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Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Top Pac-12 recruiting rivalries

By Erik McKinney


The Pac-12 is the only conference in the country with so many natural rivalries, as Arizona, California, Oregon and Washington are split in half -- or quarters in California's case -- when home state teams take the field. It's only natural those rivalries would spill over onto the recruiting trail, although there are some interstate battles as well that make this list of top recruiting rivalries in the Pac-12.

1. UCLA-USC

This hardly needs an explanation. It's the only rivalry in the country that divides a city. And with UCLA's resurgence, this rivalry ramped up in a big way over the past year. Not only did UCLA eventually sign Kylie Fitts, Eddie Vanderdoes and Eldridge Massington -- all one-time USC verbal commitments -- in the 2013 class, they also finished with Priest Willis and Tahaan Goodman, who were prominent USC targets.

Early going in the 2014 class has been more of the same, as Austin Roberts (Carmel, Ind./Carmel) seemed to be a USC lean until he committed to UCLA. ESPN 300 cornerback Adarius Pickett (El Cerrito, Calif./El Cerrito) also looked slated for USC until he gave a verbal commitment to UCLA.

Things have a chance to get even hotter between these two programs now that Ed Orgeron has taken over for the Trojans. A number of local recruits had begun to feel a disconnect between themselves and the USC program, as they were never able to develop a relationship with Lane Kiffin. But Orgeron will likely do whatever he can to correct that, and with some terrific talent close at hand -- including Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra), John Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly), Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) and Michiah Quick (Fresno, Calif./Central East) among others -- serving as top targets for both programs, this rivalry will get even hotter.

2. Arizona-Arizona State

This rivalry is helped by two things in recent years. New coaching staffs at both schools have the programs seemingly on the rise, and a talent boom in the state has the Wildcats and Sun Devils fighting locally over some very talented players. These two programs could be trading blows in state for some time to come.

In the 2014 class, both have grabbed a top talent, with Arizona State holding a commitment from ESPN 300 cornerback Tyler Whiley (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chaparral) and Arizona getting one from ESPN 300 athlete Cameron Denson (Tucson, Ariz./Salpointe Catholic). It doesn't appear the talent will dip much, if at all, in the 2015 class, and the fight is already on to keep ESPN 300 wide receiver Christian Kirk (Scottsdale, Ariz./Saguaro), offensive tackle Keenan Walker (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chaparral) and quarterback Emanuel Gant (Tempe, Ariz./Tempe) at home.

3. Cal-Washington

This turned up a few notches when assistant coach and ace recruiter Tosh Lupoi left Cal for Washington 15 days before signing day in 2012. That resulted in a flip from standout safety Shaq Thompson, who went from Cal to Washington. It also might have cost Cal the signatures of Ellis McCarthy, Arik Armstead and Aziz Shittu, who wound up at UCLA, Oregon and Stanford, respectively.

In the 2013 class, Washington grabbed ESPN 300 prospects Elijah Qualls and Darrell Daniels out of Cal's backyard. It's an entirely new coaching staff at Cal, so the recruiting rivalry between the programs probably doesn't feel as heated, but the Golden Bears sent a shot at the Huskies by landing a commitment from ESPN 300 running back Devante Downs (Mountlake Terrace, Wash./Mountlake Terrace) in the 2014 class. Washington will likely try to repay the favor by pulling ESPN 300 running back Joe Mixon (Oakley, Calif./Freedom) out of Northern California.

This is a rivalry where there are often head-to-head battles for recruits, but the war is more about the sum of its parts. Both programs need to recruit well out of the area and put together the best possible class in order to close ground on the Pac-12 North heavyweights, Oregon and Stanford.

4. Stanford-USC

Stanford and USC are the only two private universities in the conference, and while Stanford takes a back seat to no FBS program when it comes to academics, USC is quite proud of its own exploits in the academic world. On top of that, these are two of the last true pro-style offenses in the entire country, let alone the conference. As a result, the Cardinal and Trojans often find themselves in battles for the same recruits.

In the 2013 class, USC got the upper hand in a tug-of-war over cornerback Chris Hawkins. But that only registered slightly compared to Stanford's huge win in 2012, when the Cardinal landed Andrus Peat, Noor Davis, Kyle Murphy, Joshua Garnett and Aziz Shittu -- all big-time targets of USC.

Stanford made another early statement in the 2014 class, grabbing commitments from quarterback Keller Chryst (Palo Alto, Calif./Palo Alto) and athlete Bobby Okereke (Tustin, Calif./Foothill). Both were top Trojans targets and had USC among their finalists.

5. The conference-Southern California

This one is a little outside the box, as in this case, Southern California refers to the region, rather than the university. And the rivalry is more of an all-out demolition derby concerning the entire conference.

Few regions are home to more high school football recruits than Southern California, and every coach in the conference knows that a stable foothold in the area is vital to producing a complete roster and positive long-term results. In the recently completed 2013 class alone, seven Pac-12 programs inked double-digit recruits from the area. UCLA led the charge with 14, but Oregon State signed 13, Washington and California grabbed 12 each, Arizona reeled in 11 and Utah and Washington State both had 10.

Carrying weight in the region means plenty to conference programs, so whether it's Washington trying to outmaneuver Oregon State or Washington State battling Utah, when it comes to Southern California, putting together a good showing is vital to overall recruiting success. Right now, UCLA has plenty of reasons to be considered the dominant team in the area, and it will take some doing to knock the Bruins out of that seat.