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Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Top five recruiting jobs: Pac-12

By Erik McKinney

While Pac-12 parity is on the rise thanks to an influx of money and dynamic coaching, all things still are not equal on the recruiting scene. The conference as a whole has more to offer recruits than ever before, but location and tradition simply can't be trumped, as we take a look at the five best recruiting jobs in the Pac-12.

Tommy Trojan
It's tough to beat the tradition of USC, especially for the rest of the Pac-12.
1. USC

Proximity to out-of-state talent: Finding out-of-state talent ranks a distant second to locking up in-state recruits, of which a large majority lives near USC's home in Los Angeles. The top players from Arizona, Washington and Nevada are easy enough to reach, while going into the Southeast is made possible by the draw that is Los Angeles. Still the distance to Florida and the rest of the Southeast does take a number of talented prospects off the board before the recruiting process even really begins.

Dollars and cents: USC reported total football expenses of $23,049,962 and total football revenue of $43,809,684 in 2012-2013. Starting in the 2012-13 season, the Pac-12 began a 12-year, $2.7 billion deal with ESPN and Fox. Each school is expected to receive nearly $21 million annually from the deal.

National appeal: The USC brand is well known throughout the country, and an offer from the Trojans still resonates with recruits. The buzz isn't quite what it was during the previous decade, as the Trojans haven't won a conference championship or played in a BCS bowl game since 2008.

Facilities and atmosphere: After possessing arguably the worst football facilities in the Pac-10 for a number of years, the Trojans joined the arms race in the summer of 2012, opening the $70 million, 110,000-square-foot John McKay Center. While aspects of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum -- an iconic structure in its own right -- are outdated, the school took control over its home stadium in the fall of 2013. Included in the deal are stipulations that the university will spend $100 million on improvements to the Coliseum. Athletic director Pat Haden said after the announcement that he doesn't expect any major improvements for two years, but it likely won't be long until the Coliseum is added to the list of Pac-12 facilities receiving major upgrades.

Recent NFL draft success: No team has had more success than USC when it comes to the NFL draft, as 487 former Trojans have been selected in the NFL draft, including 75 in the first round -- also more than any other program. In the past 10 drafts, USC has had 69 former players drafted, including 14 in the first round. At least three Trojans have been selected in every draft since 2003.

Identifiable player: Debate among USC fans will likely continue as to whether he provided more to or took more away from the program, but there's no denying that Reggie Bush's tenure with the Trojans is what recruits most identify with when it comes to USC. His highlights put USC in front of virtually every recruit, across the country, of the past decade.

Bottom line: Despite taking a backseat to Pac-12 North powers Oregon and Stanford in the conference race and dropping the past two games to UCLA, it won't ever be easy for another conference program to knock the Trojans from this top spot. Residing in the heart of one of the nation's top regions for high school talent and in the middle of the No. 2 media market in the country, USC earns as much exposure as any college program. The Trojans can rely on their strong tradition, as well, with 11 national titles, seven Heisman Trophy winners and more Rose Bowl wins than any other program has appearances. This past winter showed exactly what the Trojans can do with a little recruiting momentum, as Steve Sarkisian rallied his program after an up-and-down year and pitched a perfect game on signing day, inking the top three uncommitted recruits in the region.


2. UCLA

Jim Mora
Jim Mora and Brett Hundley are two of the main factors in UCLA's recent resurrection.
Proximity to out-of-state talent: UCLA reaps the same rewards as USC when it comes to recruiting in-state talent, but faces many of the same obstacles in chasing the top recruits in the Southeast. The 2014 class offered an example of just how difficult it can be to pull recruits across the country, as the Bruins were finalists for a number of prospects in the Southeast, but signed just one. The Bruins have made solid inroads to Arizona and Texas over the past few seasons, with five players from Arizona and eight from Texas on the roster.

Dollars and cents: UCLA reported total football expenses of $20,149,375 and total football revenue of $35,656,834 in 2012-2013. Like the rest of the conference, the Bruins will benefit greatly from the 12-year, nearly $3 billion television deal between the conference and ESPN and Fox.

National appeal: UCLA might not be as deeply ingrained in the national conscience as USC, but the Bruins' success in both football and basketball makes them a truly national program. Due to their success over the past few seasons, an offer from UCLA puts the Bruins in the hunt for prospects they wouldn't have been able to reach five years ago. The uniforms likely won't match the flash of Oregon's, but the baby blue and gold is instantly recognizable and the newly introduced L.A. Midnight uniforms -- complete with Los Angeles skyline gloves -- was a big hit when they were unveiled last season.

Facilities and atmosphere: In late September 2013, UCLA announced plans to build a $50 million athletic facility, which will house a locker room, strength and conditioning facility, coaches' offices, meeting rooms and several other areas for the football program. UCLA's home stadium -- The Rose Bowl -- is undergoing a renovation slated to run through 2018, which has already resulted in a new video screen, improved locker rooms and expanded luxury suites.

Recent NFL draft success: The Bruins have had nine players drafted the past two seasons, including two first-round selections. Only Stanford provided more Pac-12 selections in the 2014 draft than UCLA's five, and the Bruins are the only Pac-12 program to produce first-round picks during the most recent two drafts.

Identifiable players: Running back Maurice Jones-Drew carried the NFL torch for the Bruins for years, but quarterback Brett Hundley is now at the fore when it comes to UCLA football. The UCLA athletic department likely won't mention the signal-caller without the words "Heisman Trophy candidate" preceding his name this season, and the redshirt junior now embodies the Bruins' "on the rise" mentality when it comes to high school recruits.

Bottom line: Like USC, UCLA has an undeniable advantage with its location when it comes to recruiting the top prospects in California. The Bruins finished with the top recruiting class in the conference in 2013 and are off to a strong start with the 2015 class. The Bruins boast just one national championship and one Heisman Trophy winner, but no athletic program has won more NCAA championships than UCLA. California will always produce more than its share of top prospects, and even in down years on the field, the Bruins can attract top local talent.


3. Oregon

Oregon Uniform
Uniforms matter to recruits, and no program fills the closet like Oregon.
Proximity to out-of-state talent: It isn't exactly a quick drive from Oregon to Southern California, but the Ducks can get into the Los Angeles area with regularity. Washington also produces several targets for the Ducks each year, but Oregon ultimately faces an uphill climb when it comes to recruiting talent-rich states such as Texas and Florida.

Dollars and cents: Oregon reported total football expenses of $21,038,456 and total football revenue of $53,982,076 in 2012-2013.

National appeal: Uniforms. Oregon can reportedly unveil somewhere around 500 different uniform combinations for any one game at this point, as the desire to separate itself with its game-day apparel began in 2000 and has resulted in arguably one of the most iconic traditions in present-day college football. There isn't a high school football recruit who isn't familiar with Oregon's vast array of uniforms, and there are very few who don't feel the urge to at least try one on. The uniforms -- with a fairly significant boost from one of the nation's highest-powered offenses -- turned the Ducks into a national recruiting power, capable of going onto any campus in the country and grabbing the attention of its recruits.

Facilities and atmosphere: The Ducks recently put the finishing touches on a new football facility, which cost an estimated $68 million. Thanks to its relationship with Phil Knight and Nike, Oregon football isn't likely to be hurting for donations or facility upgrades anytime in the near future. The Ducks also own one of the most distinct home-field advantages in the country, as the noise level at Autzen Stadium is regularly described by opposing players as the loudest they've ever experienced.

Recent NFL draft success: The Ducks have quietly had at least one player drafted every year since 1986, with at least four players drafted each of the past three seasons. Oregon has four first-round selections since 2006, as well as seven second-round selections.

Identifiable players: An argument could be made for any number of players here, including quarterback Marcus Mariota and any of the recent tailbacks -- Jonathan Stewart, LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas -- but based on Oregon's high-flying offense, the most iconic image right now is probably the duck mascot, preparing himself for another round of push-ups after another Oregon touchdown.

Bottom line: After getting themselves to the top by recruiting players who would fit their system and prying up rocks to unearth recruits who would become stars in college, the Ducks are now a recruiting power, able to go toe to toe with any program in the country, thanks in large part to the flash of the uniforms and facilities. Despite Chip Kelly leaving for the NFL, the Ducks didn't show any signs of slowing down last year, and another big year in 2014 should alleviate any of those concerns altogether. While Oregon will never be able to sit home and recruit its own state for enough talent to build a class, the program is firmly established in the minds of recruits across the country.


4. Stanford

Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck established Stanford as a destination, and David Shaw has carried the torch.
Proximity to out-of-state talent: Like the rest of the California schools, Stanford prioritizes its home state when it comes to recruiting. There is considerable distance between the Cardinal and the Southeast, but Stanford has made inroads to Georgia and Florida in recent years, which always makes it slightly easier to recruit future players from those states.

Dollars and cents: Stanford reported total football expenses of $16,694,502 and total football revenue of $24,839,939 in 2012-2013.

National appeal: Stanford's appeal isn't quite as broad as many of the national powers in college football, but that likely sits just fine with the Cardinal, who embraced their "Revenge of the Nerds" motto last fall, making a connection with recruits across the nation looking for the preeminent combination of athletics and academics. With its football success over the past seven years, Stanford is now a school that recruits on a national level.

Facilities and atmosphere: Stanford put the finishing touches on a $21 million football facility last fall that keeps the Cardinal up to speed with the rest of the conference in that area.

Recent NFL draft success: The Cardinal have had at least three players drafted each year since 2010, including the No. 1 overall pick, Andrew Luck, in 2012. Stanford has had four tight ends and four offensive linemen drafted in that same period. In the 2014 draft, Stanford's six selections were the most of any Pac-12 program, as Trent Murphy, Cameron Fleming, David Yankey, Ed Reynolds, Tyler Gaffney and Ben Gardner were all chosen.

Identifiable player: While an offensive lineman might be more representative of what Stanford has come to represent on the field, no player is more synonymous with the Cardinal's recent run of success than Luck. The quarterback set Stanford records for touchdown passes and total offense, as well as Pac-12 career records for completion percentage and passing efficiency.

Bottom line: Stanford has done a terrific job of turning itself into one of the top destinations for scholar-athletes. The Cardinal coaches are so good at establishing early connections with recruits that they are able to keep their scholarship offer numbers down considerably from the average. Stanford collected commitments from seven ESPN 300 recruits in the most recent class, as well as five who were among the top five prospects at their respective positions. The Cardinal are clearly a player for virtually any prospect in the country with the grades to clear admissions.


5. Washington

Husky Stadium
Washington's Husky Stadium underwent a $280 million renovation in 2013, making an already ridiculously loud stadium even louder.
Proximity to out-of-state talent: You can't get much farther from the Pac-12 recruiting base -- or the national hotbeds of Texas and the Southeast -- than Washington, but the Huskies do well in the Pacific Northwest and have established themselves as a true player for Southern California talent.

Dollars and cents: Washington reported total football expenses of $23,801,655 and total football revenue of $56,379,534 in 2012-2013.

National appeal: Washington is far removed from its dominant teams of the early 1990s, but the quick turnaround under former coach Steve Sarkisian from a winless team in 2008 to two bowl wins in the past four years resonated with recruits. Now, the Huskies should be able to take another step forward in the national conscience with Chris Petersen taking over. Recruits and college football fans will undoubtedly want to see how the former Boise State coach fares in taking over a Big Five program.

Facilities and atmosphere: Husky Stadium reopened in 2013 following a $280 million renovation, giving Washington one of the top facilities in the country, and one that is still located in arguably a unique setting for a college football stadium. The renovation included an upgraded football facility, as well as changes to the stands that make an already loud stadium even louder.

Recent NFL draft success: Washington has had at least one player drafted each of the past five years, with quarterback Jake Locker and cornerback Desmond Trufant going as first-round selections. This year, the Huskies had two second-round picks, including running back Bishop Sankey, who was the first running back selected.

Identifiable players: Locker held the mantle for the past few years, as the highest drafted Washington player since 1992. But after setting school records for career rushing touchdowns and single-season rushing yards last year, Sankey is likely the most notable Husky at this time -- edging out Austin Seferian-Jenkins, last year's John Mackey Award winner.

Bottom line: The Huskies immediately became relevant under Sarkisian, but things could get even more interesting with Petersen at the helm. Washington has a nice recruiting base in the Pacific Northwest, but must continue to stay relevant with Southern California prospects in order to compete against Oregon and Stanford in the Pac-12 North. While the Huskies constantly fight the distance battle for recruits, it's not as difficult if they can get them to visit campus as the upgraded facilities have added even more to Seattle's draw. Despite several coaching changes over the past decade, the Huskies have some significant football history to work with, as well, with four national championships and seven Rose Bowl wins, which ties for third all-time.