To hear some college football observers talk about Arizona State and San Diego State, one might think that today’s game between the two schools at Sun Devil Stadium should be called the Underachievement Bowl.
For years, the Sun Devils and Aztecs have been labeled “sleeping giants,” programs that have not performed at the level commensurate to the recruiting advantages both schools are perceived to have.
“It’s kind of ironic that we’re playing Arizona State,” said Jeff Schemmel, SDSU athletic director and former senior vice president of the ASU Foundation, the school’s primary fund-raising arm.
“In my career, I’ve been on two campuses — and I’ve been at all of the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-10 schools — that I would say that if we can get kids here on a recruiting trip, we have a darn good chance to land them: San Diego State and ASU. Both schools have all the things you can recruit to.”
Especially the extracurriculars, like endless sunshine, pretty women and close, vibrant nightlife. But Schemmel has been at both schools long enough to know that successful recruiting involves much more than that.
“Those things help, no question about it, but the bottom line is where you want to go to school and play football,” ASU first-year coach Dennis Erickson said. “We are recruiting, after all, for football. A lot of things are part of a player’s decision, but that bottom line is the game.”
The Sun Devils have been maddeningly inconsistent during the past quarter century, with two Pac-10 championships but just six seasons with eight wins or more. In that time, the Aztecs have one outright league title — in 1986, as a member of the Western Athletic Conference — and have not had a winning record in the past eight years.
Which fuels the how-can-they-not-recruit perceptions.
In an early-1990s college football preview magazine, SDSU is said to boast of “mild weather, beaches, tourist hot spots … in other words, everything that a talented, spoiled recruit could want.”
In May of this year, ESPN.com compiled a list of the most underachieving men’s basketball programs in the nation, with ASU ranked fifth. Care to guess what the first four words in the summary of the Sun Devils are?
Great weather, beautiful coeds.
These alleged advantages — as if ASU and SDSU are the only schools in the country that have them — are almost never part of the recruiting pitch in Tempe, San Diego or anywhere else.
“Any school that makes that a big part of their sales job probably doesn’t have its priorities straight,” said San Diego State receiver Darren Mougey, a graduate of Scottsdale Chaparral High.
Most college football media guides include several pages aimed at recruits, plugging everything from a program’s history to facilities to NFL players to academic services to level of newspaper and television coverage.
ASU’s guide devotes one sentence each to weather and Mill Avenue. SDSU’s has two sentences on weather and four paragraphs on things to do in San Diego, including a recommendation to take in the city’s many museums.
If a recruit wants to learn about the extracurriculars, ASU linebacker Mike Nixon said, coaches are not the most ideal source.
“When you get around players, you ask those questions,” said Nixon, who committed to UCLA out of high school, opted to play minor league baseball, then enrolled at ASU. “They tell you about the nightlife. That stuff does play a part in it, I’d say — when it came to Notre Dame, I didn’t want to spend five winters in the cold — but it’s not everything.”
The most fertile recruiting base for both programs is southern California, where players have long been exposed to nice weather and women.
“I’ll mention the weather a little bit,” ASU receivers coach Eric Yarber said. “The pretty girls … well, I guess that would come up if that’s on a guy’s mind, but that doesn’t happen often. I try to sell a player on Coach Erickson, the school and the proximity to Los Angeles for kids from that area.”
Time will tell if both programs continue to be considered underachievers. If that happens, however, it will be because they failed to sell their football programs, not the sun or social scene.
Mougey, a converted quarterback who was recruited by ASU, has never had a teammate say he signed with SDSU for reasons other than football.
“There are some extras and perks, no doubt,” Mougey said. “But I came here to play football and win games.”
San Diego State at Arizona State
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Sun Devil Stadium
TV: FSN Arizona
Radio: KTAR (620 AM)