Tony Barnhart has an theory as to why Florida State has declined so precipitously this decade: difficulty recruiting in Georgia and Louisiana. Barnhart's theory is interesting, but to me, it ignores the 800-pound gorilla in the room: like the Soviet Union when the Party was propping up ailing leaders like Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko, Florida State has a doddering figurehead as its leader. Let's think about all of the reasons why this theory fails:
1. Mark Richt's predecessor at Georgia was Jim Donnan. Do any Dawg fans want to take the position that Donnan was a poor recruiter or that he let too many players get out of state? Didn't think so. (OK, I'll grant you the decision to go after Jasper Sanks instead of Jamal Lewis. Other than that...)
2. Which major out-of-state program is most dependent on recruiting in Georgia? Give yourself a gold star if you said "Auburn." How have the Tigers done since Richt was hired? 66-23, good for 9th nationally. Apparently, Mark Richt's hiring wasn't a death knell for every program that depends on talent from Georgia, just the programs with incompetent sons of the head coach installed as the offensive coordinator.
3. Barnhart overstates the significance of out-of-state recruiting to Florida State. Sure, the 'Noles got the occasional player from Georgia or Louisiana, but those players were typically gravy. The program's emergence was the result of Florida becoming a hotbed for high school football talent, on par with Texas and California. I'd submit for your consideration that Florida State's recruiting problems were not so much the result of Saban and Richt being hired as they were Steve Spurrier, a somewhat ambivalent recruiter (especially towards the end of his tenure), being replaced by Ron Zook and then Urban Meyer, two aggressive, outstanding recruiters.
In Barnhart's defense, he's at least trying to come up with an interesting, non-conventional explanation for FSU's slide. His theory isn't totally off, as it has some significant applications for Tennessee, another program that depends on recruiting in Georgia and has seen its fortunes fall off since Richt was hired. (I don't quite know what to make of Clemson, the fourth program that depends on talent from Georgia. Would we say that Clemson has had a good stretch in this decade? They've played marginally above their historical winning percentage in a more competitive ACC. On the other hand, Tommy Bowden has constantly flirted with termination, so it hasn't exactly been a banner stretch for the other Tigers.)
Generally speaking, Barnhart's dispatches from fall practices have been outstanding. His piece on the spread with Auburn's Tony Franklin was especially good. If the rumors are true that Barnhart has taken a buyout from the AJC, it will be a sad day for the paper that covers the South like dew.