- Tom Luginbill, ESPN Staff Writer
Recruiting is the lifeblood of every program in the country, and every conference has its own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to landing top prospects. We've spent a week examining the BCS conferences plus Notre Dame to find each's strength, the biggest obstacle each faces and the overall view of the conference. The final conference we'll look at is the Pac-12.
Biggest obstacle: Defense, defense, defense. While this conference is never short on skill, weapons, quarterbacks and big-play offenses, finding playmakers on the defensive line is a whole lot tougher. It is staggering to see that from the top 40 players we've graded from the states of California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Utah and Nevada since 2006, there are only three defensive linemen. That is well over 3,000 players graded and just three defensive linemen. Unlike Florida, which borders several states that are loaded with prospects, California does not have this luxury surrounding it in numbers and quality. The Pac-12 has the juice and player pool to be good enough to play for the national championship with a few teams, but can they win it without being loaded up front on defense?
Biggest strength: Explosive skill, tradition, cool factor (Oregon!) and great locations. Some of the toughest places to play in America reside in the Pac-12, including Eugene, Ore., and Seattle. It can be very difficult for national recruiters to steal kids out of Pac-12 territory because in this era today's prospects identify with USC, Oregon and Stanford. However, the recent sanctions placed on USC have opened the door for programs on USC's level in terms of national perception to get their foot in the door. This has put pressure on UCLA, Stanford and Oregon to keep the prospects from Pac-12 country at home.
Overall view of the conference: USC is still USC, but it is going to get worse before it gets better in terms of on-field results, which provides the opportunity for UCLA and others to state their case to top West Coast prospects. Oregon is under new leadership and we don't yet know how this will affect the Ducks in recruiting, and others as a result. Washington is the team that has the hot hand lately. The Huskies are improving and just upgraded an already great stadium facility. It is imperative with the increase in talent we have seen the last few years from the state of Arizona that the Wildcats and Sun Devils keep those kids at home and not allow them to go further west or to Notre Dame, etc. This conference is viewed as an exciting one, but not necessarily one that is a national recruiter outside of Oregon and USC. Outside of the state of Texas, there is not much Pac-12 presence in other recruiting pools.