The population of Alabama is 4.8 million people. The population of Mississippi is just under 3 million. Compare this recruiting base with the almost 40 million people that live in the state of California. If the final four to qualify for this season's playoff championship were selected today, Auburn, Mississippi State, and Mississippi would be three of the four contenders. This week's AP Top 25 ranked 5-0 Auburn #2, 5-0 Mississippi St #3, and 5-0 Mississippi at #4. In addition, Alabama is #7 at 4-1. Furthermore, if these teams did not have to play each other every season, they might all go undefeated.
The University of Alabama was a national college football champion in 2009, 2011 and 2012. Auburn University won in 2010, which means that for a period of four years, teams from tiny Alabama were the best college football teams in the country. How is this possible?
The culture of these two states prizes football achievement. At Mississippi State, 56 percent of the players come from in state, while Mississippi is 51 percent homegrown. This clearly shows that the percentage of young athletes playing football as their number one sport is much higher than in other areas. California has 38 million people and Texas has 23 million. Yet roughly the same number of high school kids play football in each state. This means Texas has twice the young athletes who choose to play football. Emphasis on football for youth is evident and part of the culture.
There are higher rates of poverty in these two states than others, and football is seen as a ticket out of economic deprivation. This provides extra motivation for young athletes to take training seriously, dedicate their lives to the sport and play as if there is no tomorrow. The generosity of football-crazy alums means that the facilities at these universities are state of the art. Nutrition and weight training programs are conducted at the highest level. This same financial largesse enables the football programs to attract outstanding head coaches, staffs and support staffs, who are the best and the brightest.
These schools have also been amazing recruiters, as athletes from adjoining states clamor to be a part of a winning tradition. In 2013, 65 percent of Alabama's roster and 66 percent of Auburns' came from out of state. They have truly perfected recruiting with the draw of facilities, winning and success in the professional ranks. Alabama and Auburn have also been dominant in the first rounds of the last drafts. A cursory look at potentially draft-able players for the 2015 NFL Draft shows that tiny Alabama, has the fourth most prospects in the country, and come from only two schools. This is why it must be a daunting job to recruit against someone with the track record and skills of Coach Nick Saban.
Granted, some of the larger states have more than two schools fighting for talent. It still does not explain the disproportionate overproduction from states like Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Georgia. The state of Florida has been very dominant for years with the combination of the same culture and alum base, plus a large population.
So is it something in the water? No, it is a culture that venerates football and athletes that choose it over all other sports. Also, an alumni base that makes the best coaching and facilities available. It is time to recognize the remarkable achievement in college football primacy and NFL DRAFT picks in these incredible smaller states.