LOS ANGELES — The Rose Bowl Game, that quintessential Southern California event and tradition dating back to 1902, features local flair at quarterback despite hosting no local teams.
Both Ohio State and Utah turn their offenses over to quarterbacks from Southern California: the Buckeyes to C.J. Stroud of Rancho Cucamonga High School in San Bernardino County, and the Utes to Cameron Rising of Newbury Park High School in Ventura County.
The duo is continuing a Southern California football tradition that's almost as culturally ingrained as the Rose Bowl itself: The region has a rich history of producing standout college quarterbacks.
From San Diego native Brian Sipe evolving the passing game into a more modern concept in the mid-20th century, to Orange County products Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart ushering in the new millennium, and in recent years stars like Sam Darnold, 2021 Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young, and Stroud, SoCal quarterbacks have repeatedly proven there's more to the region than sun and surf.
So why is Southern California a quarterback hotbed?
"I don't know. I really don't," said Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd. Lloyd has faced plenty of the area's products, coming from San Diego County's Otay Ranch High School in Chula Vista before matriculating to the Pac-12. "I guess it's just that Cali blood in them."
Stroud, however, has a less mystical explanation.
"It's just the competition that you see," he said. "When you come from a place like this, you go to camp or you go play against somebody that week on Friday in high school, you're playing against another good quarterback. I remember about every game I played in high school my senior and junior year [there] was another good quarterback on the other side."
New Year's Six bowl games this season are rife with them, too. Matt Corral played at SoCal prep powerhouses Oaks Christian and Long Beach Poly before captaining Ole Miss to the Sugar Bowl.
The Heisman winner Young leads top-ranked Alabama into the Cotton Bowl, and is one of two Mater Dei quarterbacks in the College Football Playoff; the Orange Bowl features JT Daniels who, despite facing injuries this season, could see snaps against Michigan based on comments Kirby Smart made.
And then there's the Rose Bowl with Rising and Stroud. They are the first Southern California quarterbacks to start in the Granddaddy of 'Em All since 2017 when Darnold — of San Clemente High School in southern Orange County — led USC past Penn State in one of the most entertaining Rose Bowl Games ever played.
Now, popular sentiment dictates that the greatest Rose Bowl Game in its illustrious history is the 2006 edition, which also featured a Southern California quarterback in USC and Mater Dei graduate Matt Leinart.
Though Leinart's Trojans lost to Vince Young's Texas Longhorns in that historic contest 16 years ago, its influence resonates with the 2022 California quarterbacks.
“That was probably the best game probably ever in football, college football,” Stroud said. “I think that was probably the one that sticks out for me.
“It's something I always dreamed of playing in ever since I watched USC and Texas back in '06,” Rising said.
Rising even began his college career for one of the two sides in the remarkable BCS Championship Game of the 2005 season: He signed at Texas in 2018, choosing the Longhorns over Oklahoma.
Neither USC nor UCLA were in the mix during Rising's high school recruitment. The same is true of Stroud, who had an offer from UCLA but ultimately chose Ohio State from a group of top suitors that included Michigan and Georgia.
Stroud offered up comment ahead of the Rose Bowl Game that should reverberate through Southern California well after Jan. 1. His experience offers some insight into why the New Year's Six is filled with SoCal quarterbacks but neither of SoCal's teams.
“You go to the USC and UCLA games, and quite honestly, it's just kind of boring,” he said. “Fans aren't in tune. They kind of just are there on vacation and whatnot. You go to the other schools out of state, and their fans are kind of like fanatics. They don't really care what people think about them. They're wearing all types of stuff and yelling at the top of their lungs.”
UCLA and USC started quarterbacks from out-of-state this season, and that's not necessarily a bad thing: The Bruins' Las Vegas product Dorian Thompson-Robinson had an excellent 2021, and Arizona-bred Kedon Slovis gave USC a record-setting 2019.
Slovis transferred to Pittsburgh in December after Jaxson Dart, from Draper, Utah, closed out the Trojans' campaign playing quarterback. Dart looked every bit capable of living up to his high 4-star billing coming out of Corner Canyon High School, so going beyond the local pool isn't a problem on its own.
What's more, Slovis got his opportunity to set USC freshman records — most held by Mater Dei product Matt Barkley — only after Daniels sustained a season-ending injury.
The presence of Southern California quarterbacks in other programs isn't a problem on its own. The explanation Stroud laid out is a problem.
Lincoln Riley's hire at USC was engineered to restore the energy lacking at the Coliseum. When the Trojans were dominating college football during Leinart's tenure, USC's home venue was loud and imposing.
UCLA looks to build on the positive momentum of an eight-win finish to 2021, the program's best record since 2015 when Southern California quarterback Josh Rosen led the Bruins.
Chip Kelly and his staff landed Justyn Martin of Inglewood High School, one of three 4-star quarterbacks from SoCal in the 2022 signing class (the other two, Maalik Murphy and Katin Houser, signed with Texas and Michigan State).
Until one of either UCLA or USC reaches their potential, however, the next Southern California quarterback to star in southern California's premier college football game will plant the flag for either Ohio State or Utah.
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @KyleKensing and subscribe to his newsletter, The Press Break.