California, Texas remain top recruiting turf
The Rose Bowl should provide definitive evidence as to which famed football breeding ground is better, writes Pat Forde.
We've heard plenty about what's at stake in this Rose Bowl: threepeat immortality for USC; termination of a 35-year title famine for Texas; post-Heisman, settle-it-on-the-field bragging rights for Reggie Bush and Vince Young; final validation for Mack Brown; giant status for Pete Carroll; Lew Alcindor status for Matt Leinart; and so forth.
But there's another angle that hasn't gotten enough play. This game should provide definitive evidence as to which famed football breeding ground is better:
Texas or California?
Do the bigger studs wear cowboy boots or flip-flops? Do they talk like W. or Spicoli? Do their iPods play H-Town's Mike Jones or SoCal's The Game?
From El Paso to Texarkana, the Lone Star State is annually flush with players. From San Diego to the Bay Area, the same can be said of the Golden State. Only Florida can lay claim to producing a higher number of big-time players than these two holy lands of gridiron talent.
Tom Luginbill of Scouts Inc. does the recruiting rankings for ESPN.com. His latest rankings have 18 Texans in the national top 150. California, which he said is "down a little bit this year," has 15 in the top 150.
Florida leads the way with 27 -- but Florida also is a more Balkanized recruiting state. The Gators, Seminoles and Hurricanes are constantly battling one another, but that's hardly all. Out-of-state poachers come in from the SEC, ACC and Big East, and rising programs at South Florida and Central Florida are getting their share of the pie as well.
Certainly, some of the same is true in California and Texas. Those states support several instate Division I-A schools and all of the Pacific-10 and the Big 12, respectively. Thirty-five of the 59 players on the All-Big 12 first and second teams are from the state of Texas, and 41 of the 54 players on the All-Pac-10 first and second teams are from the state of California.
Look at the rosters for this game. The Longhorns have 105 Texans and just 12 from outside of the state. USC has 80 Californians and 22 imports.
The same ratio applies to the guys who do most of the playing. Only four Longhorns on the two-deep did not play prep football in Texas. Unless something strange happens, every player who touches the ball in the Rose Bowl for the Horns will be a Texan.
USC is more diverse, with 14 players on the two-deep from outside of California. But from Bush to Leinart and across both sides of the ball, this is still a Cal-bred team.
That won't change anytime soon for either program. Luginbill said that of the 25 commitments Texas has for 2006, 23 are instate players. For USC, seven of 10 commitments are Californians.
"When all is said and done, 90 percent of [USC's] class will be instate," Luginbill said.
As good as Carroll and Brown are at recruiting, it helps when you stumble over blue chippers every time you walk out your front door.
"We never want to lose guys from here," said USC offensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator Lane Kiffin. "Because if you lose them, you're going to end up playing against them."
Said Texas assistant recruiting coordinator Bobby Kennedy, in his second year in Austin: "We feel like we don't have to go a lot of places outside Texas. We can fill our needs in the state. From what I've heard from coach [Mack Brown], you look at Cedric Benson, Derrick Johnson, Vince Young, most of those guys only took one recruiting trip, and that's to the University of Texas. Because they've wanted to go here their whole life.
"We might go outside the state for one or two kids a year, but that's usually because they show an interest in us."
Both the Horns and Trojans share a similar philosophy with out-of-state players: Only go after the best.
"If they're going out of state and getting a guy, he's a player," Luginbill said. "He's not some clown they can get instate."
"Out of state, we look for first-round draft pick guys," Kiffin said. "Somebody who's incredibly good. They better be really, really good."
USC has had a great track record with that approach. Among the out-of-staters on this year's team are running back LenDale White (from Colorado) and Dwayne Jarrett (from New Jersey). In its past, the Trojans have raided Tampa (for receiver Mike Williams), Oregon (for safety Troy Polamalu), Colorado (for tackle Tony Boselli), Kansas (for quarterback Rodney Peete), Georgia (for linebacker Chip Banks), Missouri (for guard Brad Budde) and Illinois (for linebacker Clay Matthews).
Texas' forays out of state have been far more selective. But the Longhorns have found the occasional running back out there, from Jim Bertelsen to Eric Metcalf to the guy who won the 1998 Heisman Trophy, Ricky Williams -- from San Diego, a longtime USC stronghold. (All seven of the Trojans' Heisman winners are Californians.)
The vast majority of great players in the history of both schools are plucked from their backyards. So the question is: Whose backyard is better?
"A lot of people would argue Texas is better across the board, top to bottom, than California," Luginbill said. "But San Diego to just north of L.A., that 2½-hour drive, I don't know if you're going to find a more heavily populated area for prospects."
"Texas, per capita, is better," said USC's Kiffin. "You can find more players in a school or a town. California is more spread out."
"From what everyone tells me, the enthusiasm and support is way more than in L.A., " said Eric Sondheimer, longtime prep sports writer for the Los Angeles Times. "And some people in L.A. think it's too much here. But I think there's no comparison. There's just too much going on in Southern California. It's an urban area with more entertainment options."
During the fall, high school football is the entertainment option in many Texas towns. Put it this way: They aren't writing books and making movies about high school football in California.
"It's something that starts when you're a little kid," said Todd Wills, who covers football recruiting for the Dallas Morning News. "It's very emotional, from the time you enter elementary school. From that time on, you start dreaming of playing for your area high school.
"All kids play football growing up in Texas. It's a religion. It truly is."
Like most religions, Texas football attracts its share of zealots. There certainly is little doubt which state takes more outward pride in its football.
"Growing up, I've always been a believer that real football is played in Texas," said Horns wide receiver Billy Pittman, a native of Cameron, Texas.
Kennedy recruited in California when he was an assistant at Washington and Arizona. He's done his fair share of time in high school stadiums in both states, and he sees a difference in fan following.
"Both states take their football really seriously," he said. "But here in Texas, it's really a way of life. They just rally around their high school football team in so many communities. It's really an impressive thing."
The stories of huge high school stadiums are part of Texas football lore, but sometimes they even outgrow those facilities. Playoff games have been moved to Texas Stadium, Reliant Stadium, the Astrodome and the Alamodome to accommodate the crowds, and more than 49,000 fans once attended the state title game in Texas Stadium.
But even if the passion has always run hotter in Texas than California, the style of play lagged behind for a time. As the game evolved offensively, California was on the cutting edge.
"The weather is a big plus in Southern California," Sondheimer said. "Summer is great for developing all the skill position players, with all those passing tournaments.
"California kids tend to be advanced in the passing game. All these kids are brought up in the passing scheme. A lot of schools are running the spread offense and passing the ball."
Now Texas is catching up.
"This used to be a wishbone state, a veer state and a wing T state," Wills said. "Now you're seeing a lot more quarterbacks coming out of here than in the past. The spread has become really big."
Indeed, this year Luginbill has more quarterbacks in his prospect database from Texas (126) than California (91), and grades more Texas QBs as potential high-impact college players.
But those players aren't part of this week's debate in Pasadena. Texas and USC will take the field and decide a national championship -- and the question about which state produces the best football players.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.