Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Most important targets: Pac-12
By Erik McKinney
With only eight days before national signing day, it truly is crunch time for coaches and recruits alike for the 2014 class. In the Pac-12 especially, a number of spots remain available in a majority of classes. This week, we take a look at the most important uncommitted target for each conference program.
The Wildcats jumped into the process late for Griffin but made enough of an impression that the big lineman took an official visit to Tucson last weekend. Griffin will announce on signing day from a group that consists of Arizona, Cal, Mississippi State and Washington State. While the Wildcats have a full class at this point, it looks as though they'd like to add one more big body along the defensive line and Griffin is one of the top defensive tackles in the region, regardless of commitment status.
The Arizona State class has a chance to climb into the top 10 in the nation with some of the uncommitted recruits the Sun Devils coaches are still chasing. One of the names to jump into the mix recently is Stuckey, who decommitted from Auburn on Monday and said he will take an official visit to Arizona State this weekend. The Sun Devils lost a ton of experience all over the defense after the 2013 season, and Stuckey seems sold on the idea of pushing for immediate playing time in Tempe. If Arizona State is going to replace Will Sutton along the interior of that defensive line, Stuckey might be the guy to do it.
Lealao was committed to Stanford for several months but backed away in January to explore other options. Cal was quick to take advantage, locking Lealao in for an official visit two weeks ago and pushing hard for a commitment from the big defender. Lealao said he is now looking at Cal, Oregon State, Utah and Vanderbilt as his final four, and the Golden Bears could definitely use his presence along the defensive line. Not only is Lealao a local ESPN 300 prospect, but he would likely push for immediate playing time at Cal.
After decommitting from USC, Fields quickly narrowed his focus to California and Colorado, along with TCU. Though the Buffs did well with receivers in the 2013 class, losing Paul Richardson will have Colorado coaches looking for a similar kind of playmaker. And while Fields might not live up to what Richardson did on the field, he's the kind of explosive, productive player from a California high school power that Colorado needs to begin reeling in if the Buffs want to compete in the conference.
After decommitting from Texas, Lealaimatafao became one of the hottest prospects in the nation and Oregon was one of the programs that pounced. The Ducks received Lealaimatafao's fifth and final visit over the weekend and it's no secret that Oregon much wants to add at least one more defensive tackle to this class, as a number of offers at the position have gone out. While much of the focus Oregon receives is on offensive skill players, much of the Ducks' defensive success starts up front, and reeling in Lealaimatafao would go toward continuing that trend.
The Beavers are still after several big targets to finish up what looks to be yet another very solid but seldom talked-about class full of potential impact players on both sides of the ball. There are two tackles already in this class -- one, a junior college transfer already enrolled at Oregon State -- but the Beavers would love to add another big body along the offensive line. Illustrated by Sean Harlow stepping into a starting role as a true freshman, tackle is a spot where Oregon State could stand to build some depth, and McGary has been a longtime target.
For a long time, the big three uncommitted ESPN 300 Stanford recruits were Thomas, tight end Dalton Schultz (South Jordan, Utah/Bingham) and offensive tackle Casey Tucker (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton). Now that Schultz and Tucker have both committed to Stanford, the focus shifts to Thomas, who is still looking at Arkansas and UCLA as well. While the Cardinal have received plenty of attention for their recruiting along the offensive line, Stanford has built an extremely solid front seven over the past few years, and adding Thomas would be an exclamation point to that effort in 2014.
Any number of names could go here, as the Bruins are chasing after some top-tier talent to close the 2014 class. ESPN 300 safety Bishard "Budda" Baker (Bellevue, Wash./Bellevue) and ESPN 300 linebacker Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala./Aubuan) are both very much in the mix. But the Bruins have been in the discussion since the beginning for the John Curtis trio of Young, Malachi Dupre and Mattrell McGraw, and all three will be taking their official visits to UCLA this weekend. Of the three, Young looks the likeliest to pledge to the Bruins, so he gets the nod here, as wrapping him up could help in a big way for Dupre and McGraw. Pac-12 programs have spent a lot of time and energy on Southeast recruits over the years, ultimately watching them sign with SEC programs, so it would make a statement if Jim Mora and company could see some results from their hard work.
As it gets closer to signing day, it's clear that USC is definitely in it for Jackson, which wasn't always the case during his recruitment. The nation's top uncommitted player has kept a lid on his recruitment of late, and still has Florida, LSU, Oklahoma, Tennessee, UCLA and USC as his top six. Coach Steve Sarkisian has done a terrific job in a short amount of time since taking over at USC, but nothing he could do would make more of a statement than landing the top player in California.
The one-time Utah commit looks to be down to the Utes and Mississippi, and while the Rebels could be tough to beat, Law would be a big-time pickup (again) for Utah. The Utes have shown an ability to feature one back in their offense and Law is the type of player who could eventually take on that role and shine. A signature from Law would also give Utah another recruiting win in the state of Florida, where the Utes have been very productive in this class, with four commitments out of the Sunshine State already.
Baker is the top player in the Northwest and has been the top target for the Huskies since coach Chris Petersen took over. The Huskies received their opening when Baker decommitted from Oregon and now they'll try to hold off UCLA for his signature. Baker is the kind of special athlete whom Washington needs to keep home if they are going to overtake Oregon and Stanford in the Pac-12 North. He's a likely playmaker as a freshman on either side of the ball, and if he does go with Washington, it would signify a huge recruiting win for Petersen.
Griffin was committed to Washington State before he opened up his recruiting process, but the Cougars remain in it for the big lineman. The Cougars are always going to attract offensive skill players under Leach -- evidenced by their top five commitments in the 2014 class, two quarterbacks, two running backs and a wide receiver -- but pulling in big bodies along the defensive line is a must in the Pac-12. Griffin would be a big win over several Pac-12 rivals, and like Baker with Washington, keeping home-grown talent in state is big for the Cougars as well.