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Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Pac-12 ESPN 300 analysis

By Erik McKinney

The newest version of the ESPN 300 was good to a number of Pac-12 targets, as a majority of recruits heading to conference programs saw a bump in their ranking. Cornerback Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra) is still top dog in the West and the region's lone five-star prospect, but both Oregon and Cal added to their ESPN 300 haul with new entrants and a tailback committed to the Ducks saw a meteoric rise.

Joe Mixon
Uncommitted running back Joe Mixon is climbing the rankings, but will any team on the West Coast be able to land him?
Who's rising: California's top running backs. Uncommitted prospect Joe Mixon (Oakley, Calif./Freedom) jumped from No. 100 to No. 72 overall and moved up one spot to the No. 9 running back in the nation. But that was a small bump compared to that huge leap from Oregon commit Royce Freeman (Imperial, Calif./Imperial), who shot from No. 154 to No. 99 overall. Freeman is having a huge senior season, which will cap off the greatest statistical career for a San Diego section running back. Oregon running backs have put up some astounding numbers in recent seasons, so that should be nothing new when Freeman arrives in Eugene. Freeman’s combination of size and speed makes him one of the top 10 tailbacks in the country.

Who's falling: USC commit Jordan Poland (La Jolla, Calif./La Jolla Country Day) is a member of the 2014 recruiting class, but he is one of a very small number not allowed to take the field this summer. Due to reclassifying this year, Poland exhausted his high school eligibility following the 2012 season. Though Poland fell from No. 161 to No. 279 overall in the updated ESPN 300, he is impressive enough that the mammoth offensive tackle was able to remain among the nation's elite in this class, despite not being able to put together any game film as a senior.

New entrant: Two Pac-12 commitments made debuts in the updated ESPN 300, as Oregon commit Jalen Brown (Phoenix/Mountain Pointe) checks in at No. 293 and Cal commit Jaleel Wadood (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) is in at No. 297. Both Brown and Wadood have had terrific senior seasons. After battling injuries to start the season, Brown has 33 receptions for 719 yards and 10 touchdowns, leading his team in all categories. Wadood has been one of the biggest playmakers in all of Southern California this year and has 41 receptions for 750 yards and nine scores, 58 tackles, two sacks and an interception.

Biggest game: Oregon's trip to Stanford might have the most meaning on the field for the Pac-12 this season, but few games mean as much any year for Pac-12 recruiting as the crosstown showdown between UCLA and USC. That will be especially true this season, as the Bruins look to deliver another punch to the staggering Trojans -- possibly clinching the Pac-12 South title and planting their flag in the region. USC, on the other hand, could cause some serious second thoughts as to just how quickly the Bruins are climbing up the Pac-12 pecking order and could give the next head coach some real momentum on the recruiting trail. Whatever the case, local ESPN 300 prospects, including Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra), John Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly), Michiah Quick (Fresno, Calif./Central East), Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) and Bryce Dixon (Ventura, Calif./St. Bonaventure), will definitely take notice.

Biggest question: Who becomes the head coach at USC? It's getting repetitive, but there is no bigger question facing the Pac-12 than who takes over the Trojans. In the short tenures of some of the other Pac-12 coaches, it's obvious how the right fit between coach and program can lead to some immediate success. Jim Mora at UCLA, Rich Rodriguez at Arizona, Todd Graham at Arizona State and Mike Leach at Washington State all seem to have their programs on an upward trajectory. At USC, one only needs to go back to Pete Carroll's hiring before the 2001 season to see how quickly the Trojans can make the leap from conference also-ran to national title contender. If USC makes the right hire, ESPN 300 recruits from across the country -- and especially Southern California -- will listen. The task facing the incoming coach is becoming increasingly more difficult, however, as other Pac-12 programs are doing a tremendous job building solid classes while the Trojans remain in limbo.