College Football Recruiting: Facilities, Fan Bases And Philosophies

Mississippi State is vying for a leg up in college football recruiting.

Nov 24, 2012; Oxford, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs helmet during the game against the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mississippi Rebels defeated the Mississippi State Bulldogs 41-24. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports’s Dallas Jackson took an in-depth look at Mississippi State’s $75 million renovation to Davis Wade Stadium, particularly its impact on recruiting.

College football, in general, is a Keeping Up With The Joneses endeavor. Every athletic department and fan base looks at what the next team has and wants that. There’s always better bowl games, higher ticket sale revenue, more attention — unless you’re the Alabama Crimson Tide.

College football recruiting is the ultimate in trying to outdo one’s neighbor. Coaches must pitch exactly what their program offers that is so superior to the competition. Nick Saban can lay down his four championship rings, and that’s all the pitch he needs, evident in yet another No. 1 overall class inked to Tuscaloosa.

But if you’re Dan Mullen at Mississippi State, the 2011 Gator Bowl champions ring carries a whole lot less weight.

Recruiting is particularly challenging in the SEC, thus any measure to score any advantage must be taken — within the rules, of course. Parlaying underrated classes into on-field success works for some programs, but the SEC is simply too talent-rich for that philosophy to fly.

Take Mississippi State; the Bulldogs scored the nation’s No. 26 ranked class in 2013 per Rivals, but that was only good enough for 11th in the SEC.

Motivation-through-envy is amplified when a program’s fiercest rival is succeeding. Funny that Mississippi State’s sweeping renovations coincide this offseason, when the Ole Miss Rebels scored one of the best recruiting classes in the nation.

The Kentucky Wildcats are investing in significant facility upgrades of their own. UK has another interesting angle in its fan base.

Fan base fervor and recruiting might be a chicken-and-egg conversation. Do high quality recruits beget fans, or do engaged fans help attract recruits? New head coach Mark Stoops’ arrival seems to suggest the latter.

Stoops inked a Top 30 recruiting class — not outstanding by SEC measures, but far exceeding the norm for Kentucky. The Wildcats hosted their spring game on Saturday and drew a record crowd. In fact, only Nebraska’s drawn more.

Not bad for a basketball school, right? Presumably, the athletic department did not false advertise the spring game as a basketball exhibition, either. Rather, the fan base is embracing a new philosophy for its on-field style. There’s no overstating how far that can go on the college football recruiting trail.

Meanwhile, former Kentucky head coach and current Florida Gators wide receivers coach Joker Phillips has spent this offseason introducing his own unique twist on the recruiting game by getting as much mileage out of his moniker as possible. The latest is the below image, which Phillips tweeted out with the hash-tag #ComePlayWRForTheJoker.

Play For The Joker

Let’s let slide Phillips uses the masks of thieves The Joker killed in the first few minutes of Christopher Nolan’s Batman: The Dark Knight, because seeing a college football coach so heartily embrace comic books does my geeky heart good.

Phillips’ social media push is aided by Will Muschamp’s hire of Brent Pease last offseason. Florida has struggled offensively since the departure of Tim Tebow after the 2009 season, but Pease offers hope for a more potent passing game in the years to come. Florida recruiters can point to Pease’s track record at Boise State as a promise to talented, young receivers.

A similar push is evident from other conferences, too. Uptempo offense defines the Pac-12, so it’s small wonder the Cal Golden Bears turned to one of the sport’s best offensive minds to inject high octane into the struggling program.

Sonny Dykes landed a commitment from wide receiver Jalen Harvey this week. Harvey entertained offers from a host of other Pac-12 suitors, including UCLA, Arizona State and Oregon. It probably didn’t hurt Dykes’ case that he can point to the production of players like Mike Thomas at Arizona, and Quinton Patton at Louisiana Tech as testament to the coach’s passing game acumen.

And to bring this full circle, Cal also underwent major renovations to Memorial Stadium last year. The Pac-12 might actually be the epicenter of facility-upgrades-as-recruiting-tools, dating to Oregon’s overhauls spanning the 2000s.

The rise to national prominence of the Oregon Ducks coincided with major improvements, which spurred nearly every other member of the league to follow suit. Among them are the Arizona Wildcats, which reports believe their upgrades are game changing. Keeping Up With The Joneses, indeed.

Tags: Alabama Crimson Tide Cal Golden Bears Football Kentucky Wildcats Mississippi State Bulldogs Ole Miss Rebels Oregon Ducks

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