AS THE Washington Huskies prepared for a 2001 Rose Bowl date with Purdue at USC's practice facility, a soon-to-be familiar figure on the west L.A. campus stood among the few hundred spectators. Pete Carroll, the coach hired two weeks earlier to return the Trojans to gridiron glory, watched the Huskies and began to realize how much recruiting work was ahead of him.
? Seven of Washington's starters had played at high schools within 60 miles of USC.
? Meanwhile, in Tempe, Ariz., Oregon State was preparing for the Fiesta Bowl with 11 starters who had played within 110 miles of USC, including future Cincinnati Bengals Pro Bowl wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
? Worse, blue-chip quarterback Matt Leinart, at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, 35 miles away, was rethinking his verbal commitment to the Trojans in light of the firing of coach Paul Hackett. At that moment Leinart was considering playing at Oklahoma.
Carroll took the first step toward a SoCal recruiting hegemony by persuading Leinart to stick with USC. Then, on national signing day in 2001, defensive end Shaun Cody, from nearby Hacienda Heights and considered the nation's best defensive recruit, told reporters that "it came down to a gut feeling," when he picked Carroll's Trojans over Notre Dame. Using mostly homegrown talent—tackle Winston Justice from Long Beach (2002), tailback Reggie Bush from Spring Valley (2003) and defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis from Chino (2003) included—USC won more games (59) the past five seasons than any other Division I-A program.
And it only gets better for the Trojans. With national signing day looming on Feb. 4, three of
's top 20 recruits in the nation, all whom live within 60 miles of USC, have verbally committed to the Trojans: quarterback Matt Barkley ( Mater Dei, Santa Ana), linebacker Vontaze Burfict ( Centennial High, Corona) and back Patrick Hall (St. Bonaventure High, Ventura). USC also is expected to go long distance for blue-chippers, such as receiver Alshon Jeffrey (Calhoun County High, St. Mathews, S.C.) and center John Martinez (Cottonwood Senior High, Salt Lake City).
It is a priority for every major college coach to make his school the top choice for in-state players, but for coaches like Carroll and his colleagues in the talent-rich territories of California, Florida and Texas (map, opposite), the reward for doing so can be worth the intense recruiting effort. Not only are there four BCS schools within each of those states fighting over the same recruits, but also numerous programs from across the country are trying to invade those high school football hotbeds.
Carroll and his staff employ an early-and-often strategy. They build up their summer camps to get players plugged into USC at a young age; Carroll first met Barkley at one of the 2003 camps. They blanket area high schools; Bruce Rollinson, who coached Leinart and Barkley at Mater Dei, says, "They get out. They're very visible. Pete does not sit around and say, 'Well, we're SC.'"
An SI study of recruiting data for the six BCS conferences and Notre Dame found that of the nine schools that won 50 or more games from 2004 through '08, seven signed more than half their recruits during that span from within their state or from within 200 miles of campus: Texas (93.2% from in-state, 71.8% from within 200 miles), USC (72.0, 61.0), Georgia (63.6, 70.1), Florida (62.3, 47.9), Ohio State (55.8, 66.3), Virginia Tech (54.3, 44.0) and LSU (50.4, 56.5). Oklahoma barely missed the cut, with 49.1% from within 200 miles. Of the 22 schools that won 40 or more games during that span, 16 attracted more than half their players from within 200 miles or from within their state. Of the 44 schools that won fewer than 40 games, only 13 met the homegrown recruiting criteria.
The data reinforce the findings of three economists who, in 2004, designed a model to predict the college choices of sought-after recruits. That model, created by Mike DuMond, Allen Lynch and Jennifer Platania—college football fans who met as Ph.D. candidates at Florida State—revealed that among players considering only schools in BCS conferences, distance from home was the most important factor in a recruit's choice. (The report was published in the February 2008 issue of The Journal of Sports Economics.)