Wednesday, November 27, 2013
UCLA, USC have chance to seize the city
By Erik McKinney
Not all regular season games are created equal on the recruiting trail, and while one game won't make or break a recruiting class, this weekend's showdown between UCLA and USC could come awfully close.
USC has dominated its series of late -- winning 12 of the last 14 years -- but in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately recruiting world, UCLA’s 38-28 win last season looms large. It caught the attention of recruits in the 2013, '14 and '15 classes and sent a message that the Jim Mora era with the Bruins was off and running.
On signing day 2013, the Bruins didn't just finish with a class ranked higher than USC. They had the top group in the Pac-12.
After five weeks of the 2013 season, the pendulum of recruiting momentum in Southern California had fully swung toward UCLA. The Bruins were sitting at 3-0 with a big win over Nebraska and a national ranking. Meanwhile, the Trojans were reeling, coming off a blowout loss to Arizona State and still feeling the effects of a staggering home loss to Washington State, which came in front of dozens of high-profile recruits.
Interim coach Ed Orgeron has USC on a roll.
Now, with USC posting a 6-1 record under interim coach Ed Orgeron and still riding high from a home win over Stanford, the Trojans have gained significant momentum on the recruiting trail and the tug-of-war this weekend will likely go a long way toward shifting the balance of recruiting power for the remainder of the 2014 class.
A USC win on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ABC) would continue a remarkable run for the Trojans, as well as give Orgeron and his staff plenty of ammunition to fill out the rest of the class.
"I think it would send a huge message," Trojans verbal commit Viane Talamaivao (Corona, Calif./Centennial) said of a possible USC victory. "I think it would symbolize a shift to what USC used to be like, with the takeover of Los Angeles again. Regardless if they win or not, they've still shown they are a rising program, but a win over UCLA would definitely send a strong message."
Talamaivao was the first significant domino to fall for the Trojans, as the ESPN 300 offensive guard flipped his commitment from Alabama two days after USC beat Stanford.
But the Bruins aren't exactly giving way to the Trojans on the recruiting trail. UCLA beat USC for commitments from ESPN 300 wide receiver Austin Roberts (Carmel, Ind./Carmel) and cornerback Adarius Pickett (El Cerrito, Calif./El Cerrito), as well as for local products in cornerback Denzel Fisher (Compton, Calif./Centennial) and wide receiver Jordan Lasley (Gardena, Calif./Serra).
UCLA also landed a commitment from the top 2015 tight end in the country, Alize Jones (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman), who holds an offer from USC.
UCLA safety commit JoJo McIntosh (West Hills, Calif./Chaminade) said the 2012 win was huge for the Bruins.
"It was really big because the year before that, USC dominated UCLA," McIntosh said. "Coming back last year with coach Mora and defeating USC was really big. With a new coach, it was a new era, and that made UCLA stand out."
Looking forward, a win this Saturday could make an even bigger statement.
"I believe that if UCLA wins this week, it would open up so much," McIntosh said. "It would show that UCLA is the dominant team here."
Jim Mora has changed the image of UCLA football.
"It's a pretty big accomplishment, beating USC two years in a row," Lasley said. "They've already put a lot on display showing they are a perennial contender, not just in the Pac-12 but with other conferences as well."
McIntosh and Lasley said they will be among the recruits in attendance on Saturday. Others likely to be there include some of the top prospects in the region, such as ESPN 300 prospects Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra), Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco), John Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) and Jaleel Wadood (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco). All four are receiving significant pushes from the Los Angeles rivals, and it's likely that the St. John Bosco teammates could come down to those two schools.
"If USC wins, it will be a strong message for recruits on the fence with USC and UCLA," Talamaivao said.
Of course, the same can be said of a UCLA victory.
"I don't want to say this is a decision game, but whoever wins this game could have an influence on where I want to go to school," Lasley said. "I'm still a solid commit, but this is a pretty big week as far as USC and UCLA are concerned. I don't want to base my decision off one game, but whoever wins will have a nice influence."
No matter the result on the field, the conclusion of the game will still leave a huge question as to the future of the USC head coaching position. A number of prospects, including Talamaivao and fellow ESPN 300 lineman and USC commit Toa Lobendahn (La Habra, Calif./La Habra), believe Orgeron has done enough already to keep the job.
"This win would be big for momentum for the team, the city and coach O," Lobendahn said. "With this win, I believe he'd be basically 100 percent for the job. Even if they lose a close game, I think he's the guy for it. I have a lot of faith in them right now and I believe they get it done. It would hit a sour note if they get destroyed, but if they fight like they have the whole time with coach O -- something like the Notre Dame game -- I'm sure they'd be fine."
"I'm going to USC," Talamaivao said. "In my mind there's no way around it. I made this commitment and I'm going to stick with it whether he's on staff or not. I do hope that they keep him though. What he's been able to do since he's taken over -- just how he's changed the culture -- that's the biggest thing."
Though Lasley is a UCLA commit, he is close with several players on the USC roster and likely summed up the feelings of a number of Trojan players and recruits.
"A UCLA win probably does shake up the coaching situation at USC, but all the players on USC's team love playing for coach O," he said. "Talking to Marqise [Lee], Nelson [Agholor] and Darreus [Rogers], they love playing for coach O and like that he's doing. I'm not sure if USC wins the game if coach O will stay or whatever, but I think they should base it off whoever the players want to play for. You have to love a coach and want to play for him, and that's what they have now."