LOS ANGELES — It’s been 13 months since USC and UCLA stunned the college football world and announced their intention to leave the Pac-12 and join the Big Ten in 2024.
That move was spurred by Texas and Oklahoma’s decision to leave the Big 12 for the SEC a year earlier and has sparked the latest round of realignment.
The Pac-12 is on its deathbed. Colorado has already left the conference to return to the Big 12. Arizona and Arizona State might join the Buffaloes soon. And the Big Ten is already exploring the possibility of adding Oregon and Washington to expand its West Coast offerings beyond Los Angeles.
There’s been some question about how USC would feel about the Big Ten adding Oregon. Speculation on social media and elsewhere is that USC opposed the addition of Oregon when it decided to join the league.
While it’s unlikely USC would roll out a welcome mat for Oregon if/when it joins the Big Ten, sources who were involved in the process told The Athletic that it wasn’t really a significant topic of conversation with the Big Ten when USC decided to join the league.
Now, did USC value a competitive advantage against its fiercest recruiting rival? Absolutely. The Trojans would have benefitted from playing on a grand stage in the Big Ten, one of the sport’s two super conferences, while the Ducks remained in some watered-down version of the Pac-12.
That was mostly viewed as an added benefit to joining the Big Ten, along with the obvious ones such as more television revenue, better time slots for games and more high-profile conference matchups. But it’s not as though demands were made or that it was something that was discussed much with the Big Ten.
And the addition of Oregon (and Washington) to the Big Ten has always seemed like an inevitability anyway. The surprise is it’s happening this soon.
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Oregon’s brand is well-established now. The Ducks started to create a presence in Southern California more than 20 years ago, and they certainly possess a significant one in the region now, much to the chagrin of the USC fan base.
In the 2023 recruiting cycle, Oregon signed three of Southern California’s top recruits: four-star defensive lineman Matayo Uiagalelei and four-star corners Rodrick Pleasant and Daylen Austin.
Lincoln Riley took over USC in late November 2021, and Dan Lanning landed at Oregon a few weeks later. The two coaching staffs have gone head-to-head in several high-profile recruiting battles since.
Oregon beat out USC for Uiagalelei and Pleasant, and the Ducks pulled off a late surprise when they edged the Trojans for five-star offensive lineman Josh Conerly Jr. during the 2022 recruiting cycle.
USC recently won a battle against Oregon for Class of 2024 four-star receiver Ryan Pellum, and the two programs are competing for top-100 cornerback Dakoda Fields, who is currently committed to the Trojans but just took a visit to Eugene last weekend.
— Ryan Pellum (@ryan_pellum) June 29, 2023
No school in the Pac-12 has benefited more from USC’s down times than the Ducks, whether that was in the early-2000s before Pete Carroll got things going in Los Angeles or in the 2010s when USC’s program was rattled by sanctions and later couldn’t get out of its own way.
That came to a head in the 2019 and 2020 recruiting cycles. In the Class of 2019, the Ducks went into SoCal and signed five-star defensive lineman Kayvon Thibodeaux, who was the No. 2 prospect in the country and didn’t even really consider the Trojans. Thibodeaux won two Pac-12 titles while at Oregon and was named the MVP of the Ducks’ 2020 Pac-12 title game win over USC.
In the 2020 cycle, Oregon signed five-star linebacker Justin Flowe, who was the No. 6 player in the country. Flowe didn’t make a significant impact at Oregon and has since transferred to Arizona, but his decision to sign with the Ducks was a massive symbolic loss for a USC program that was struggling mightily to keep Southern California’s best players home.
Riley has USC headed in the right direction and has done a good job getting the program’s recruiting back in order, but Oregon still remains a thorn in the Trojans’ side as a result of some of those aforementioned battles.
So even though there was the possibility of USC leaving Oregon behind, it would’ve been difficult to keep the Ducks completely out of the Southern California recruiting landscape. Oregon has recruited the region well over two decades and under several different head coaches.
And now it appears increasingly likely that the recruiting battles between the two programs will move from one conference to another.
(Photo of Kayvon Thibodeaux: Jordon Kelly / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)