It's not a surprise to see De'Anthony Thomas in the Rose Bowl. It is a surprise to see the Los Angeles product playing for the Oregon Ducks. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Lacking the urban sprawl of the East Coast, the industrial toughness of the Midwest and the sweet southern comfort of well, the South, the West Coast recruiting grounds consist of a small number of hot spots where Pac-12 coaches duke it out for the top talent and try to fend off scavengers from east of the Rockies.
Fittingly, there are primarily 12 recruiting areas that supply the vast majority of the talent within the conference with some being much more valuable than others and I wanted to take a look at how the 12 key Pac-12 recruiting grounds stack up against each other in value, and which three schools do the best job of recruiting each area.
1. Los Angeles - Could arguably be the most valuable recruiting grounds in the nation, with Los Angeles producing more NFL players than any other metro area in the nation.The great weather fuels a culture that embraces sports and LA is a very "residential" urban area that seems more like ten thousand small towns as opposed to one big city and that always leads to better athletics. The talent pool here has a huge deep end of elite talents but also an expansive shallow end as there is always an abundance of solid three star recruits coming out of the LA each year. High Schools like Long Beach Poly, Mater Dei, Dominguez and Oaks Christian tend to produce an incredible amount of top level recruits each year and Pac-12 coaches regularly bump into each other in the hallways.
- USC - There is no doubt about this one. An offer from USC is like the gold stamp of approval for LA area high school football players that they are a cut above the rest, so it is of little surprise that they usually have their pick of the elite athletes in the area each year and don't actually have to recruit much outside of LA if they don't want to. The area has yet to embrace Lane Kiffin as much as they did Pete Carroll but that is likely to change if Kiffin can weather the storm of the sanctions and return USC to their regular dominance of the conference.
- UCLA - There is a wide gap between number one and number two that has actually grown in recent years. There are pockets of LA where UCLA regularly does better than USC such as the San Gabriel Valley, but they are few and far between. However, UCLA holds a significant advantage in the area over other any Pac-12 school not named USC and that is invaluable.
- Cal - This really only developed recently and may cool off a little bit with the loss of some key recruiters on their staff, but Cal offers a great opportunity for LA kids to get away from home and go to a new environment that isn't too far away.
2. Bay Area - A huge talent pool with no real top dog college football program makes this an incredibly unpredictable ground that is very valuable for the programs who can't just cherry pick the best players on the West Coast the way that USC can. For its population size, this region actually doesn't produce as much talent as it should and is far less valuable than the LA area. There also is not the amount of powerhouse high school programs that there are in the LA area, or even maybe Phoenix, that pump out guys year after year. The Bay Area also hasn't seemed to produce as many top level athletes in recent years as it has in the past.
- Cal - The Golden Bears' success under Jeff Tedford can be traced directly back to their emergence as the go-to school in the Bay Area. Tedford and his staff have done a fantastic job at planting their flag in their local region and they will be a contender as long as they maintain their position.
- Oregon - Has done a great job of pulling some of their best talent from the region, particularly the suburbs. Eugene is closer to the area than it seems and the Ducks have used their success, facilities and high octane offense to make a serious mark in the conference's second best recruiting grounds.
- Stanford - The Cardinal still rely a lot on national recruiting because of their academic handcuffs, but I feel that the handcuffs are being loosened and that will only help Stanford begin to get a better grasp on the Bay Area. David Shaw and his staff proved themselves as a recruiters in 2012 and they will likely look to raid their local high schools more moving forward.
3. Phoenix - The most booming area in the Pac-12 region. It seems like more and more Pac-12 level players come out of the Phoenix area each year and the region has a wealth of powerhouse high school programs. Because of the youth of this area, there isn't a ton of local pride and Phoenix seems to send a lot of guys to random schools around the country. 2012 looks to be an incredible year for talent in Phoenix and it will be interesting to see how well the new coaching staffs of the in-state schools can fend off the national programs which are sure to come from all angles.
- Arizona State - The hometown school doesn't keep a good amount of guys home but they seem to get just enough. They usually grab a couple guys each recruiting season that they beat out the big boys for. If an ASU coach is ever able to stabilize the program, the Sun Devils could build a serious monster in the desert by keeping a good amount of the local players home.
- Arizona - The fact that Arizona never really seems to own the Phoenix area probably has a lot to do with why it has always been a pretty disappointing program. They will always have a tough time beating out ASU for the local guys, but Arizona can leverage offering a better education and an escape from the Phoenix area.
- Stanford - The Cardinal seem to have really identified Phoenix as an area where they can pull high level athletes that meet their academic requirements. Also, Stanford seems like they might be replacing USC as the elite West Coast recruiters outside of their area. If they can keep this up in the Phoenix area it will play a huge part in keeping them at the top of the conference.
4. San Diego - I feel like San Diego has been down in talent in recent years but regularly produces a lot of great athletes and is a crucial ground for many Pac-12 schools since it is in Southern California but doesn't have USC looming down the street the way the LA area does. Until just recently I would have put San Diego ahead of Phoenix, but there just aren't enough powerhouse high school programs in the San Diego area.
- Cal - They seem to have stepped it up in recent years, and like they do in LA, Cal offers the chance to get kids away with a great education without going too far away from home. Cal has actually done better recruiting the area than the LA schools in recent years.
- Stanford - As I mentioned for Phoenix, Stanford is really making moves in all of the Pac-12 recruiting areas. Look out if they can keep their success on the field going. Very interesting that the Bay Area schools are making a mark in an area that is much closer to LA.
- Oklahoma - A rare non-Pac-12 school makes an appearance. This developed only recently, but Oklahoma recruits San Diego hard and has pulled some nice talent away from the West Coast in recent years. USC and UCLA probably have more pull than the Sooners but simply haven't signed enough guys in the area to warrant a number three spot.
5. Central Valley - A very unique ground as it has a huge population without a large metro area or a hometown BCS conference school which makes it a wide open area that also produces a ton of top-notch talent. It is almost unfair to lump this area into one because it is so expansive, but most of the areas being ranked are rather large geographically.
- UCLA - Has surprisingly been able to outduel USC and some other national schools for really good talent here in recent years. However, the space between 1 and 2 here is very narrow.
- USC - Can usually score the best players out of this region when they really want one though they lost battles to Notre Dame and Houston (?) this year. USC has seemed to lose out on some big time guys here in recent years.
- Cal - Not far from the valley and have scored some solid players out of the area, though they haven't seemed to catch a big fish yet. Cal has done a great job in most of the top recruiting grounds but strangely hasn't made a big of dent as one would think here yet.
6. Seattle - An area that seems to be very hit and miss. There always seems to be either a ton of talent or barely any each year. Either way, schools around the country are starting to recruit here more and have feasted on the downfall of the local school. Most of the talent also tends to come from outside of the Seattle metro area.
- Washington - They have slipped, but still have a grasp on local talent that will be very challenged moving forward. The Huskies have the huge advantage of having their school located directly in the middle of their biggest recruiting area but will need to continue their steady improvement on the field if they want to get back to owning this area the way that they used to.
- Stanford - Have always done well here and seem to be putting a lot of emphasis on the area moving forward. Seattle tends to have a good focus on education so the area is a great place for Stanford to find players that can meet their academic requirements.
- Cal - Much like Stanford, seem to be putting a lot of effort into the area and have pulled some gems. Cal's success in the area has been a major thorn in the sides of Husky fans and it will be interesting to see what kind of success Cal has in the area now that Tosh Lupoi has moved to Seattle.
7. Sacramento - Never seems to be a deep pool here, but the best guys from the area always seem to be elite. 2012 was the perfect example with Arik Armstead and Shaquille Thompson, probably the two highest rated athletes on the West Coast in 2012, hailing from the area.
- Cal - The closest BCS school to Sacramento, Cal seems to always be the front runner for all of the talent that comes from the area. They have battled hard with Oregon, USC and Washington to establish themselves in the area.
- Oregon - They seem to do better in the surrounding areas than the city, but either way, they have a great "close, but not too close" appeal to area recruits as Eugene is a seven to eight hour drive away.
- USC - The Trojans don't do as well here as they do in the other California regions, but are still strong. In general, Kiffin needs to do a better job of reestablishing USC as the top school for all of the California recruiting areas.
8. Denver - A very isolated area that was sparsely recruited by Pac-10 schools but will be much more heated moving forward after the expansion of the conference. Seems to be very open, especially with Colorado's recent struggles. For some reason this area seems to produce a lot of offensive linemen. Will be interesting to see if the big time West Coast programs like USC and Oregon can expand their recruiting here.
- Colorado - The Buffaloes really don't seem to do that well keeping guys at home but benefit from the isolation and are able to hold off other schools and grab a couple of guys each year. They have a really tough time holding onto the elite recruits though and will need to improve as a program soon or they will only continue to fall down the lists of local athletes.
- Arizona State - They were the closest Pac-10 school to this area, so it makes sense that they hit it hard. Will likely have a tougher time snagging talent now that Colorado has joined the conference.
- Nebraska - One of the closest, large metro areas to Lincoln so it makes sense that the Cornhuskers go after the area hard, especially since they are a very appealing school to offensive linemen.
9. Salt Lake - The area's large Polynesian influence results in a lot of the area's best prospects being lineman and is almost like an inland Hawaii in that way. Like Phoenix, seems to be an area that produces more and more prospects each year, but like Hawaii, a lack of skill position players seems to hold it back from being more valuable. Also, like Phoenix, the area has a number of powerhouse schools who seem to produce a good amount of Pac-12 level players each year.
- BYU - Religion does a great job at being the school's best recruiting assistant, but don't sell the program's legacy in the area short. The school's prestigious tradition puts BYU a ways ahead of Utah.
- Utah - Rising every year and will only continue to grow in a BCS conference, something BYU cannot say for the time being. The Utes should see a major pickup in recruiting after joining the Pac-12.
- Stanford - There they are again, the Cardinal caught onto the talent in the Salt Lake area before some other schools and have brought home some quality players. The Cardinal seem to have a thirst for linemen so its only natural that they put a large emphasis on the area.
10. Hawaii - I feel like Hawaii was kind of overrated as a recruiting ground for a while and now has come back down to Earth. A lot of the elite programs are recruiting here less and there has been less media coverage about how dominant Polynesian football players are. None the less, there are always a few players here every year that are solid prospects, and the occasional elite guy who is almost always a linemen.
- Washington - One of the first schools to hit the islands hard, Washington still does a great job of recruiting Hawaii and always seems to pull a couple of linemen out of the islands each recruiting season.
- Colorado - I think that Washington and Colorado like Hawaii because they are able to isolate some solid linemen since they haven't been doing well in the LA area lately. Much like Washington has in recent seasons, Colorado may be trying to establish an identity as a very welcoming program for Polynesian players.
- Hawaii - They never really get the elite athletes but are always able to get a far share of local guys to stay home and at least get a visit out of most.
11. Las Vegas - Almost like a brand new recruiting ground since not many players have come from the area until just recently. Never much depth here but always seems to produce a couple of highly regarded guys from a couple of schools, particularly Bishop Gorman.
- USC - Previously mentioned highly regarded guys frequently go to USC. A great destination for area athletes with LA being just a few hour drive away.
- Arizona State - They recruit a lot here as they are rather close and seem to have pretty good success. Seemed to recognize the fruitfulness of the area before most other schools.
- UCLA - Are able to come in and get the guys that the big time programs aren't recruiting as hard. Usually will lose out to USC for the truly elite guys though.
12. Portland - Really does not produce that many elite athletes, or even Pac-12 level athletes, so it is not heavily recruited. However, I know that the Class of 2013 for the area is strong and should draw more attention for the region. Like Seattle, a lot of the area's talent comes from outside of the metro area in cities such as Lake Oswego and Beaverton.
- Oregon - If someone from the Portland area is Pac-12 worthy they rarely choose to go anywhere other than Oregon. Duck fans are very intense and don't look very well upon guys leaving, just ask Kevin Love.
- Oregon State - Honestly just kind of picks up Oregon's scraps of which there aren't usually many. Because of the lack of in-state talent and Oregon's dominance, Oregon State has to rely heavily on out of state recruiting.
- Cal - Have been impressive in coming into the state of Oregon in the last few years and stealing some guys from the Ducks. A very large testament to the recruiting ability of the Cal staff.