Will UCLA and USC joining the Big Ten help recruiting?

Keeanu Benton has been devouring In-N-Out burgers, strolling along Santa Monica beach and enjoying a visit to Little Ethiopia.

“Who doesn’t want to go to Cali?” said the Wisconsin nose tackle with a laugh on Wednesday.

In the years to come, UCLA and USC will enjoy some natural advantages in pursuing high school prospects from Big Ten territory. The beaches. The weather. The (animal) kitchen.

Those pluses are bolstered by the Bruins and Trojans, who play a handful of games each season in the Midwest and East Coast once they join the Big Ten in 2024. Players who grew up on farmland in Illinois can be within a few hours’ drive of their home once or twice a season while playing college in Southern California, so their families can see them play in person.

“They’re going to try to come in and poach players from our area, our neck of the woods,” Barry Alvarez, the former longtime Wisconsin coach who now serves as the special soccer advisor for the Big Ten, said of UCLA and USC during the Big Ten Media Days at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The opposite also applies. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, whose roster includes eight California Natives — not to mention transfer punter Luke Akers, who spent two seasons at UCLA after growing up in Tennessee — sees the opportunity for more Californian dreams.

“Absolutely, it will help,” Fitzgerald said, noting the availability of low-cost flights between Chicago and Los Angeles, which would allow Southern California families to see their sons at conference games without taking out a second mortgage on their home.

While his next class of recruits is largely set, Illinois coach Bret Bielema said he foresees his recruiting moving more heavily into California — where star quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs are sprouting like citrus fruits — beginning with the class of 2024.

UCLA’s move to the Big Ten will turn longtime friends into rivals. Ohio State coach Ryan Day said he was on the 16th hole of a New Hampshire golf course with Chip Kelly when Nebraska coach Scott Frost, a mutual friend, called to break the news that UCLA and USC would join the Big Ten.

“About halfway through that hole, we found out we were at the same conference together,” Day said, “and we had a good laugh about it.”

The giggles might stop once the coaches start competing for the same stellar wide receivers from Southern California and top offensive linemen from the corn-fed Midwestern states.

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald speaks to reporters during the Big Ten Conference media days.

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald speaks to reporters during the Big Ten Conference media days at Lucas Oil Stadium Tuesday in Indianapolis.

(Darron Cummings/Associated Press)

Fitzgerald probably knows the California landscape as well as any of his Big Ten rivals, having overseen areas stretching from the San Fernando Valley to San Luis Obispo, across Fresno and down through Bakersfield and Palmdale, as a linebacker and Special teams coach was in Idaho.

“I have a pretty good understanding of The Valley – the Tom Petty song [“Free Fallin’ ”] nonetheless,” Fitzgerald snapped.

As with anything else, location matters when recruits weigh their options.

“When you’re picking your second home,” said Ji’Ayir Brown, a Penn State University security guard who hails from New Jersey, “I personally didn’t want to be too far from my first home, so that played a role [big role] in my recruitment process, but everyone is different. Some people prefer to be away from home, others prefer to stay close to home, so I guess it depends on what kind of kids you have.”

So think of Nittany Lion teammate PJ Mustipher as the ultimate couch potato.

“No West Coast teams,” said the defensive tackle from Owings Mills, Md. “I didn’t want to go to the West Coast — I’m an East Coast boy, man. That’s too far for me. I’m not leaving my mom. I thought I wanted to be away from my mum and dad and I’m only 2½ years old [hours] and that’s kind of too far some days, but no, I’m not [doing it]. Who wants to go to the west coast when you come from the east coast?”

Benton, who once thought he’d become a carpenter or electrician after high school because he didn’t get any scholarship offers until the end of his junior year, has perhaps the best advice for any applicant hoping for prospects: Show commitment early.

“Wisconsin was the first thing that tried me, and this is where I really wanted to go,” Benton said, “so it really wasn’t an option.”

https://www.latimes.com/sports/ucla/story/2022-07-28/ucla-usc-big-ten-recruiting Will UCLA and USC joining the Big Ten help recruiting?

Emma Bowman

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