Recruits will watch USC-ASU intently

LOS ANGELES -- After the deluge comes the lull.

A week after pouring so much pride and emotion into a game against top-ranked Oregon and losing by three touchdowns, the USC Trojans (5-3, 2-3 in the Pac-10) will try hard to convince themselves the rest of the schedule means something.

It might not be that easy this week, in a late-night game against a middling Pac-10 opponent on regional TV.
The Coliseum crowd might be the smallest in nearly a decade.

But there is a sizeable stake in Saturday's game against Arizona State (4-4, 3-3). One of the people watching keenly will be a junior wide receiver from Carson High School (Carson, Calif.), Darreus Rogers, who has been offered scholarships from both schools. He's not the only young player being wooed by both schools who will be tuning in.

"You know, this game's going to have a big, big outlook on that [decision]," Rogers told ESPNLA's Pedro Moura last week. "Whoever wins, I'm going to be like, 'Oh, OK. I see.'"

No other school has been as brash as Arizona State about walking into USC's front lawn and taking what it wants. Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson has tried to rebuild his program largely by recruiting heavily in Southern California. The Sun Devils have 49 players from California and 20 of those are major contributors. Six ASU players come from one Southern California powerhouse, Corona Centennial (Corona, Calif.).

USC has two players from Arizona.

The Sun Devils are well situated in recruiting, poised between rich talent pockets in Texas and California, but they have tended to gaze westward, often scooping up players USC overlooks. So, Saturday night's game could have an impact, even if it's incremental, on the future of both programs.

Two of the most talented players on the field Saturday, cornerback Omar Bolden and linebacker Vontaze Burfict, are from the Inland Empire. Starting center Garth Gerhart and starting tailback Deantre Lewis are from Norco High (Norco, Calif.). The other impact freshman running back, Kyle Middlebrooks, is from Fountain Valley, Calif.
Receiver Mike Willie, the No. 2 target, is from Long Beach, Calif.

Several hundred of the fans in attendance -- the Trojans are expecting about only 65,000 -- figure to be family members and friends of ASU players.

"Every person I know is going to go," said ASU linebacker Brandon Magee, another Corona native.

And dozens of impressionable young Southern California football players will be watching the game on TV.
Sun Devils coaches are well aware of what's at stake, since they're going to spend plenty of time in living rooms all over the Southland in the coming months.

"I see L.A. as a recruiting piece for us," Erickson said. "We'd like to go there and show them some improvement, that you're getting this thing turned around and things are going in the right direction."

Of course, USC is still USC and Lane Kiffin is still Lane Kiffin. Confidence oozes from this program and its young head coach, even in its darkest hours. He seemed a little rankled when it was suggested that Saturday's game could have recruiting ramifications and that ASU has fattened up its roster by plucking players from under the Trojans' noses.

"I don't necessarily look at it that way," Kiffin said. "I think they've done a great job, but I think if we do things right. They shouldn't be able to come in here and get players, not ones we're on from the beginning."

Not that the Trojans haven't occasionally made their own forays into the desert. They've snatched high-profile recruits out of Arizona, including defensive end Everson Griffen, linebacker Devon Kennard and center Kristofer O'Dowd. But when a school sits on one of the richest veins of football talent in America, as USC does, recruiting is more about defense than offense.

"ASU's always come in here and done a good job," Trojans recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron said. "They have several guys on their team we'd love to have. They've done a good also of getting some guys we maybe weren't on and they go on to become great players. They've always done a good job with that."

Most recruits aren't going to be swayed by a hard-fought game that goes down to the end, but an embarrassing outcome for either side could change some recruits' minds. USC probably could cement its standing with players such as Rogers if it blows out the Sun Devils. Another loss at the Coliseum -- which would be the fourth in the last seven home games -- might further dim the Trojans' appeal.

The last image either program can afford to project is of a program in decline or floundering. Lose and it will take some fancy talking to deny that image.

Mark Saxon covers USC football for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.