Saturday, December 02, 2006

USC Football Tops in Southern California Recruiting

There are big implications coming out of today's football rivalry matchup between USC and UCLA. USC has its sights on another national championship, and UCLA is obviously playing for heart and pride.

Yesterday's Los Angeles Times had a front-page article on USC's local recruiting skills. Under Coach Pete Carroll, USC has made a strong drive to monopolize Southern California's high school football prospects:

Recruiting is the lifeblood of college football, an annual dance by which coaches scramble to restock their rosters. In Southern California, it takes vivid form in the rivalry between USC and UCLA.

Most fans judge their annual matchup, which reconvenes Saturday at the Rose Bowl, by the final score. But before the teams even reach the stadium, the outcome is influenced by how they fared in the battle for recruits.

In 2000, Carroll and an assistant, Ed Orgeron, visited a dozen or more schools each day, driving from the Westside to San Bernardino, from Lancaster to Orange County, meeting players and coaches."We would go and watch guys work out at 6 in the morning and go till 9 or 10 at night," recalled Orgeron, now the coach at Mississippi. "It was a buzz saw."

Winning this behind-the-scenes competition helped Carroll remake the Trojans into a national powerhouse. Now a similar effort has begun in Westwood.

This time, it is UCLA Coach Karl Dorrell trying to invigorate a beleaguered program by winning hearts and minds at local schools. "That's the challenge," Dorrell said. "It's a process of trying to make inroads...."

Though USC and UCLA traditionally have subsisted on home-grown talent, they have had to compete against each other and against schools such as Notre Dame, Miami and Oregon to sign these athletes.

The Bruins held the upper hand in the late 1990s as former coach Bob Toledo led them on a 20-game winning streak. But soon after, UCLA appeared to shift its focus to the national scene. "You talked to the City Section coaches and they said they never saw UCLA on campus," said Greg Biggins of

Carroll filled the gap.

Shortly after taking the USC job in December 2000, he and Orgeron drove to Palm Desert to visit Marv Goux, a USC assistant coach during the program's halcyon days in the 1960s and '70s."

He gave us the plan," Orgeron said of Goux, who died in 2002. "He let us know how they did it."

Carroll wanted to "put a fence" around Southern California, keeping all the best players at home. His staff turned recruiting into a contest, assistants returning to the office late at night, comparing notes on how many schools they had visited.

Mike Christensen, the former Lakewood High coach now at Carson High, said he wasn't used to seeing USC on his campus unless he had a big-time prospect."

That's when we knew it was going to be a big change," Christensen said. "With Carroll, they were going to keep in touch no matter what, in case you had a player down the road they wanted."

By knowing every campus — and hosting instructional clinics for high school players — the Trojans not only formed relationships with top recruits but scouted gems such as LaJuan Ramsey, who went from mediocre college prospect to NFL-caliber defensive lineman.

Add to this method two key elements. Carroll enticed recruits by promising them a chance to play as freshmen. He also brought a strong dose of personality and energy."

The difference is Pete, in that he hasn't rested on his laurels," said Bill Walsh, the former San Francisco 49ers and Stanford coach. "USC's had the top recruiting class in the country five straight years. There's a level of athleticism and talent at USC that maybe Ohio State has. Maybe. We'll find out."

If USC beats UCLA on Saturday, the Trojans probably will play Ohio State in the national championship game Jan. 8.
I'm a Fresno State alumnus, and I rooted for the Bulldogs in their 2005 matchup against USC, where Fresno almost knocked out the undefeated Trojans. But that's it. Other than that I'm a USC man, and I was shocked when USC lost the national championship to Texas early this year. What a game!

My Mom received her teaching credential from USC, and I used to watch Rose Bowl games back in the 1970s with my grandfather when he'd visit on January 1st.

The Rose Bowl is the real national championship to me, although the tournament has lost a lot of its luster since joining the BCS.
Chris Dufresne had an outstanding analysis Thursday on the prospective January 1st matchups in Pasadena. We now know, though, that Michigan will likely face LSU in a Rose Bowl meeting -- although whether LSU gets an invitation to Pasadena depends on the results from some of today's national contests.

Update: UCLA upset USC, 13-9, in a commanding defensive performance.

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