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Rocky Mountain High: ANOTHER Recruiting Investigation

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Colorado might be one of the more overlooked recruiting territories in the country: for good reason? What can the Tigers do and what will they find when they recruit there?

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.

Yesterday I took a look at the recruiting of the Chicago metro area; today I’ll be diving into the Denver metro area.

Michigan v Illinois
Boulder’s Carlo Kemp
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

First, what caliber of athlete is Denver producing?

5-stars: 0

4-stars: 11

3-stars: 46

2-stars: 43

Much like Chicago produces nearly half of Illinois’ high school football recruits, Denver does the same by being home to 98 of the state’s 134 football recruits over the past five years. However, unlike Chicago/Illinois, Denver has produced every single one of the blue-chip recruits that has come out of Colorado, so it’s an even more important city to be recruiting if a program wants to tap into the pipeline of elite talent. The downside, of course, is that Colorado doesn’t produce as many guys as Illinois and they are not nearly as highly rated.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 27 Cheez-It Bowl - Air Force v Washington State
Littleton’s Will Rodgers III
Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Second, how many other schools recruit the Denver area?

Going up against 74 schools and damn near every conference in FBS is daunting; luckily that’s not the case in Denver. 29 schools have taken at least one Denver kid in the past five years, representing 8 of the FBS conferences and some FCS heavy hitters (no SEC or American conference schools....yet...)

Nebraska v Colorado
Englewood’s Dimitri Stanley
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

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

Just like in the case with Chicago - and as a pointed out with aplomb on our last show - the competition in the Denver area is...shall we say...manageable. Let’s knock out the schools who have taken kids from Denver, starting with the fewest and working our way up to the most.

1 Denver Recruit from 2016-2020

Baylor, BYU, Central Michigan, Iowa, Montana, New Mexico, Notre Dame, Old Dominion, South Alabama, UCLA, UTEP, Virginia Tech, Washington, Wisconsin

2 Denver Recruits from 2016-2020

Eastern Michigan, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Stanford, Virginia

And now we’re already at the Top 10(ish) recruiters for the city! Like I said, not a whole lot of schools come here, enough that we have a Top 9 rather than a Top 10. Here we go!

8th (tied)

Michigan and Idaho - 3 Denver Recruits

6th (tied)

Nebraska and Washington State - 4 Denver Recruits

4th (tied)

Air Force and Northern Colorado - 5 Denver Recruits

3rd

Colorado State - 10 Denver Recruits

1st (tied)

Colorado and Wyoming - 15 Denver Recruits

Just like the competition in Chicago, I believe Missouri has an excellent chance at poaching some of these kids from the top recruiters of the city. Two Mountain West teams and a bottom-feeding Pac 12 team on its 3rd coach in 3 years are prime targets to whittle away at. The Mountain West is a solid G5 conference, and Wyoming just beat Mizzou last year, yes, but from what the Tigers can offer from a talent, prestige, facilities, exposure, NFL potential, etc...it’s something that those three teams are going to have a tough time matching.

Nebraska v Maryland
Littleton’s Luke McCaffrey
Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images

Lastly, where are the most talented Denver kids going?

One point that BK brought up last week was an excellent one to ponder: where do the talented kids go? And what kind of offer sheet do they have? Are outside programs recognizing their talent and poaching them from the state or is the Colorado area, frankly, not a good location for football talent and the kids just stay local? It was a solid question, and one that can be answered in a couple of different ways.

The first is to look at the offer sheets these guys have. Of the blue-chippers (4-stars and higher), they boast offers from most of the upper-middle class of the Pac 12 and XII with a few earning offers from Michigan/Ohio State/Texas/Notre Dame. It’s interesting that none of them have had offers from recruiting powerhouses like Alabama, Clemson, Florida, or Georgia; it can lead one to figure that Coach Drinkwitz might be trying to avoid future head-to-head battles with that crew and focus on conferences (and teams) that they can beat on a recruiting pitch battle.

But here are the programs the Denver blue-chippers of the past five years ended up signing with:

4-stars: Colorado (3), Michigan (1), Nebraska (1), Oregon (1), Stanford (1), Virginia (1), Virginia Tech (1), Washington (1), Washington State (1)

3 of the 11 signed with the hometown Buffs, but none in the 2019 or 2020 classes. The blue-chippers can and will leave for other programs so that’s a good sign for Mizzou’s chances. And while Michigan, Oregon, and Washington have had much more impressive recent success than Missouri in these past five years, Nebraska/Virignia/Tech/WSU are peer programs and Colorado, as previously mentioned, is in a lot of transition right now.

Conclusion

The biggest question in my mind right now is, “Do the Denver athletes make an impact?” Going through the list of recruits, you’ll see some familiar names but not from an, “Oh, that dude is an impact player” familiarity. Both younger McCaffrey brothers are backup quarterbacks at their respective schools, and most of the blue chip talent is either waiting for their turn to shine or had college careers that would be qualified as “fine”. Dalton Keen was a 4-star who ended up at Virginia Tech and was drafted by the Patriots! Also he had 59 catches for 748 yards over 3 years as a tight end!

I think my main takeaway is that under Drinkwitz, the Tigers will prioritize the state of Missouri and the Texas pipeline, and so far they’ve backed up that statement. But Missouri will always be looking for 3-star talents to coach up and improve, so why not open another avenue with more 3-stars that don’t have a lot eyes on them? Offer the prestige of the SEC, a quick plane ride, AND a program that will be in town to play the University of Colorado in 2025 and 2030 (which, yes, is a ways away, but still).

It’s never a bad thing to keep your avenues open and, in my opinion, both Chicago and Denver will be great territories to mine for talent.