PASADENA, Calif. - Conventional wisdom is dictating that Arizona State has come to the Rose Bowl today for a 3 1/2-hour recruiting infomercial in addition to a Pac-10 football game.
That is how important making a good impression on the abundance of high school football talent in southern California is to a college program. However, the secret to reaping rewards from the fertile gridiron ground is a lot more complex than four good quarters of football.
"Southern California is attractive to Arizona State for a lot of reasons," coach Dirk Koetter said. "We’re always going to be successful recruiting there, and playing there once a year is great exposure. But there’s a lot more to it than that."
Koetter and the Sun Devils should know. If recruiting success in an area were based solely on how the team played there, ASU would rarely receive a commitment from California — which currently has more players on NFL rosters than any other state. Going into today’s Springs date at UCLA, the Sun Devils are on an 11-game Pac-10 losing streak in the Golden State. They have not won a league contest there since beating USC on Nov. 6, 1999.
"In terms of winning at a certain place, the word ‘overrated’ applies," said Allen Wallace, Scout.com national recruiting editor. "Wins and losses, in general, are not the most important aspects of recruiting. There are so many other things kids think about."
Signing high school players relies primarily on an efficient system of finding talent and selling the school and football program. Especially in southern California, where the competition is fierce not only among the Pac-10, but every other major conference in the nation.
And then there is the tractor beam known as USC, which not only has the allure to local kids who have long dreamed of playing for the Trojans but the prestige of two consecutive national championships.
"The major challenge of recruiting there?" Koetter said. "You can say it in three letters: USC."
Cornerback Mike Davis Jr., who is from Los Angeles, said suiting up for the Trojans or Bruins is a goal of most young players there. Local schools in any part of the nation have that built-in advantage, but Davis said it is even more so in L.A. because of the heavy, constant media exposure.
"When you grow up there, you are either a USC or UCLA guy," Davis said. "Me, I was USC. You’re expected to go there. When I announced I was going to ASU, I had some friends in my high school saying, ‘Why not go to UCLA or USC?’ If you don’t go there, you’re an afterthought."
Still, ASU has managed to tap the area’s talent, with 44 California players, including 18 who have started this season, on its roster. Last year, the Sun Devils scored big by signing quarterback Derek Shaw of Oceanside, a prep All-American who picked ASU over such schools as Miami (Fla.).
"Everyone in the Pac-10 recruits hard in southern California," Koetter said. "You’ve got anywhere between four and six coaches on every staff that have a piece of that area in recruiting."
Five Sun Devil assistants seek talent in southern California: Mark Carrier, Mark Helfrich, Dan Fidler, Darryl Jackson and Tom Osborne.
Though he is only in his second season as a college coach, Carrier knows the recruiting terrain. The 11-year NFL veteran played at USC from 1987-89 and was a two-time All-American.
"It’s a hotbed," Carrier said. "One advantage we have over other schools in California is the fact that, even though it is away from home, it’s only an hour away and an easy trip. That is one of the things that the young men and their families need to know about."
With the competition intense, having a keen eye to recognize a player’s talent and make contact early helps immensely. Davis and two other ASU starters from southern California — quarterback Rudy Carpenter and safety Josh Golden — said the Sun Devils’ early interest played a big part in their decision to commit.
"The ASU coaches were really persistent in trying to get me to come here," said Carpenter, a Newbury Park resident who got scholarship offers from Michigan and UCLA. "I figured if these guys want me that bad, they must have an intention of playing me a lot."
The Sun Devils will follow up today’s contest by sending their coaches out to recruit on Monday and Tuesday. In southern California, there will be a lot of selling opportunities, as most of the bluechip recruits in the area have yet to decide.
In the oral-commitment derby, UCLA, not USC, leads in the area, with 15 of its 18 players from southern California. The caveat is that USC’s success enables it to effectively mine talent from all parts of the country.
"What helps other schools in southern California is the fact that USC can go after players from places like Florida, Ohio and New Jersey," Wallace said. "There’s a lot of guys in California that would commit to USC right now. But that program can afford to be super selective. . . .
"There’s not a program that you can say is really cleaning up in southern California right now."