USC Trojans: Davonte Neal

Mailbag: Holiday Bowl blues

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
5:30
PM PT
First off, a great, big thank you to everyone who sent Merry Christmas notes to the mailbag. They were received ... and appreciated.

To the notes!

Alex in Las Vegas writes: Hi Kevin: What is it that causes Pac 12 teams to lay eggs repeatedly at the Holiday Bowl? The Big 12 teams always seem to show up.

Kevin Gemmell: Though no one actually comes out and says it, there seems to be a vibe around the Pac-12 team at the National University Holiday Bowl the last few years that it somehow feel slighted or miffed to be there. Consider ASU this season. Technically speaking, it was the runner-up in the Pac-12 after losing to Stanford in the title game. But the Valero Alamo Bowl, which has the first pick of Pac-12 teams after the BCS, opted for an Oregon team that lost two conference games.

Same thing last year with UCLA -- which was the league runner-up and won its division. But it was passed over for Oregon State.

There is also something to be said for the delay between the end of the season and the actual bowl game. A lot happens to teams in three weeks. Some teams come in prepared. Other don’t. And a lot of times it’s a crap shoot on what you’re going to get. I’m pretty confident that if Arizona State played Texas Tech in early November, the Sun Devils would have rolled the Red Raiders.

But Texas Tech had that us-vs.-the-world mentality that they rallied around when no one gave them a chance. This game is a built-in trap game for the Pac-12, because the Pac-12 team is usually perceived to be the “better” of the two teams so the Big 12 team has nothing to lose.

It hasn’t been totally one-sided. Washington topped Nebraska in 2009. Oregon beat OSU in 2008 and Cal beat Texas A&M in 2006. Washington State’s last bowl appearance -- prior to this season -- was a 28-20 win over Texas in 2003.

But I’ve said many times that motivation plays a huge role in the postseason. One team looked motivated to be there last night. The other didn’t.

Dave in Bend, Ore. writes: Wilcox or Pendergast? Which one can stop run-first spread offenses with mobile QBs? USC made improvements in its defensive stats overall. While USC showed it can handle the pro style of pass-centric offenses (Stanford, BC & Fresno State) the Trojans had horrible defensive games against ASU and UCLA. The defense was also fortunate to miss both [Keith] Price and [Marcus] Mariota. Perhaps this helped the stats. Don't get me wrong if Pendergast stays (stayed), I think he might be fine but it is far from a slam dunk considering the road back to the top of the Pac 12 goes through schools with mobile QBs.

Gemmell: Well, it’s official that Justin Wilcox is headed to USC, which means an extremely good coordinator in Clancy Pendergast is going to be on the market. And I’m willing to bet Mark Helfrich has already made that phone call.

I’m guessing you’re referring to last week’s mailbag where I broke down the improvements Wilcox and Pendergast brought to their respective programs. But you raise an interesting point about the mobile QBs/spread offenses. So I took a look at how USC and Washington both faired against ASU and UCLA -- two of the schools you brought up. And the numbers are actually pretty similar.

Against both of those teams, USC gave up an average of 48.5 points, 504 total yards, 279.5 passing yards, 224.5 rushing yards, 79.5 quarterback rushing yards and two QB rushing touchdowns. Washington gave up an average of 47 points, 495.5 total yards, 227.5 passing yards, 268 rushing yards, 49.5 QB rushing yards and two QB rushing touchdowns.

So both USC and Washington struggled against those teams. And when you factor in Oregon, which Washington played but USC didn’t, the Huskies gave up 45 points, 631 total yards, 366 in the air, 265 on the ground and 88 yards and a touchdown to Mariota.

Both are outstanding coordinators and coaches and both know how to scheme. But sometimes the guys on the other side of the field are just better at what they do. And in the case of Washington and USC this season, they didn’t have the answers. It doesn’t mean one coordinator is “better” than the other. Most teams in the country struggled against UCLA, Oregon and Arizona State.

USC is getting an outstanding coordinator. Whomever gets Pendergast is going to get an outstanding coordinator. And my hope is that he stays in the Pac-12 because the league is better off with him in it.

Pac-12 fan in Reno writes: Kevin - I'm disappointed that you have allowed yourself to be duped into believing that AU is going to be scary good next season. Yes, the Wildcats have some good WRs and 8 or 9 scholarship QBs (he-he), but it takes more than that to win in the Pac-12. A defense and an O-line can come in handy in our conference. I don't see how some me-first transfers and malcontents are going to change the outlook. They will win 7 games with their SEC-like nonconference schedule, but will find the going awfully tough in the Pac-12 without Ka'Deem [Carey]. AU is a basketball school that has reached its football ceiling. Go Dawgs!!

Kevin Gemmell: I agree. It does take more than wide receivers. And I certainly don’t ever remember saying that Arizona was going to win the Pac-12. I believe the quote I used in last week’s mailbag was: “But Arizona does indeed have some scary potential next year.”

Potential being the operative word.

I still think the balance of power lies in the North Division until proven otherwise. There have been three Pac-12 championship games, and the North has won all three. Until that changes, it is still the dominant division.

However, I do think Arizona has a bunch of talented players coming off the scout team who could make them more competitive in the South Division -- which is pretty wide open. Cayleb Jones, Davonte’ Neal and Austin Hill coming back from injuries certainly are a massive boost.

But the question with Arizona is still going to be quarterback. B.J. Denker did a better job as the season progressed in the passing game, but his greatest asset was as a runner. Whomever is the starter in 2014 will likely have more a down-the-field presence than Denker did. And with that amazing wide receiver corps, they are going to do some damage offensively.

As for Rich Rodriguez, well, I think it’s just silly to say Arizona has reached its football ceiling. Just as I think it’s silly to classify the Wildcats as just a basketball school. They have spent plenty of time through the years as a ranked team. And yes, I am a RichRod fan. Not because his name is fun to say. But because he’s an offensive innovator, and his teams are fun to watch. And the fact that he’s had them in back-to-back bowl games speaks to the potential of the program.

If you really want to know what went on at Michigan, read Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football by John U. Bacon. That’ll tell you all you need to know.

Arizona might not win the Pac-12 South next season, but I can promise you the Wildcats are a team no one is looking forward to playing.

Caleb in Spokane, Wash. writes: Hi Kevin. Do you think that the Cougs losing that bowl game will hurt the quality of the players they get in the offseason? I am a die-hard Coug but seeing the worst "Couging it" of all-time, I am worried about the players for next year. Also, do you think the Cougs should stick with Connor Halliday?

Kevin Gemmell: I think Mike Leach will open up the competition, but I’d be surprised if Halliday doesn’t retain the job. There is no substitute for experience, and when you look at his numbers over the final five games, you can see a pretty clear improvement in his efficiency with 16 touchdowns to five interceptions. Even taking away the Gildan New Mexico Bowl, it’s still 10 touchdowns to four interceptions.

Then again, Leach has been known to play fast and loose with his quarterbacks, so who knows?

As for how the bowl loss impacts recruiting, I don’t think it’s going to be significant. You can check out their recruiting page here, and as you can see, there are some pretty good prospects coming in -- including a couple of highly-rated running backs.

If you’re Leach and his staff, you sell the immediate progress the program has made in just two seasons. This was supposed to be the final rebuilding year before a push to the postseason in 2014. But Leach had his own agenda, and you look back at games like USC, Arizona and Utah as the difference-makers.

The Cougars took a very big step forward, and despite the bowl loss, momentum is on their side. I think they keep it rolling into recruiting and into next year. A couple more seasons under Leach, and the Cougars could be in that eight-nine win range.

Adam in Los Angeles writes: Brett Hundley staying or going. Discuss.

Kevin Gemmell: I’m of the opinion that if Jim Mora would have gone elsewhere, then Hundley certainly would have gone. It wouldn’t have made sense for him to stick around one more season with a third head coach, a third coordinator and a third offensive system. As I previously wrote somewhere else (it all blurs, might have been a column or a story or a chat), if he’s going to learn a third system, it might as well be in the NFL.

But the fact that UCLA ponied up and extended Mora -- and more specifically gave more money to his assistants -- bodes well for his chances of staying for another season. The draft landscape is interesting next year with Mariota and Bryce Petty and maybe Jameis Winston all in the mix.

In 2013, Hundley upped his completion percentage and his raw and adjusted QBR. He took fewer sacks and threw fewer interceptions. If he can refine that raw talent just a little bit more, he could play himself into possibly being a top-five NFL pick.

Mailbag: Christmas Eve edition

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
5:30
PM PT
T’was the night before Christmas and the Pac-12 blog crew;
Was still smarting and miffed at the fall of Wazzu.

Dressed in an opulent red and green sweater;
Ted furiously hoped that the Beavs would do better.

The Trojans exploded and won one for ‘O;’
Only to learn Dion Bailey would go.

Utes, Bears and Buffs are home for the bowls;
Leaving their fans little reason to troll.

Two teams from the desert are still yet to play;
With RichRod and Graham hoping things go their way.

One last run for Price in his prime;
Plus he gets to Fight Hunger at the same time.

The Alamo will be Mack Brown’s last stand;
Even if the year didn’t go as the Ducks planned.

Barr’s last game will be played in The Sun;
We’re also wondering: Is Brett Hundley done?

Last but not least is the Tree vs. Sparty;
In the backfield the Cardinal hope they will party.

So enjoy Christmas Eve with your best pint of ale;
Sit back and relax to this bag of mail.

(I know, it's not as good as Chongo's).

Dylan in Boston writes: Hi Kevin, In all the reporting/speculation about Justin Wilcox following Sarkisian to Troy, it seems like everybody's overlooking the fact that the Trojans already have an A-list coordinator in Clancy Pendergast. Am I the only one confused by this? In the years Pendergast was at Cal, he did more with less than Wilcox has had at Washington (at the least the talent was comparable), particularly against my Ducks. Has Wilcox really shown enough for people to assume that he has the advantage over Pendergast?

Kevin Gemmell: Has he shown enough? I think so. I think Wilcox is an outstanding coordinator and defensive-minded coach. But you’re right, you can’t overlook the job that Pendergast did at USC this year.

The move to an odd front was a fantastic one for the Trojans. Say this for Lane Kiffin, he recognized that the Trojans needed a scheme that was going to be able to account for all of the edge speed in the league and he adjusted accordingly by bringing in Pendergast. Obviously, things didn’t work out so well on the offensive side of the ball for Kiffin. But let’s give the credit where credit is due.

The numbers for both coaches suggest major improvements since their arrival. First, Washington:

In the two seasons since Wilcox arrived, the Huskies have improved in scoring defense each year. They were giving up 35.9 points per game in 2011, followed by 24.2 in 2012 and 23.4 in 2011. They have also improved turnover margin and rushing yards allowed each of the last two years.

For USC, in one season under Pendergast, the Trojans cut their points allowed by more than a field goal, made huge strides in rush defense (167 yards allowed in 2012 compared to 120.3 in 2013) and were on the plus side of turnover margin after going minus-2 in 2012 and minus-1 in 2011 (they were plus-6 this year).

So the morale of the story is this: If you’re a Washington fan, you want Wilcox to stay in Washington. If you’re a USC fan, you’re going to be happy either way.

Peter in NorCal writes: One thing that Sark going to SC won't hurt: The Stanford-USC rivalry. It seems like David and Steve get along about as well as Jim and Pete did. Fair statement? What are your observations about the two of them (both generally, and specifically the snippiness that ensued after the Stanford/Washington game this year).

Kevin Gemmell: It’s funny that you bring that up. Every year Ted and I go to the Pac-12 spring meetings in Arizona. Basically, it’s Ted and I sitting outside of meeting rooms, waiting for the coaches to emerge, and then grabbing them for interviews. Then we sit outside, watch the coaches eat lunch, and then grab them again for more interviews.

One thing Ted and I were commenting on this year was how well all of the Pac-12 coaches get along. The Big 12 coaches meeting was going on at the same time and there was little to no interaction between those guys. But the Pac-12 coaches were all sitting together and chatting each other up after meetings.

Now, we’re not in the meetings with the coaches, so I can’t speak to how they interact. But from what I’ve seen, Sarkisian and David Shaw got along just fine.

Of course, that was last May and a lot has happened since then, including the aforementioned post-game war of words.

We don’t need to rehash all of the details, but I know Shaw objected to having his assistant and his players called out by name. And whether you agree with him retaliating with a Tuesday tirade is your personal business. Sark was ticked and probably broke a couple of unwritten rules. It happens. Shaw kept the story alive an extra couple of days by using the coaches' teleconference and his Tuesday roundtable as a pulpit to respond.

Neither coach "won" the public relations battle. And I don't think either cares. But it certainly spices things up for when the Cardinal and Trojans meet again. That -- and the fact that it's come down to the last play three of the last four meetings.

Curt in Las Vegas writes: Hey Kevin, Chip Kelly left the Oregon Ducks firmly entrenched with quality players. In 2013 going 10 and 2 and playing in the Alamo bowl to us Duck fans is a letdown! Do you think Mark Helfrich is planted at Oregon with the year he had?

Kevin Gemmell: Did Chip Kelly hurt Marcus Mariota’s knee? I think we can all agree that things took a turn for the worst for Oregon when he started coming up gimpy.

I think Helfrich is a very good coach who encountered a lot of the Year 1 obstacles every coach faces. But because it’s Oregon, a perennial top-5 program, those obstacles are magnified. When you’ve sat in a coordinator’s chair for so long and then make the jump, there is some transition and self-evaluation that is required. Ted and I took a lot of guff for picking Stanford to win the conference over Oregon for this very reason.

The Alamo Bowl is a letdown, sure. A 10-2 team playing in the deepest conference in college football deserves a shot at a BCS bowl game. But as the players have said, they need only look at themselves for where they are at.

Helfrich is going to be just fine, and Oregon is going to be just fine. He has a chance to get an 11th win -- something Kelly didn’t do in his first year. And win a bowl game. Also something Kelly didn’t accomplish. We have to see how the new College Football Playoff pans out, but I don’t see any reason why a Helfrich-led Oregon won’t be in the hunt annually.

Scott in London, England writes: Hi Kevin, I've read twice in the blog today about you mentioning how scary Arizona can be next year and it got me thinking. I know we have a lot of great transfers and recruits coming in, but I'm a bit unsure as to who exactly are supposed to be immediate impact players and how many returning starters there wil be, etc.I was wondering if you and Ted plan on doing a run down of next year's potential for each Pac team that consolidates all this into one easy blog post per team:* Transfers/JuCos and why they are good/meh* Recruits and why they are good/meh* Returners and why they are good/meh* Coaching changes and why they are good/meh (assistants too)* Schedule goods and bads* Will there be an El Nino, etc...I would say I'm an above-avg fan but I really don't have the Google-Fu skills or time to compile all this and I think every Pac fan would appreciate it a series like that.Maybe you guys already do that during the offseason or preseason, but I think it could also be good after bowl season.You can think of it as your first chance to be the, "We told you so" guys. Thanks for reading, always enjoy your stuff. Keep up the good work.

Kevin Gemmell: I can assure you there will be plenty of time in the offseason for all sorts of schedule analysis, roster breakdowns etc. etc. Ted and I are happy to fill the void during the offseason, as we do every year.

Just a heads up on Arizona. Among some of the key players who will be coming off the scout team are Cayleb Jones, Davonte’ Neal and Connor Brewer. They will all be eligible in 2014 after transferring.

Jones is a wide receiver who is transferring from Texas, and he’s reunited with Brewer, a former Longhorns quarterback. Neal, from Scottsdale, is a transfer receiver from Notre Dame who made a push to become eligible in 2013, but the NCAA denied his hardship waiver. You put him in with Austin Hill, who should be fully recovered from his knee injury and should be high on the Belitnikoff watchlist, along with David Richards, Nate Phillips and Samajie Grant and you have a receiver corps that is as good as any in the conference -- probably the country.

Quarterback will be an issue and Anu Solomon is one to watch. I had this in Lunch Links today. It’s a good read from Anthony Gimino breaking down Arizona’s QB prospects for next year.

Essentially, the Wildcats have a bunch of really exciting skill players that will make the South that much more exciting. They do lose three seniors on the defensive line, so guys like Luca Bruno, Calvin Allen and Jack Banda will have to step up.

But Arizona does indeed have some scary potential next year.

Mike in Maple Valley, Wash. writes: Your definition of "Coug" was pretty spot on. You said it has been an effective term since 2005. The origin may actually go back to the 1975 Apple Cup. To "Coug it" is a ceremonial act hand down from one generation to another.

Kevin Gemmell: First off, Maple Valley sounds like the most delicious place on earth.

Second, that was a phrase pulled straight from the Urban Dictionary, and the submission was entered in 2005, so unfortunately I can’t take credit for it. I didn’t put the link in though because Urban Dictionary has a lot of non-blog-friendly expressions and sayings. You’re free to Google it yourself.

I called no joy in writing that piece. But I do think Washington State is moving in the right direction under Mike Leach. Speaking of that column ...

Andy in Fort Collins Colo. writes: You’re Washington State take was so one-sided and arrogant. How about giving the Rams a little credit instead of making excuses. (And Merry Christmas).

Kevin Gemmell: Ah, thanks Andy. Merry Christmas to you.

It was a Washington State-centric story because I’m the Pac-12 reporter and I cover the Pac-12 and Washington State is a Pac-12 team and it appeared on the Pac-12 blog. See the trend?

Did you email all of the beat writers in Pullman and Spokane and the surrounding areas and chastise them for their coverage? The folks at CougCenter do a heck of a job. And their stuff was a bit one-sided.

I don’t think it’s arrogant to say the Pac-12 is a better conference. I’ve covered both, so I feel like I’m qualified to weigh in on this. In the 12 games the two conferences have played so far, the Pac-12 has gone 11-1 and outscored the Mountain West, on average, 38.5 to 20.

Arizona should beat UNLV. And it did. Colorado should beat Colorado State. And it did. Oregon State and USC should beat Hawaii. And they did. Oregon State should beat San Diego State. And it did. UCLA should beat Nevada. And it did. Stanford should beat San Jose State. And it did. USC and Utah should beat Utah State. And they did. USC should beat Fresno State and Washington should beat Boise State. And they did.

For what it’s worth, I did include in the piece that Colorado State deserved the win for not quitting. And anything is possible (especially in Albuquerque, it seems) when you have two weeks to prepare.

That goes for tonight’s matchup between Oregon State and Boise State. The Broncos certainly aren’t the same team they were a month ago. And I’m not totally sure which Oregon State team we’re going to get. If it’s the explosive Sean Mannion-to-Brandin Cooks connection, the Beavs should be fine. If it’s not, then Boise State certainly could win.

Such is the nature of bowl season.

Merry Christmas from the Pac-12 blog.

Pac-12 lunchtime links

September, 10, 2013
9/10/13
11:30
AM PT
In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.

"Whenever you feel like criticizing any one," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."

Pac-12 lunchtime links

September, 4, 2013
9/04/13
11:30
AM PT
When from our better selves we have too long
Been parted by the hurrying world, and droop,
Sick of its business, of its pleasures tired,
How gracious, how benign, is Solitude.

Pac-12 recruiting storylines: Aug. 15 

August, 15, 2013
8/15/13
1:00
PM PT
The Pac-12 has a chance to gain two big commitments over the coming days, but those won’t be the only eventual newcomers who will make an impact. And one of the conference’s heavyweights could have plenty to sell this fall.

Another Saturday commitment

Thursday's episode of RecruitingNation

January, 26, 2012
1/26/12
9:17
AM PT
"RecruitingNation" airs at 5:30 p.m. ET today on ESPNU with host Dari Nowkhah and RecruitingNation's Tom Luginbill, Craig Haubert and Jamie Newberg.

RecruitingNation breaks down the top 10 players still undecided, including Dorial Green-Beckham, Davonte Neal, Andrus Peat and Eddie Goldman. The panel discusses why these players are important, where are they are likely to end up, and what it means for the teams that don’t get them.

The show will also feature results from ESPN The Magazine’s "Recruiting Confidential" poll of the top prospects in the nation. Who do the top players think is the nation’s best recruiter? Most over-rated recruiter? And, do they feel like they were being stalked through the recruiting process?

The show wraps up with a look at the top storylines for fans to follow as we count down to Feb. 1, national signing day.
Davonte NealDavide De Pas for ESPN.comUSC recruiting target Davonte Neal shot up the ESPNU 150 ranks, as he is the No. 1 athlete and No. 8 overall prospect in the country.

While the No. 1 ranked players stayed consistent in the final release of the ESPNU 150, there was a shakeup in the top 10, as USC targets Davonte Neal (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chaparral) and Andrus Peat (Tempe, Ariz./Corona Del Sol) staked claims to the No. 8 and No. 9 spots in the country, respectively.

Both players became five-star members of the ESPNU 150 and Neal becomes the No. 1 ranked athlete in the country, jumping 21 spots. Their performance all week at the Under Armour All-America Game aided in their climb. Peat finished as the No. 2-ranked offensive tackle, jumping seven spots overall.

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USC looks to add second corner 

January, 18, 2012
1/18/12
12:27
PM PT
It’s become apparent at this point that the USC coaches would prefer to add a second cornerback in this class.

One of the realities of the scholarship reductions is that there will be certain positions where tough choices will have to be made -- the coaches may want to add a player for depth purposes but have to weigh the importance of the choice against the limited scholarships available.

The ability to bring in a second corner in this class was one of those decisions. There was a pretty good sense all along that Kevon Seymour (Pasadena, Calif./Muir) was a solid lean to the Trojans and it would have been understandable if the coaches had decided to place all of their eggs in that basket.

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Latest recruiting buzz out west 

January, 10, 2012
1/10/12
3:33
PM PT
With just a few weeks to go before signing day, there is a lot going on and a lot of news coming out on some of the top prospects out west.

Arik Armstead (Elk Grove, Calif./Pleasant Grove) gave some thought to committing at the U.S Army All-American Bowl last weekend but decided to hold off. The buzz was if he did commit, Cal was the likely choice. A decision could still be around the corner and the family continues to mention Oregon and Notre Dame as having a real shot at this time as well.

Offensive lineman Zach Banner (Lakewood, Wash./Lakes) will visit USC but is still trying to figure out the date. His original plan was to visit this coming weekend (Jan. 13) and then commit the following Monday. Now Banner is saying he’ll likely visit (Jan. 20) and decide the following week. Oklahoma, Washington and USC are in his final three.

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Tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick (Rocklin, Calif./Whitney) was the lone USC commit in Thursday's Under Armour All-America Game, and while his Black team was defeated 49-16 by the White team, Cope-Fitzpatrick provided a highlight for his squad.

The big tight end hauled in his team's lone touchdown, going up in the end zone and turning his body completely around to snag a ball thrown over his opposite shoulder. Cope-Fitzpatrick added a first-down grab early in the game, making a solid catch on an out route before hitting the sideline. There were a couple miscues, which prove there is still room for development, but Cope-Fitzpatrick capped off a solid week with a very nice performance in the game, complete with a victory sign after his touchdown.

Of the USC targets, it has hard not to notice defensive lineman Leonard Williams (Daytona Beach, Fla./Mainland), who registered a sack and improved his stock as much as anybody during the week-long event. Williams engaged in several terrific one-on-one battles with fellow USC target Isaac Seumalo (Corvallis, Ore./Corvallis).

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USC fans might need to wait until Saturday to see a lot of the Trojans recruiting targets in action, but Thursday’s Under Armour All-America Game (4:30 p.m. PT, ESPN/ESPN3) features plenty of players to keep an eye on.

Black team

WR Nelson Agholor (Tampa, Fla./Berkeley Prep), jersey No. 3

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Recap of USC recruits in UA practices 

January, 4, 2012
1/04/12
11:42
AM PT
The Under Armour All-American game practices have concluded and the players will spend Wednesday in meetings as they get prepared for the game tomorrow night.

As usual, the practices gave a glimpse of how some of the USC prospects will compete against other elite recruits from around the country.

USC fans have to be pleased with what future Trojans tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick has shown so far. He has stood out among the players at his position and been a real weapon as a pass catcher in the red zone. With his 6-foot-4, 261-pound frame, he is also serving as a very effective blocker. That’s good news for a Trojans offense that is utilizing the tight end more and more.

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Former USC wide receiver commit Jaydon Mickens (Los Angeles/Dorsey) was the star of the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl on Tuesday, catching a touchdown pass and recording a long rush and kickoff return as the West came away with a 17-14 victory.

USC targets Tee Shepard (Fresno, Calif./Washington Union) and Deontay Greenberry (Fresno, Calif./Washington Union) made their presence felt in the West defensive backfield, as Shepard deflected several passes and nearly came up with a terrific interception, while Greenberry did record an interception late in the game, which helped seal the win.

Fellow Trojans target D.J. Foster (Scottsdale, Ariz./Saguaro) played running back for the West team, and although he was mostly held in check, certainly showed glimpses of what makes him such a special football player. He is a versatile athlete who can play tailback as well as wide receiver, which makes him a matchup problem for opposing defenses.

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USC's most important targets No. 6-10 

December, 28, 2011
12/28/11
5:00
PM PT
10. WR Nelson Agholor (Tampa, Fla./Berkeley Prep) -- A dynamic two-way player will likely begin his career as a wide receiver. He drops on this list because he doesn't play a position of huge need in this class and he won't end up in the Pac-12 if he doesn't sign with USC. He remains on the list because he is a potential game-changer and the Trojans could be forced to face him every year, as Notre Dame is high on his list.

9. ATH Davonte Neal (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chaparral) -- Another two-way standout, Neal would give the Trojans a big-time cornerback and outstanding special teams returner in this class. Cornerback is definitely a need position, but if the Trojans miss on Neal, he could very well be headed out of the conference.

8. DT Aziz Shittu (Atwater, Calif./Buhach Colony) -- The USC coaches would like to add a couple of defensive tackles in this class, and Shittu has been a target for some time now. He is athletic enough to play any of the four positions along the line and would give USC tremendous flexibility in working with a depleted roster. On top of that, grabbing Shittu would keep him away from Pac-12 competition in Stanford, California and UCLA.

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Neal raves about visit to Notre Dame 

December, 12, 2011
12/12/11
8:04
AM PT
Davonte Neal (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chaparral) took his first official visit to Notre Dame over the weekend and the Irish set the bar high.

“It was amazing there,” Neal said. “I really looked at this as a business trip and put academics first. That actually fit in well with how the whole weekend went, because Notre Dame puts academics before football and that’s important to me. Notre Dame puts their players on a plan to graduate in 3 1/2 years if they can come in and start in June, so you can graduate at the end of your junior year.

“I sat down and talked a lot with the academic people and they told me the ins and outs of how things work. They treat their athletes the same as the regular students and I think that’s very cool. I plan to major in Sports Broadcasting and they encourage you to take an acting class since broadcasting is almost part acting at times and that sounded like a lot of fun for me.”

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