The genesis of the exodus is difficult to pinpoint.
For decades, the top football recruits on the west coast have been leaving the Pac-12 footprint for greener pastures.
In 2000, Concord De La Salle mega-prospect D.J. Williams bolted for Miami.
In 2004, a four-star defensive tackle from Portland named Ndamukong Suh opted to spend his college career in Lincoln, Neb.
The following year, a five-star tailback from Las Vegas shunned his west coast suitors in favor of Oklahoma. That decision proved prudent for DeMarco Murray.
But all those years, the attrition was far more trickle that tidal: The vast majority of elite prospects stayed west of the Rockies.
USC was the program of choice.
Two thousand miles felt like, well, two thousand miles.
And the competitive advantages held by the Big Ten and SEC — for postseason hardware and NFL Draft position — seemed limited.
Lately, however, the best players in the west are leaving the region with the frequency of Najee Harris touchdown runs.
In the span of two recruiting cycles (2016-17), Alabama grabbed three elite prospects from the Pac-12 recruiting footprint in Jonah Williams, Tua Tagovailoa and Harris.
In 2019, half of the top-10 players in California signed with programs outside the Pac-12.
In the 2020 cycle, which concluded two weeks ago, six of the top-eight prospects in the conference footprint — and five of the top six in Arizona alone — opted for programs in other Power Five conferences.
The Hotline has pondered the issue for the better part of 21 months, since the wave first became visible.
Best we can tell, there isn’t a single answer.
The proliferation of social media undoubtedly has played a role. FaceTime, in particular, makes third-and-long distance feel like second-and-short for parents and sons separated by multiple time zones.
The Pac-12’s competitive backslide — the sporadic churn of elite teams — has prompted the top talents to view blue bloods elsewhere as the quickest path to the College Football Playoff and NFL draft.
And don’t discount the sheer effort put forth by marauders in the SEC, Big 12, ACC and Big Ten, which are committing unprecedented resources to draining a Pac-12 talent pool that extends from southern Orange County to Riverside County to the High Desert to the western edge of the San Fernando Valley.
“This is easily the most aggressive out-of-region schools have been in recruiting Southern California,” said Greg Biggins, a west coast recruiting analyst for 247sports.
“They see that USC and UCLA are down, and it’s like a feeding frenzy.
“Players have no problem leaving home if they think they can play on the big stage and develop and get drafted high. They think they have a better chance of that at Alabama, LSU and Ohio State then they do by staying in the west.”
In the 2020 cycle, the attrition hit the Pac-12 where it hurts the most, at the position of greatest value.
The top-three quarterback recruits in the nation were from Southern California, and all three left the region:
Bryce Young (Mater Dei) backed off a commitment to USC and signed with Alabama; DJ Uiagalelei (St. John Bosco) opted for Clemson; and CJ Stroud (Rancho Cucamonga) signed with Ohio State.
Which brings us to the 2021 recruiting cycle, and the storyline that will frame the Pac-12’s recruiting success (or failure) over the next 11+ months:
Will the exodus reverse, stabilize or accelerate?
It’s far too early to sketch the end-game, but we see no evidence that a full-force reversal is at hand …
Top-10 recruits in California, per 247sports composite (listed by national ranking)
1. DE Korey Foreman (Corona): Clemson commit
20. QB Jake Garcia (La Habra): USC commit
21. WR Troy Franklin (Menlo Park): No favorite
22. OLB Raesjon Davis (Santa Ana): LSU commit
30. QB Tyler Buchner (La Jolla): Notre Dame commit
51. QB Miller Moss (Mission Hills): No favorite
59. WR Beaux Collins (Bellflower): Clemson commit
71. TE Brock Bowers (Napa): No favorite
72. OLB Ma’a Gaoteote (Bellflower) USC commit
93. ATH Ethan Calvert (Westlake Village): Washington favored
Top-10 prospects in the Pac-12 footprint, per 247 composite (listed by national ranking; California excluded)
4. DT J.T. Tuimoloau (Seattle): No favorite
9. ATH Emeka Egbuka (Tacoma): Washington lean
12. QB Sam Huard (Seattle): Washington commit
70. OT Kingsley Suamataia (Orem, UT): Oregon commit
87. DE Quintin Somerville (Scottsdale): Oklahoma favorite
97. ATH Julien Simon (Tacoma): No favorite
105. ILB Keith Brown (Lebanon, OR): Oregon commit
126. OT Bram Walden (Scottsdale): No favorite
144. TE Moliki Matavao (Henderson, NV): Washington favored
162. QB Jake Rubley (Littleton, CO): Kansas State commit
It’s early, commitments become de-commitments and so much has yet to play out.
But at best, the early indications suggest stabilization, not reversal — and the Pac-12 needs a reversal.
Asked what he’s watching closely — who he’s watching closely — Biggins went immediately to a quarterback: To Miller Moss, the four-star Pro Style passer from Bishop Alemany in the San Fernando Valley.
The 247sports forecast lists no leader.
Moss’ interest level is currently rated ‘warm’ for Cal, Miami, Northwestern, UCLA and Stanford.
“He is a must-have for (the Pac-12) schools,” Biggins said. “He’s a pretty important recruit for the conference.
“You already have Korey Foreman, the No. 1 recruit in the nation, going to Clemson. The No. 1 outside linebacker, Davis, goes to Mater Dei and is committed to LSU. Another kid, (receiver) Beaux Collins, from Bosco, is also going to Clemson.
“That makes guys like Miller Moss and Ethan Calvert so important. The Pac-12 schools don’t want to see more of the same and have a lot of the top guys leave.”
The early-signing period is 300 days away — a long time to keep the marauders at bey.