For ASU, figuring out where to harvest football talent that will allow them to compete at an elite level has been a difficult task. ASU's history in the Pac-10 shows an almost schizophrenic change of regional emphasis -- even more often than the seven head coaches who have occupied the head coaching position for the program.
When ASU has been most successful -- the two Rose Bowl years in 1986 and 1996 -- it has been predominantly California based, supported by strong Arizona recruits and/or strong juco personnel.
The 1986 starting 22 featured: 14 from California, 7 from Arizona, and one from Michigan. What's startling was the lack of a single junior college transfer among the starters, but this was based on the strength of the early 80s classes Darryl Rogers' staff brought in. If I recall correctly, ASU landed what was regarded by some to be the No. 1 prep class in the country in 1982, highlighted by a dominance of San Diego and strong showings around the rest of California.
The 1996 starting 22 featured: 12 from California, 5 from Arizona, 4 from nearby western states such as Nevada, Texas, and Idaho, and 1 straggler (Eazy Pat Thompson from Louisiana). This squad was scrambled from a lot of different parts, and included four juco transfers -- all on defense.
In my opinion, based on the history of the program in the Pac-10, this is what I think we should have learned:
- You have to own your backyard. That doesn't mean you take anyone from Arizona with a few accolades, but you definitely can't let five kids from the West Valley sign with Nebraska, and perhaps two of the most lauded Arizona recruits ever sign with USC. That wasn't the current staff's fault, but it's something they have to address immediately.
- You have to go head-to-head in California, and you can't turn your head to the east before you've got a solid footing. Before Oregon and Washington began raiding the state, ASU had a strong presence in Southern California, particularly in the early 80s with Darryl Rogers excellent recruiting staff. That staff recruited what was essentially the majority of the 1987 Rose Bowl team. Now it means fighting off a seemingly insurmountable USC presence, in addition to strong recruiting staffs for UCLA, Oregon, Cal, and Washington. Oregon State is gaining ground, too. Less to go around? Maybe, maybe not. But you have to win battles there if you expect to finish in the upper tier of the Pac-10. (See the Koetter era)
- Texas is probably a mirage. Sure, it looks beautiful there with such an enormous state and loads of talent. But Texas already feeds all the numerous in-state schools as well as all the best programs in the Big 12 and Big 10. SEC schools have been known to successfully cherry pick there, too. ASU probably has to have a presence in Dallas and Houston, but they can't devote California resources to Texas (see the Marmie years). You probably treat west Texas like you treat New Mexico -- you only go there when there's probable cause.
- You can fill a few mistakes with the right jucos, but you can't make mistakes in your juco evaluations, and it cannot replace strong recruiting in both California and Arizona. If either Cali or Arizona falters in two or more classes, no amount of juco help can be found to fill the holes. (See the late Snyder years)
- The desert appeals to older folk. It's a more difficult sell to younger kids, even those in ice-and-snow country in the Midwest. We have a different culture, and we're still in a big city. And, of course, it's very hot here into October. You talk to the kids in places like Illinois, Ohio, Florida, and Louisiana, but you don't pull people off bread-and-butter recruiting regions to do it. You take your best shots at the kids who seem sincerely interested and leave the rest alone. (See both the late Marmie and Snyder years).