Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Questions for signing day: Pac-12
By Erik McKinney
The Pac-12 has answered a number of questions on the field this season, staking its claim as one of the top two conferences in the country. But as the recruiting cycle ramps up -- with fewer than three months remaining until signing day -- here are 10 significant questions with answers that could shape the Pac-12 come February 5.
1. Who is USC's head coach?
Recruits might be buzzing again about USC, but until they learn if interim head coach Ed Orgeron will get the job full time or if someone else will take over, there will be uncertainty.
The Trojans have found momentum under interim head coach Ed Orgeron, both on the field and on the recruiting trail. While USC lost ESPN 300 prospects D.J. Calhoun (El Cerrito, Calif./El Cerrito) after the coaching switch, Orgeron helped land commitments from four local prospects after taking over as coach. At this point, recruits are again beginning to buzz about USC in a positive light, although a number of them are still holding off due to the fact that a head coach likely won't be officially announced until after the season. If the Trojans land a big-name coach or hold onto Orgeron after a big run to end the season, momentum could seriously build for USC as signing day approaches.
Jackson, the nation's No. 7 overall recruit, is one of the tougher prospects to read in this recruiting class, as the West's top player still holds interest in a number of programs. Florida, Florida State, LSU and Tennessee are a few of the out-of-state schools Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra) is looking at seriously, while Oregon, UCLA and USC are some Pac-12 options. While Jackson won't make or break any of those classes, he would provide a huge boost to one program and some good news for the Pac-12 overall, as he appears to be the lone Pac-12 possibility among top-10 prospects, after the conference missed on all 10 in the 2013 class (though No. 10 Eddie Vanderdoes eventually made his way to UCLA).
3. How well can UCLA close?
Speaking of the Bruins, Vanderdoes wasn't even considered part of a phenomenal closing run to the 2013 class that gave UCLA the top group in the conference. Kylie Fitts, Priest Willis, Tahaan Goodman, Asiantii Woulard and Isaac Savaiinaea were all late commitments for the Bruins and UCLA looks to have another opportunity to close in a big way. Holding just 13 commitments at this point, the Bruins have some huge opportunities with Bo Scarbrough (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy), Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Tex./Coppell), John Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly), Michiah Quick (Fresno, Calif./Central), Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco), Mattrell McGraw (New Orleans/John Curtis Christian) and Dwight Williams (Gardena, Calif./Serra), among others. Though the Bruins are sitting in the middle of the pack now, Mora and staff have proven that they can recruit when it matters most.
Over the past few years in the Pac-12, assistant coaches changing location seems to have had more of an effect on final classes than when a head coach leaves or arrives. This year, it's guaranteed to happen again. Success at Arizona State, Stanford, UCLA and Washington could have the NFL or other college programs calling a number of assistants there, while a potential regime change at USC could lead to new jobs for Trojans assistants. However it plays out, there will more than likely be a big move from at least one assistant coach in the conference and it will alter the recruitment for several recruits looking at that program.
5. Does Cal's class stay together?
It has been a rough season for Cal on the field, but head coach Sonny Dykes and staff have done an admirable job on the recruiting trail, with commitments from two ESPN 300 prospects and a number of talented three-star recruits. While 11 total commits doesn't exactly push Cal toward the top of the class rankings, a one-win season is a tough backdrop with which to recruit. It appears top-ranked commit Devante Downs (Mountlake Terrace, Wash./Mountlake Terrace) is locked into his commitment to the Golden Bears, recruits such as Jaleel Wadood (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco), Koa Farmer (Sherman Oaks, Calif./Notre Dame) and Tre Watson (Corona, Calif./Centennial) have other Pac-12 suitors.
Only four of the top-10 West region recruits have made their commitments so far and the Pac-12 is 2-2, with Stanford and Arizona State each nabbing one. The Pac-12 provides legitimate landing spots for a number of the elite uncommitted recruits in the region after schools such as Alabama, Miami, Michigan, Oklahoma and Texas A&M made early impressions with commitments and continue to push for several area recruits.
After decommitting from USC, a number of schools remained in the running for the ESPN 300 offensive tackle, but now, it looks like a two-team race between hometown Arizona State and Stanford. While a commitment to the Cardinal would allow Stanford to chalk up another highly-recruited offensive lineman, Tucker (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton) could allow Arizona State to feel as if it is taking a big step forward in building a fence around the state. With the Sun Devils and Cardinal already jostling for the conference's top class, Tucker's eventual commitment could help push one ahead for good.
Mama, the nation's No. 54 overall prospect, holds offers from just about every program in the country and has taken official visits to Alabama, Notre Dame and Wisconsin. But there is a feeling that Mama could elect to stay closer to home for college, which puts UCLA and USC front and center. Mama grew up in a pro-USC home, but UCLA has been pushing hard for quite some time. There has been no feeling that good friend Viane Talamaivao (Corona, Calif./Centennial) is wavering in his Alabama commitment, but if the Bruins or Trojans can reel in Mama, it will give them another piece of ammunition with which to recruit Talamaivao.
9. Where's Washington?
The Huskies have been extremely quiet when it comes to recruiting this season, but Washington could figure prominently in a number of these previous questions. Not only are the Huskies' coaches capable of putting together a serious run to close the football season and recruiting season, Washington also has the caliber of assistant coaches that could receive serious interest from other programs. Peter Sirmon, Justin Wilcox and Tosh Lupoi form a terrific three-headed monster on defense and on the recruiting trail. At this point, it wouldn't be surprising to see that group spearhead a charge that lands the Huskies among the top classes in the conference, or see members of that group receive offers that are too good to turn down, leaving the Huskies battling hard to land what should still be a very solid group.
10. Who finishes with the Pac-12's top class?
As much as college coaches try to dismiss class and individual rankings, they certainly call attention to them when they paint their school in a positive light. Whatever Pac-12 program finishes atop the standings, there's a good chance that head coach will mention it during his signing day press conference. While it doesn't always correlate to on-field success over the next few years, pulling in the top-ranked class becomes a point of emphasis on the recruiting trail and can be a key in getting a good start on the 2015 class. Not only that, but this year should provide a fairly compelling race to the top of the Pac-12, as Arizona has long held the distinction, but a number of programs -- Arizona State, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA and USC -- are capable of making a run.