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The Expanding Reach of Alabama Recruiting

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Kevin C. Cox - Getty Images

Yesterday we looked at how the changes in the defenses run by SEC teams might alter the battle lines for recruiting withing the conference in the future. That, in turn, raises the question of how much is Alabama now reaching into the recruiting areas of other teams to stock the roster?

Clearly, the lifeblood of Alabama football are players from the Yellowhammer State. The quality of athletes that have come from within Alabama's borders have made it possible for the Crimson Tide to be competitive even in years when the lineup was not up to the standards many now take for granted. That largesse cuts the other way -- a lackluster recruiting campaign can be patched up with better-than-average players from in-state. Which can keep you ahead of the win-loss equation although you'll be unlikely to be playing in a bowl game after New Years Eve.

The bottom line is that a national championship-level team requires more quality athletes than the state of Alabama alone can produce. The key to success at the BCS level is targeting specific talent both regionally as well as nationally (and internationally) and then having consistent success getting them to Tuscaloosa. To get an idea of how Alabama has fared at this under Nick Saban we went back to the official rosters published in every media guide over the past six years and tallied the state where each player came from.

Alabama In-State and Out-of-State of Roster Breakdown

The one startling fact about the Spring 2012 roster is that for the first time out-of-state players outnumber the Alabama natives. A full 58 percent of the squad at work this spring hails from beyond the borders of the Yellowhammer State. This follows a trend of increasing numbers of out-of-state players that has been a hallmark of Coach Saban's tenure at the Capstone.

Now, obviously, the spring roster will be significantly different from the final fall lineup. For one, the final 2012 roster will have at least a dozen more players and a decent amount of shuffling will occur due to suspensions, transfers and whatnot (and, believe us, you will hear about it).

Yet the Spring roster is a reasonable measuring stick for the general trends particularly due to the emphasis Coach Saban places on early enrollees. This year, like in 2011, Alabama has 100 players on the Spring roster. Last year 53% of those dressed out in crimson and white in April were in-state students. When fall came around that proportion fell only slightly to 52%.

So the odds the Crimson Tide lineup next season will have more out-of-state players than Alabama natives for the first time in recent memory is quite good. This isn't a surprise if you examine the long-term trends. Here is a chart showing the state of origin for every player on the Alabama's roster from 2008 through last season:

Alabama Player's Home States 2008-2011

Over the past four-year span just 48% of the 212 players on the Crimson Tide roster were Alabama natives even though the number of those for in-state topped those from out-of-state each individual season (see below). That's because for all the sanctimonious hand-wringing over how year-to-year scholarships are such a terrible deal for players, the fact is these guys tend to stay in the program once they arrive on campus.

So, you ask, where are all these guys coming from?

Neighboring states, for the most part. Georgia, as we suggested yesterday, is one of the most consistent locales for Alabama to look for talent. Between 2008 and 2011, a total of 25 players from the Peach State -- a full quarter of the roster -- have graced the Crimson Tide sideline. Florida is up there as well with a total of 21 players (and 21%) but there was a drought of Sunshine State players in 2010 and 2011 for some reason.

The No. 3 source of athletes in that four-year span was Tennessee which contributed 13 players to the Alabama roster. Ten players came from Mississippi and seven from Louisiana. And a few Texans seem to find their way to Tuscaloosa every year as well. Nine have been on the Alabama sideline since 2008.

Here is a year-by-year look at the total number of players from out-of-state on the Crimson Tide roster since 2006.

Alabama Players from Nearby States

The spike in "other" since 2010 is probably the most striking aspect of this graph. There are players from 15 different states (and Australia) in this year's Spring camp. It suggests the coaching staff are targeting specific players nationally -- and signing them -- rather than having to rely on the best of the nearby talent.

Since 2008, the Alabama roster has had players from 16 states outside of Alabama and that one dude from overseas. Here is a GoogleMap with every one of those player's hometown marked to give an idea of the geographic spread Alabama's recruiting has involved under Nick Saban.

Alabama Out-of-State Players Hometowns 2008-2011

View Alabama Out-of-State Players' Hometowns 2008-2011 in a larger map

As the Tide's recruiting has succeeded in targeting talent nationally the reliance on players from Alabama has gradually eased. We can get a rough idea of this by calculating the approximate amount of scholarships that have gone to in-state players using the roster information.

Over the past six seasons, the Crimson Tide has taken the field with an average of 113 players on the roster. With an annual scholarship cap of 85, that means roughly 30 players each season are walk-ons and, obviously, the likelihood is strong they are in-state students. So subtracting the total number of non-scholarship players from the number of in-state players should give us a rough estimate of Alabama natives on scholarship.

That number was 45 in 2006 and it dipped to 38 in 2007 as well as 2008. Since then it has hovered right at 30-or-so. Or, to put it a different way, more than half of the scholarship players on the Crimson Tide roster were Alabama natives in Mike Shula's final year but under Nick Saban that has dropped to just more than a third.

As mentioned above these are rough estimates, not detailed accounting of the scholarship athletes on the Tide's roster. But the trends they suggest fit quite well with the on-the-field accomplishments we've seen from these squads -- the overall level of talent on the field has risen substantially and the depth on the roster is far greater than in years past.

These trends shows up clearly when the make-up of each season's roster since 2006 is compared side-by-side. These charts use the same color scheme of the pie chart shown above but the main focus here is the progressive change in the proportion of in-state players -- the crimson area.

2011 Roster
2010 Roster
2009 Roster
2008 Roster
2007 Roster
2006 Roster

Seen graphically side by side, the progressive de-emphasis of in-state athletes is pretty apparent. Clearly Alabama's ascension to the top tier of recruiting under Nick Saban and his staff is the primary factor at work here but that is accented by the limitations imposed on his predecessor.The lingering affect of NCAA sanctions that stemmed from the Albert Means matter clearly affected the roster makeup of the teams under Shula's tenure.

Shula's final season was the first of his to enjoy the luxury of the whole 85-scholarships (the NCAA had limited the Tide to 78 from 2003 to 2005) but clearly the Tide was struggling to attract talent to Tuscaloosa. In Shula's final season a full two-thirds of the team was from Alabama. That overwhelming percentage of in-state players means a lot of the roster had to be made up of second-tier talent and, even in the best years, that won't get you better than a third place finish in the SEC West