NCF On The Trail: Pac-12

When it comes to quarterback recruiting for the Pac-12, things have changed dramatically from last year. In the 2015 class, ESPN 300 quarterbacks littered the California landscape and few Pac-12 programs even thought about venturing outside of the West region for their quarterback targets. This year, the region hasn’t been especially kind to the conference at the quarterback position in the early going, despite No. 40 overall prospect K.J. Costello announcing his commitment to Stanford on Thursday afternoon.
[+] EnlargeK.J. Costello
Scott Fink/Student SportsWith K.J. Costello headed to Stanford, the quarterback ranks out west are getting thin.
Malik Henry finished his junior season as the top prospect in the West but committed to Florida State then transferred to a high school in Florida. That left quarterback Jacob Eason as the top West prospect, but he removed his name from the uncommitted list very early on, announcing his pledge to Georgia last July. Keaton Torre is the region’s No. 3 quarterback and just recently opened his recruitment back up after committing to Louisville. That leaves Torre and Ian Book as the lone uncommitted ESPN Junior 300 quarterbacks in the West, two of several signal-callers in the region who could see their recruitment pick up with attention now fully shifted away from Costello. Book holds a Pac-12 offer from Washington State and appears to be just behind fellow California quarterbacks Matt Fink and Devon Modster in terms of sought-after signal-callers in the area. Programs that fell out of the Costello sweepstakes moved quickly on either Fink or Modster -- or sometimes both -- and that could also be the case with USC after missing out on Costello. Fink’s Pac-12 offers came from Cal, Colorado, Oregon State, Utah, Washington and Washington State, while Modster holds offers from Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, UCLA, Utah and Washington State. There likely won’t be much urgency at the position for a number of teams in the conference, as many likely believe their 2015 addition can cover up for a somewhat down year in the region at the position in 2016. Arizona, Cal and Oregon are the three Pac-12 programs that appear set at quarterback for the 2016 class, and Stanford can now be added to that list with Costello’s commitment. The Ducks landed their top target in ESPN Junior 300 quarterback Seth Green, while the Wildcats gained a pledge from Khalil Tate as a quarterback when other programs recruited him as an athlete. Cal has a commitment from dual-threat Armani Rogers. Utah does have a commitment from Kahi Neves, though he could play a number of positions for the Utes. USC could go after the aforementioned California quarterbacks, or the Trojans could elect to stand pat at the position, leaving a gap between the two ESPN 300 quarterbacks they signed in the 2015 class and what should be a very good crop of 2017 quarterbacks in the region. Stanford coaches surely were breathing a sigh of relief Thursday afternoon, as they won't have to go through a repeat of what happened in 2015. They went hard after their top -- and only -- target at quarterback and reeled him in.
video The Pac-12 received a recruiting boost Monday night, as several members of the Ground Zero 7-on-7 team announced their college intentions and over the course of the day, the conference added five commitments in total. Specifically, the Los Angeles programs were the big winners with the Ground Zero prospects, as UCLA added two pieces to its 2016 class -- in No. 1 inside linebacker Lokeni Toailoa and athlete Demetric Felton -- and USC got on the board for the 2017 class, with running back Stephen Carr.

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video What California quarterbacks were to Pac-12 recruiting in 2015, wide receivers in the state will be to the conference in 2016.

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Signing day has come and gone and with it an entirely new batch of Pac-12 players is joining the conference (269 players, to be exact).

With the Pac-12 gaining more national recognition, it’s no surprise to see the recruiting trends heading further outside of what was typically considered “Pac-12 territory.”

For example, the most heavily recruited area was -- unsurprisingly -- the West Coast and states that are the home to one or more Pac-12 programs. But right after that, the next-biggest target was the South and Southeast: SEC territory. The Pac-12 signed the same number of recruits from Texas as it did Arizona. Louisiana was a big state for the conference as well -- Pac-12 schools signed 13 players from the Bayou State.

Here’s a closer look at where exactly the conference picked up its Class of 2015 talent:
Observations:
  • One obvious note is the number of players from California -- players from the Golden State account for 48 percent of Pac-12 signees in 2015. That’s not too surprising, considering how large and talent-rich the state is. Of the top 25 players in California, 21 signed with Pac-12 schools. The other four signed with Alabama, Tennessee, Notre Dame and San Jose State.
  • Each Pac-12 program signed at least one player from California in the 2015 class (that’s the only state with which that’s true this season). On average, there are 11 signees from California in each recruiting class this season. Though it’s USC who leads the way with 17 signees from California, Washington State was right on the Trojans’ heels with 16 signees from Cali.
  • The state of Washington showed out pretty well in the conference. While there was only one player from Washington in the ESPN 300, there were 16 signees from the state who landed with Pac-12 programs.
  • The only program to not sign a player from the program’s home state was Oregon. However, there were five players from Oregon that did sign with Pac-12 programs. Those players ended up at Arizona (1), Oregon State (2), Stanford (1) and Washington (1).
  • Players staying home: Arizona and Arizona State signed seven players from Arizona; California, Stanford, UCLA and USC signed 48 players from California; Colorado signed four players from Colorado; Oregon State signed two players from Oregon; Utah signed three players from Utah; and Washington and Wazzu signed a total of nine players from Washington.
  • The most national class (meaning the team that signed the players from the most number of states) was Stanford, which signed players from 13 states. The least national class was USC, which signed players from just six states.

But what about the concentration of top talent in the 2015 class?

Again, unsurprisingly, California leads the way. The Golden State makes up half of the four-star and five-star players in the 2015 Pac-12 class. USC snagged five-star cornerback Iman Marshall, who hails from Long Beach, California, and 33 of the 66 four-stars in the 2015 class are also from California.

But this is where there’s a bit of a changeup. Of the 14 players from Texas that signed in the 2015 class, five (36 percent) are four-star players who landed at Pac-12 programs. After that -- with the exception of three four-star players from Georgia -- the majority of the top talent, again, hails from the traditional Pac-12 region.

[+] EnlargeChris Clark
Joe Faraoni/ESPN ImagesIt's not often that the Pac-12 pulls top prospects from Connecticut, such as UCLA-bound tight end Chris Clark.
Five-stars:

  • Hawaii: 1
  • California: 1
Four-stars:
  • California: 33
  • Texas: 5
  • Washington: 4
  • Arizona: 3
  • Georgia: 3
  • Utah: 3
  • Two four-star signees: Louisiana, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma
  • One four-star signee: South Carolina, Colorado, Missouri, Tennessee, Florida, Connecticut, Hawaii

More notes:
  • Notably, the conference signed a four-star and five-star player from Hawaii. There were only four players in the state that were four- or five-star players. The two players who didn’t sign with a Pac-12 team went to Texas Tech and BYU. Both had Pac-12 offers.
  • The conference also cleaned up -- in regard to snagging the limited top talent out of state -- in Nevada. There were only three four-star players in Nevada and two ended up in the Pac-12 (UCLA and USC). The other player signed with Notre Dame.
  • More impressively, the conference was able to sign one of two four-star players out of Connecticut (TE Chris Clark, UCLA). When considering the distance between Nevada and the Pac-12 and Connecticut and the Pac-12, this is quite a recruiting feat.

As these players get more into the programs and possibly become big Pac-12 contributors, it will only open up these national pipelines more, making the conference’s footprint even bigger.
When asked to select my three favorite Pac-12 players from the recently released Ultimate ESPN 300, it became a far tougher assignment than Tuesday's five surprises or Wednesday's five intriguing recruitments.

Quarterbacks Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley, Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley authored so many standout moments that it was difficult to separate any of them. Stanford maulers such as David Yankey, David DeCastro and Andrus Peat, along with super tailback Toby Gerhart, helped Stanford become one of the most physically impressive teams in the nation. Pass-catchers such as Brandin Cooks, Keenan Allen and USC's duo of Robert Woods and Marqise Lee could each be the subject of feature-length highlight films.

But when it came down to it, turns out I'm just a sucker for two- (and sometimes three-) way football.

Adoree' Jackson

After a strong true freshman season, Jackson is already No. 38 in the Ultimate 300 and the No. 4 USC Trojan on the list. Jackson was USC's best cornerback in 2014, turned three of his 10 receptions into touchdowns and brought back two kickoffs for scores. Jackson's signature plays in 2014 came in the Trojans' bowl game against Nebraska, when he put USC's first points on the board with a 98-yard kickoff return touchdown, then scored the first touchdown of the second half by turning a short pass into a 71-yard score.

Shaq Thompson

Thompson was a star on both sides of the ball for Washington in 2014 and has the Paul Hornung Award -- given to the nation's most versatile player -- to prove it. Any number of plays from this past season come up when Thompson's name is mentioned, including his 100-yard fumble return against Cal, his performance against Illinois when he scored two defensive touchdowns, and his back-to-back 100-yard rushing games against Colorado and UCLA. During his junior year, Thompson rushed for 456 yards and two touchdowns, and totaled 81 tackles, four fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles, as he rocketed up from No. 231 to No. 87 in the newest Ultimate 300.

Myles Jack

As a true freshman, Jack was inserted as a tailback against Arizona, and almost immediately everything changed for Jack and the Bruins. He rushed six times for 120 yards, including a 66-yard scoring run against the Wildcats, as the legend of Myles Jack was born. He tallied four rushing touchdowns against Washington and was named the Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year in the Pac-12 in 2013. In 2014, Jack took a step back from the offensive side of the ball, but still rushed for three touchdowns. He was great again on defense, racking up 88 tackles and an interception. He checks in at No. 238 on the Ultimate 300, and like the other two listed above, he's capable of adding to his highlight tape in any number of ways.
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Many believe ESPN Junior 300 defensive Nick Bosa will be an even better college football player than his brother. That’s saying a lot because his brother is Joey Bosa, star defensive lineman for national champion Ohio State and one of the top projected picks for the 2016 NFL draft.


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A quick check of the recently released Ultimate ESPN 300 reveals a strong Pac-12 quarterback presence toward the top of the list. The three conference quarterbacks in the top 25 are tied for the most players at one position from one conference.

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck leads the way for the Pac-12 at No. 9. He’s the No. 2 quarterback on the list and the top-10 player that made the biggest jump from his original ranking, moving all the way from No. 61 in the 2008 class. USC quarterback Matt Barkley checks in at No. 11, one of 15 current or former Trojans on the list. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is in at No. 25, as his Heisman Trophy-winning season resulted in a huge rise from last year, where he was No. 228. Mariota and fellow Heisman winner Johnny Manziel are the only two of the top 36 prospects that were not ranked in the ESPN 150 or 300 of their recruiting class.

With that group firmly established as the top three Pac-12 quarterbacks since ESPN rankings began with the 2006 class, we take a look at the present and future of the conference, with three quarterbacks in each of those groups that could eventually play their way into a future Ultimate ESPN 300.


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The Ultimate ESPN 300 is loaded with 14 Pac-12 prospects who didn’t make their respective ESPN 150 or ESPN 300 rankings, so trimming that list to the top five who outperformed their initial rankings and became surprise stars at the college level wasn’t easy. The state of Oregon led the way on this list, but Arizona State and Stanford were also home to a few college stars who didn’t receive the same level of recruiting attention as others.


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Pac-12 2015 recruiting in review 

February, 12, 2015
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The Pac-12 landed six top-30 recruiting classes and 47 ESPN 300 prospects as every program brought in potential immediate, impact players capable of making an impression on the 2015 season. Here, we take a look back at the recruiting cycle and signing day, and hand out some superlatives for the 2015 recruiting class.


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2016 recruits to watch in the Pac-12 

February, 6, 2015
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Signing day for the Class of 2015 just wrapped up, but coaches have been hard at work on the 2016 class for months. Oregon and USC each already have three ESPN Junior 300 prospects committed, and UCLA holds a commitment from the No. 53 overall prospect, tight end Breland Brandt.

Here are five uncommitted 2016 prospects to watch in the West region who will be of particular interest to Pac-12 programs.


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EUGENE, Ore. -- No news is good news ... at least for Oregon on signing day.

"I think we hit today with no surprises, in terms of good or bad," Oregon coach Mark Helrich said. "Which is always kind of maybe your goal on signing day."

Unlike a few of its Pac-12 brethren, the Ducks weren’t waiting on some last-minute commitments from top recruits. The only activity of late was a few other schools coming on hard to some of Oregon’s commits, and the visit from Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams last weekend.

However, even with that action, there were no changes in the class and the Ducks signed 22 players -- two junior college transfers and 20 high school seniors. Of those players, five have enrolled in Eugene.

Headlining the class and the early enrollees is five-star defensive end Canton Kaumatule, who could add immediate depth to the Ducks' pass rush this fall. Their second-highest signee is running back Taj Griffin, whose brother Ty is already on the roster. Griffin will add depth to a loaded Oregon backfield.

Oregon also added depth (both on the roster and height-wise) to their wide receiver and tight end groups. Both 6-foot-2 wide receiver Alex Ofodile and 6-foot-5 WR/TE hybrid Jake Breeland could see early playing time because of injuries and transfers.

Though the Ducks did manage to address a few areas of need with this class, the big question remains at quarterback: Who is going to replace Heisman winner Marcus Mariota?

Signee Travis Waller will arrive on campus in time for spring football, so he will be competing for the starting spot. At 6-3, he matches Morgan Mahalak as the tallest quarterbacks in competition, but Mahalak has the advantage of a year of training under Mariota in Oregon’s scheme.

But all of these names and heights and weights are old hat to most Oregon fans, who have been aware of these players for the past few months.

So what is it about the Ducks and their program that caused them not to have any late additions or subtractions?

"I think we’re honest -- it’s a very simple way to put it," Helfrich said. "I think there’s a lot of guys that love the sales aspect and the recruiting aspect. ... If we see you at this position, we’re going to be honest with you. It’s not the end all, be all, but we talk about how hard it is to play here and that, in the end, gets the right guys."

"We got some guys in this class because we deal with guys very honestly, and we lost some guys in this class because we deal with guys very honestly," Helfrich added.

Helfrich’s consistency in his personality and attitude has been talked about at length throughout this season as one of the reasons why his team was able to bounce back from an early loss to Arizona and make it to the national title game.

It appears that same attitude exists in recruiting, too. And Helfrich said "derecruiting," -- the idea that when a four- or five-star player gets to campus he needs to be reminded that he isn’t all that -- just doesn’t happen with him because he never starts by telling a recruit he is all that.

"We don’t go into a tailback’s home and say, 'Hey, man, you’re going to carry the ball 35 times a game, you’re our bell cow, boom, let’s go,'" Helfrich said. "That never happens. They’re a part of something great."

Grading the recruiting classes: Pac-12

February, 5, 2015
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Here's a team-by-team breakdown of the 2015 recruiting classes in the Pac-12.

Grade

1. USC Trojans

National rank: 3

Coach Steve Sarkisian's first full class is very impressive, as more than half are in the ESPN 300. The Trojans proved they could close as well with five-star corner Iman Marshall and Serra teammates John Houston Jr, the No. 1 ILB, and Rasheem Green, the No. 8 DT announcing on signing day. They also have commitments from two of the nation's best quarterbacks, No. 115 Sam Darnold and No. 124 Ricky Town, who flipped from Alabama. The Trojans added ESPN 300 RB Ronald Jones II at the Under Armour Game. Protecting those future QBs will be No. 21 Chuma Edoga and three-star Roy Hemsley. Future USC pass-catchers are junior college prospects Isaac Whitney and De'Quan Hampton and ESPN 300 tight end Tyler Petite, who flipped from Duke. On defense, No. 141 Jacob Daniel is a key pledge on the interior, and three-star Noah Jefferson is full of upside at tackle. ESPN 300 inside linebacker Cameron Smith (No. 300) is a run-stuffer, and was joined in January by No. 77 Osa Masina. No. 137 Isaiah Langley is one of the top cover corners in the country. The Trojans added No. 99 Marvell Tell and No. 286 Ykili Ross on Jan. 4. Porter Gustin was a big get just prior to signing day. He has the physical tools to be a presence off the edge.



To see the rest of the grades from the Pac-12, click here. Insider
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Pac-12

Pac-12 signing day primer

February, 3, 2015
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We’re now just one day away from national signing day as recruits across the country prepare to sign their national letters of intent with the school of their choice. ESPNU and Watch ESPN will provide 11 hours of continuous coverage throughout Wednesday beginning at 8 a.m. ET, and ESPN’s RecruitingNation will provide one-stop shopping for breaking news, announcements and a day-long chat. Fans of Pac-12 programs will be especially interested in the televised announcements on Wednesday, as of the 17 recruits scheduled to announce on ESPNU, Pac-12 programs are potential destinations for 10. While a majority of each conference class will sign on Wednesday without any drama, there are still several top prospects who could shake up the conference rankings and signing day is always good for a few interesting twists.

For team-by-team coverage of the Pac-12, check out the conference’s recruiting pages:
Arizona
Arizona State
California
Colorado
Oregon
Oregon State
Stanford
UCLA
USC
Utah
Washington
Washington State

One storyline to watch: All eyes will be on the two Los Angeles programs, as UCLA and USC have a chance to dominate the televised announcements. The Bruins are contenders for tight end Chris Clark, athlete Soso Jamabo, linebacker Jeffery Holland, offensive guard Josh Wariboko, outside linebacker Roquan Smith, wide receiver Cordell Broadus and defensive tackle Joseph Wicker. The Trojans are finalists for linebacker John Houston Jr. and defensive tackle Rasheem Green. And both schools are among the finalists for cornerback Iman Marshall. In 2014, signing day finished on two completely different notes for the crosstown programs, as UCLA swung big and missed at a number of out-of-state recruits, while USC scored with its three top local targets. This year, save for Marshall perhaps giving one program the edge, there could be plenty of happy coaches in Los Angeles.

One recruit to watch: Marshall. It’s unlikely many recruits have frustrated more fan bases than Marshall during this recruiting cycle, but that’s mostly because he’s been so difficult to read and still has so many options on the table. With six schools left -- and perhaps all of them feeling as though they have a shot at landing the nation’s top cornerback -- Marshall could have just about everybody guessing when it’s his time to announce on Wednesday. He would be a significant addition to either Los Angeles program, and would give either Jim Mora and UCLA or Steve Sarkisian and USC bragging rights when it came to landing the region’s top prospect in this class. But Florida State, LSU, Michigan and Notre Dame remain in the mix as well.

One signing day surprise: It might sound like something of a cop-out, but the surprise of signing day in the Pac-12 could turn out to be just how few surprises there actually are. In terms of commitments into the conference, there could be fireworks all day, with a number of ESPN 300 prospects and dynamic three- and four-star recruits set to make their decisions. But when it comes to shocking flips between conference programs, it appears that Wednesday could be relatively quiet. The recruiting carousel spun rapidly throughout the Pac-12 in January, but the music appears to be slowing and just about everybody appears to have found a seat, with very few committed prospects having taken official visits elsewhere and seriously considering a flip. If there is a shock, it could come from the state of Texas, where UCLA holds a commitment from ESPN 300 wide receiver Ryan Newsome. While it would be surprising if Newsome made the flip, it can be difficult to go through with going away to school when the hometown team comes charging late.
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Which player will have the biggest impact as a freshman in 2015?

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    16%
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Discuss (Total votes: 4,745)

It’s signing day eve, which means that all of the recruits we’ve been talking about for the last year (or more in some cases) are getting ready to sign on the dotted line and officially become members of their future universities.

But since we’re looking toward the future and getting ready to see a few hundred new faces join the Pac-12, we were curious who you thought could be the biggest instant impact freshman of the 2015 season in the conference. There are so many guys that could come in and contribute, but who’s going to be that Nick Wilson? That Royce Freeman? That Adoree' Jackson?

Which of these players will have the biggest impact as a true freshman in 2015?

1. Oregon DL Canton Kaumatule | 6-foot-6, 280 pounds

The Ducks lost athletic pass rusher Arik Armstead to the NFL Draft but with Kaumatule coming in, they might have the problem solved already. He’ll enroll in January which means he’ll have an entire spring season to get used to the speed of the game as well as an entire semester of classes to learn how to balance school and football well before the season starts.
From his ESPN RecruitingNation Scouting Report: This young man has great size and athleticism to develop into a big-time prospect. Large, impressive frame for further development and possesses a lengthy body with long arms. Instinctive player who reacts well to release angles.
2. UCLA QB Josh Rosen | 6-foot-4, 206 pounds

With the departure of Brett Hundley, the Bruins will be looking for someone to step in and command an offense that still has plenty of weapons. Rosen has already enrolled at UCLA, which began classes in early January, so he’ll have plenty of time to compete with Jerry Neuheisel, Asiantii Woolard and Mike Fafaul.
From his ESPN RecruitingNation Scouting Report: This is a big, physically impressive quarterback prospect who possesses a strong arm capable of distributing the ball all over the field. Makes all the required throws. A good ball handler and decision maker in both the run and pass game and appears to have a high football IQ. Polished and poised.
3. USC RB Ronald Jones II | 6-foot, 185 pounds

Buck Allen might’ve decided to leave for the NFL early, but it looks like the Trojans will be just fine on the ground. Jones decommitted from Oklahoma State late in 2014 and then committed to USC at the Under Armour All-America Game. Jones' biggest competition in the backfield is going to be Justin Davis, who carried the ball 129 times last season for 595 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and four touchdowns.
From his ESPN RecruitingNation Scouting Report: Runs with his eyes. Quick to see the hole, reset his fit and hit it vertically. Really elusive in the open field seeing his downfield blocks develop.
4. California WR Carlos Strickland | 6-foot-5, 200 pounds

The Golden Bears return plenty of receiver options, but even if Strickland is only the No. 3 receiver behind Kenny Lawler and Bryce Treggs, he’s still wildly valuable to their offense and will get tons of looks from Jared Goff. Look for him to compete with that duo for the No. 1 spot, though. At 6-foot-5, he’s going to be a mismatch with almost every defensive back. Tell Goff to chuck it and Strickland to jump and Cal has a pretty good offense. He also has great hands and a good football IQ.
From his ESPN RecruitingNation Scouting Report: Strickland might be flying under the radar nationally. Everybody wants speed and everybody wants size, but blending the two isn't overly easy to find. Comes from a program that is highly successful and competitive. He's a naturally gifted playmaker that makes plays in one-on-one opportunities. Perhaps one of its more effective traits is the ability to make plays after the catch.
5. Stanford WR Trent Irwin | 6-foot-2, 193 pounds

The Cardinal are looking for someone to seamlessly step into Ty Montgomery’s shoes, and Irwin is a college-ready receiver. He's not flashy like some of the other names on this list but in a Stanford offense led by Kevin Hogan, what the Cardinal need is a solid, detail-oriented receiver who’s going to make the plays he needs to make. Enter Irwin.
From his ESPN RecruitingNation Scouting Report: There's a lot to like about this kid. Irwin reminds us of former Wisconsin WR Jared Abbrederis. Does all the little things right. He's a guy that you love to have on your roster because he's productive, he makes others better and you respect him due to his attention to detail.
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Pac-12

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

February, 3, 2015
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It's crunch time for the 2015 recruiting class, as signing day fast approaches. The final weekend for official visits before Wednesday's big day is in the books and we take a look back at some of the news and notes from an important weekend.


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