USC Trojans: Damien Mama

Drevno ready to start his dream job

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
11:00
AM PT
LOS ANGELES -- When word of new Trojans offensive line coach Tim Drevno was first announced by head coach Steve Sarkisian, it was received with both thunderous applause and a sense of mystery.

Why would Drevno leave the highly successful San Francisco 49ers and long-time mentor Jim Harbaugh and return to the college game? After all, the NFL offers a great salary, a tremendous retirement plan for assistant coaches, and one doesn’t have to deal with the non-stop world of recruiting.

“The big draw for me was USC,” said Drevno, a Southern California native. “My grandfather went to USC -- a 1951 graduate of the pharmacy school -- my sister is a 1982 graduate in hospital administration, and I grew up a USC fan going to games.”

The dream of his youth was to be a USC tailback and receive all the acclaim that goes with one of college football’s most storied positions.

“I used to be on my mom’s bed and would jump over the bed acting like I was Marcus Allen,” said Drevno, a former all-league lineman at South Torrance (Calif.) High. “I wanted to be a tailback, but I grew up to be an offensive lineman.”

Although he played at Cal State Fullerton, where he received his degree in criminal justice in 1992, you get the impression that Drevno is living a second childhood after being named the Trojans offensive line coach.

[+] EnlargeTim Drevno
AP Photo/Scott BoehmTim Drevno comes to USC after helping the 49ers become the NFL's third-best rushing team a year ago.
USC fans are hoping that Drevno brings some of the Jim Harbaugh toughness that was a cornerstone of Stanford football, where the two coached together for four years before transitioning to the San Francisco 49ers in 2011.

“I love the man,” said the 44-year-old Drevno. “He taught me to run the ball first and be physical up front -- attack each day with enthusiasm unknown to mankind. You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse; you’re never staying the same. Be the best at whatever you do.”

Drevno’s 49ers résumé is impressive. In 2013, tackle Joe Staley and guard Mike Iupati made the Pro Bowl. In 2012, all five of the 49ers’ line starters were selected for the Pro Bowl, and Iupati was a first-team All-Pro selection. Not bad for a coach whose previous coaching stops also include Cal St. Fullerton, Montana State, UNLV, San Jose State, Idaho, and the University of San Diego.

So should Trojans fans soon expect the same type of powerful offensive lines that Drevno formed with the 49ers and Stanford?

“First, we’ll have to see what we’re working with and we’ll piece it together as we go,” Drevno said.

And what will it take for the Trojans to play Drevno’s physical brand of offensive line football?

“Covering somebody up, moving your feet and hands, and getting after it,” Drevno said. “It’s about both attitude and technique. This game is about blocking and tackling. Those are the qualities it takes to win, and the physicality comes later.

“All of football is a mindset when it comes to physical play. You have to work at it to be good at it. You just can’t do one thing and be one-dimensional. It’s a want to and a brotherhood in the room. You have to want to take ownership.”

Despite the Trojans limited numbers, Drevno takes a practical yet positive approach as his unit embarks on a new system.

“We’ve got a great group to work with and we have 10 healthy guys right now,” Drevno said. “We have other guys that will be healthy soon, and you just push forward. Guys are working hard and getting better every day. You coach them hard.”

It was feared during the recruiting period that Drevno’s late addition to the staff might affect USC’s chances of signing a great offensive line class. As the 49ers went through the playoffs, only to lose to eventual Super Bowl champions Seattle Seahawks, Trojans recruits such as highly coveted Bellflower (Calif.) St John Bosco All-America prep tackle Damien Mama took notice.

“The staff did a great job of holding on to them and keeping me up to date,” Drevno said. “We lost that game in Seattle and I flew down immediately to be in the home of Damien Mama. These are good football players coming in and we’re excited to be working with them.”

Even before spring ball, Drevno had been hard at work evaluating his offensive linemen. It was decided about a month ago that starting junior offensive guard Max Tuerk would get yet another crack at center with the early departure of Marcus Martin to the 2014 NFL draft.

“Max is a smart guy, and we’re trying to put the best five guys on the field,” Drevno said. “He’s a veteran guy and he’s played a lot of snaps. We started there; we’ll mix it up and see what’s best for everybody.”

And everybody also means true freshmen Toa Lobendahn, a potential center candidate who left La Habra (Calif.) High early to enroll in time for spring practice, as did Claremont (Calif.) High tackle Jordan Austin.

“Toa comes from a football family with his dad being a coach,” Drevno said. “Coach's kids do the right things, and they been around a lot chasing balls around, so he fits in pretty well.

“I am really impressed with Toa and Jordan Austin. They all have tremendous want to and they want to be good. These guys are a very good draft class in terms of prospects.”

When asked about re-adjusting from coaching in the NFL to coaching in college, Drevno remains philosophical.

“Football is football whether you’re coaching Pop Warner, high school, college, or the pros,” Drevno said. “You roll the ball out and you execute at a high level. The patience level is the same; it’s a journey.”

Drevno’s cardinal and gold journey is just beginning. Not bad for a former USC tailback wannabe.

Top position classes: OL 

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
9:00
AM PT
video
With national signing day in the books, RecruitingNation is looking at the top position classes. For the full series, click here.

Nationally (and SEC)
Not only did Alabama put together the best offensive line class in the 2014 cycle, but it's also one of the best in recent memory. The Crimson Tide inked early enrollee and five-star offensive tackle Cameron Robinson (Monroe, La./West Monroe) and also got top-ranked junior college offensive tackle Dominick Jackson (San Mateo, Calif./College of San Mateo). On the interior, the nation's top two centers, No. 168 overall Josh Casher (Mobile, Ala./Saint Paul’s Episcopal) and No. 190 J.C. Hassenauer (Woodbury, Minn./East Ridge) signed, as did No. 3 guard Ross Pierschbacher (Cedar Falls, Iowa/Cedar Falls). A second guard in the class is three-star Montel McBride (Plant City, Fla./Plant City), who could also play nose tackle at the next level.

The Crimson Tide had the nation’s best offensive line class; here’s which schools had the best in each of the remaining power conferences:


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

When USC opens spring practice on March 11, new offensive line coach Tim Drevno will begin the process of finding the most productive combination of players to fill out the starting unit. A collection of veterans, unproven underclassmen and two early entry freshmen make up a talented-but-thin group which will immediately be thrown into an atmosphere marked by heightened competition.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Closing out signing day at No. 14 in Recruiting Nation’s 2014 class rankings, new USC coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff did a remarkable job of not only grabbing the best players they could but of addressing their needs. Loading up on top-notch athletes such as John “Juju” Smith, Adoree’ Jackson and Rahshead Johnson, for example, the Trojans coaches solved depth issues at wide receiver and in the defensive backfield, while also adding some elite talent.

And while those big-play skill-position prospects garnered much of the attention, USC just might have made its biggest splash along the offensive line.

Sarkisian & Co. reeled in arguably the most highly acclaimed collection of offensive linemen in one recruiting cycle at USC since Pete Carroll’s 2008 class that included Khaled Holmes, Matt Kalil and Tyron Smith – all of whom currently play in the NFL.

Included in this year’s bumper crop are Jordan Austin (Claremont, Calif./Claremont), as well as ESPN 300 members Chris Brown (Los Angeles/Loyola), Toa Lobendahn (La Habra, Calif./La Habra), Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) and Viane Talamaivao (Corona, Calif./Centennial).

“To sign five offensive linemen, some of whom will have opportunities to contribute early on, I think is big,” Sarkisian said at his signing day news conference. “It’s a great group, and a group that was much needed.”

Chris Brown
Blair Angulo/ESPNESPN 300 offensive lineman Chris Brown is a part of an impressive group of USC offensive line signees.
“Much needed” is right. The Trojans not only lost the leader of last season’s offensive line in center Marcus Martin, but also three-year starting right tackle Kevin Graf, as well as important contributorsJohn Martinez and Abe Markowitz. As such, it stands to reason that the newcomers are going to receive every opportunity imaginable to make an instant impact as recently hired offensive line coach Tim Drevno looks to return this group’s level of play to the days of yore.

After all, that smashmouth, take-no-prisoners mindset and standard of production that existed during USC’s magical runs under John McKay, John Robinson and Pete Carroll is something that was noticeably lacking during the past four seasons under Lane Kiffin, at least on a consistent basis.

But there’s reason to believe that with this class -- on top of Sarkisian’s commitment to maintaining an aggressive ground game as an integral part of his fast-paced offense and the hiring of a position coach in Drevno, who has had experience coaching physical offensive lines at Stanford and with the San Francisco 49ers -- that the foundation is there for a successful future.

Each member of the new haul brings something unique. Austin, a mid-year enrollee, is a fantastic 6-foot-5, 275-pound athlete with the frame to pile on more weight, making him a promising tackle prospect for down the road. Brown is an attacking blocker with outstanding technique who can play guard or tackle. Mama is a 370-pound mauler who projects at guard. Talamaivao, who can play guard (and, according to Sarkisian, possibly center) is another player who is noted for his physicality, as well as a nasty streak when he hits the field. And then there’s Lobendahn. Another early entrant, he’s capable of lining up at center, guard or tackle, making him the most versatile of the bunch.

Of the five, Mama, Talamaivao and Lobendahn – who will participate in spring practice – appear most poised to make their presence felt immediately, either as potential starters or key backups.

Significant veterans such as guard/tackle Max Tuerk, tackle Chad Wheeler and guard Aundrey Walker are returning, on top of a slew of reserves such as Jordan Simmons, Zach Banner, Khaliel Rodgers and Nico Falah. So it certainly looks like the Trojans have a deep and talented offensive line unit to pave the way up front next season.

Still, questions abound when discussing this group. Sarkisian has said that every member on the team currently out with an injury will return in time for fall camp, including Walker (ankle), Simmons (knee) and Banner (hip). If any of those players miss the spring and a portion of the summer workouts, however, what kind of shape will they be in when the season rolls around? Will Walker be ready to step into a starting role at right guard again? Can Simmons, who showed tremendous ability in practice, pick up where he left off?

What about the now-vacant center and right tackle positions? Who nails down those spots? And who will step in to assume a leadership role?

The good news is that it’s only February, giving the USC coaches plenty of time to figure out the answers to all of those questions and more.

One thing, though, is already certain. With Austin, Brown, Lobendahn, Mama and Talamaivao now a part of the future equation, the offensive line is in a much better place today, both in regard to the 2014 season and in the long term, than it was just a couple of weeks ago.
When Steve Sarkisian took the reins at USC in early December, he immediately began to assemble a coaching staff filled with assistants known for their prowess as recruiters, five of whom made the move from the University of Washington along with him.

But when the Trojans head coach spoke to the media on Wednesday, following a banner day in which USC closed with a fury to land the nation’s No. 14 signing class, a pair of holdovers from the previous staff drew the most praise – wide receivers coach Tee Martin and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Clay Helton.

After all, it was Martin and Helton who served as the one constant for many of the prospects committed to or considering the Trojans throughout the coaching change. And it was because of their efforts that the new staff was able to make what Sarkisian called a “seamless” transition.

“What they did with the players that were committed to us, and holding on to the relationships with the players that were not committed to us yet, and then as we brought on one coaching staff member after another, the ability of those guys to integrate together and collectively recruit what I think is a fantastic class in a short amount of time,” Sarkisian said, “those guys deserve a great deal of credit.”

[+] EnlargeClay Helton
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsClay Helton kept recruiting even when his own future at USC was unresolved, and the results showed on signing day.
Standing out in particular to Sarkisian was the fact both Martin and Helton’s commitment to the program never wavered for a second, even when their future at USC was completely up in the air.

“You know, they didn’t know if they were going to be kept on, but they continued to recruit,” Sarkisian said. “It was very clear that these guys love USC, they wanted to be a part of it, they wanted to continue to work for USC, and they did it at a really high level.”

Of course, Martin’s standing as an exceptional recruiter already was firmly established before this cycle began. Still, with what he accomplished this time around, there’s little doubt that his status was elevated even further. Primarily responsible for the Los Angeles-area targets, as well as those in Florida and Georgia, he was involved with no fewer than 11 of USC’s eventual signees, including the three ESPN 300 prospects the Trojans reeled in at the end – offensive guard Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco), cornerback Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra) and athlete John “Juju” Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly).

“Tee has done a fantastic job,” Sarkisian said. “Tee’s energy, his work ethic [and] his relentlessness in recruiting has been tremendous. I think he does a fantastic job of developing relationships with the high school coaches and with the recruits themselves.”

Helton doesn’t necessarily have quite the reputation in recruiting circles that Martin does, but according to Sarkisian, he was equally as impressive. He played a key part in the recruitment of at least six eventual Trojans, including the No. 1 tight end/H-back in the ESPN 300, Bryce Dixon (Ventura, Calif./ St. Bonaventure), as well as standout offensive linemen Toa Lobendahn (La Habra, Calif./La Habra) and Viane Talamaivao (Corona, Calif./Centennial).

Noticeably low key when he’s off the field and dealing with the media, Sarkisian was quick to point out that when it comes to Helton’s pursuit of top-notch high school players, he’s as competitive and intense as any coach around – something he learned first-hand when the two went head-to-head in the past.

“I’ve had to battle Clay on the other side where I’ve felt like, ‘Geez, this guy just won’t stop,’" Sarkisian said. “You know, I feel like I’ve got the kid, and then Clay just keeps coming around and around.”

In addition to their work ethic and determined mindset, Martin, who hails from Alabama, and Helton, a Texas native, also share an ability to communicate and relate to recruits and their families that Sarkisian believes stems from their down-to-earth southern backgrounds.

“They’ve got that southern hospitality about them that I think the parents, the kids, they feel Clay, they feel Tee,” Sarkisian said. “They can really connect with them. They don’t have rushed conversations. They take their time. And in the end, the time that they spend, the quality of conversation that they have with the parents and the kids holds true.”

It’s those unique traits that Martin and Helton bring to the table that adds an element of variety that Sarkisian believes is one of the recipes to a strong coaching staff.

And with Wednesday’s results serving as potential proof of that fact, it’s safe to say that he’s thankful to have both of them around.

“The end result,” Sarkisian said, “was that they had a big factor in the class that we signed.”

Early Offer: It’s a wrap 

February, 6, 2014
Feb 6
5:30
AM PT
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Alabama’s 2014 class is special, but is it the best class ever? Who were my biggest winners Wednesday, and what can we look forward to with the class of 2015?

Special class for Bama


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Signing day wrap: Pac-12

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
9:40
PM PT
video
While it was a terrific day for the Pac-12 overall, USC stole the signing day spotlight on Wednesday, hitting for the cycle in landing its top four targets.

The day began well for new coach Steve Sarkisian, as three-star cornerback Lamont Simmons (Jacksonville, Fla./Raines) faxed over his signature, but that was only an appetizer for the Trojans. With 19 scholarships available this year -- NCAA sanctions limited the Trojans to just 15 scholarships in this class and USC was able to roll four unused rides over from the 2013 class -- Simmons took the class to 16. Left on the board were a trio of Southern California ESPN 300 prospects in No. 9 overall prospect, cornerback Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra), No. 24 overall prospect, athlete John "JuJu" Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) and No. 67 overall prospect, offensive guard Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco).

[+] EnlargeJohn
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsJohn "JuJu" Smith was part of a huge signing day for USC.
Sarkisian and the Trojans were able to land all three, giving USC one of the best signing days of any program in the country. The signings give USC 19 additions in the 2014 class, including nine ESPN 300 pledges, one ESPN JC 50 prospect and impact players on both sides of the ball. There is really no way to overstate how well Sarkisian and the Trojans closed on signing day, posting what amounted to a perfect day.

The Trojans wound up with the No. 1 class in the Pac-12, but the rankings in the conference were bunched at the top.

Stanford made a huge run late, landing commitments from all six recruits it targeted over the past two months. The Cardinal added signatures from ESPN 300 defensive end Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Tex./Coppell) -- at No. 25 overall, the highest rated Stanford addition since ESPN began its rankings in 2006 -- and three-star cornerback Terrence Alexander (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian). Though the Cardinal lost a late commitment from defensive end Uriah Leiataua (Compton, Calif./Dominguez), it was a very strong visit and a terrific class headed to the Farm.

Alexander wasn't the only recruit from John Curtis Christian to commit to the Pac-12, as Oregon and UCLA took their biggest commitments of the day from that program. The Ducks landed ESPN 300 safety Mattrell McGraw, while UCLA picked up its lone signing day commit in Kenny Young.

Oregon missed out on Smith and defensive tackle Trey Lealaimatafao (San Antonio/Earl Warren) but was able to land safety Khalil Oliver (Meridian, Id./Rocky Mountain) in a battle against Washington.

UCLA coaches will likely be disappointed with the day. Although the Bruins did reel in Young, UCLA missed on Thomas, No. 1 overall wide receiver Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian) and the Southern California trio, which made matters worse for Jim Mora & Co. by committing to the Trojans. UCLA brought a very good recruiting class into signing day and did a good job of holding onto everybody, but the Bruins took some big swings at some big prospects across the country and didn't get the results they were hoping for.

Arizona State slid a few spots in the national rankings, but the Sun Devils did everything they could on signing day. Todd Graham brought a relatively full class into the day and was able to add two huge signatures in ESPN JC 50 prospects defensive tackle Dalvon Stuckey (De Funiak Springs, Fla./Pearl River CC) and cornerback Kweishi Brown (El Cajon, Calif./Grossmont). The Sun Devils were also able to hold onto another junior college standout in wide receiver Eric Lauderdale (Fayetteville, Ga./Saddleback College), who received a significant late push from Florida.

Arizona was relatively quiet. The Wildcats brought in a huge list of verbal commitments and didn't lose anybody off the top of the class, landing five ESPN 300 prospects. Defensive tackle Marcus Griffin (Bellevue, Wash./Bellevue) was the big addition, as the big lineman selected Arizona over Cal, Mississippi State and Washington State.

Oregon State grabbed a signature from offensive guard Kammy Delp (Pomona, Calif./Diamond Ranch), who will play defensive tackle for the Beavers. Utah announced defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei (South Jordan, Utah/Bingham) as a part of this class after he attempted to sign with the Utes in 2013.

Washington's big addition came Tuesday night in the form of ESPN 300 safety Bishard "Budda" Baker (Bellevue, Wash./Bellevue), but Chris Petersen and the Huskies also received a signing day commitment from intriguing 6-foot-5 receiver Brayden Lenius (West Hills, Calif./Chaminade). The Washington State Cougars closed with their second four-star commitment in this class, safety Deion Singleton (Paco, Wash./Chiawana).

But the day in the West belonged to USC, which jumped from No. 4 in the conference to landing the Pac-12's top 2014 recruiting class. Nationally, the Trojans moved from No. 24 to No. 15 overall.

Stanford (15th), Arizona State (21st) and Arizona (23rd) all finished among the top 25 recruiting classes in the nation.
USC closed with a flourish on national signing day, putting an exclamation point on a recruiting haul that gave head coach Steve Sarkisian plenty to smile about as he spoke to the media inside the John McKay Center.

Adding to a group of five mid-year enrollees who are already on campus, USC landed the signatures of 14 prospects on Wednesday, eight of whom are ranked in the ESPN 300.

“It’s a pretty exciting day ... a pretty exciting week to be a Trojan, quite honestly,” Sarkisian said. “I think that we signed a really balanced class, one that is competitive ... it’s got competitive individuals in it that have high character, and guys that are going to fit in great.”

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Signing day winners and losers

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
9:03
PM PT
video
The ceremonies have concluded, the ink has dried and the fax machines have been turned off once again. And with that, the Class of 2014 is mostly in the books. As is the case annually, there were a number of winners but also some losers on national signing day. Here is a look at a few schools that excelled -- and a couple others that didn't.

THE WINNERS

LSU: The Tigers began the day at No. 3 in the RecruitingNation class rankings and ended with 2014's No. 2 class. The reason is simple: Les Miles and staff got the prospect they had to have in the nation's No. 1 wide receiver, Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian). The Tigers lost both Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson to the NFL, making defensive tackle a key position of need, and they inked a pair of talented tackles in ESPN 300 Travonte Valentine (Hialeah, Fla./Champagnant Catholic) and four-star Trey Lealaimatafao (San Antonio, Texas/Earl Warren). Under the radar but significant is three-star defensive end Sione Teuhema (Keller, Texas/Keller), who flipped from Texas to LSU. Teuhema’s younger brother Maea Teuhema (Keller, Texas/Keller) is the No. 38 junior in the ESPN Junior 300 and has pledged to LSU as well. Holding off Auburn and UCLA to keep ESPN 300 defensive end Davon Godchaux (Plaquemine, La./Plaquemine) was another win on Wednesday.

Florida State: The Seminoles entered signing day with the No. 4-ranked class but were poised to close with a vengeance, and Jimbo Fisher and staff did just that. While the Seminoles moved up only one spot to No. 3, the hits on Wednesday are significant. Leading the way was No. 2-ranked wide receiver Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Homestead). The Noles weren’t done at receiver either, as Fisher and staff flipped Virginia Tech commit and No. 117 overall Ja'Von Harrison (Lakeland, Fla./Kathleen). No. 158 Roderick Johnson (Saint Louis, Mo./Hazelwood Central) and No. 253 Derrick Nnadi (Virginia Beach, Va./Ocean Lakes) were key gets at offensive tackle and defensive tackle, respectively. Three-star offensive tackle Derrick Kelly Jr. (Quincy, Fla./East Gadsden) was another key win over rival Florida.

USC: The Trojans stood to have a big signing day, and Steve Sarkisian and staff certainly delivered. Not only did USC win the hotly contested battle for five-star athlete Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra), but the Trojans won the race for ESPN 300 No. 24 Juju Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) and signed No. 67 overall Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) as expected. More than the names and rankings, Wednesday was a huge perception win for the Trojans and Sarkisian. USC jumped to No. 14 from No. 24 in the RecruitingNation class rankings.

Georgia: The Bulldogs didn’t have a big day in terms of number of commits, but quality ruled the day. Mark Richt and staff signed the player they had to have in five-star outside linebacker/defensive end Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross). While Carter’s announcement was the big one Wednesday afternoon, the morning started off with a bang for Georgia with the signing of No. 286 overall Isaiah McKenzie (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage), who was first offered on Monday and never even visited Athens. Those two big signings kept the Bulldogs in the top 10 at No. 9.

South Carolina: One of the big movers in the class rankings on Wednesday was the Gamecocks. Not only did South Carolina make a jump from No. 27 to No. 19 throughout the day, but the Gamecocks also addressed major areas of need. Steve Spurrier and staff had key areas of need at cornerback and along the defensive front, and they delivered by picking up a pair of ESPN 300 corners in No. 87 overall Chris Lammons (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Plantation) and No. 120 Wesley Green (Lithonia, Ga./Martin Luther King), as well as flipping ESPN 300 defensive tackle Dexter Wideman (Saluda, S.C./Saluda) from Florida State and three-star defensive end Blake McClain (Jacksonville, Fla./Sandalwood) from Nebraska. Fighting off the late January runs by Alabama and Georgia for ESPN 300 linebacker commit Bryson Allen-Williams (Ellenwood, Ga./Cedar Grove) has to be included in the huge wins in recent days.

Kentucky: Sure, Kentucky plucked only one key target on Wednesday in three-star former Vanderbilt and Penn State defensive end commit Lloyd Tubman (Louisville, Ky./Seneca), but it was still a huge day at the finish line for the Wildcats. The 2014 class marks the first time in the nine years that ESPN has ranked recruiting classes that the Wildcats have finished with a top 25 class, and that includes a big win over Alabama for in-state four-star defensive tackle Matt Elam (Elizabethtown, Ky./John Hardin). Signing six defensive backs fills a huge need as well.

Michigan State: The Spartans had a near dream season on the field, and followed it up by closing strong in recruiting. Not only did Michigan State jump nine spots in the class rankings from No. 38 to No. 29 on Wednesday, but it did so while filling a big need on the defensive front with big-time talent. ESPN 300 defensive end Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield) was a big win over Ohio State, Florida State and Michigan, while flipping four-star defensive tackle Craig Evans (Sun Prairie, Wis./Sun Prairie) from Wisconsin earlier in the week was another huge win for the Spartans.

Pac-12: The conference as a whole was quite possibly the big winner on signing day. Of the 13 live commitments on ESPNU throughout the morning and afternoon, seven committed and signed with Pac-12 programs. The winner within the Pac-12 was USC, but Stanford also enjoyed a big day with No. 25 overall Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Texas/Coppell) and three-star corner Terrence Alexander (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian).

THE LOSERS

UCLA: Along with USC and South Carolina, the UCLA Bruins came into today with the most to gain. While Jim Mora and staff scored with four-star linebacker Kenny Young (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian), it was mostly misses throughout the day. Jackson and Smith picked crosstown rival USC, while Dupre opted for home-state LSU. At defensive end, the Bruins missed out twice on Wednesday with Thomas selecting Stanford and Godchaux sticking with LSU. And finally, No. 52 overall Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala./Auburn) stayed in state by picking Alabama over Auburn.

Ole Miss: It’s difficult to place the Rebels' No. 17 class with the losers on signing day, but that was the case in Oxford, Miss. Not only did Ole Miss drop a spot in the class rankings, but it also came up dry with explosive ESPN 300 receiver and return man Isaiah McKenzie (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage), after Hugh Freeze and staff worked the Under Armour All-America Game standout all the way up until Wednesday morning before McKenzie announced for Georgia. While Dupre was a long shot, he was yet another prospect who went elsewhere. The Rebels also lost out on Alexander, who selected Stanford over Notre Dame. The bright spot for the Rebels on Wednesday was signing former Notre Dame transfer and No. 22 in the ESPN JC 50, Tee Shepard
Viane Talamaivao, Damien MamaTom Hauck for Student SportsViane Talemaivao and Damien Mama are longtime friends, and they picked up John "Juju" Smith and Toa Lobenhahn along the way. All four will attend USC.
They don’t wear friendship bracelets or bust out a secret handshake, but the bond shared by USC signees Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco), John “Juju” Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) and Viane Talamaivao (Corona, Calif./Centennial) is unmistakable.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Wednesday will mark the first signing day for Steve Sarkisian as head coach at USC and the first chance to show that he is up to the task of heading the recruiting efforts for the Trojans.

There’s no doubt that Sarkisian had built a good reputation as a recruiter in his five years at Washington and he’s off to a good start in his first two months with the Trojans. Sarkisian has the opportunity to really flex his recruiting muscle with what he is attempting to pull off on signing day.

The top three uncommitted players in the state of California are all still in play with Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra), John "JuJu" Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) and Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco). Not only are the Trojans among the final choices for all three players, but USC is considered at least a co-favorite for each player as well.

If Sarkisian can somehow get signed letters of intent from all three -- or even from two of the three -- it would be a dramatic signal to the Trojans' recruiting rivals.

In the immediate term it would add elite players -- each ranked among the top three at their positions by ESPN. It would also elevate USC to a possible top-10 finish in the ESPN Recruiting Nation class rankings.

With 15 current verbal commits -- five of whom are already enrolled for the spring semester – Sarkisian has the Trojans sitting at the No. 24 spot in the rankings heading into signing day. It was critical for Sarkisian to fill the four early enrollee spots to count against the Class of 2013, which he did, and he has built a nice foundation to the current class, particularly on both sides of the line. The addition of any of the elite trio on signing day, however, would be vital at the top end of the class.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsIf Steve Sarkisian can pull in a couple of the top prospects on USC's board on signing day, it will create some big recruiting momentum.
A strong signing day would also allow Sarkisian to help build upon the momentum that has already begun for the 2015 class. The Trojans recently earned a verbal commitment from quarterback Ricky Town (Ventura, Calif./St. Bonaventure), who flipped from Alabama. Town is ranked as the No. 2 quarterback in the ESPN Junior 300. There was also a verbal commit at the recent Elite Junior Day from cornerback Taeon Mason from Pasadena (Calif.) Muir.

The early success in the Class of 2015 is important to note because that will be the first class in four years in which the Trojans can sign a full 25-player class. USC has been limited to 15 players per year because of NCAA sanctions related to the Reggie Bush case. The 2015 class is considered to be strong in California -- 31 players from the Golden State already have four-stars in the ESPN Junior 300 -- so it’s a good time for Sarkisian and the Trojans to begin rebuilding the roster back to full limits. After having each of the three previous classes reduced, it will seem like a recruiting bonanza to the USC program to get those ten additional bodies next year.

First things first for Sarkisian -- closing out the 2014 class. It’s not going to be a smooth ride as SEC schools such as Florida and LSU are still in the hunt for Jackson, with UCLA making a late push as well, and rumblings of Smith showing interest in the Oregon Ducks.

USC fans have short memories when it comes to signing day changes, from De’Anthony Thomas flipping to Oregon to the five late decommits last year. These players are too good for other schools not to continue making runs at them, and nobody really knows how much of the interest from the players is legitimate. The one thing we do know is that everyone will find out on Wednesday, when all three players make their announcements on ESPNU.

And there might not be anyone who stands to gain more than Sarkisian. One of the primary reasons that USC athletic director Pat Haden gave for hiring Sarkisian is that he offered a smooth transition, in part because of his knowledge of USC and the Southern California recruiting landscape. If things fall the Trojans' way on Wednesday, it would not only be a smooth transition, but a dramatic statement about where USC recruiting is now and where things are headed.

Bold predictions: Pac-12 

February, 4, 2014
Feb 4
10:30
AM PT
video
If the past several years are any indication, it's always fairly safe to expect something unexpected on signing day. From supposed locks signing elsewhere to supposed flips staying put, signing day wouldn't be signing day without the accompanying element of surprise.

With that being said, we look ahead to Wednesday and offer five predictions as to how the Pac-12 will fare.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Biggest flips: Pac-12 

February, 3, 2014
Feb 3
10:30
AM PT
Many of the biggest flips relating to Pac-12 teams came fairly early in the process, which means there might not be much chaos on signing day when it comes to recruits flipping commitments. However, as with every year, flips will help and hurt a number of conference programs come Wednesday, and we take a look at the five biggest in the Pac-12 during this recruiting cycle.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

video
The countdown is on, as the final weekend before signing day comes to a conclusion. Monday begins the dead period before signing day, so phones will likely be ringing off the hook between now and Wednesday -- phone contact is allowed during a dead period, in-person contact is not -- as Pac-12 coaches look to finalize the 2014 class.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

LOS ANGELES – With college football’s national letter of intent day on Wednesday, USC fans are holding their collective breaths that those schoolboy legends who have publicly committed to the Men of Troy or those rumored to be “silent commits” or “leans” will officially fax their LOI in two days over to the John McKay Center.

While the early recruiting precincts are suggesting a fine-to-outstanding Trojans signing day, if things hold up, there is always the fear that at the last minute something will go awry and a major meltdown will begin for both coaches and fans -- as was the case last February.

The Trojans, who have historically been in the top 10 of recruiting ranking polls, have in recent times experienced their share of “what happened” moments on or near signing day, which does not totally reflect the NCAA sanctions. Steve Sarkisian and his new USC staff have been working hard since their arrival trying to ensure that last year's signing day history doesn’t repeat itself.

As of the moment, two California high school All-Americans are said to be heavy Trojans leans - offensive lineman Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) and athlete John “JuJu” Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly).

While Mama and Smith are considered among the top three high school players in California, the top-ranked Golden State star has everybody guessing.

[+] EnlargeAdoree Jackson
Miller Safrit/ESPN.comAdoree' Jackson is considered the top recruiting prize in California in 2014.
All eyes are now directed toward uncommitted Gardena (Calif.) Serra High prized prospect Adoree’ Jackson, the consensus top player in California. A wide receiver/ defensive back, “AJAX” is said to be selecting between the Trojans and Florida; however, watch out for the UCLA Bruins, who might be what Jackson has in mind when he says his college selection on Wednesday will "shock the world."

There are those experts who claim that Jackson’s talent level is near or equal to former Los Angeles Crenshaw superstar De’Anthony Thomas, and most Trojans fans remember Thomas’s signing day stunner back in 2011.

Former Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin is still scratching his head over losing Thomas to Oregon at the last minute. “The Black Mamba” kept thing close to the vest in terms of his signing day leaning – although many thought he would sign with the Trojans. The Thomas defection to Oregon probably cost Lane Kiffin a few victories and maybe some future cardinal and gold job security as well.

Because of his recruiting silence, if Jackson does not select USC it will be disappointing for Trojans fans, but it won’t be quite the shocker that Thomas pulled. The Trojans really thought they had Thomas.

Kiffin isn’t the only former Trojans head coach to experience recruiting drama.

Nobody argues that former legendary Trojans coach Pete Carroll, who led the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday to victory in Super Bowl XLVIII, was one of college football’s greatest recruiters, regardless of era. Carroll’s recruiting prowess in “closing the deal” is almost mythical. Whomever Pete wanted to sign almost always came to fruition – almost.

Carroll, a virtual college rock star of a coach during his time Troy, found that even his unmatched charisma, recruiting skills, and coaching record wasn’t always foolproof. Perhaps you remember the great 2009 U-turn by Hawaiian schoolboy linebacker Manti Te’o, who ended up on the last day signing with Notre Dame.

Talk to people at Punahou School in Honolulu and even the school's faculty and athletic staff thought Te’o was headed for USC. In fact, Te’o’s fellow students were beyond shocked when the future college All-American announced he was headed for South Bend, Ind.

Then there was 2005 signing day head-slapper of former Long Beach (Calif.) Poly wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who shocked Carroll when the Jackrabbits star made the astonishing local television announcement that he was going to … Cal. It seemed almost absurd that Jackson would select the Bears, but that’s what he did during the prime of the Carroll era.

So now comes this Wednesday’s signing day and the Trojans are in position to possibly land the three top recruits in California. Fans of the Cardinal and Gold are praying that a new name doesn’t join the backfire list of “what happened?” recruits.

Yes, the names of Adoree’ Jackson, Damien Mama, and John “JuJu” Smith on a USC letter of intent would indeed erase some of the disappointments of the past. Just ask Steve Sarkisian and his staff how happy they’d be with autographs of the Big Three.

SPONSORED HEADLINES