Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Pac-12 signing day storylines
By Erik McKinney
With 50 days until national signing day, there is still plenty left undecided in the Pac-12. Five of the top six West region prospects -- as well as seven more ESPN 300 prospects -- remain uncommitted and have significant Pac-12 interest. There also figures to be a battle for the top class in the conference, as at least six schools will jostle for position.
Here are 10 Pac-12 storylines that could help shape signing day for the conference.
1. Who are USC's assistant coaches?
At this point, very few questions about USC's coaching staff are answered. Steve Sarkisian is in place as the head coach and has retained wide receivers coach and ace recruiter Tee Martin. Making the trip down from Washington with Sarkisian are linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator Peter Sirmon, defensive backs coach Keith Heyward and assistant coach Johnny Nansen, whose position hasn't been determined. USC assistants Clancy Pendergast, Clay Helton, Mike Summers and John Baxter are among the candidates to stay at the school, but nothing is likely to be announced until after USC's bowl game. Who winds up filling out that staff will be on the minds of a number of top prospects, especially if the coaches come from other Pac-12 programs.
Five-star cornerback Adoree' Jackson would be a huge addition to Oregon, USC or UCLA.
2. Does Texas come calling?
At this point, it's probably a safe bet that neither Arizona State's Todd Graham or UCLA's Jim Mora bolt to take the Texas job, after both have made significant statements about remaining in place. But until the Texas position is filled, speculation will remain regarding two of the hottest coaches in the conference. If one of them does take the job, it doesn't necessarily mean that school's recruiting class will crumble, as both programs have generated positive reviews with recruits after terrific seasons. But losing a coach this close to signing day is almost never a good thing, and any questions brought up now will be taken advantage of by other conference coaches.
3. Where does Jackson land?
There might not be a Pac-12 target who is more difficult to read than Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra). With four visits under his belt, things seem to be as up in the air as ever for the five-star cornerback. Florida, Florida State, LSU, Notre Dame, Oregon, Tennessee and USC all remain in the running for Jackson, but this is the kind of talent who could move a class an entire position or two in the final ranking. Unless UCLA can make a run back into the picture, Oregon and USC are the Pac-12 presences left for Jackson and a commitment to either would be significant, both on signing day and when the 2014 season begins.
4. Big finish for Bruins?
UCLA has a chance to close this recruiting cycle with an absolutely remarkable class, as the Bruins are in the hunt for a number of standout prospects. The only problem is that they are going head to head -- and in some cases involved as one of three, four or five schools -- with some terrific programs in their own right. Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Tex./Coppell), Zach Whitley Jr. (Houston/North Shore), Bishard Baker (Bellevue, Wash./Bellevue), Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala./Auburn), Joe Mixon (Oakley, Calif./Freedom), Mattrell McGraw (New Orleans/John Curtis Christian), Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco), John Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) and Bryce Dixon (Ventura, Calif./St. Bonaventure) are all ESPN 300 prospects with significant interest in UCLA. While the Bruins won't get them all, that staff could turn a significant number of heads by reeling in even a few of those recruits.
5. Can Washington rebound?
After signing eight four-star recruits in the 2013 class, Washington was down to just five verbal commitments as of this past Sunday. Already, coach Chris Petersen is bringing some momentum to Seattle, as the Huskies were able to flip former Washington State commitment Darren Gardenhire (Long Beach, Calif./Cabrillo) and former Boise State quarterback commit Jalen Greene (Gardena, Calif./Serra) on Monday. If Petersen is able to hit the ground running on the recruiting trail, he'll have an opportunity to turn things around in a big way. The Huskies were pushed to the bottom of the Pac-12 recruiting pile when Sarkisian left, but it appears as though they will begin their climb back up under Petersen.
Every year it happens, when a program will get ahead of the game on a prospect and land a commitment from him, then falter somewhat on the field and watch as a top school in the conference swoops in with a late push. This year, Utah commits Kenyon Frison (West Valley City, Utah/Granger), Jackson Barton (Salt Lake City/Brighton) and Allan Havili (Tooele, Utah/Stansbury) and Cal commits Devante Downs (Mountlake Terrace, Wash./Mountlake Terrace), Vic Enwere (Sugar Land, Tex./Fort Bend Austin) and Koa Farmer (Sherman Oaks, Calif./Notre Dame) could all be prospects being discussed close to signing day. It would be surprising if Utah lost anybody from its class at this point, as it appears virtually all of the Utes' commits are solid, but Cal coaches will work hard to keep a talented class together, as it needs an immediate infusion of talent and could get it with the committed players.
7. Will Tucker's decision help shape the race?
The battle for the top class in the Pac-12 could come down to Arizona State and Stanford -- both among the top three classes in the conference right now -- and one player could determine which school comes out on top. ESPN 300 offensive tackle Casey Tucker (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton) is down to those two schools and the nation's No. 46 prospect will help shape either class. If Tucker chooses the Cardinal, David Shaw's program will add another incredibly talented lineman to the roster. If Tucker stays close to home, the Sun Devils could finish with one of the top classes in program history.
8. Solomon Thomas to the Pac-12?
Stanford remains as a possible destination for the nation's No. 5 defensive end, and while programs close to home remain an option, don't be surprised if UCLA winds up as a landing spot if Thomas doesn't go with the Cardinal. Like Tucker and Jackson, Thomas could be a recruit who shifts the balance of the conference race, as Stanford and UCLA are likely to be making a push toward the top of the Pac-12 come signing day.
It would be significant for the Pac-12 to hold onto ESPN 300 running back Joe Mixon, the No. 72 prospect in the nation. Oklahoma and Wisconsin are in his final four and the big back raved about official visits to both schools. UCLA had been rumored to be in the mix for Mixon for a while, even when he left the Bruins out of his initial final list. But Cal is the real wildcard in this race. It appeared the Golden Bears would be left out completely when they were piling up loss after loss this season, but the Cal coaches continued to do a terrific job recruiting Mixon and those close to him would certainly like to see him remain close to home. It's not often one recruit can save a class, but if it can happen in 2014, it's with Mixon and Cal. On the other hand, if Mixon chooses UCLA in early January, the Bruins could be set up to make a serious run at a top-ten -- or even top-five -- class in the country.
10. Does Sarkisian continue the momentum at USC?
It's tough to not label Sarkisian's first two weeks at USC as anything other than a tremendous success when it comes to recruiting. He has landed four verbal commitments so far -- three four-star recruits and a talented three-star cornerback -- and has a number of high-profile prospects on his list of targets. While Jackson might register as a long shot, considering the number of schools he's still looking at, two prospects closer to home that Sarkisian must land are Damien Mama and John "JuJu" Smith. There appears to be positive momentum for the Trojans with both, but the battle for those two could help shape Los Angeles recruiting in this class and the next. While the two are looking at programs outside the conference, it would be surprising if it doesn't come down to UCLA and USC for both. And while the Bruins have the on-field momentum with two wins in a row, the Trojans could take back some recruiting momentum by landing the Nos. 3 and 5 players in the state.