Big Ten recruiting in Florida (cont.)
Mind you, the type of players Purdue is landing weren't exactly high on the priority lists at Florida, Florida State and Miami. Only two, RB Al-Terek McBurse (Winter Springs) and defensive end Antwon Higgs (Pompano Beach) rate among Rivals' top 100 players in the state.
But the talent well runs so deep in Florida that even the state's 46th-best player, McBurse, is considered a four-star prospect. (Higgs ranks 98th). By comparison, there were just 16 four-star players in Ohio this year, 11 in Michigan and nine in Illinois.
"There's still a few [elite skill players] each year in the Midwest, the Teddy Ginns of the world, but from a pure numbers standpoint, you're not going to see them in pure concentrations in the Midwest," Crabtree said. "Also, more schools are running the four-receiver set, so there's more demand for them.
"Why not go to the state of Florida, where there are more than enough skill kids looking for opportunities? If it comes to [choosing between] Purdue or a lower-level ACC school or mid-major, Purdue looks mighty appealing to them."
Of course, just because these Florida prospects may be faster than some of their Midwestern counterparts doesn't necessarily guarantee they'll be more successful. In fact, Purdue's class is still the lowest rated in the Big Ten according to Rivals.com's rankings. Michigan, normally a national top 10 recruiting fixture, is currently seventh on Rivals.com but just 18th on Scout.com (both sites rank the Big Ten No. 5 among conferences in recruiting this year).
But in Michigan's and Purdue's case, it seems both teams' new coaches are attempting to recruit a specific type of athlete to fit their system. The number of stars next to some of the names may be irrelevant.
For instance, Wolverines commit Vincent Smith (Pahokee, Fla.) is a 5-foot-7, 159-pound running back who, due to his diminutive stature, merited just three stars from Rivals. None of Florida's "Big Three" schools extended offers. But Rodriguez has shown no hesitation in the past to employ undersized skill players -- like West Virginia standouts Noel Devine and Darius Reynaud -- if they fit his offense. Michigan quarterbacks coach Rod Smith, a former staff member at USF, was Vincent's primary recruiter.
"The three-star athletes that come out of Florida are pretty darn good," said SuperPrep editor Allen Wallace. "Your average skill player in Florida is going to be significantly more promising than your average skill player in Illinois."
There's still a big difference between what Michigan is doing (and what Ohio State has been doing for years) -- sprinkling in a few skill players from Florida to go with a core set of elite Midwest prospects -- than the seemingly unorthodox approach Purdue's taking by relying almost entirely on long-distance recruits.
One might argue, however, that it's the most logical option for the Boilermakers in today's recruiting climate. Realistically, Purdue is no more likely to beat out Ohio State and Michigan for the top players in the Midwest than it is to beat out the Gators, Seminoles or Hurricanes for an elite Florida recruit -- but there's a lot more to choose from amongst the "leftovers" in Florida than there is in Ohio.
"It will be really interesting to see what the future ramifications of this are," said Wallace. "This is a radical change in recruiting strategy for Purdue. There's no reason why it shouldn't work out."
Not everyone in the Big Ten is jumping on the Florida bandwagon. Penn State's current crop of 26 commitments is, like most classes in the program's recent history, heavy on Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York/New Jersey players. Not a single player hails from Florida or any other SEC state.
Penn State was the last Big Ten school to merit a No. 1 recruiting ranking from SuperPrep, in 1996, but the Nittany Lions' '09 class ranks just 25th on Rivals.com. That being said, Penn State has won four of its past five bowl games, including games against Florida State and Tennessee.
However, the discrepancy in athleticism (particularly on defense) between Penn State and USC was plainly obvious in last month's Rose Bowl, as it was for Illinois the year before. To help erase that gap, Big Ten schools will need to continue looking beyond their backyards when it comes to recruiting.
"We're going to keep coming here [in future years]," said Hope. "We've got it covered from Ocala all the way down to Homestead."