to the school. Someone fails some classes following a commitment, and it throws the whole thing into jeopardy. So this is a look at commitments. It has nothing to do with productivity, longevity or anything else.

(Also, just to clarify, there was no claim in this aforementioned message board post that Northwestern has some huge national recruiting lure. It was the opposite: That Stanford doesn't have that lure, that their success, again, is just a little perk of being a Pac-10 school in California. Yeah, Stanford has had success, but they also are situated in a state that breeds prep football stars like Washington D.C. breeds liars, so of course they're going to rank better.)

Anyway, to the results. Because Purple Reign had recently been thumbing through the recruiting class archives, there was a suspicion that the message board post was wrong. Well, it was. And it wasn't.


First off, the data shows that Northwestern's recruits tend to come from around Evanston – at least the regional area. In 2008, the average three- and four-star recruits – there were no five-stars – came from 261 miles away. That is a smidge longer than the trek from Evanston to Toledo, so 261 really isn't much. What's more, there is one huge outlier on the seven-man list: David Nwabuisi of Bellaire, Texas., was 1,211 miles away. Take him out, and the remaining six three-star guys came from an average of 103 miles away; five came from 40 miles or less. Pretty cozy circle of recruits.

In 2009, that average distance grew to 598. That is more like the distance from Evanston to Kansas City (535). But again, one outlier threw things off big-time. Arby Fields, from Rancho Cucamongo, Calif., was nearly 2,000 miles from Evanston. Take him out, and the average of the remaining five three-star guys is 310.6.

This season, with only two players contributing to this experiment thus far, the average distance is 1,180. Makes sense – both three-star commits, Shontrelle Johnson and Rashad Lawrence, are from Florida. This number will plummet eventually. Really, this is too small of a sample to tell us anything.

So in a sense, the assertion that region plays a huge role is right – right in that Northwestern relies heavily on regional recruiting. Of the team's seven three-star players in 2008, five were from Illinois. In 2009, four were from Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin.

And hey, there's nothing wrong with securing talent in your backyard. If the players are there, take them. There is no reason, for example, for LSU to be scouring the Pacific Northwest looking for prospects. And Texas can just roam its home state for all the blue chips it needs. Doing anything else would be like a fish trying to find its food on land – what's the point when you can feast without moving? In that sense, then, the message board thread was accurate: Region plays a big role in recruiting. Definitely at least for Northwestern.

But the thread's assertion was spectacularly wrong in another sense: Stanford's average three-, four- and five-star recruit comes from really far away. Way, way further away than Northwestern's. So far that you have to ask if region is really that important.

The average hometown distance from Palo Alto for 2008 commits was 1,076 miles. That's about the distance from Stanford to El Paso, Texas. That's about 200 miles short of Stanford to Denver. That's more than 300 miles more than Stanford to Phoenix. That's a long ways. And it suggests – doesn't prove, but suggests – that Stanford has a little more national pull than one message boarder gave them credit for.

But maybe that was just an aberration. Maybe the Cardinal got lucky in 2008, scored some East Coasters to skew the numbers – they did have Georgia and Ohio guys in there – and they returned to their usual sunbathed routine in 2009.

Well, not exactly. In 2009, the average home-to-college distance was even further – more than 1,284 miles. Indeed, the Cardinal seemed to have expanded their recruiting acumen, nabbing players from Maryland, Georgia, New Jersey, Texas, even Alabama.

And thus far, for Stanford's 2010 class, commits hale from an average of (…drum roll…) 1,641 miles away! Basically, the average Stanford recruit lives more than half-a-country from Stanford.

Two important points: 1. That 2010 number includes three California kids and two from Las Vegas. 2. That is a 21-player sample size, so there isn't a ton of room for that number to go down. Sure, it may. But every player in the state would have to commit for it to get anywhere near 1,000.

(The winner of the furthest-away prize goes to tight end Blake Barker, who is from Cambridge, Mass., 3,127 miles from Palo Alto. He narrowly edged out Joe McNamara, of Weston, Fla., who resides a walkable 3,075 miles away.)

Side note: The percentage of Stanford players who come from outside the region – defined here as California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona and Nevada – is dropping, which suggests even more out-of-region success. In 2008, nine out of 15 three-, four- and five-star recruits came from the region – that's 60 percent. In 2009, that number was 10 out of 21 – less than 50 percent. In 2010 so far, it's six out of 21 – less than 30 percent.


Back to the original claim: "...do note that a lot of it has to do with region. Mostly kids from the west coast, TX, AZ etc....I stick with my opinion that region plays a major role when it comes to NU versus Stanford recruiting battles."

Once again: Yes and no. It does seem to be true that region plays a big deal…for Northwestern. After all, the Wildcats had just one three- or four-star recruit come from outside the region in 2008 and 2009. And while that hometown-to-college average has steadily risen over the past three years for NU, it still doesn't come close to the frequent-flier miles Stanford is racking up.

Also, while Stanford has proven it can go anywhere from the Deep South to New England to the Lone Star State to get players, it hasn't had too much luck in the Midwest – maybe because that is NU country. If you look around, Stanford has more or less forfeited/struck out in the heartland. This season they have no commits from a Big Ten state besides Jarrod West – a would-be Wildcat – who is from Pennsylvania.

Another point to be remembered here is that Northwestern has had better records each of the last three years. This isn't a knock on Northwestern. Again, Stanford is trending up, but even so the Cardinal only managed five wins last season; NU had nine. So while Stanford is getting more highly-touted recruits, and getting them from all corners of the map, it's not as though Stanford is on some ethereal level.

And finally, this article wasn't written to assert that further equals better. I think you want to have the capacity, the potential, the inroads to recruit the entire country. But a TD isn't worth more if the guy who scored it is from far away.

No, the point here was just to look at whether or not, as one thread suggested, Stanford's recruiting success compared to Northwestern's had anything to do with region. The answer, of course, is no. And yes.

Purple Wildcats Top Stories