By Chris Le
Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports wrote an interesting piece arguing that Pete Carroll’s utter dominance in the recruiting game, particularly on the West Coast (Pac-10 country), is coming back to haunt his Trojans in the BCS rankings.
It sounds backwards at first. But Wetzel might be on to something here.
With one top signing class after another, it’s evident that Carroll has his pick of any recruit, not just in talent-rich southern California, but in the entire country. And from their perspective, considering what the program offers, it’s difficult to turn down a scholarship from USC. Here’s what the rest of the Pac-10 has to compete against: an NFL factory that has the glitz, glamour and media coverage of a professional team, excellent academics, elite facilities, perfect weather, and the coolest head coach in the land.
Ask anyone who has been or is currently being courted by Southern Cal, and they’ll all say the same thing: it’s hard as hell not to like Coach Carroll. Parents can’t help but be caught up in his charm and good looks, and recruits love his ability to be laid back, yet still be all about winning at the highest level. What’s more mind-boggling, despite already having a roster loaded with NFL prospects—some positions run 3 or 4 deep—he somehow convinces recruits into thinking they have a shot at playing right away as true freshmen. It’s just the magic of Pete Carroll and the prestige of the empire that is USC football.
But with Coach Carroll bogarting all of the 4- and 5-star recruits, is he partially to blame for the decline of the Pac-10? Had some of USC’s talent gone elsewhere, would the conference fare better today against the SEC or Big 12 or even the Mountain West?
Imagine if All-American safety Taylor Mays decided to stay close to home and join the Huskies instead of the Trojans. The combination of Mays and Jake Locker, two foundations for each side of the ball, wouldn’t be too shabby. Washington’s secondary wouldn’t be so atrocious and perhaps Tyrone Willingham wouldn’t be out of a job at the end of the season. (The latter might be overdoing it, but you never know.)
Or if RB Allen Bradford and Marcy Tyler, who was thinking of going to his father’s alma mater before ultimately going with USC, chose to attend UCLA. Not a bad running back tandem, right?
Or if OL Kristofer O’Dowd and DE Everson Griffen, two of the highest-rated prospects to ever come out of the Grand Canyon State, signed with Arizona or Arizona State. I’m sure ASU quarterback Rudy Carpenter, who moonlights as a sack dummy during games, wouldn’t mind having O’Dowd anchor the O-line.
Or if RB C.J. Gable matriculated to Cal. The Bears were major players in the Gable sweepstakes and had him seemingly within their grasps—until Carroll did his voodoo that he does and added Gable to a class that already featured Stafon Johnson, Emmanuel Moody and Stanley Havili. The thought of C.J. Gable and Jahvid Best in the backfield is like looking at, well, the current USC backfield of Joe McKnight (LSU fans are still pissed that he’s a Trojan) and Johnson.
Or if All-Conference safety Kevin Ellison wanted to play with his brother, Keith, at Oregon State.
The list goes on and on.
If Carroll wasn’t so selfish maybe the Pac-10 wouldn’t be so weak, and (since we know the Trojans can never go undefeated, always tripping up somewhere during the season against a vastly inferior opponent) USC’s strength of schedule would be strong enough to compete with that of Texas, Oklahoma, LSU and Florida.
But, like with any “what if” scenario ever presented, there’s a flip side to that coin. Pete Carroll’s players are only as good as they are because of the culture of competition fostered within their program. Fear of losing your starting spot (or better yet, actually losing it) is major motivation—just ask former first string D-linemen Averell Spicer and Everson Griffen. That vital competition would lose some of its edge or be completely gone if there wasn’t a hoard of talent around.
Would USC be as awe-inspiring and dominant without their stockpile of blue chip players? Maybe they would. And perhaps the rest of the Pac-10, if they had their chance with elite recruits, would still stink.
But either way, Pete Carroll will still continue to sign every damn 5-star prospect he can find.