Cougs, Canes & far different recruiting paths

WASHINGTON STATE and its Sun Bowl foe, Miami, aren't just at opposite ends geographically. They also are poles apart when it comes to how they constructed their football teams.

Consider these two facts:

  • In a typical year, 300 to 340 high school seniors from Florida -- the majority from southern Florida -- earn scholarships to play FBS football.

  • In a typical year, 15 to 25 high school seniors from Washington -- the vast majority from the western side of the state -- earn scholarships to play FBS football.

    Miami has a massive talent pool right outside its front door. For WSU, there are maybe two to four legitimate FBS prospects per year who live within even 100 miles of campus.

    So it's not surprising to look at the rosters of the two teams that will face off in El Paso on Dec. 26 and discover a dramatic difference:

    Sixty-seven of the 113 players listed for Miami are from in-state while 35 of the 121 listed for WSU are from in state -- and the vast majority of those local Cougars are walk ons. The lifeblood of the WSU program is California, which accounts for 47 roster spots -- almost all scholarship players -- on the 2015 Cougs.

    The disparity in local talent is one reason why WSU and Miami are at opposite ends of ESPN's ranking this week of "easiest to toughest" places to recruit among the nation's 65 Power 5 conference teams.

    Miami is pegged at No. 17, just behind Tennessee and ahead of Penn State. WSU is slotted at No. 62, just behind Purdue and ahead of Kansas, Wake Forest and Boston College.

    "The U practically invented swagger, and sits in what is arguably the top talent-producing area in the country, but the program remains limited by poor facilities -- the stadium is 21 miles from campus and the dorms lag way behind those of the Hurricanes' competitors on the trail," writes ESPN.

    "Pullman is remote and Washington State does not have a lot of resources compared to its Pac-12 brethren, though a $61 million football facility was unveiled last fall," says ESPN. "This is another school that has to get creative on the trail to win -- and coach Mike Leach is -- but it's forever destined to be a tough place to recruit.

    "While Washington does produce some prospects, it’s a long drive out to Pullman from virtually any talent-producing region in the state. It’s also not as if Idaho or Montana are loaded with prospects, so there is going to be some distance involved for just about every recruit."

    What's interesting is that when you ask WSU coaches -- be it Mike Leach, Ernie Kent or June Daugherty -- about the school's location, they point out that if they can convince a prospect to take a visit to WSU, the chances of landing them skyrocket because of the family feel and college-town charm of Pullman.

    Over the years, coaches across sports at WSU have talked about 60-percent conversion rate if they get the prospect to campus for a visit.

    ESPN built its rankings on five criteria, each on a rating scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (great) points:

    - local talent pool to recruit
    - recruiting budget
    - facilities
    - players in the NFL
    - intangibles such as tradition, academics and game-day experience

    Of the possible 25 points on the scale, ESPN gives Miami 20, which places the Canes third among ACC schools, while WSU is given 12, which is last among Pac-12 schools.

    The Cougars took the biggest hit -- one point -- on local recruiting territory. They also were dinged for the current dearth of NFL players and the lack of wins since the days of Gesser, Acholonu & Co.

    The Hurricanes received mostly high marks for everything but facilities -- the one category where WSU shines with a score of 4 out of 5.

    One of the most surprising pieces of ESPN's analyses is this: Only California spent less than Washington State on recruiting in 2012-13 (the last year data was available).

    Almost by definition, given the fact so many prospects have to fly, rather than drive, to Pullman, you'd expect WSU's budget to be bigger than the likes of USC and UCLA, who have so much talent so close. That will need to be a story for another day.

    As for WSU and Miami, the bottom line on Dec. 26 will be that they're both there. How they arrived, clearly, can take many forms.

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