NCF On The Trail: UCLA Bruins

The linebacker position doesn't often receive much attention during 7-on-7 events, where quarterbacks, wide receivers and defensive backs dominate headlines. But with hundreds of players descending upon Las Vegas for the Pylon Elite 7v7 event this weekend, Caleb Kelly and Lokeni Toailoa -- the top outside and inside linebackers in the West region -- were among several must-see prospects on hand.

Snoop's son gets 'Coming To America' birthday party

February, 23, 2015
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To quote King Jaffe Jaffer of Zamunda: "Time does fly fast, my son. It seems only yesterday I ordered your first diaper changed. Now you're a man ..."

For one night, Prince Akeem of Zamunda became Prince Cordell of Los Angeles.

Snoop Dogg's son, UCLA WR signee Cordell Broadus, turned 18 over the weekend. What did the proud papa do?



Broadus' "Coming To America" party gave plenty of love to the 1988 Eddie Murphy classic, including a throne for the prince, plenty of rose petal scattering and, of course, a photo of the royal family.

The royal family

A photo posted by snoopdogg (@snoopdogg) on

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.
Not all recruitments are created equal, as some see prospects commit to their dream school early and never waver, while others have more twists and turns than a Formula 1 race. Taking a look through the recently released 2015 Ultimate 300, we spotlight five of the more interesting recruitments in the Pac-12, alphabetically by prospect.


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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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Roquan SmithTom Hauck for Student SportsElite players like Roquan Smith may opt to sign financial aid agreements instead of letters of intent.
Roquan Smith has made a decision, and he's sticking with it.

Or so he says.

Smith, a heralded linebacker prospect who announced his plans to attend UCLA as part of the "ESPNU National Signing Day Special" last week, announced his new choice to play at Georgia on Friday.

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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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Outside linebacker Roquan Smith, the nation’s No. 29 overall prospect, committed to UCLA in a televised signing day ceremony on ESPNU, but he delayed sending in his signed letter of intent when he learned that UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich could be a candidate to become the linebackers coach for the Atlanta Falcons. Ulbrich was a major reason for Smith’s commitment to UCLA, and now that the move to the Falcons is official, the Bruins face a serious uphill battle to keep the commitment from the nation’s No. 2 outside linebacker.

Smith’s coach, Larry Harold, said his star linebacker now will not sign a national letter of intent with any school.


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Chris Clark, Cordell Broadus, Soso JamaboESPN Images, USA TODAY Sports, Icon SportswireChris Clark, Cordell Broadus, Soso Jamabo have elevated UCLA's 2015 class ranking to No. 11.
If you're looking for what a difference a year can make in recruiting, look no further than the UCLA Bruins. On signing day 2014, head coach Jim Mora went full on "Casey at the Bat," taking a vicious swing at a number of high-profile recruits on signing day and coming up empty.

The recruiting class overall was very good, and UCLA did add linebacker Kenny Young on signing day, but Solomon Thomas, Malachi Dupre, Mattrell McGraw, Rashaan Evans and Adoree' Jackson were all ESPN 300 prospects who selected other programs over UCLA in announcements televised on ESPNU. Those announcements came one day after the Bruins lost out on ESPN 300 recruit Budda Baker, and UCLA also missed out on flipping ESPN 300 defensive end Davon Godchaux from LSU, and three-star athlete Kalen Ballage from Arizona State on signing day.

One year later, there was plenty of rejoicing in Mudville -- or Westwood, as it were -- as UCLA went into signing day with the potential for the same elation or disappointment, depending on how televised commitments played out.


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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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Schools that need a stellar recruiting class in 2016 

February, 5, 2015
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Now that the 2015 class is in the books, it's time to take a look at which teams need to make a big recruiting splash for the 2016 class. Here are five schools that have to recruit well to move forward and reestablish their programs among the elite:

Michigan: Coach Jim Harbaugh is not going to be judged upon his 2015 class, but the blueprint he lays out going forward -- especially in his first full calendar year -- will be crucial to revamping the Wolverines' roster. Because he was hired after the San Francisco 49ers' season ended, Harbaugh got a late start with Michigan, and his staff had only nine commits heading into February. The focus for 2016 will be on toughness, even if it means taking a kid who, athletically, isn't ideal, especially along the offensive line and at tight end and fullback. It is going to be a pretty strong year in the 2016 class in the Midwest, which is good timing for the Wolverines.

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UCLA makes signing day splash

February, 4, 2015
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LOS ANGELES -- Smug isn't the right word, because it wasn't smugness. But it wasn't full-blown humility, either. For now, let's call it a profound sense of satisfaction as UCLA coach Jim Mora stood at the podium and ran off the highlights of the Bruins' 2015 recruiting class.

"Depending on what stock you put into rankings or what recruiting service you look at, as we stand here right now, we have the No. 1 average star rating in the United States of America," Mora said. "The No. 1 quarterback [Josh Rosen], the No. 1 running back [Soso Jamabo], the No. 1 tight end [Chris Clark], the No. 1 offensive guard [or center, Fred Ulu-Perry] and the No. 1 offensive line class in America. That's pretty impressive."

The day started at 3:15 a.m. PT at the IHOP in Encino, California, over a stack of buttermilk pancakes. And 13 hours later, Mora and his staff were the talk of signing day.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Joe Robbins/Getty Images"On national TV, guys were pulling out UCLA hats," Jim Mora said. "I'm not going to lie to you, that feels pretty good."
Three years ago, Mora was a college football outsider. His hiring was met with raised eyebrows, and many questioned whether a coach who spent so much time in the NFL could jump right into the shark tank that is recruiting. And not just any region -- but Southern California -- where he'd be going head-to-head with USC. Three years later (and three straight wins over the Trojans) Mora has deafened his critics with a resounding eight clap that rippled across seven different states Wednesday.

"I never doubted myself or that I couldn't do the job," Mora said. "I'm sure I had a little apprehension because I'd never done it before, but I never doubted whether I could do it. I don't hold grudges or harbor feelings.

"On national TV, guys were pulling out UCLA hats. I'm not going to lie to you, that feels pretty good. When on national TV there's an Ohio State hat and a UCLA hat and a Michigan hat and they pick up that beautiful UCLA hat and put it on, it feels pretty good."

To be fair, it's not like the Trojans flopped. Some have ranked USC's haul -- which includes 16 players in the ESPN 300 -- as high as No. 1 in the country. Most agree USC's class is top three. UCLA's rankings vary from No. 4 (Scout.com) to No. 13 (Rivals.com) and No. 11 (ESPN).

The Bruins might boost their ranking further if Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith ends up picking UCLA. Smith, the No. 29 recruit, according to the ESPN 300, announced he was headed to UCLA. But news broke Wednesday that new Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn was pursuing UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich as his linebackers coach, and that gave Smith pause.

"Jeff has assured me he has not come to a conclusion yet," said Mora, who promoted Ulbrich last year when Lou Spanos departed for the NFL. "He is contemplating whether or not he wants to do that. I'm going to fight tooth and nail to keep him here because I think he's an outstanding coach. He's been very forthright with the recruits that signed today in communicating where he stands. He's also reached out to the parents. He's handled this well."

Because Smith hasn't signed a national letter of intent, Mora is not allowed to comment on him. He did say he was "hopeful" they would add more names to the 2015 class.

Mora hasn't given Ulbrich a timetable for a decision -- at least not yet. But his possible departure is likely tied to Smith's decision.

"We haven't gotten there yet," Mora said. "… I'm not ready to put that pressure on him yet. The fact that he's been in contact with recruits is the right way to handle it. I'm going to fight like crazy to keep that sucker. It's going to be a heck of a battle because Dan Quinn is also a fighter."

Even if they lose out on Smith, this year's group marks a big win for Mora & Co. Last year, they watched a lot of those same UCLA hats stay on the table rather than end up on heads. UCLA closed the 2014 recruiting season with the No. 26 class. This year, the momentum built early and kept rolling as the Bruins were the biggest movers on signing day.

"There are always triumphs and there are always disappointments," Mora said. "There are guys you think you're going to get and they slip somewhere else for some reason and then there's guys you don't think you're going to get, and you get them. And it's exciting. And when it all comes together, yes, it feels very good."
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Stop, for a moment, at the close of another wild and unpredictable signing day, and remember these eight therapeutic words: Not a single football game was played Wednesday.

Now, proceed to lose your mind.

In possibly the final signing day of its kind, college football grabbed the spotlight for its annual, offseason showcase of the bizarre. Winners and losers emerged. Mostly, though, it went off about as scripted -- and by that, we mean totally, beautifully unscripted.

[+] EnlargeSoso Jamabo
Matt Garnett/Icon SportswireSoso Jamabo helped start signing day, and UCLA's run, with his commitment to the Bruins.
Wednesday out West, signs pointed to a raising of the stakes in the Pac-12.

UCLA won the morning with big scores over Michigan for tight end Chris Clark, Texas for athlete Soso Jamabo, Georgia for No. 2 outside linebacker Roquan Smith -- more on Smith later -- and Oklahoma for offensive guard Joshua Wariboko.

The Bruins later snagged receiver Cordell Broadus, son of Snoop Dogg, but by mid-afternoon, the fireworks shifted to the USC Trojans' side of town.

USC won out for top-ranked inside linebacker John Houston Jr., No. 1 cornerback Iman Marshall and defensive tackle Rasheem Green Wednesday, along with athlete Porter Gustin, linebacker Osa Masina and defensive tackle Kevin Scott earlier in January. The Trojans' late rush helped their class finish No. 3 overall.

National champion Ohio State of the Big Ten made a morning splash by retaining the commitment of quarterback Torrance Gibson, who gave late consideration to Auburn and LSU. The Buckeyes flipped offensive tackle Isaiah Prince from Alabama's No. 1 class, which was otherwise largely put to bed weeks ago.

Texas flipped safety P.J. Locke from Oregon to punctuate Charlie Strong's 29-man, No. 9-ranked class that might signal the return to prominence of the Longhorns.

And the SEC added its share of drama, starting with the Auburn-Florida battles, in which former Gators coach Will Muschamp loomed large.

Muschamp's new program beat his old one for linebacker Jeffery Holland and the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect, defensive end Byron Cowart of Seffner (Florida) Armwood.

Cowart, though, failed to fax his signed letter of intent to Auburn for some seven hours while reports bounced back and forth about his eventual decision.

Clearly, he was torn, feeling compelled to consider Florida coach Jim McElwain and his staff, on the job for two months.

"It's not their fault they're new," Cowart said. "In the recruiting process, [coaches] tell you what you want to hear, and when you get there, everything switches."

So ultimately, Cowart went with Auburn -- and the coach he trusted.

The Tigers, after the great start, lost No. 1 offensive tackle Martez Ivey and second-rated defensive end CeCe Jefferson to Florida and top-ranked defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. to Missouri.

Tennessee claimed victory with the signing of elite defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie, a longtime commitment out of California, and the late flip of offensive tackle Drew Richmond from Ole Miss to secure the nation's fifth-rated class -- No. 2 in the SEC.

Ranked No. 1 nationally, for the fourth straight year, was the Crimson Tide.

"One of the very good things about this class is we didn't have a lot of drama today," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "These guys have been committed to us for a while.
"That's not the way to get the most attention from the media, but that certainly speaks highly of what a commitment means."

LSU, with its new all-star cast of recruiters headlined by Ed Orgeron, finished with good news early in the week on defensive end Arden Key, followed by the Wednesday addition of guard Toby Weathersby -- a former Texas pledge -- and the flip of receiver Brandon Martin from Missouri.

Martin punctuated his change of heart with this hashtag on Twitter.



And then there was the case of Smith, the linebacker out of Macon County High School in Montezuma, Georgia, who announced his choice of UCLA over Georgia on ESPNU but never faxed his letter of intent.

Why? Because in the moments after signing, Smith learned from reporters at his school -- as Georgia coaches furiously called with the same news -- that UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich was up for a job as the Atlanta Falcons' linebackers coach.

Ulbrich recruited Smith, who plans to wait "a couple days to figure things out," Macon County coach Larry Harold told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Ah, there's nothing quite like signing day, which could change considerably for the next class of recruits if a proposal is approved this spring by the Division I conference commissioners to add a three-day early signing period in December.

So, if this was the last of its kind -- with the full-on drama and star power that only a once-a-year event can provide -- then signing day as we know it went out in style.
videoThe national signing day ceremonies have concluded, the ink has dried and the fax machines have been turned off. The Class of 2015 is mostly in the books. As is the case annually, there were a number of winners -- and a couple of losers -- on national signing day. Here is a look at the schools that excelled and the schools that had a rough day.

SCHOOLS THAT FARED WELL

UCLA: The Bruins began the day at No. 17 in the ESPN RecruitingNation class rankings, but they quickly moved up to No. 11 with a run of ESPN 300 commitments. No. 111 prospect Chris Clark, a tight end, got the day started and was followed by RB Soso Jamabo (No. 28), OG Joshua Wariboko (No. 105) and OLB Roquan Smith (No. 29). The day got even better in the early afternoon when No. 130 recruit Cordell Broadus, a wide receiver, picked the Bruins over Arizona State. All five of the recruits who committed to UCLA on Wednesday are from different states.

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