NCF On The Trail: USC Trojans

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.

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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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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On signing day in 2014, USC coaches set their sights on closing out their class by going four-for-four with targets still on the board. Cornerback Lamont Simmons was the first shot fired by the Trojans, followed by three cannon blasts in the form of Damien Mama, Adoree' Jackson and JuJu Smith.

The haul signaled a massive victory for head coach Steve Sarkisian, who was only two months into his tenure as USC head coach. He beat out crosstown rival UCLA, as well as a number of national programs, for all three Southern California recruits.

One year later, Sarkisian topped his 2014 performance, as he and the USC coaches closed what could be a program-altering 2015 recruiting class by going six-for-six with its final targets. Five of them were ESPN 300 prospects, including the No. 4 overall recruit, as well as a local high three-star.


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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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Each of the four teams in the inaugural College Football Playoff relied on a freshman or two, and some in valuable positions.

Here are five teams that helped their playoff chances with the recruiting classes signed on national signing day.


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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.

Completed class: USC Trojans

February, 4, 2015
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USC has announced its 2015 class:

Five-stars
Iman Marshall, CB -- Long Beach Polytechnic High School, California

ESPN 300
Chuma Edoga, OT -- McEachern High School, Georgia
Ronald Jones II, RB -- McKinney North High School, Texas
Rasheem Green, DT -- Junipero Serra High School, California
John Houston Jr., ILB -- Junipero Serra High School, California
Osa Masina, OLB -- Brighton High School, Utah
Tyler Petite, TE-Y -- Campolindo High School, California
Porter Gustin, ATH -- Salem Hills High School, Utah
Marvell Tell, S -- Crespi Carmelite High School, California
Sam Darnold, QB-PP -- San Clemente High School, California
Ricky Town, QB-PP -- Saint Bonaventure High School, California
Isaiah Langley, ATH -- Foothill High School, California
Jacob Daniel, DT -- Clovis North High School, California
Ykili Ross, ATH -- Riverside Polytech High School, California
Noah Jefferson, DT -- Liberty High School, Nevada
Cameron Smith, ILB -- Granite Bay High School, California

ESPN JC 50
De'Quan Hampton, WR -- Long Beach City College, California
Isaac Whitney, WR -- Riverside Community College, Oklahoma

Three-stars
Aca'Cedric Ware, RB -- Cedar Hill High School, Texas
Kevin Scott, DT -- Salesian High School, California
Cole Smith, OC -- Mission Viejo High School, California
Christian Rector, DE -- Loyola High School, California
Roy Hemsley, OT -- Windward School, California
Dominic Davis, S -- Bishop Alemany High School, California
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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Iman Marshall, Darqueze DennardESPN, USA TODAY SportsIman Marshall is physical in press coverage, like Darqueze Dennard.

LONG BEACH, California -- Long Beach Poly cornerback Iman Marshall, the No. 4 overall player in the ESPN 300, will be staying in Southern California after announcing he'd attend USC over Michigan, LSU and Florida State, among others.

About 20 minutes before he made his announcement on ESPNU, Marshall's decision hit the Internet by way of a music video. He'll likely pair with standout true freshman Adoree' Jackson in the USC defensive backfield, giving the Trojans one of the more dynamic cornerback duos in the conference, if not the country.

Rumors began swirling in the last week that new Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh had made a strong push. But ultimately Marshall said his roots helped him decide.

"Michigan was a strong contender, but I'm a Trojan for life," he said. "I grew up a Trojan. And to have the opportunity to play in The Coliseum, why wouldn't you take that?"

[+] EnlargeIman Marshall
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsIman Marshall, the No. 4 overall player in the ESPN 300, committed to USC on signing day.
Commitment impact: This is a massive signing for the Trojans, as head coach Steve Sarkisian and staff won a hotly contested battle for the top local recruit for the second straight year, after landing Adoree' Jackson in the 2014 class. Not only does Marshall give the Trojans another stellar cornerback to pair with Jackson, his commitment to USC gives Sarkisian and staff momentum with the 2016 class, as Marshall is a well-known commodity and can have an impact with younger players. It also continues USC’s presence at Long Beach (Calif.) Poly, where the Trojans have enjoyed plenty of success over the years, including last year, with highly recruited athlete JuJu Smith. Had Marshall escaped Los Angeles, or gone across town to UCLA, it would have been viewed as a significant loss for Sarkisian and the Trojans. Instead, it’s easily their biggest recruiting win of the year.

What he brings:


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John Houston, Jaylon SmithESPN, Icon SportswireJohn Houston Jr.'s ability to play in space, especially against spread teams, will be a huge asset at the college level.

The nation's No. 1 inside linebacker is staying home for college, as John Houston Jr. announced his commitment to USC in a signing day ceremony at his school. Though the Trojans were leaders for the nation's No. 56 overall prospect since close to the beginning of his recruitment, USC still needed to hold off pushes from Arizona State, Miami, Oklahoma and a hard charge from Oregon, which impressed Houston and family on an official visit but couldn't quite overcome the Trojans.


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Watch: Steve Sarkisian on USC's post-probation recruiting

February, 4, 2015
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USC coach Steve Sarkisian joins ESPN's Holly Rowe to explain how the Trojans approached their first class after probations ended and to talk impact signees.

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