You don't need to be a recruiting die-hard to know that BYU is trying to expand its recruiting foothold in the state of Texas. A quick glance at the commitment list from last year, or a cursory look at our fancy interactive recruiting board, shows that while the Cougars are still very interested in their traditional recruiting grounds in the state of Utah, and in places like Southern California, the Bay Area and the Pacific Northwest, BYU is also trying to plant a flag in the Lone Star State.
It's not hard to figure out why. Recruiting in California is always a crowded affair, and Utah is becoming more competitive as well, as Pac-12 and Big 10 programs have started to take the state more seriously as well.
Texas offers a huge volume of D1 football prospects, some of the most competitive and tactically advanced high school football in the country, and also potentially most conservative communities, which could make an adjustment to BYU's rigorous honor code more palatable. Given their geographical, academic, religious and demographic constraints, BYU needs to be very creative in finding the right talent, and a big push into Texas makes sense. And it's already starting to bear some fruit.
But Texas isn't the only place in the country that may potentially have fertile recruiting grounds for the Cougars. it may be worth giving Ohio a closer look. Specifically, the Cincinnati area.
There's not much of a Buckeye pipeline to BYU right now. There's only one player who lists an Ohio hometown currently on the roster, Logan Taele of Columbus, and Taele actually finished high school in St. George. But the Cougars are looking at at least one Ohio prep right now, punter Drue Chrisman of Cincinnati, and the foundation is there for BYU to find a few kids there if the Cougars want them.
It may not quite be at the level of Texas, but Ohio takes high school football very seriously, and has the best programs of any state outside of the South and California. Demographic shifts and a failing economy have robbed the state of a little depth, but it still produces a ton of athletes who can play at a competitive D1 level. In the 2016 class, Ohio has 62 players who have earned at least a three-star rating in the 247Sports Composite (Utah, for comparison's sake, has less than 20 prospects who have been graded at all). Last season, there were over 90.
While there are plenty of very good prep programs in Cleveland, and a smattering in Central Ohio, pound for pound, the best prep football in the state comes from Cincinnati.
Cincinnati is a little unique among Ohio cities. Ohio natives often joke that Cincinnati is actually in the South, given both the region's strong sense of conservatism compared to the rest of the state, as well as its proximity to Kentucky. Their high school scene is also dominated by parochial schools, many with value systems and structure that are not altogether dissimilar from BYU. It's a major recruiting ground for Boston College and Notre Dame, and other more academically-inclined schools in the midwest and south have made it an important region too.
Will BYU ever be competitive for the absolute top talent in the state? Probably not, given the low LDS population, and the dominance of Ohio State in the area. Whatever top talent the Buckeyes don't snatch up typically goes to Notre Dame or Michigan. But those programs can't sign everybody, and that leaves a large pool of well coached players who will be typically fought over by mid-tier Big Ten programs, Boston College, and the MAC. If BYU steps in to build those relationships, they will have a compelling story to tell against many of those other programs.
Of course, there is an opportunity cost to be considered. While the Cougars do recruit nationally, they don't have the time or the budget to make every major metro a priority, and the ROI in the short term might be higher in a few other cities, even if those metros have fewer athletes. There's also the distance factor to consider. The bulk of higher level prospects in Ohio have signed with schools within a days drive away. It may be difficult, at first anyway, to convince kids to move 2,000 miles away for college, especially when they didn't grow up following that team. It was one of the big reasons that I, an Ohio native, didn't go to BYU for college myself after all.
But hey, the Cougars are having a lot of success in Dallas, and it's not like Dallas to Provo is an easy one day drive. Once you have to get on a plane, you have to get a plane, and does an extra hour make THAT much of a difference, especially if BYU is able to offer Cost of Attendance assistance to help with travel? Cincinnati is a Delta hub just like the Salt Lake airport is, and getting direct flights shouldn't be a problem. It's also a days drive away from a TON of places, making it easy to stack a recruiting trip to Cincinnati with say, Chicago, Indianapolis, Memphis, or other places.
Maybe this wouldn't bear much in the way of returns in the short term. But the Cougars have to be creative and strategic all the time in finding more players. If they can't get everybody they need in Texas, the solutions just might be in Southern Ohio.