As Ohio State and USC prepare to face off this weekend, they boast rosters with plenty of home-grown talent. The official roster for the Trojans lists 85 Californians, while 80 Ohioans suit up for the Buckeyes. The crossover between the two national powers is small, however: just one player from each state has defected and played for the other.
For USC, that player is walk-on punter Billy O'Malley, an alumnus of Cleveland St. Ignatius. For the Buckeyes, wide receiver Grant Schwartz from Dana Hills is the lone Californian – and for that, thank his father Brian, who played for the Buckeyes from 1976-79.
Although both schools recruit the top talent in the nation regardless of location, OSU head coach Jim Tressel had a reason why the state of California is so difficult for the Buckeyes to recruit.
"For us, it's a long way," he said. "If you get on a plane, you're passing over a whole bunch of schools that are very, very good and that's real."
Distance has not stopped the Buckeyes from actively recruiting Florida, however. Eight players from the Sunshine State currently call Columbus home compared to just two for the Trojans.
"Florida's much closer," Tressel said. "It is significantly closer and (there's) less schools in Florida. I mean, that whole state of California is chuck-full of Pac-10 schools, and Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State are right there too. When you recruit California, you've got to fly over a bunch of good schools, and that's not easy."
That does not mean that the Buckeyes and the Trojans rarely butt heads when it comes to recruiting. Sophomore tight end Blake Ayles, junior center Kristofer O'Dowd and junior wide receiver Ronald Johnson, all had scholarship offers from OSU and considered becoming Buckeyes. The same went for John Martinez, although he never landed a scholarship offer from OSU.
In contrast, USC recruited OSU's Ray Small, Rob Rose and Terrelle Pryor. Small took an official visit to check out the Trojans and drew attention to himself before the teams faced off last season by saying the difference between the two programs was "more of a class thing," adding that the OSU program possesses more of it than USC.
The Buckeyes landed linebacker Mark Johnson from the Los Angeles area for their class of 2006, but he transferred out of the program during the 2008 season. In addition, they brought in junior-college linebacker Larry Grant from San Francisco that same season.
OSU hosted Ayles, Johnson and Martinez on campus, while a planned official visit for O'Dowd was canceled by the coaching staff.
The differences between the approaches of Tressel and Carroll have been well-documented. While the former is generally more conservative than his western counterpart, their success on the field has been comparable. Both were hired before the 2001 season: Carroll has gone 89-15, Tressel 84-19. Together, they have played in a combined 13 BCS bowl games during that time period.
A number of current Buckeyes pointed to the relationships established with the OSU coaching staff as the reason they ultimately opted to become Buckeyes. When junior defensive lineman Cameron Heyward issued a verbal commitment to the program after his senior season at Suwanee (Ga.) Peachtree Ridge, the Buckeyes were less than one month removed from an embarrassing loss to Florida in the BCS National Championship Game.
That did not deter him from signing up to play for Tressel.
"They said the whole SEC is better than the big Ten, but I didn't look at that," Heyward said. "You've got to look at what's in there. Tress is a great man and he's not just worried about football, he's worried about the whole package. It just felt like a family here."
In landing O'Malley, Carroll said he was pleased the former Buckeye has earned the starting job while downplaying the distance between school and home for the punter.
"It is a great accomplishment," Carroll said. "I don't think it has anything to do with how far away you come from, because we don't care about that. Billy did a great job competing … to win this job. He's done a nice job and it's a great accomplishment for him."
If distance is indeed the factor that Tressel and others have made it out to be, the battle this weekend will truly be a case of Ohio vs. California.
Asked why he picked the Buckeyes, senior cornerback Andre Amos – a native of Middletown, Ohio, who picked OSU over Purdue and Michigan – said, "I'm an Ohio guy. I know my family can always hop on the highway and be here in an hour, so that played a part."