We’ve seen the vacuum, and there’s nothing good about it for USC and UCLA.

They struggle, everyone gains.

Specifically, everyone rolls into Los Angeles — and south to San Diego and north to the San Francisco suburbs — and takes advantage of the recruiting void left by 2 bluebloods spinning their collective wheels.

They gain, USC and UCLA continue to lose.

Until now.

Until Lincoln Riley got his hands on the USC program.

Until Chip Kelly has finally begun to turn around the UCLA program.

“Now people can see the direction,” Riley said in December after the early National Signing Day, his 2nd high school recruiting class at USC. “It’s not all just hype.”

The next step: moving forward in the Big Ten — and how it can not only strengthen both programs in their geographic footprint and as national recruiting programs but keep the wolves from poaching.

In the 1990s, Colorado and Nebraska got well and won national titles when USC and UCLA were down. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Miami got well (again) with some key additions.

When Pete Carroll left USC for the NFL after the 2009 season, Nick Saban and Alabama swooped in. So did Oregon and Kelly. About a decade later, after Clay Helton eventually lost control of the program, Alabama, Georgia, Oregon and Clemson (among others) made big moves.

The names from the USC and UCLA geographic recruiting footprint over the past 5-year span (a typical complete recruiting evaluation) and their accomplishments are staggering: Bryce Young, Najee Harris, CJ Stroud, Kayvon Thibodeaux, Brock Bowers, Henry To’o To’o, DJ Uiagalelei, Clark Phillips III, Jonah Williams, Kendall Milton, Xavier Worthy … should we continue?

This is what happens when there’s a void at USC and UCLA, and it’s not unlike what has happened in the state of Florida over the past decade with the significant regression of Florida, Florida State and Miami. Someone — some programs — always fills the vacuum.

The difference between USC and UCLA is conference alignment. The Trojans and Bruins just wrapped up their last recruiting classes as members of the mortally wounded Pac-12.

It’s not just the staggering monetary difference between the conferences or the ability to support players unlike anything USC and UCLA players have seen in the past (when you go from $30 million in annual revenue to more than double that number, player support grows exponentially).

It’s the lack of prominent games every week and the ability to build a program that can consistently reach the biggest games of the year (the Playoff). Even with the strength of the USC brand (and the relatively similar pull of UCLA), the Trojans couldn’t keep elite difference-makers in the state from leaving.

Fast-forward to the past 2 classes: USC landed the best player in the state (cornerback Domani Jackson) in 2022 and got another 247Sports composite top-100 player (running back Raleek Brown) — but still landed only 3 of 34 blue-chip recruits in the state. The Trojans got 4 of the top 14 in 2023 and 5 of the 33 blue chips.

UCLA, meanwhile, landed 4 of 34 blue chips in 2022 and only 1 of 33 in 2023. The math doesn’t look good — and that’s why the move to the Big Ten in 2024 is so crucial to the future health of the programs.

USC and UCLA, in the past 2 recruiting classes, combined to land just 13 of the 67 blue chips in the state of California. That’s dangerously unhealthy for both programs, who lived off the transfer portal in 2022 and hit it hard again in 2023.

At some point, both must turn around the fortunes of recruiting elite high school players in the state. That’s where the move to the Big Ten enters the equation.

It’s bigger games and more attractive games, even if every road game will be a minimum of 1,498 miles of travel (Los Angeles to Lincoln, Nebraska, the western-most Big Ten school) and a maximum of 2,752 miles (Piscataway, New Jersey).

It’s growing a brand not only in the state of California but using that brand to recruit the fertile Big Ten Conference states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. It’s selling playing in the biggest and only national conference in college football, about as close to playing in the NFL as it gets.

In a perfect world, the move to the Big Ten not only allows USC and UCLA to keep Alabama and Georgia and Clemson and Oklahoma from poaching the elite talent from the state of California, it makes the Big Ten stronger and here’s the key — the SEC weaker — in the process.

“There’s proof right now,” Riley said. “There’s some real proof of concept.”

Whatever eliminates the vacuum — and elevates USC and UCLA again.