“Son, this is your fifth season at State and you haven’t come close to living up to your five-star rating. I don’t get it, son. Are you simply lacking in IQ, or are you just absolutely apathetic? What in the hay do you have to say for yourself, son?”
“Coach, I don’t know and I don’t care.”
With the way the Pac-12’s recruiting mainstays (UCLA and USC) have performed on the field recently, conversations like this one are likely commonplace in the West. The few schools in the conference known for recruiting haven’t played anywhere close to their potential, and the conference is suffering because of it.
Please allow me to author an inexorable truth: in the history of the BCS and the CFP, no school without serious recruiting chops has ever won a championship. Yes, elite talents like Michael Vick and Marcus Mariota can lead an undermanned team to a championship game if the circumstances are right. (Hats off to the Ducks for twice making it to championship games with good-not-great recruiting classes. They’re the only team to do so multiple times in the BCS/CFP era.) But the exceptions are few and far between, and none of them have actually won a title.
One team that has recruited well enough to win a title but hasn’t come close to doing so in quite some time is USC. And recruits are beginning to take note.
USC’s 2019 recruiting class, even with the steal of Chris Steele and the Bru “Rubber Band Man” McCoy bounce back, was, by USC standards, Trojan horse–bleep. Pete Carroll was one of the best in the business at bringing in and coaching up big-time recruits, sending many the four- and five-star to the NFL. But times have been tough without him. While current head coach Clay Helton has had some moments, winning a thrilling Rose Bowl over Penn State and sending some big names to the NFL, he’s on a fast track out the door if he misses a second-straight bowl game this season.
But it’s not just Helton who’s struggling to maximize elite talent. Outside of Carroll’s years in LA, many blue-chip Trojan teams have struggled to play to their potential. The simple truth is that great coaches such as Saint Nick Saban and Dabo-Dabo-Do Swinney can sign elite talent and coach them up. Neither Helton nor any other coaches on USC’s laundry list of flops are great coaches. No matter how much talent a team acquires, poor coaching will inevitably render it useless.
USC’s dysfunction is a microcosm of the Pac-12’s. UCLA has struggled despite being situated in a hotbed of high school talent. The Trojans’ and Bruins’ recent recruiting struggles are a clear sign that the Pac-12 is in a precarious spot. But why is the conference lagging behind the rest of the country so much in recruiting?
In short, the game has changed. Prior to the BCS and the CFP, and before Oklahoma won its anti-trust lawsuit against the NCAA, college football was a regional sport. Yes, Left Coast denizens watched Alabama, Notre Dame, Texas and Oklahoma on occasion, but the focus in the West was on the Run for the Roses. Outside New Year’s Day in Pasadena, no one gave a lick about which conference was better than the other.
Today, college football has such a national reach that recruits aren’t factoring in local pride or proximity to home like they used to. Their primary goal is to make the CFP and find a program that will get them to the NFL in three seasons. Thus, the Left Coast, with a dysfunctional network, late start times (even when broadcast by its FOX and ESPN media partners) and no team being nationally relevant in LA, is leaking recruiting oil.
Why hide a lamp under a bushel when recruits can play when most of the country is awake and watching? Why play for a middling conference that has little-to-no chance of getting into the CFP? Hats off to Mario Cristobal and company for bringing some blue chippers in, but the rest of the conference is sucking wind on the recruiting trail.
Is all lost on the Left Coast? Of course not! I see two easy fixes for the Pac-12.
First, Larry Scott and his bosses need to accept the “World Wide Leader’s” offer and sell the Pac-12 Network to ESPN. B1G commissioner Jim Delaney values the FOX wholly owned B1G Network at $500 million. Meanwhile, Larry is attempting to sell a percentage of the Pac-12 Network for $500 to $750 million … Good luck, Larry.
A sale to ESPN immediately gets the Pac-12 Network on DirecTV and every other significant cable channel that televises college sports. And ESPN would not be left behind when it comes to streaming capability.
Second, assuming Helton flames out in 2019, as I expect will happen, USC must hire Urban Meyer.
Ohio State was a very good program before Meyer took over. But Meyer upgraded the Buckeyes’ recruiting, led Ohio State to an unprecedented winning percentage, and lifted up the rest of the conference’s recruiting success in the process. He did the same at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida. Does he have baggage? Yes. But as a private school, it will be far easier for USC to deal with his question marks than it would be for a public school in California. If he is able to get USC back to where it should be, the Pac-12 as a whole will benefit.
Sell the Pac-12 Network to ESPN and bring Meyer into the conference, and the Left Coast will stop losing top-drawer high school talent to the ACC, Big 12, B1G and SEC. Meanwhile, let’s all hope that Cristobal can not only continue to wrangle up elite prospects but can also train them to become thoroughbreds who will make a run for the Rose Bowl, and perhaps the CFP.
It’s not enough to just bring in blue-chip talent, after all. If they aren’t coached up, your team is headed toward a black hole. Just ask USC.
Georgetown, Texas Top Photo From Video
Phil Anderson, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is a trial lawyer in Bend Oregon.
Jon Joseph grew up in Boston, Massachusetts but has been blessed to have lived long enough in the west to have exorcised all east coast bias. He played football in college and has passionately followed the game for seven decades. A retired corporate attorney Jon has lectured across the country and published numerous articles on banking and gaming law. Now resident in central Oregon Jon follows college football across the nation with a focus on the Conference of Champions and the Ducks.
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