A little over a year ago, we did an in-depth look at Pennsylvania recruiting and discovered that Penn State and Pittsburgh, the two in-state schools, were pretty definitively the top recruiting programs in the state. Such results were to be expected, as a key aspect of recruiting is to lock down your home state. Of course, not every state has a premier program to draw in hometown recruits.
One of the more talent-rich states in the northeast is New Jersey. From Eugene Monroe in 2005 to Minkah Fitzpatrick in 2015, the Garden State has been producing top tier talent consistently for a while now. Typically, there is at least some sort of correlation between a state's recruiting depth and the level of success for teams within said state's boundaries (Florida, California, Ohio, just to name a few). So why is this not the case with Rutgers?
Simply put, from someone who grew up in New Jersey, there isn't much of a sense of duty to root for Rutgers. Sure, I was drawn into the 2006 season and Pandemonium in Piscataway as much as everyone else in New Jersey was, but I never found myself rooting for Rutgers outside of that. It was almost as if they weren't an in-state team.
That's not to say that my feelings were echoed by everyone in the state, but devoted Rutgers fans aren't as common in New Jersey as a Penn State fan in Pennsylvania or a Florida State fan in Florida. Sure, this could change in the coming years with Rutgers' move to the Big Ten, but it's too early to say definitively whether or not that will be the case. Until the Scarlet Knights can get the team to consistently put together another stretch of seasons like those under Greg Schiano, things are unlikely to change. Rutgers may be a power five conference team, but they simply aren't a premier program right now.
With all of that being said, where does that leave us with the state of New Jersey recruiting? What happens when a talent-rich state lacks a true powerhouse to keep the majority of said talent home? Despite their lack of success on the field, is Rutgers still able to be the dominating recruiter in their state, overall? Or is there a different school that reigns supreme?
Your first thought is probably that I sold Rutgers short. True, they have still pulled in the highest number of top ten recruits from 2005-2015. However, Penn State sits just one player behind them (although to be fair, 2015 inflated that number). Despite the fact that Penn State sits adjacent to New Jersey, Rutgers simply can't allow for that kind of recruiting production by a rival recruiter if they want to re-establish themselves in the college football world. Notre Dame also has a strong showing in New Jersey, as clearly illustrated here. Their claim to New Jersey will become even stronger as we move forward, but we'll get there later.
Showing the top ten players only shares part of the story, though. Top tens can range anywhere from a group of four star players, to a group that includes less-sought after, three star players. So let's narrow things down a bit more, and see where the top three commits from these years ended up.
This is where we start to notice some very interesting trends (and disappointing ones if you're Rutgers). Penn State, Notre Dame and Michigan all come out ahead of the hometown Knights as far as top three players in the state go. Rutgers can't be happy that teams from New Jersey, Indiana and Michigan are able to come in and take so many top players from their own state. We'll continue narrowing down the data to reach more conclusions, but these trends certainly aren't encouraging for Rutgers.
For those counting at home, that makes two number one players for Rutgers and Notre Dame, and one for everyone else on the list. It's a good sign for Rutgers that they've been able to pull in two of their state's top players, despite the fact that Huggins was a bust (none of this data cares about what the player went on to do, simply how they were rated as a recruit).
Getting Huggins and Hamilton were big pick-ups for Rutgers, but the disappointing trend for them here, is that while they may have offered, they weren't in the race for many of them as much as they hope to be (Fitzpatrick and Peppers to name a couple).
Instead, we again see Notre Dame with a strong showing. Both of those number one players were pre-2010, but their consistency since then to go along with those players is what is giving them a legitimate claim to New Jersey. Of the top 30 highest rated recruits in New Jersey from the last ten years, Notre Dame has earned commitments from seven of them. In comparison, Penn State and Rutgers are the next closest with four each. After them, a litany of teams have two.
So now we've seen the quantitative data for the top New Jersey recruits, but what about the qualitative data? Top rankings in the state vary from year to year. One year, the top player could be an offensive tackle with a 0.9932 rating, and the next it could be a cornerback with a 0.9031 rating. So which schools, on average, brings in the highest rated recruit?
Schools with fewer than four commits were excluded for obvious reasons.
We continue to see Notre Dame rise to the top of New Jersey recruiting, although Michigan certainly is building a case, as well. Despite their fewer number of commits, they still have a legitimate number of top ten guys (six), and are typically pulling players on the higher end of the top ten. We also see a slight drop for both Rutgers and Penn State, as their average recruits out of New Jersey sit right around 0.9100. Miami also sneaks into the top three here, although their average is heavily weighted by the #1 2013 New Jersey recruit, Al-Quadin Muhammad.
To pull it all together, let's see which school comes out on top when we consider both sides of the recruiting equation- quality and quantity.
So with all of the data available to us, let's build a case for the top recruiting programs in New Jersey, and see who has the finest case. The clear favorites are Notre Dame, Penn State and Rutgers.
The Case for Rutgers
With 18 commits from the top ten recruits in New Jersey, the Scarlet Knights are the kings of quantity within their home state. However, their average rating of 0.9118 is only the fourth highest of the eight teams that have brought in four or more top ten kids. That includes two five star players, nine four star players and seven three stars. The two five stars were fantastic gets for the Knights, in Darius Hamilton and Savon Huggins. They've been able to grab recruits from two of the better private school teams in the country, in Don Bosco Prep and St. Peters Prep. Despite their lower-than-ideal average ranking, their top-notch quantity of recruits makes Rutgers the recruiting king of its home state.
The Case for Penn State
Penn State is a similar story to Rutgers, holding a high number of commits and slightly lower level of quality. The average rating of 0.9109 is lower than Rutgers, and their 17 commits is less than Rutgers. The one thing the Lions do have working in their favor though, is their six top three commits, which is the highest of any team in the last ten years. They've failed to bring in any of New Jersey's number one commits, but having a constant presence in the top three is a very good thing. Their consistency in both aspects of recruiting (although the average rating is lacking), in addition to their top three dominance, the Nittany Lions are the team to beat when recruiting their neighboring state.
The Case for Notre Dame
Notre Dame is a good distance behind Penn State and Rutgers in terms of the number of commits, but their average recruit rank is second only to Michigan, who only have six commits from 2005-2015. Notre Dame has brought in consistently highly ranked recruits from the Garden State, and has been able to do it without seemingly having any true pipeline high schools in the state. However, the number of recruits they've brought in, really only matches up with Penn State and Rutgers because they are the next closest to them. The consistently high ranking of their New Jersey imports is enough to name the Fighting Irish the Garden State kings, despite their lower number of recruits.
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Of course, none of this can help us definitively name a recruiting king of New Jersey. There are plenty of other variables to consider, including high school pipelines, high school coaching staff relationships, the recruits' later development and more. In fact, a study such as this could look drastically different as soon as a year from now! Michigan is making a huge New Jersey push in the 2016 recruiting class, and could easily make a claim to the state when all is said and done. That's what's fun about recruiting. It's always changing.
So who really owns New Jersey recruiting? That's up to you, my friends.