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Sweet Home Chicago: A Recruiting Investigation

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Eli Drinkwitz’s staff looks to jump in to a crowded, medium-sized pond. What kind of athlete can they get and who are they battling against?

In last week’s podcast, BK and I dove into the new recruiting fields that Eli Drinkwitz has cited multiple times: Dallas, Denver, Chicago, and the state of Missouri. Long-time Mizzou fans are familiar with two of those, but Denver and Chicago, with their direct flights to Columbia, were new additions to the Tigers’ recruiting footprint. As I said on the podcast, I wanted to dive deeper into these new areas to figure out what kind of players come out of those cities and the competition the Tigers will be going up against.

What I did was take the last five years of recruiting data (2016-2020) and plot out rankings, positions, and schools that have won the services of these recruits. That way, you get a better idea of how much the city produces compared to the state at large, and you see the impact of individual schools in a broader scope rather than just a narrower view of the last year or two. Remember, a good chunk of recruiting is relationship-building, and that takes time! Those schools that have the better established relationships should see those pipelines pay off in the long term, not just with a short-term boost of signees.

When BK and I recorded I hadn’t quite finished my dive into the recruiting data. The first few years of info gave me the impression that Mizzou would be going up against most of the B1G, specifically Michigan State and Iowa. However, as I worked my way through the past five years, a different picture began rounding into shape. Let’s take a look at that now:

Maryland v Ohio State
Bolingbrook’s Tuf Borland
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

First, what caliber of athlete is Chicago producing?

5-stars: 1

4-stars: 16

3-stars: 159

2-stars: 131

While the state of Illinois has produced two 5-stars and 29 4-stars over the past five years, Chicago has been responsible for 1 of those 5-stars (2020’s Peter Skoronski) and 16 4-stars, so better than half. And since the state has produced 452 ranked athletes over 5-year period and Chicago accounts for a whopping 307, it’s a good idea to hit the main talent-producing center— especially if you already have a natural pull to the Belleville/Edwardsville/East St. Louis area. But clearly Mizzou won’t be the only school hitting the Windy City...

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 23 Boston College at Notre Dame
Arlington Heights’ Cole Kmet
Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Second, how many other schools recruit the Chicago area?

Woooooo, nelly. From 2016-2020, a whopping 74 schools have taken at least one kid from the Chicago area. Every FBS conference except the Sun Belt has a Chicago kid, and the Ivy League has even taken a noticeable number of players from the metro area. My point? It’s crowded. Recruiting Chicago is not a novel idea and there are plenty of schools already there pitching similar or better pitches than Missouri that have already established relationships.

Kent State v Wisconsin
Lake Zurich’s Jack Sanborn
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Next, which schools recruit Chicago the best/most frequently?

This point is what gives me - and possibly you - hope.

Because I did all the damn research, I want you to see who all has raided Chicago, starting with the fewest players taken in a 5-year period and working our way up...

1 Chicago Recruit from 2016-2020

Alabama, Albany, Arizona, Army, Cornell, Florida International, kansas, Lehigh, Louisville, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, Princeton, SEMO, South Carolina, South Dakota, Stanford, Temple, Texas Tech, Tulane, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech, Washington State, West Virginia

2 Chicago Recruits from 2016-2020

Ball State, Colgate, Connecticut, Duke, Eastern Illinois, Eastern Kentucky, Fordham, Georgetown, Oregon State, Penn State, South Dakota State, Southern Illinois, Syracuse, Toledo, Western Illinois, Western Kentucky

3 Chicago Recruits from 2016-2020

Air Force, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Illinois State, Kansas State, Minnesota, Navy, New Mexico

4 Chicago Recruits from 2016-2020

Iowa State, North Dakota State, Purdue

5 Chicago Recruits from 2016-2020

Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Kent State, Wisconsin, Yale

...and now we reach the Top 10 recruiters of the Chicago area. Again, from fewest to most it is ranked...

10th (tied)

Indiana and Notre Dame - 6 Chicago Recruits

9th

Wyoming - 7 Chicago Recruits

7th (tied)

Cincinnati and Iowa - 9 Chicago Recruits

5th (tied)

Illinois and Miami (Ohio) - 10 Chicago Recruits

4th

Michigan State - 11 Chicago Recruits

3rd

Northwestern - 16 Chicago Recruits

2nd

Western Michigan - 22 Chicago Recruits

1st

Northern Illinois - 32 Chicago Recruits

...yeah! Northwestern, Western Michigan, and Northern Illinois! Now, you might be thinking, “Okay, I bet they’re getting all the 2-stars.” Not true! Of their haul, Northwestern has nabbed one of the 5-stars (Skoronski), a 4-star, and 12 3-stars (no 2s). Western Michigan has 18 of their 22 recruits at 3-star rankings, and Northern Illinois has 13 3-star kids in their 32 recruits. And if you’re thinking, “Well, Missouri can certainly offer more than these three schools,” then yeah; they can offer playing in the SEC, but both Western Michigan and Northern Illinois have won conference titles AND played in New Year’s Day bowls in the past five years— something Missouri can’t claim.

But, in theory, Missouri should be able to pull at least some of these kids away from those three, given enough time.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 27 Pinstripe Bowl - Michigan State v Wake Forest
Chicago’s Anthony Williams, Jr.
Photo by Daniel Kucin Jr./Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Lastly, where are the most talented Chicago kids going?

It’s all good and well to see the allocation of the stars and schools, but when you recruit you want to land the big fish. So what schools are the blue-chippers signing with? Glad you asked:

5-stars: Northwestern

4-stars: Michigan State (4), Notre Dame (3), Wisconsin (2), Alabama (1), Michigan (1), Northwestern (1), Ohio State (1), Penn State (1), Texas Tech (1), Virginia Tech (1)

So the lone 5-star stayed in state, but only one 4-star stayed in the state of Illinois. However, 10 of the 16 stayed within the B1G conference, and since Notre Dame sits in B1G territory you could argue it’s really 13. So Missouri will be going up against division and conference winners in their pull for the elites of the city, but that statement is going to be true no matter where you try to recruit kids from.

Conclusion

There’s not a whole lot of top shelf talent and there’s at least 70 other schools in the area already. But it’s a territory that makes sense for Mizzou and the pitch of, “stay close to home without playing in the boring Big Ten” can make an impact on at least some of these guys. As BK and I mentioned several times, it takes years to make these relationships pay off, so don’t expect a deluge of Chicagoans on the Mizzou roster immediately. But certainly keep an eye out over the next few years to see if this move pans out.