NCF On The Trail: USC Trojans

USC recruiting is in need of a significant shot in the arm after the Trojans’ performance at the Rose Bowl this past weekend. But the good news for USC fans is that the Trojans are in position to do just that, thanks to a handful of significant visitors who will be in town to watch USC host Notre Dame.

This weekend presents a slight departure from USC’s official visit plans for the past few years. In fact, the five official visitors scheduled this weekend appear to be more than USC hosted on in-season official visits during the 2012, 2013 and 2014 recruiting classes combined.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

November, 25, 2014
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While there were a number of important visitors at every Pac-12 game this past weekend, the Rose Bowl took center stage as UCLA hosted a number of official and unofficial visitors in what was the hottest ticket of the year for Southern California recruits. UCLA kicked off its strong weekend with a commitment from an ESPN 300 prospect, while Oregon hosted a junior college standout committed to another Pac-12 program. This upcoming weekend presents an opportunity for recruiting statements to be made in rivalry games.


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Tale of the tape: USC vs. UCLA 

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Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Ricky TownTom Hauck for Student SportsIn Josh Rosen (UCLA), Sam Darnold (USC) and Ricky Town (USC), the Bruins and Trojans have pledges from three of the top seven pocket passers in the 2015 class.

There's no hotter ticket for Southern California recruits than the one that gets them into the Rose Bowl this weekend, as USC travels across town to take on UCLA. Both programs have an opportunity to make a statement in front of what should be a star-studded group of recruits.

The Bruins and Trojans already have put together solid 2015 recruiting classes, as both rank among the top 20 programs in the country -- USC checks in at No. 13, UCLA at No. 18. This game won't make or break either recruiting class, but a win sure gives that staff some significant recruiting ammunition against what could be its biggest competition for several ESPN 300 prospects looking to make their decisions close to signing day.


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Aaron Rodgers said it to Packers fans and LeBron James said it to Cavaliers fans. And whomever winds up taking over as the next head coach of the Florida football program would assuredly want the same message relayed to Gators fans when it comes to the 2015 recruiting class.

R-E-L-A-X.

[+] EnlargeByron Cowart
Tom Hauck for Student SportsFive-star Byron Cowart is not letting Florida's coaching change affect his decision.
Losses on the field cost Will Muschamp his job and his successor will inherit a class with just nine verbal commits -- the fewest of any Power 5 program. With all that, panic has assuredly set in with Florida fans. But not only is it premature to worry about how this class will finish, those fans don't need to look far into history for some significant reassurance as to how strong the Gators class could be when it crosses the finish line.

While Florida doesn't share much in common with USC -- opposite coasts, different conferences, public vs. private, etc. -- there's one thing they share that is the only thing that matters in this situation. It's something that only a handful of college football programs can take advantage of. Because Florida -- like USC -- is one of college football's most visible power programs, a coaching change can lead to immediate positive effects, especially on the recruiting trail.

After the second game of the 2013 season, the Trojans might have had the least recruiting clout in the Pac-12. Dozens of high-profile USC recruits had just sat through a sloppy 10-7 loss to Washington State, complete with loud boos and chants to fire the coach.

“It was kind of a letdown,” said one ESPN 300 prospect following the game. “It's really thrown me off of them."

USC kept Lane Kiffin at the helm until Sept. 30, when the decision was made to let him go. Steve Sarkisian took over on Dec. 2 and the recruiting impact was felt almost immediately.

That decision was met with immediate excitement from prospects and galvanized the recruiting efforts in a hurry. After sitting outside the ESPN class rankings for months, the Trojans made their way back among the top 40 recruiting classes just two weeks after Sarkisian's hiring.

When the recruiting class was finished, only three prospects who originally committed to Lane Kiffin remained. The Trojans finished with 19 commitments, including the three Kiffin landed and four former Washington pledges that followed Sarkisian to USC. The Trojans finished with the No. 14 group in the country, and not only did the Trojans eventually sign Adoree' Jackson -- the lone five-star prospect in the region -- they also wound up signing the aforementioned ESPN 300 recruit that was so down on the Trojans following the Washington State loss.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesSteve Sarkisian's hiring jumpstarted USC's recruiting efforts in the final two months of the 2014 cycle.
When Florida fans look at USC carrying only three commitments from early December through signing day last year, the idea of having nine committed at this point -- including four ESPN 300 prospects -- should be rather reassuring (provided they don't take a glance at Florida State's class at the moment). What should be even more reassuring are the prospects still left on the board for Florida. ESPN 300 prospects Byron Cowart, Martez Ivey, CeCe Jefferson, Adonis Thomas and Jeffery Holland are just a few of the names in the region still looking at the Gators following the loss of Muschamp. The talent available is even greater than what the Trojans collected in sweeping ESPN 300 prospects Jackson, JuJu Smith and Damien Mama on signing day last year.

Cowart probably said it best when he told ESPN.com's Derek Tyson: "I’m still considering Florida. At the end of the day, they will pay top dollar for whoever the next head coach will be, so whoever they get will be a top coach."

Getting out in front as the first major program to announce a coaching change will be a significant benefit to Florida, as often the rumblings of a coaching change can be far more detrimental to a recruiting class than the coaching change itself. In addition, the Gators are likely guaranteed that whoever takes over as head coach will bring with him several recruits -- either because they are committed to whatever program he is coaching for right now, or his name recognition alone will be too much to turn down.

While mention of the 2015 recruiting cycle makes it feel like this class goes through just one fluid stage from first offers to signing day, the truth is that there are a number of separate recruiting seasons for these seniors. We're about to step into the two that matter most -- the months between the end of the season and the beginning of February, and the final 48 hours leading up to signing day. What matters most is the recruiting momentum that can carry a program through those periods, and Florida -- like USC last year, or a handful of programs including Alabama, Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas and a few others -- is one of those programs that has the ability to become a freight train on the trail with the right hire.

ESPN Jr. 300: What to know in the Pac-12 

November, 19, 2014
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The updated 2016 ESPN 300 was released on Wednesday, and 44 prospects from Pac-12 states are included, though the top two -- quarterbacks Malik Henry and Jacob Eason -- are committed to Florida State and Georgia, respectively. The Pac-12 holds commitments from 12 prospects in the ESPN Junior 300, as Oregon (three), USC (two) and UCLA (one) have 100 percent of their commitments included in the list.

Three recruits to watch


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There have been some interesting names linked to the Florida opening, but several coaches believe Marshall's Doc Holliday could be a good recruiting fit in Gainesville. Plus, many expected ESPN 300 OT Chuma Edoga to flip from USC to Georgia, but it looks like the Trojans have won the battle in the end.


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UA jersey tour: Kendall Sheffield

November, 18, 2014
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There are many who believe ESPN 300 cornerback Kendall Sheffield is the poster child for how to go through the recruiting process.

Play like a champion. Garner interest from college scouts. Earn scholarships. Treat every scholarship with equal density. Refuse to publicly lean to a program.

Ask Sheffield about a favorite in his recruiting process, and expect an answer that will lead the most persistent, inquisitive person to nowhere. He's quick to say that he's "still wide open with 37 offers."

Ask the five-star cornerback about the Under Armour All-America Game, however, and get a completely different answer. Sheffield was awarded his commemorative jersey on Tuesday in a ceremony sponsored by American Family Insurance.

"It's a huge honor to be an Under Armour All-American. I'm very happy, very excited," Sheffield said. "I've always wanted to be an Under Armour All-American, since I was a little kid. "I just want to get there and have fun and compete."

Hearing Sheffield open up about the game is a treat of sorts, as he's naturally an actions-first kind of athlete. Sheffield prefers letting his game speak for itself -- and it's spoken loud enough for him to earn nearly 40 offers coast to coast.

At 6 foot and 181 pounds, Sheffield is the top-ranked player in Texas and the No. 3 cornerback in the nation. He is No. 8 in the ESPN 300 and has seen a steady rise in the 2015 rankings since its debut last season.

Sheffield's resume has everything college coaches want to hear. His fastest 40-yard dash is 4.37 seconds. He's a cover corner who doesn't mind making the big hits. If he's needed for special teams, he can be a reliable return man, as well.

The world will get a chance to judge for itself when Sheffield competes in the UA game in January. The big question now, however, is, where will Sheffield end up? He's taken official visits to USC, Ohio State and Florida State, and he recently was in Baton Rouge for an unofficial visit to LSU. Sheffield said he'll take an official visit to Alabama next month, and he's expecting to take an unofficial visit for Texas A&M's Thanksgiving game against LSU in College Station.

Sheffield said he plans on taking that fifth official visit. Which team will get it?

"I'm unsure right now," he said. "It'll be one of my 37 offers."

Sheffield will announce his college plans at the UA game. Until then, he's tight-lipped. One thing he won't keep close to the vest is the importance of having a position coach who will push him. He said the winning school will have a coach he can build a quality relationship with, in addition to someone who can potentially take him to the next level.

"That's important to me," Sheffield said. "Real important."

Quick hits on Kendall Sheffield

Best player to put on a UA jersey: "Jadeveon Clowney. He's a good athlete, and he was the No. 1 player coming out of high school. He also was the No. 1 draft pick."

Receiver you most want to compete against: "It doesn't matter. I just want to get there and compete."

Your jersey number: "I've always worn No. 11. It's a number I've worn since Little League."

Favorite football memory: "It was my sophomore year in my first year on varsity. I had my first interception, and it was a pick-six. It won the game for us."

Did you know? Sheffield wants to major in sports management. He said the schools he ultimately considers in his top list will have solid sports management programs.
There is no more fertile recruiting ground for Pac-12 programs than Southern California, and when it comes to that area’s recruits, there is no more important game than UCLA-USC. While this game doesn’t always predict the program that will end up with the better recruiting class, it certainly gives the victor more recruiting momentum than any other game on the schedule. Saturday marks an important date for both programs, as the game will take place in front of some of the Southland’s top recruits, as well as more than a handful of out-of-state visitors.

A UCLA win would give the Bruins three in a row in the series and would give the coaches some significant recruiting ammunition to take into the final months of the recruiting calendar. A USC win would give coach Steve Sarkisian an opportunity to boast that the Trojans ceased all of the Bruins’ forward momentum in just his first year on the job and with a depleted roster.

It’s always entertaining when these programs get together on the field, and fun to take a look behind the scenes at a few factors that led to the makeup of these rosters and factors that will help set up future clashes. Here, we look at present and past recruiting battles that will shape or have shaped both rosters.

Biggest ongoing recruiting battles


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There is no more fertile recruiting ground for Pac-12 programs than Southern California, and when it comes to that area’s recruits, there is no more important game than UCLA-USC. While this game doesn’t always predict the program that will end up with the better recruiting class, it certainly gives the victor more recruiting momentum than any other game on the schedule. Saturday marks an important date for both programs, as the game will take place in front of some of the Southland’s top recruits, as well as more than a handful of out-of-state visitors.

A UCLA win would give the Bruins three straight in the series and give the coaches some significant ammunition to discuss going into the final months of the recruiting calendar. A USC win, on the other hand, would give head coach Steve Sarkisian an opportunity to boast that the Trojans ceased all the Bruins’ forward momentum in his first year on the job despite a depleted roster.

It’s always entertaining when these two programs get together on the field, and fun to take a look behind the scenes at a few factors that led to the makeup of these rosters, and factors that will help set up future clashes between the Los Angeles programs. Here we take a look at what kind of impact the 2014 class is already making, and what 2015 recruits could be in line to do the same next year.


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Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

November, 18, 2014
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With only three Pac-12 games on Saturday, it looked as if it could be a light recruiting weekend in the conference. And while there wasn't much in the way of visitors, Stanford hosted two intriguing unofficial visitors and Sunday brought some significant news in the way of a commitment and a new name for Pac-12 recruiting fans to put on their boards.


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Pac-12's top recruiting visits 

November, 14, 2014
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With only three Pac-12 games on Saturday, this could be the lightest visitor weekend between now and signing day. In fact, it could be a weekend without a single official visitor hitting a Pac-12 campus. But that doesn’t mean Pac-12 fans won’t have anything to keep an eye on this weekend. A number of conference targets are headed out on trips and we take a look at a few names to watch.

[+] EnlargeJohn Houston Jr.
Tom Hauck for Student SportsJohn Houston Jr., who visits Miami this weekend, has already visited Oregon and heads to USC for a visit soon.
LB John Houston and DT Rasheem Green -- The ESPN 300 teammates are taking official visit to Miami this weekend, which might be the only program capable of luring either standout defender away from the Pac-12. Both visited Oregon earlier in this season and Houston will take his official visit to Arizona State next weekend. Green remains a high priority for Stanford, UCLA and USC as well, and said he will use official visits to both Los Angeles programs. Houston said UCLA hasn’t been in contact recently, but he will take an official visit to USC for its game against Notre Dame.

ATH Ykili Ross -- The nation’s No. 281 prospect will take his first official visit -- to Notre Dame -- this weekend. Ross recently unveiled his top 12 programs and the Pac-12 is heavily represented, with Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, Oregon, Oregon State, USC, Utah and Washington all making the cut. While Ross appears to be leaning toward USC, a great official visit to Notre Dame has changed things in a hurry for Southern California athletes before. Ross has also said he will take an official visit to USC after his season is over.

QB Devon Modster -- Arizona missed out on quarterbacks in the 2015 class and lost an early commitment from 2016 ESPN 300 signal-caller Shea Patterson, but the Wildcats threw their hat back in the ring by extending Modster his first offer two months ago. It’s likely only a matter of time before more schools jump into the mix, but Modster will be in Arizona this weekend, checking out both the Wildcats and Sun Devils.

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Elite receiver prospects Daylon Charlot and Mykel Jones are teammates and lifelong friends, but will they end up at the same college? Plus, what team is the dark horse to land the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect, Terry Beckner Jr.?

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Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

October, 28, 2014
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The Pac-12 saw a new commitment and a flip on Sunday, while Stanford and Utah took advantage of important recruiting weekends and focus is already shifting toward a huge upcoming visitor list for Oregon.

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Pac-12's top recruiting visits 

October, 24, 2014
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We're still a week away from the in-season megavisit that will take place when Oregon hosts Stanford, but there are more than a few intriguing visitor lists in the Pac-12 this weekend. It's a weekend that could provide clarity in the Pac-12 South, and recruits will be on hand as Utah hosts USC and the Arizona schools travel to the state of Washington. Elsewhere, Stanford hosts Oregon State and important ESPN 300 prospects as we look at the top three visit weekends in the Pac-12.

USC at Utah

The Utes are scheduled to host at least three official visitors this weekend, led by Utah wide receiver commit Donzale Roddie. Also on hand will be safety Tyson Cisrow and defensive end Simitali Moala. Cisrow is another in a long line of Florida standouts the Utes are chasing in this 2015 class. Utah already holds commitments from three Florida preps and is well on its way to matching the five Sunshine State prospects signed in the 2014 class. This will be an important visit for Roddie as well, as the three-star recruit is being chased by Colorado and has said in the past that he'll continue to listen to other schools despite his verbal commitment.


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video Dwayne Haskins is the second-ranked QB in the 2016 class, but he's not letting the pressure of recruiting get to him. Don't sleep on Arizona State with ESPN 300 linebacker Osa Masina.


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