For a guy like Dave Miller, no stranger to having college football’s elite mine his Lakes High program for talent, it’s hard to envision the recruiting battles of the future.
In San Antonio earlier this month, coaching in the Army All-American Bowl, Miller was stunned by what he saw afterward in the hotel lobby.
“It was elbow-to-elbow recruiters,” Miller said. “Kids who hadn’t committed to a school were bombarded – just a feeding frenzy.
“It’s hard to imagine recruiting getting any more competitive, but it’s inevitable.”
On Wednesday, the players in the first recruiting classes of the Pacific-12 Conference will sign their letters of intent. While it’s still too early to know all the ways the Pac-10’s expansion will impact recruiting, this much is already certain: If the intensity level was already at a 10, it’s about to go to a 12.
“Absolutely, it will be more competitive,” said Rich Rasmussen, Washington State University’s recruiting coordinator. “Playing in this conference is important to a West Coast kid and now we’re throwing two more schools into the mix.”
The addition of Colorado and Utah is already proving to give recruits plenty to think about. After committing to Washington, defensive back Kameron Jackson of Long Beach, Calif., took a visit to Colorado. And apparently Utah’s move to the Pac-12 was enough to land highly touted running back Harvey Langi of South Jordan, Utah, who’d previously favored UCLA.
Puyallup High junior Joshua Garnett, a coveted offensive lineman, calls the expansion “just another thing to think about while making a monster decision.”
Lakes High junior offensive lineman Zach Banner, who already has offers from most Pac-12 and Southeastern conference teams, doesn’t think the expansion will have much impact on his decision. However, he admits he’ll give offers from Utah and Colorado more thought now.
As the Pac-12 takes shape with new television contracts, a championship game, separate divisions and two new teams trying to make their mark, the next generation of football players will form their perception of the conference.
“How much different will it be?” said Allen Wallace, editor of SuperPrep Magazine. “Maybe not much. Maybe more for some schools than others. It’s something we’ll find out over the next few years.”
THE BIGGEST WINNERS
While all 12 teams expect to prosper from the expansion, when it comes to recruiting two teams clearly benefit more than the others.
Sure, Utah and Colorado produce their fair share of quality football prospects, but this isn’t exactly new territory for the original Pac-10 schools. “Most already recruit Colorado and Utah,” said Jason Jewell of Scout.com.
Plus, Rasmussen says 90 percent of Utah recruits stay in Utah. Colorado’s top recruits tend to stay home too, Wallace said.
“I don’t know how much the original Pac-10 benefits from adding Colorado and Utah,” Wallace said. “The ones that are really getting a major impact are Colorado and Utah.”
Colorado gets a fresh start in a growing conference. And Utah, perhaps the biggest winner, gets to join a Bowl Championship Series conference.
“Suddenly Utah and Colorado are going to find they are able to get into the living rooms of bigger and bigger players,” Wallace said.
And once they have the recruits’ attention they have plenty to offer. Boulder, Colo., and Salt Lake City are two of the country’s most popular outdoor recreation destinations.
Colorado boasts one of the nation’s elite business schools while Utah’s medical school is considered one of the best in the country.
“Really, the only downside for Utah is that now they’re going to be competing with bigger programs like Florida for recruits,” Wallace said. “ I’ve been doing this since 1985 and I don’t think I’ve ever seen Utah go head-to-head with USC or UCLA for a Southern California recruit and win. That might change now.”
If conference commissioner Larry Scott gets what he wants everybody in the Pac-12 will soon have another carrot to dangle in front of recruits: More television exposure.
This winter and spring the conference is renegotiating its deals with Fox and ESPN/ABC.
If all goes as the conference envisions by this summer it will have deals that will assure more national broadcast games and a plan to launch a Pac-12 Network as soon as 2012.
“There’s a lot of money and a lot of details to work out,” said Duane Lindberg, the Pac-10’s associate commissioner in charge of electronic communications. “But we are hoping for the best.”
The Big Ten launched its network in 2007 and it has become a useful tool in recruiting. The Big Ten Network is available in 19 of the top 20 United States markets and the conference says 98 percent of its football games are televised nationally. In 2008 no other conference had more than 70 percent of its games on national television.
This isn’t lost on recruits.
“Kids want to be on TV,” Wallace said.
They also want to play for teams they regularly see on TV.
Depending on how the new television contracts sort out, they could also create new recruiting barriers. Particularly if Pac-10 North games are not televised as often in the south and vice versa.
“Recruits are typically familiar with schools in their region or that they see on TV,” Jewell said. “If the teams from the southwest aren’t on TV much in the northwest it could hurt them a little.”
NORTH VS. SOUTH
There is probably no more important place in the Pac-10 to win games than Los Angeles. Southern California is consistently stocked with more talent than any other region on the West Coast, so winning there often does wonders for credibility with those recruits.
In the Pac-10, teams were assured of playing at least one game per year in Los Angeles. In the Pac-12, that will no longer be the case for northern division teams.
Now, the Pac-12 North’s conference schedule will consistent of five games in its division and four against the South. Oregon, Oregon State, UW and WSU will play only two games each in Los Angeles over the next four seasons.
“I think games like the Holiday Bowl (in San Diego) that the UW just won will become even more important,” Miller said. “I think it will hurt not having as many opportunities to play down there.”
Rasmussen hopes splitting the conference will have a minimal impact on Southern California recruiting.
“I don’t think it will change a ton,” said Rasmussen, whose WSU team plays at UCLA and San Diego State next season. “There are still a lot of kids in Southern California that want to get away and experience a college town.”
Wallace says California recruits are different than those from other football hotbeds like Texas and Florida.
“In those places football is religion and the recruits want to stay home,” Wallace said. “Even our major rivalries pale in comparison, so California kids don’t feel the same pressure to stay home. They are more free spirits. So not playing in L.A. as often might not hurt Pac-12 North teams as much as some people think.”
As a member of the Big 12, Colorado would seem to have an advantage recruiting in Texas, where football talent flows like oil.
But Jewell thinks Colorado will find recruiting harder in Texas once it joins the Pac-12.
“Kids in Texas grow up watching Big 12 football,” Jewell said. “They will see CU play very little, if at all.”
In fact, Colorado is poised to sign only one recruit from Texas this year and five from California. But the truth is, the Texas pipeline was shut off long ago.
While almost a third of Colorado’s classes in 2002 and ’03 came from Texas, its past seven classes have included a combined 13 players from Texas and 52 from California.
“Colorado has always recruited well on the West Coast,” Miller said, “although maybe not quite as well now as they did when they were a national power.”
Rasmussen figures Colorado will try to swipe even more players from California now, increasing competition for recruits.
QUICK ON THE DRAW
With increased recruiting competition in a larger conference, Miller expects players will start committing to schools even earlier.
How early? Consider USC offered a scholarship to a 13-year-old quarterback from Delaware last year.
Maybe that’s extreme, but Miller says he will advise his players to commit as early as possible so they can step away from the distraction and pressure of the recruiting process.
He has already given this advice on to Banner, his star offensive lineman who has half the country courting his football and basketball skills.
“The board is still wide open,” Banner said. “I just want to find the place that is best for me.”
Miller says Banner will know when he finds the right school and, at that point, there’s no point in dallying when it comes to committing.
“It’s like buying a new car,” Miller said. “You pick two or three to test drive then make a decision.”
And after watching the crush of coaches prowling that San Antonio hotel earlier this month, Miller thinks 17-year-old kids should spend as little time as possible in the amped-up recruiting pressure cooker that comes along with the Pac-12.
“The longer you wait the worse it gets,” Miller said. “I don’t want to see Zach in that situation.”
Craig Hill: 253-597-8497 firstname.lastname@example.org