Signing Day 2014 primer: Pac-12
It’s not a stretch to argue that the Pac-12 was the best conference in the country last season. It had more teams (7) ranked in the Top 25 of Jeff Sagarin’s final ratings than any other league; its two divisions ranked among the three best in the nation, according to Sagarin; and it posted a 6-3 record in bowl games. Whether the Pac-12 can remain among the nation’s best conferences moving forward will depend, in large part, on how well its teams recruit.
As National Signing Day approaches, six Pac-12 teams are in the top 35 of Rivals.com’s team rankings. That should ensure another wave of top-flight talent enters the league for the 2014 season. A few uncommitted big-name prospects considering Pac-12 schools, and the possibility of some late flips, add some intrigue. Here’s a breakdown of how each school’s class is shaping up less than a week out from the most important day on the recruiting calendar.
• Arizona: It’s a testament to the strength of the Wildcats’ class that five-star cornerback Jalen Tabor flipped to Florida a week after verbally committing to Arizona at the Under Armour All-America Game and the program still has a class that ranks behind only three other Pac-12 schools (Arizona State, UCLA and Stanford) in Rivals.com’s team rankings. The Wildcats were the beneficiary of a different player’s decision to switch schools on Jan. 2, when four-star offensive tackle Jordan Poland decommitted from USC and pledged to Arizona. The Wildcats have already signed six players in their 2014 class and are projected to add 22 more on Signing Day.
• Arizona State: Fresh off of leading his team to a 10-win campaign, Sun Devils coach Todd Graham has assembled a 25-player class that currently ranks first among Pac-12 schools and 16th nationally, according to Rivals.com. Three of the prospects who have verbally committed to Arizona State hail from Texas, and Graham and his staff also plucked three four-star prospects from California. Four-star defensive end Connor Humphreys and three-star defensive tackle Tashon Smallwood — who chose the Sun Devils over Alabama, Oklahoma and USC — should bolster a line that loses several key pieces, including Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton, from last season.
• California: The Bears have already signed four juco defensive players, welcome reinforcements for a unit that ranked last in the Pac-12 in yards allowed per play in 2013. Cal’s other early signee, three-star athlete Devante Downs, also had offers from Stanford, Nebraska and Arizona State. Coach Sonny Dykes faces an uphill climb trying to recruit against the league’s top programs, but the Bears’ ’14 class is not bereft of talent. Four-star running back Tre Watson and four-star receiver Erik Brown both committed to Cal over UCLA, while four-star linebacker Chandler Leniu is the 11th-ranked inside linebacker in the country, according to Rivals.com.
• Colorado: The Buffaloes received a verbal commitment this week from Shay Fields Jr., a four-star wide receiver who decommitted from USC. Fields, who caught 82 passes for 1,617 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior at St. John Bosco (Calif.) High, is the most heralded prospect in a 20-player class that includes nine three-star commitments (and one three-star signee). Coach Mike MacIntyre might be able to use Fields right away to help offset the loss of playmaking receiver Paul Richardson. Colorado’s class includes a number of talented defensive prospects, too, including three-star cornerback Donovan Lee.
• Oregon: With another group of talented skill-position players bound for Eugene, the Ducks’ high-powered offense appears well stocked for the future. Oregon received commitments from four-star wide receiver Jalen Brown, four-star quarterback Morgan Mahalak and four-star running backs Tony James and Royce Freeman; Freeman is the top-ranked Pac-12 commit in this year’s Rivals100. The Ducks’ class took a hit earlier this month when Budda Baker, the 10th-ranked safety in the country, announced his decommitment. Still, Oregon is set to bring in another star-studded haul that should keep it competitive for years to come.
• Oregon State: The Beavers’ 26-man class includes 17 three-star commitments, including dual-threat quarterback Marcus McMaryion and three-star receiver Datrin Guyton, who also drew interest from Texas. With more than a dozen defensive prospects expected to sign, Oregon State should have some reinforcements available for a unit that ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in yards per play allowed last season. The Beavers are among several schools vying to land four-star offensive tackle Kaleb McGary, who visited Corvallis in November. Oregon State’s class ranks eighth among Pac-12 teams in Rivals.com’s team rankings.
• Stanford: The Cardinal lose several key contributors from last season’s elite defense, including defensive end Ben Gardner and linebackers Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov. The good news is, the class Stanford is projected to sign should provide an infusion of high-caliber defensive talent. Four-star linebackers Joey Alfieri and Bobby Okereke both fielded offers from Oregon and USC, and Brandon Simmons is the 22nd-ranked safety in the country. Coach David Shaw and company also secured a commitment earlier this month from Palo Alto (Calif.) High’s Keller Chryst, the second-rated pro-style quarterback in the country. Another player to watch is Valor Christian (Colo.) High product Christian McCaffrey, who ranks third nationally among all-purpose backs.
• UCLA: After signing the eighth-ranked class in the country last season, the Bruins are set to reel in another talented haul, having secured commitments from a host of prized prospects on both sides of the ball. Former Alabama commit Zach Whitley is the seventh-ranked inside linebacker in the country, while Jaleel Wadood and Adarius Pickett rank seventh and eighth, respectively, among cornerbacks. UCLA is also reportedly in the running for Baker and Kenny Young, the fifth-ranked outside linebacker in the country. The average star rating of the Bruins’ 2014 class (3.59) is the highest in the Pac-12.
• USC: One of the biggest storylines heading into Signing Day is the college decision of Adoree’ Jackson, the top-ranked prospect in the state of California. Jackson recently narrowed his consideration set to four schools: Florida, LSU, UCLA and USC. Even if the Trojans don’t land the nation’s top uncommitted recruit, their 2014 class is filled with top-tier talent. USC has eight four-star commits, the second most among Pac-12 schools (behind UCLA, which has 10), including former Alabama pledge and four-star guard Viane Talamaivao. St. Bonaventure (Calif.) High product Bryce Dixon, the fifth-ranked tight end in the country, verbally committed to USC at the U.S. Army All-America Bowl, and recently reaffirmed his pledge amid speculation that he might flip to UCLA. The Trojans are also in the mix to land uncommitted prospects Damien Mama, the top-ranked offensive guard in the country, and John “Juju” Smith, a five-star safety.
• Utah: The Utes did well to earn a verbal commitment from Utah’s top-ranked player, four-star offensive tackle Jackson Barton. But they weren’t able to hold on to fellow Utah product Kenyon Frison, a four-star offensive tackle who decommitted earlier this month. Utah landed nine commitments from within state lines and four from Florida, including three-star safety Andre Godfrey, who also had offers from Wisconsin, Louisville and West Virginia, among others.
• Washington: With just eight weeks between the hiring of Chris Petersen and National Signing Day, the coach had to scramble to put together the Huskies’ 2014 class. Washington currently has 18 players committed, but it could potentially add Bellevue, Wash., native Budda Baker (who reneged on his pledge to Oregon), a player Petersen and his staff have made a priority. Last week, the Huskies received a commitment from quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels, a four-star prospect who drew interest from Alabama, Stanford, USC and Oregon.
• Washington State: Coach Mike Leach has reeled in a batch of players at the skill positions who should flourish in the Cougars’ Air Raid offense. Three-star receiver Zaire Andre fielded interest from UCLA and USC, while St. Petersburg, Fla., product Keith Harrington is the nation’s 14th-ranked all-purpose back. The best of the bunch may be Milpitas, Calif., product Squally Canada, who garnered interest from Oregon and an offer from Oregon State. Onetime commit and four-star defensive tackle Marcus Griffin visited Washington State in December and is expected to choose between the Cougars, Mississippi State, Cal and Arizona. He could help bolster a run defense that allowed an average of 4.47 yards per carry last season.