Welcome to the Wild, Wild West, where nobody knows what's happening next
LOS ANGELES — When Blair Angulo woke up last Thursday morning, little did he know his entire world was going to change.
Or, at least, his region.
The West Region Recruiting Analyst for 247 Sports and co-host of the 247 Sports Recruiting Podcast, Angulo blankets the area like a shutdown corner. If there are rumblings out west, he and fellow analysts Brandon Huffman and Greg Biggins often hear it first.
So, soon after news first broke of UCLA and USC’s defection from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten–the biggest tectonic shift in college football since the advent of the forward pass, or at least this century–Angulo was on the horn with assistant coaches throughout the region.
The common feelings? Fear. Uneasiness. Doubt.
As one Power 5 assistant coach told him, “(We) need to figure our stuff out or we’re going to be extinct.”
Welcome to College Football Monopoly 2022, the Haves and the Have Nots, where even the steadiest of coaches are fretting the future.
The Big Ten is expected to sign a media rights deal that could fetch nine figures. I didn’t even know figures went that high. When all is said and done, there might just be one super conference to rule them all. It’ll be like the Death Star, only with Kirk Herbstreit at the helm.
“A lot of the coaches are stunned to a degree,” Angulo said. “How hard are these schools going to push for younger players? How will this affect some recruits who are committed right now? I was fine going to Cal and Stanford, but now I might not even play Power Five football? How hard is it going to be recruiting a player knowing you can’t promise Power Five football? You used to say you get to play UCLA and USC once a year, got to play at Oregon and Washington. These coaches will start to jostle for position, too. We’re going to see the coaching carousel turn into an even greater thing now.”
Oh. Perfect. BREAKING NEWS: Lincoln Riley to Alabama, Nick Saban to the Packers, Mike Leach to the moon. Get ready for it.
“Everyone is in wait-and-see mode for when the next shoe will drop,” Angulo said. “Do Washington and Oregon join (UCLA and USC)? Does the Big 12 raid the Pac-12? Everyone is still digesting that UCLA and USC will be in the Big Ten.”
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Slightly up the road from Angulo’s home in Orange County, Joe Smigiel is still shaking his head.
If anyone is impacted by the new Wild, Wild West, Smigiel might be feeling it in the most interesting ways.
The first-year head coach at Newbury Park High School, his alma mater, situated less than an hour away from UCLA without traffic–and about six hours and 42 minutes away with traffic–Smigiel is a former Pac-12 player and assistant coach himself. In the early 1990s, he starred on the offensive line for the Arizona Wildcats before returning to Tucson to coach for the Cats, as well.
Newbury Park has quite the Pac-12 lineage when it comes to quarterbacks, too. Wayne Cook at UCLA and Keith Smith at Arizona back in the day. And, currently, maybe the best quarterback in the league in Utah’s Cameron Rising.
Now there’s another prodigious Panther passer rising through the ranks: incoming freshman Brady Smigiel.
That’s Joe’s kid.
He was on the cover of The Los Angeles Times last week. He hasn’t even laced ’em up for his pops yet. Hasn’t been tackled, at least. But all indications are that he and his twin brother, Beau, are going to be studs for the Panthers.
So Joe Smigiel is feeling football’s frenetic chaos in a few different ways.
As a former Pac-12 player, as the head coach of players with Pac-12 ambitions, and as the father of twins whose aspirations may even be loftier.
“It really sucks,” he said. “But you saw it coming. The fact I had DirecTV and couldn’t get the Pac-12 Network all these years was a complete joke. The complete mishandling of that was the demise of our conference. We can’t compete with that money. They’re getting better coaching, facilities, everything you can imagine. These super conferences–the Big Ten will sign like a billion-dollar deal. A hundred million a year, each. You can’t compete with that. And you can’t blame them.
“All’s fair in love and money and war.”
Where this leaves his sons and players like them is going to be the biggest question.
“We’ve seen an exodus of the top players in California and the West Coast leaving the region for greener pastures of the SEC, the Big Ten, the ACC,” Angulo said. “This deal makes it possible for some of these players to live in L.A. while also competing at the highest level. No longer do they have to leave the western footprint to have a shot at the College Football Playoff. This will allow UCLA and USC to recruit a bit more aggressively within its state, but also allows them to go to Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania – why stay out there when you can play your games out here anyway?”
Also fascinating to follow: What happens when USC—and even UCLA—can once again recruit with the big dogs?
Trojans fans still reeling from the Clay Helton era may have forgotten the days of Pete Carroll and Co., when the swaggy USC coaching staff could waltz into any living room in the country and pluck stars out of the sky like an ancient Greek (… or Trojan) god. Bruins fans, as well, may have forgotten the halcyon days of Rick Neuheisel and the early years of Jim Mora, when UCLA was a beast on the recruiting trail, as well.
With the two L.A. teams snagging their fair share of 4- and 5-stars, even the conference’s other premier destinations had to fend for 4- and 3-stars, themselves. With UCLA and USC down the past half-decade, they were forced to settle for good prospects instead of great ones, leaving the Arizonas of the world fending for scraps.
Now all of that is out the window. It’s a brand new day. A brand new world.
And for Angulo, a brand new region.