Reports of Oklahoma and Texas showing interest in joining the SEC have conjured up memories of realignment’s past. Conference realignment has made an impact on the college football recruiting landscape over the years, as some schools have been rewarded for moving up while others have faced consequences.
Schools can lose out on fertile recruiting grounds by leaving their geographic footprint, and in turn those teams can struggle on the field in their new conferences.
A select few schools that have made strategic decisions, though, have seen their recruiting profiles blossom and grow as the years have gone on.
Here is a look at some of the winners and losers in conference realignment from a recruiting perspective.
The Aggies first joined the SEC in the 2012-13 academic year, leaving the Big 12 behind in a year that saw a lot of drama. There were talks of schools suing Texas A&M for leaving and talks of other Big 12 programs leaving for the Pac-12, but A&M walked and never looked back.
By joining the SEC, Texas A&M has been able to offer a unique recruiting pitch to prospects in the state of Texas. They can stay home and play in Texas — and still play in the SEC, where the competition is at the highest level. Coaches can pitch to recruits that they can play against Alabama but also still play in front of their families.
That has resonated with in-state recruits, but joining the SEC has also allowed the Aggies to expand their recruiting footprint as well. From 2013 to 2021, Texas A&M has signed recruits from California, Louisiana, Georgia, Tennessee, Hawai’i, Arizona, Mississippi, New Jersey, Florida, Washington, D.C., Oklahoma, Alabama, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Arkansas, North Carolina, Illinois, Maryland, New York and Colorado.
That has been reflected in the class rankings as well. The Aggies have had four top-10 classes since 2014 and have had two top-five classes in that span as well.
On the flip side of Texas A&M gaining an advantage of playing in the SEC, it also helped Alabama, which doesn’t need much help in recruiting.
While the Aggies are able to tell recruits they can stay home and play in the SEC, Alabama can pitch that recruits can leave home, play in the SEC and go play back home every other year when the Crimson Tide travel to College Station to play Texas A&M.
From 2014 to 2021, Alabama has signed 21 ESPN 300 recruits from Texas, 23 total, and has signed at least one ESPN 300 recruit from the Lone Star State in each class. That list includes wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, quarterback Jalen Hurts and the No. 2-ranked recruit overall in the 2021 class, offensive tackle Tommy Brockermeyer.
Alabama can recruit anywhere given the success Nick Saban has had, finishing with the No. 1 class seven times from 2012 to 2021, but having that extra pitch doesn’t hurt when trying to lure recruits out of the state of Texas.
The Horned Frogs jumped from the Mountain West Conference to the Big 12, and moving up to Power 5 status automatically helps on the recruiting trail.
TCU hasn’t been able to consistently recruit at a high level year in and year out, but the program has absolutely improved its recruiting profile and the type of prospect it can land being in the Big 12. In the 2016 and 2017 classes, TCU signed 10 ESPN 300 recruits, including wide receiver Jalen Reagor, a first-round pick in the 2020 NFL draft.
The staff has finished the rankings around the 20-to-37 range for the past six recruiting classes, which wouldn’t be possible if TCU were still in the Mountain West.
Notre Dame has had the luxury of somewhat latching on to the ACC without having to actually affiliate with the conference in football, last season being an exception amid scheduling concerns because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because the school’s other sports are in the ACC, its football team has an association.
Its staff has been able to capitalize on that and has gotten into Virginia, Washington, D.C., Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina in recent classes. Running back Chris Tyree was signed in the 2020 class out of Virginia, tight end Michael Mayer is from Kentucky and star safety Kyle Hamilton was a 2019 recruit from Georgia.
Not being tied down to a conference allows Notre Dame to keep rival USC on the schedule, which helps the Irish recruit in California. The program has had Georgia and Michigan Wolverines on the schedule, and the Irish play Stanford, North Carolina, USC, Wisconsin and Florida State in 2021. That variety and the ability to travel all over has helped spread Notre Dame out nationally in recruiting.
Nebraska is probably one of the first schools mentioned when it comes to realignment because of how far Nebraska has fallen since its glory days and the lack of success the Huskers have seen since joining the Big Ten.
The Cornhuskers’ move to the Big Ten officially took effect in 2011, and the move has not paid the dividends the administration had hoped for.
Geographically, it’s a strange fit with most of the conference around the Great Lakes. It wasn’t realistic for Nebraska’s coaches to tap into the recruiting area that other — and closer — Big Ten teams were recruiting.
Being out of the Big 12 also meant the state of Texas would not be as fruitful going forward for the program. In the six recruiting classes before Nebraska joined the Big Ten, the program signed 36 prospects from Texas. In the six recruiting classes following the move to the Big Ten, the program signed 13.
Nebraska lost one of its most lucrative pipelines while simultaneously being located more than 10 hours from most of the teams in its new conference, and it doesn’t have a deep recruiting base within a five-hour radius. That’s a recipe for disaster.
Rutgers joined the Big Ten in 2014 along with Maryland, and it was not met with great fanfare. The program left the Big East, where Rutgers saw a few seasons ranked in the top 10 under head coach Greg Schiano.
Kyle Flood was the head coach when the Scarlet Knights moved conferences, and in the first season as an official member, the team went 7-5 overall with a 3-5 conference record. It then went 4-8 (1-7) in 2015 and followed that with a 2-10 record in 2016.
From 2009 to 2013, Rutgers signed two top-25 recruiting classes and had another ranked No. 37. From 2014 to 2020, however, the team did not have a class ranked better than No. 50, falling all the way to 66th in 2019.
Getting beat by Big Ten programs was bad, but beyond that, those teams started having success recruiting some of the top recruits in New Jersey. Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State, in particular, capitalized off Rutgers moving conferences, in turn making it more difficult for the Scarlet Knights to turn things around.
Schiano is back now and seems to be getting them back on track on the recruiting trail. In the 2022 class, the Scarlet Knights currently have the No. 14 class overall. Maybe Rutgers’ problems had been linked with the coach, but moving to the Big Ten has not been kind up until this point.
Big 12 Conference
From a pure recruiting standpoint, Texas and Oklahoma have held their own, but there aren’t any other Big 12 powerhouses on the recruiting trail. Over the past five recruiting classes, the SEC has signed 538 ESPN 300 prospects, the Big Ten has signed 274, the ACC 245 and the Pac-12 207, while the Big 12 has signed only 162 top-300 recruits.
Conference sizes vary, which factor into those numbers, but that is a giant disparity in terms of top-end talent going into each conference. Given most of those ESPN 300 signees are coming from two programs, that is not beneficial for the conference as a whole.
Mountain West Conference
The Mountain West Conference lost BYU (independent), TCU and Utah (Pac-12) through realignment. Although they aren’t national recruiting powers, they are all teams that have succeeded on a bigger stage and raised the Mountain West’s profile.
Losing TCU to the Big 12 meant the Mountain West lost its footprint in Texas, which isn’t ideal.