Comparing Recruiting Classes: USD vs. SDSU

Prompted by our poll question Wednesday, I thought I’d delve deeper into the issue of which school — University of South Dakota or South Dakota State — had the best 2009 football recruiting class.

First, let me clarify something. I’m a USD beat writer, so naturally, I spent my time examining that school’s recruiting class of 25 players. Only in the last day have I looked closely at SDSU’s 18 recruits. But for sake of this entry, I’m trying to go into this with balanced examination. So pardon me if the USD angle is more extensive.

OK, let’s start with in-state kids. South Dakota now has two Division I schools, giving those talented in-state kids two options. Likewise, there are now two sets of coaching staffs criss-crossing the state looking to nab players from each other. It’s only natural that the USD and SDSU coaches would recruit against each other for certain players. (I’ll hit this topic later).

In its 2009 recruiting class, USD had six in-state players (led by Avon’s Earv Archambeau) and SDSU had four (led by Roosevelt’s Jake Weiss). To be fair, one of State’s signees is a preferred walk-on, so SDSU technically has three scholarship players. And both schools grabbed players from Sioux Falls — USD 4, SDSU 1 — and each signed somebody from their area, USD with Archambeau and SDSU with a pair of Brookings standouts.

And each school had certain connections to players that made the recruiting process easier. For example, Archambeau’s brother Te attends USD, a fact Earv said played a role in his decision. And staying with USD, Mike Pharis of Sioux Falls O’Gorman is the son of Coyote Hall of Fame member Todd Pharis. And with SDSU, Alex Parker of Brookings is the son of Jay, who lettered at tight end for the Jackrabbits in the mid-1980’s.

Another area for comparison would be the national recognition for the players recruited (i.e., scouting service rankings). For the Coyotes, they brought in five 2-star recruits from, and SDSU had three players receive grades from that were higher then anybody from its 2008 class.

Here’s a look at USD’s prized recruits. 1) Cody O’Neill (Harvard, Ill.) was the 24th-ranked center in the nation by Rivals., 2) Eric Cummings (Omaha, Neb.) was the No. 10 overall prospect in Nebraska and was the 70th ranked defensive tackle prospect by ESPN., 3) Donovan Bowens (Arvada, Colo.) was a 2-star recruit by Rivals and 4) Tommy Flanagan (Lakewood, Colo.) was another 2-star recruit.

For SDSU, quarterback Mike Whitier (St. Louis, Mo.) was the 106th ranked player at his position coming out of high school in St. Louis. And Eric Koehlmoos (Pierce, Neb.) is the 192th-ranked safety by ESPN, is a three-time All-State selection and turned down a scholarship offer from Wyoming.

If you go strictly that route (which I wouldn’t recommend), you have to give the edge to USD.

As mentioned earlier, USD and SDSU naturally recruited against each other for certain players, whether in South Dakota or across the region. So another point of comparison would be how these two schools fared against each other. But to be fair, it’s really difficult to truly know what school a player chose over another, because some programs offer scholarships, some don’t and others will recommend walking on.

But for the sake of the argument, the USD coaches did win a few battles with area D-I schools. Offensive linemen Bruce Manz (Buffalo, Minn.) and Marc Murtha (Maple Groove, Minn.) chose the Coyotes over North Dakota State, the USD coaches said Wednesday. And for the services of offensive lineman Steve Nelson (Springfield, Neb.), USD won out over SDSU — and actually, Nebraska wanted Nelson to come as a walk-on. And with SDSU, only four players turned down scholarship offers, with three signing with Football Bowl Subdivision programs. Not a bad stat. Other then that, I’m not sure on any specifics with SDSU’s recruits.

As I type this, our poll has received 49 votes, with the edge leaning convincingly (49-13) in SDSU’s favor. I’d be interested in knowing what those people are basing their votes on, because as I said earlier, ranking recruiting classes is hard. And for a number of reasons. First, these players each played against differing levels of competition. Second, a good majority won’t see the field until at least 2010. Third, recent history in college football shows that any team can win against any opponent, no matter what kind of recruits they brought on.

For example, in this year’s Sugar Bowl between undefeated Utah and traditional power Alabama, it was the little guy (Utah, in this case) who won. And here’s a stat for you. Utah had never had a top 40 recruiting class and Alabama had put together 5 straight top-five classes. And that played exactly no role in the outcome of the game. And think back two years ago, when Boise State shocked heavily favored Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. And remember Appalachian State vs. Michigan in 2007?

The point is, it’s nearly impossible to accurately compare USD’s recruiting class against that of SDSU. Each filled their certain needs for future seasons. Each got great in-state players. Each won recruiting battles over the other. And each did so with the same number of scholarships (63). The Jackrabbits have already fared pretty well at the Division I level, and will continue to improve. But the Coyotes are just now adjusting to that level. USD and SDSU won’t play each other in football any time in the near future, so we’ll never really know how they stack up against each other.

Compare the classes if you want, but I’ll wait five years to see how they fared.


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