Pac-12: Each team's biggest Early Signing Period question
There are just six weeks until the Early Signing Period, and all of the teams in the Pac-12 still have issues to resolve before then. Here's a look at the biggest question for each conference team heading into the Early Signing Period.
ARIZONA: Can Sumlin keep dipping into Texas and keep top commits?
There are two important questions for Arizona when it comes to this recruiting class and the future:
1. Can Kevin Sumlin and his staff continue dipping into Texas for talented prospects such as three-star quarterback Grant Gunnell, a tall, skilled passer who fits offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone’s system perfectly?
2. Can the Wildcats keep the commits in this class who are now being pursued by others?
Three-star Chris Roland recently landed an offer from USC. Offensive lineman Jordan Morgan was offered by the Trojans this fall. And prep school defensive back Maurice Gaines has landed multiple offers from national powers. If Sumlin can hold onto these recruits, that will be huge for Arizona’s recruiting class. If not, it could be a worrisome sign.
ARIZONA STATE: Will Edwards have success keeping kids home?
Something that has been addressed numerous times over the last half-decade is Arizona and Arizona State’s inability to keep a lot of top prospects home and how the face of those programs would have been changed if a lot of those players stayed home. Some names that have left: Byron Murphy, Christian Kirk, Brian Lewerke, Mark Andrews, Andrus Peat and many others.
A similar pattern is emerging this recruiting cycle with the state’s top player, QB Spencer Rattler going to Oklahoma, and the next two ATH Jake Smith and TE Brayden Liebrock headed to Texas. The one big name on the Sun Devils’ radar is four-star DT Matthew Pola-Mao, who has stayed most in touch with ASU’s staff during his injuries. That could be a huge pickup if Pola-Mao can stay healthy in the coming years.
CAL: Can the Golden Bears keep impressive class going?
Cal has quietly put together an outstanding recruiting class filled with under-recruited but super productive high school players and more could be coming. Four-star quarterback Jayden Daniels is basically down to the Golden Bears and Utah. He could be making his decision at anytime but he might wait until the Early Signing Period.
Like many other schools in the conference, the biggest question for Cal is whether it can keep all its top prospects in the class. Linebacker Orin Patu is hearing from other top programs, tight end Bradley Archer recently got offered by Stanford and then there is Daniels, who looks as if he’s going to stay in the Pac-12. Joining him with three-star QB Spencer Brasch in this class would be huge.
COLORADO: Can the Buffs keep kids home?
It’s hard to believe but Colorado has not kept three of the top five kids in the state home since 2015 and that recruiting cycle the top two players – cornerbacks Eric Lee and Avery Anderson – both went to Nebraska.
The good news for the Buffaloes in the 2019 class is that the state’s top player, three-star quarterback Ty Evans, is happily committed to Colorado after being pledged to Arkansas earlier in the cycle and he’s been recruiting non-stop for the Buffs. However, the next five recruits in the state are headed elsewhere with three of them committed to Pac-12 opponents and ATH Luke McCaffrey and OL Michael Lynn going to the Huskers.
The 2020 class in Colorado is looking especially strong on the lines of scrimmage. Colorado needs to find a way to lock up the state.
OREGON: Can any Pac-12 team catch the Ducks?
First-year coach Mario Cristobal and his staff have done such a phenomenal job in recruiting this cycle that the Ducks might not be able to be caught for the team recruiting title in the Pac-12 especially if Oregon can land five-star defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, the top-ranked player in California.
The real question for Oregon in the closing weeks before the Early Signing Period is, can the Ducks hang on to all of their commitments? They have 16 four-star pledges, which is double any other school in the conference. The answer seems to be yes and even if there are some surprises or flips, Oregon has done so well that it shouldn’t knock them off the top spot.
OREGON STATE: Will Smith focus on Inland Empire players?
When Oregon State was recruiting really well under former coach Mike Riley, he and his staff made a concerted effort to get into Southern California and compete for some of the top undervalued prospects especially in the Inland Empire. That 2013 recruiting class featured WRs Victor Bolden, Jordan Villamin and others, as the Beavers had success in that region and it paid off.
First-year coach Jonathan Smith needs to find traction there again to build a program that is toward the bottom of the Pac-12 and needs a lot of pieces to start competing again in Corvallis. One big step was getting three-star Taron Madison, who has the ability to step in right away and contribute for the Beavers. DT Evan Bennett and LB Michael Erhart, two other California recruits, are nice pieces. Oregon State had some momentum in the area under Riley and Smith has to make it a huge focus again.
STANFORD: Can Stanford continue 2019 momentum?
After a highly disappointing 2018 recruiting cycle in which Stanford finished second-to-last in the Pac-12 team rankings, the Cardinal have been more aggressive earlier this cycle and it’s paid off in a huge way.
Stanford landed commitments from a handful of four-star prospects before the season including flipping four-star defensive end Stephen Herron from Michigan and keeping four-star running back Austin Jones in Northern California. Now can the Cardinal carry it through to signing day? Stanford is sitting third in the Pac-12 rankings this time around with Oregon and Washington ahead but USC and others pushing from behind. The Cardinal have done a great job and a top-three finish would be huge.
UCLA: Will the Bruins gain any traction?
First-year coach Chip Kelly has taken a different approach to recruiting than many other coaches nationwide. The jury is still out whether it will find any success in Westwood. Kelly does not throw out offers to many prospects. He quite honestly doesn’t have a lot of communication with many recruits and instead has targeted players he wants in his class and has found limited success so far.
The Bruins have landed commitments from three-star tight end Mike Martinez and three-star defensive back William Nimmo, Jr., both from Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, one of the best programs nationally. But UCLA has also taken commitments from marginal Pac-12 players and it finds itself third-to-last in the conference rankings. The Bruins need to win some recruiting battles in Los Angeles and so far it has not happened.
USC: Will USC have a huge haul late in the cycle?
The Trojans have finished with the top-ranked recruiting class in five-straight cycles and for the vast majority of years in Rivals.com history dating back to 2002. However, the USC run is in serious risk of ending.
Oregon currently sits with a vast lead in the recruiting points and in the average star ranking. A big close by USC is possible, though. All three five-stars in the state remain uncommitted and the Trojans have the best chance with landing Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei standout Bru McCoy.
Former commit Chris Steele, a five-star cornerback from Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco, is still considering the Trojans. The state’s top player, Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, has had an on-again, off-again relationship with the USC staff. Oregon, Alabama and others seem to have a better chance with him at this point.
UTAH: Will a late rush save the Utes?
If class rankings were based only on average star ranking then Utah would have the fifth-best class in the Pac-12 but because numbers are so low (with only nine commits) the Utes are at the bottom of the conference.
There is a really good chance that will change though in the coming weeks. The state’s top player, Salt Lake City East DT Siaki Ika, is probably headed out-of-state, but massive center Logan Sagapolu is very much in play for the Utes. So is linebacker Lolani Langi, defensive tackle Simote Pepa and others. Three-star LB Junior Tafuna just committed to the Utes. And the coaching staff is not giving up on USC WR commit Puka Nacua, who has 89 catches for 2,097 yards and 23 touchdowns this season.
WASHINGTON: Can the Huskies close even stronger?
Once again, Chris Petersen and his staff are doing an outstanding job in this recruiting class as the Huskies are second in the Pac-12 behind only Oregon.
Washington has done well in landing eight four-star prospects. The Huskies are loading up in California and with top Hawaii prospects, and then wrapping up local commitments early in the recruiting cycle. Can they keep dipping into those two states to close out the recruiting class? It could be a challenge but four-star wide receiver Kyle Ford, four-star linebacker Daniel Heimuli and four-star DT Faatui Tuitele are all high on the Huskies. If Petersen could close out the class with that level of recruit then that could be huge for his program.
WASHINGTON STATE: Can the Cougars keep the momentum?
Mike Leach and his club are having a terrific season on the field and find themselves at No. 8 in the College Football Playoff rankings, sandwiched between LSU and West Virginia. Things have gone really well in Pullman recently. Recruiting, too, especially on defense.
In the last few days, Washington State has landed commitments from four defensive linemen – two from Northern California and two from Arizona – to bolster an underrated defense. The Cougars have done a great job recruiting skill players as well. Gilbert (Ariz.) Casteel’s Gunner Cruz is a QB that the coaching staff believes fits perfectly in its system.