Q&A: UCLA-USC Recruiting Rivalry

The battle between USC and UCLA has intensified ever since Rick Neuheisel returned to Westwood. BruinReportOnline.com's Tracy Pierson and SCPlaybook's Kevin Carden give us the recruiting lowdown between the two rivals.

Q: Rick Neuheisel came to UCLA with much fanfare, as the school declared that USC's dominance of Los Angeles was over. How has he done so far with his first full recruiting class?

Pierson: Given that UCLA went 4-8 this season, he's doing pretty well so far in recruiting the class of 2009. He's recognized that an immediate injection of players who can play at the Pac-10 level was needed, so he's gone out and gotten commitments from four JC recruits, which is highly unusual for UCLA. Usually, the UCLA football program won't even look at JCs because UCLA's higher academic requirements exclude most most of them, but Neuheisel found a way to recruit them. Not all of them are necessarily impact players, but they're guys who will be able to immediately compete physically, which is something high school prospects can't generally do in their first year. And Neuheisel recognizes that he's lacking enough players on his roster to generate competition, which is a huge factor in improvement.

Neuheisel also recognized that he needed his quarterback of the future, and he got him in Richard Brehaut, a very talented kid from Rancho Cucamonga. He recognized he needs to upgrade his trenchmen, so he's been targeting linemen -- both JC and from high school.

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And while USC has thoroughly dominated recruiting in recent years, and UCLA's claim that "the monopoly is over" was far premature, Neuheisel did score a major coup in the UCLA/USC recruiting war in taking the #1 tight end in the nation, Morrell Presley, away from USC. USC has dominated the recruiting war for years, but this is one battle that UCLA won. If he can possibly steal a couple more recruits who are currently committed to USC, which he's trying to do, then we maybe can start talking about UCLA chipping away at the monopoly.

Carden: Rick Neuheisel has done a solid job with his first recruiting class, securing the verbal commitments of quality recruits like Presley, Stan Hasiak and Brehaut, among others. Those players will provide the Bruins with a strong foundation for the future. With that said, I don't think it really has had a major impact on USC's recruiting class because the Trojans are still the dominant recruiting force in the Pac-10 and will bring in one of the top classes in the nation this year headlined by players like Matt Barkley and T.J. McDonald.

Q: Neuheisel also comes with a lot of baggage -- there were recruiting violations at Colorado and Washington, his previous stops. Has that followed him to UCLA and impacted his recruiting?

Pierson: The "baggage," in my opinion, today is overblown, something the conventional media uses as a reference when writing about Neuheisel because they don't really know much, and that's the only reason it follows him in any way. It has absolutely no impact on recruiting, except maybe to make Neuheisel more conscientious about it.

Carden: I think the recruiting issues that he had at Colorado and Washington will always be something that fans of other schools and the media will bring up in regards to Neuheisel, but I haven't seen any evidence that it has affected him with current recruits and their families.

Q: Has Pete Carroll and USC been affected by Neuheisel's return to his alma mater?

Carden: It's hard to measure the impact that Neuheisel has had on Pete Carroll and USC because they have so much ground to make up in Westwood. I think it will be very interesting to see how much progress the Bruins can make on the field in year two. That's really when Carroll was able to resurrect the USC program. One thing that we have seen surface lately is that Neuheisel's return has brought some much needed passion back to the crosstown rivalry, which was really lacking when Karl Dorrell was the head coach.

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Q: There have been verbal jabs between the two schools, each accusing the other of dirty recruiting. Any validity to these claims?

Pierson: I think it all got started as an Internet rumor -- that Ken Norton Jr., USC's linebacker coach, would be a candidate for the UCLA defensive coordinator job if it opened up. In fact, Bruin Report Online was the first to make that possibility public. From there, it had reverberations. Recruits probably asked Norton about the possibility, and that probably prompted USC to say something public about it. I think it's a huge stretch for USC to say that UCLA coaches were telling recruits that Norton would be UCLA's next DC. But I think it was a calculated ploy by Carroll, and I think Neuheisel's statement in response was just as calculated.

No matter the issue, the significance of the incident is that USC in the past wouldn't have even bothered to worry about UCLA in recruiting. I think it signifies that USC, after the commitment switch of Morrell Presley, might be worried -- or maybe just a little irritated -- about UCLA now, which is far more than it's been in years.

I think it's a great thing to have happened. The rivalry needs a fire lit underneath it. For many years it hasn't been a rivalry, really, but just USC dominance.

Carden: I can't comment on the validity of the claims, but like Pete Carroll said when you have two major universities in such a close proximity, competing for the same recruits, there are naturally going to be some issues that surface. This won't be the last time that issues arise in recruiting.

[As for the Norton situation], I haven't confirmed if UCLA was indeed saying that or not, but I will say that Ken Norton Jr. isn't the type of guy who would go to the press with those accusations unless he felt very strongly about it.

Q: The recruiting of Morrell Presley, the nation's No. 1 tight end who switched his commitment from USC to UCLA, was especially acrimonious. What was the point of view from each school?

Pierson: UCLA's point of view is pretty straight-forward. Presley is a truly elite prospect, one of the guys who gets the classification of "freak" because of his potential. They were elated when he decided to switch, and it's motivated them more to pursue other USC-committed players and hope a domino effect ensues.

Carden: I think Morrell Presley switching his commitment from USC to UCLA was definitely a surprise, and a key addition to UCLA's class. What people need to remember is Presley is a good kid who made the decision that he felt was best for him and his future. One thing that sometimes gets lost in all the excitement that surrounds recruiting is that these are teenagers who are making one of the most important decisions of their lives.

Q: Currently, USC is No. 7 in Scout.com's recruiting rankings. UCLA is at No. 19. Do you see any movement one way or the other by singing day?

Pierson: I think both schools will continue to move up the rankings. I expect both to finish strongly by signing day. USC will do like it's done in the past, finish off the recruiting season by getting commitments from a wave of elite prospects. UCLA will probably also get more commitments from some highly-ranked guys, and I would suspect that some of the players they already have committed, like Brehaut, could move up the rankings, which will enhance UCLA's class rankings. I'd guess that USC will easily end up top 5 in the nation, and UCLA probably top 20.

Carden: Both schools have a good chance to move up in the rankings by signing day. Right now, USC has the seventh ranked class by Scout.com with 17 commitments, which is the smallest number of commits of any school in the top 10. That shows that USC's recruiting class is filled with high quality prospects (8 in the top 100). Pete Carroll has always been a strong closer, and USC is still in the mix for some of the top uncommitted players across the country like Scout's top-rated defensive end Devon Kennard, so they will bring in another tremendous class. I think UCLA also has some good momentum heading towards signing day and will finish with a top 20 class.

Tracy Pierson is the publisher of BruinReportOnline.com; Kevin Carden is the publisher of SCPlaybook.com.

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