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Harty: Does weather affect football recruiting?

[ 0 ] September 25, 2012 |

College football is getting more like college baseball in that your chance of struggling seems more likely if you’re a team from where it gets cold in the winter.

That’s always been a problem in baseball as evidenced by Michigan being the last Big Ten team to make the College World Series way back in 1984.

The gap isn’t as wide in football, but a pattern is developing as more warm-weather schools climb to elite status at the expense of teams from the Midwest and East Coast.

Only four of the top 15 teams in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll are from places where it routinely snows in the winter. They are seventh-ranked Kansas State, ninth-ranked West Virginia, 10th-ranked Notre Dame and No. 14 Ohio State.

On the other hand, the Southeastern Conference has six teams ranked in this week’s AP poll, led by top-ranked Alabama.

“The Southeastern Conference has got it going on right now and their footprint is in the south,” said Rob Howe, who is the publisher of HawkeyeInsider.com, which focuses primarily on Iowa football and men’s basketball recruiting.

The Big Ten has been widely ridiculed for its performance this season and deservedly so. Whether it’s Michigan getting demolished by Alabama in the season opener, Nebraska losing to UCLA in a game where the Cornhuskers allowed almost 700 yards offense or Iowa losing to lowly Central Michigan, the Big Ten has laid a big egg so far this season.

Watching fourth-ranked Florida State play No. 17 Clemson on Saturday night made me question if any Big Ten team besides perhaps Ohio State could keep up with either of those teams, mostly because of the speed factor.

It’s scary enough to think what could happen to Iowa (2-2) when it faces Minnesota (4-0) in the Big Ten opener Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.

But the thought of Iowa facing a team like Florida State or Clemson right now is frightening when you consider the difference in speed.

Northern Illinois and Iowa State made Iowa look slow at the skill positions. So imagine what an elite team from a warm-weather climate would do to the Hawkeyes.

Less than three years have passed since Iowa defeated Georgia Tech in the 2010 Orange Bowl, but a lot can happen in three years.

It’s getting harder for teams from the Midwest and East Coast to entice speedy skill players from warm-weather states to head north to play football. Traditional powers such as Notre Dame, Michigan and Ohio State still have some success recruiting down south, but many of the schools from up north are finding it more difficult.

Iowa had some success recruiting in Florida during the early years under coach Kirk Ferentz. But he has pretty much abandoned that strategy, choosing to focus more on the Midwest.

You can argue that this trend is cyclical, but the game has changed dramatically over the years with more schools using spread offenses that rely on dynamic skill players to perform in space.

Many of the best skill players come from warm-weather states where they have the luxury of playing football year round with the presence of spring football and with the rise of 7-on-7 camps. They grow to appreciate the warm weather and want to stay in it during college.

“It’s kind of like when you can play baseball in California, Texas or Florida year round,” Howe said. “It’s similar because with football back in the ’70s, ’80s and even a lot of the ’90s, it was a seasonal sport and people lifted weights in the offseason.

“But now there are a lot of kids that just play football and they can play it all year round now. They can play it in these 7-on-7 camps and the different combines that the shoe companies and recruiting sites put on.”

One of the keys to Hayden Fry’s success as the Iowa coach was his ability to recruit players from his home state of Texas. In addition to being a master salesman, Fry also took advantage of the fact that teams such as Texas, Baylor and Texas Christian weren’t nearly as good in the 1980s and 1990s as they are now.

It’s almost impossible now to pry recruits from Texas away from the elite instate schools. And for teams like Iowa, the ones they get from Texas or from other warm-weather states rarely are considered elite recruits.

“They’ve lost kids to Baylor,” Howe said of Iowa.

That could help explain why Iowa lost to Central Michigan.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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