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How conference realignment has changed Syracuse football recruiting

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Leaving the Big East for the ACC has changed the way we do things a bit.

NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday on SB Nation, Michael Bird talked about how the Big 12 had fallen behind on the recruiting front due to conference realignment. The departures of talent-rich areas like Houston (Texas A&M), Missouri, Colorado and Nebraska (especially JUCOs) in exchange for West Virginia (nothing) and TCU (redundant of existing teams) have left the league hurting.

That, plus last week’s article about the Syracuse Orange’s recent focus on Florida, got me thinking about how conference realignment may have altered SU’s football recruiting strategy.

First, a look at the map of the old Big East footprint:

The Big East focused heavily on the rust belt, plus New Jersey, Kentucky and Florida. At the time, there was just one team down there (USF), and playing them every other year didn’t necessarily move the needle. Also keep in mind that Rutgers had NJ locked down for a time, including portions of the end of our stay in the Big East.

From 2009-2012, Doug Marrone was in charge, and obviously had his style of play and focus areas as a result of the staff. But while in the Big East, his classes were stacked pretty heavily toward New York.

Out of 101 kids (per 247Sports) included in the official classes of those years, 37 were from NY. Keep in mind that doesn’t mean all got to campus. But at least in theory, 37 were coming in the door from SU’s home state.

The next-best state was (to no surprise) Florida, which had 15 commits over a four-year stretch. As a reminder, Babers’s two classes have added 11 players from the Sunshine State already (12 if you count James Pierre, who never made it to campus).

The rest of the top five from the Big East year are rounded out by Pennsylvania (nine), and then a three-way tie between Georgia, Virginia and California at six apiece.

While Doug Marrone needed to prioritize New York when he took over, it didn’t necessarily prioritize an elite talent area in the process. New York state is in the bottom half of the table here in terms of states blue chip recruits come from.

He did try to balance that out with talent-rich states like Florida (second), California (third), Georgia (fourth), Virginia (eighth) and Pennsylvania (10th). But we weren’t necessarily fighting for blue-chippers in any of those states.

Things have changed a little, however. A look at the map in the ACC;

SU bails on talent-poor states like West Virginia (one of nine states with zero blue-chips) and Connecticut (just four over past five years) for Georgia, Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina. The New Jersey-for-Massachusetts trade is not a great one. But Syracuse has actually recruited more NJ players since leaving (or at least was until it appears Dino Babers’s staff has de-prioritized the state).

As mentioned last week, 25 percent of the current projected roster is from Florida now. Syracuse added 11 players from Florida in 2016 and 2017, and nine are still on campus from the 2013-15 classes. Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey and Pennsylvania make up the largest percentages outside of Florida. Along with the obvious staff ties to the Midwest that get us into Illinois, the old staff’s focus on NJ and the conference footprint in PA and GA explain the rest.

As mentioned, the Orange played in Florida every other year in the Big East. They do the same in the ACC -- and play there twice in 2017. But playing against Florida State and Miami is different from playing at USF (in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ stadium).

The program has also largely de-prioritized New York state in recent years, as opportunities have opened up in ACC footprint states (and elsewhere) to compete for better talent. Just three players from the current roster are from New York, though the staff did just get a NY commit for 2018 today. Meanwhile, at least half of the current roster is from a top-15 recruiting state.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Boston College Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Being in the ACC still hasn’t landed Syracuse blue-chip recruits within the footprint, admittedly. But that’s not to say the quality of inbound players hasn’t improved. Ravian Pierce was a four-star from Fort Lauderdale, but he did come to us via the JUCO (Mississippi) route. Nadarius Fagan looks like a future star, but also rates out three stars everywhere, despite some elite offers. Obviously Tommy DeVito is the standout of this class, but he’s from New Jersey — outside the current footprint.

As the Orange get further entrenched in the culture and success of the ACC, perhaps we see a shift to get into more recruiting battles in North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia. Syracuse has evolved its strategy since arriving in its new league. It’s just not done making that change yet.