This week marks the first release of the class of 2019 Rivals100, so we take a look around the country at the top storylines for the current sophomore class, starting with the Midwest region.
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Is Ohio's talent pool drying up?
The state of Ohio has always been the pacesetter for Midwest football talent, but we have started to notice a negative trend in the production of FBS talent out of the state. Sampling the recruiting classes of 2008-10 we find an average of 155 state of Ohio prospects signed with FBS schools in each class. However, taking the most recent three classes (2015-17), that number has dropped to an average of just 114 FBS signees out of Ohio per class, a 27 percent fall. In comparison, neighboring states Indiana and Michigan are producing at almost exactly the same rates as they were a decade ago.
What is the cause of this drop-off, and will it continue? The first is certainly difficult to answer, but one theory that has been floated more frequently in recent years is the state’s hostility to off-season football. Not only does Ohio not allow member schools to conduct spring football, but they are the only Midwest state that I am aware which does not allow 7-on-7 football. With both offseason disciplines increasing in prominence around the country, prospects from the state of Ohio are getting less publicity and less development by not being involved in either and that is one possible explanation for the drop-off.
Who will be the first five-star from the region?
The Midwest will not have one of the first five-stars in the 2019 class, but they do have a few prospects knocking on the door. In our evaluations of the Midwest crop in 2019, the prospect who received the strongest five-star consideration was Lewis Center (Ohio) Olentangy Orange strongside defensive end Zach Harrison. At 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, Harrison has all the physical tools you look for in a five-star prospect. Not surprisingly for a kid who does not turn 16 until August, though, he has not put it all together yet. We will be watching that closely, because Harrison is certainly a five-star candidate down the road.
The state of Michigan has a pair of offensive tackle prospects knocking on the door in Belleville’s Devontae Dobbs and East Kentwood’s Logan Brown; each brings many of the same qualities to the table that class of 2018 five-star offensive tackle Jackson Carman does. The state of Indiana produced a five-star in the 2017 class and has a few candidates in 2019 as well, including defensive end George Karlaftis and wide receiver David Bell.
The uptick in FBS production from St. Louis continues
As one of the top 20 most-populated metropolitan areas in the United States, it is no surprise that St. Louis produces a good amount of FBS prospects. The Gateway to the West has become a hot spot of Rivals100 talent in these most recent two classes, however, producing top-ranked talent at a significantly higher pace than anything we have seen previously. Greater St. Louis had never produced more than one Rivals100 prospect in the Rivals.com era, but it has three in the top 102 of the 2018 class and will again be greater than one to start the 2019 class.
What is impressive about St. Louis’ production is not just the increased amount of top-end talent, but also the depth. That 2018 class has a total of four four-star prospects and three more rated as 5.7 three-stars from the St. Louis area. A total of 10 class of 2019 prospects from the city already hold offers, with five of those prospects – wide receiver Marcus Washington, offensive guard Ira Henry, running back Alphonzo Andrews, athlete Isaiah Williams and linebacker Shammond Cooper – all hailing from Trinity Catholic High School.
Will Michigan State reassert itself in the region?
Michigan State’s success on the recruiting trail started to mirror its on-field dominance during the span of years between 2010 and 2015 that was book-ended by Big Ten Championships. The Spartans were particularly dominant in Detroit and Chicago, while battling Ohio State for several top players in the Buckeyes' backyard. However, the 2016 season saw just three wins and their subsequent recruiting class failed to live up to the expectations previous classes had built. But 2018 holds promise, with four prospects already committed, including four-stars Trenton Gillison and Xavier Henderson out of Ohio.
The Spartans do still face challenges. Members of their program are currently under a Title IX investigation and the football program itself is the subject of an external probe being handled by lawyers outside the university. This is certainly not the first time a college football program has dealt with issues like these and many have come out the other side just fine, but as long as Michigan State has these investigations hanging over its head, it will be tough to build momentum in recruiting. They have built a strong base to this 2018 class, though, and have the opportunity to return to battling for the Midwest’s top prospects consistently again.
The Year of the Defensive End
So far, the class of 2018 has been the Year of the Linebacker in the Midwest. Five linebackers from the region have already been rated four-stars, while another five are rated 5.7, the highest three-star rating. Meanwhile, the 2017 class had just six players from the region finish that highly rated. In 2019, defensive end is looking like the position that will outpace regular production in the Midwest. Already nine defensive ends in the Midwest boast Power Five offers.
The deepest end of the defensive end pool may end up being in the state of Indiana. The duo of Carmel’s Beau Robbins and West Lafayette’s George Karlaftis could end up being as highly-rated as any pair of defensive ends in the country when the final class rankings come out. Ohio is also deep at the position in 2019, with Zach Harrison, Lexington’s Cade Stover and Lakota West’s Steven Faucheux drawing heavy, early attention from colleges.