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Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Pac-12 class rankings analysis

By Erik McKinney

There was movement from only one program in the newly-released 2014 class recruiting rankings, and it was a big jump forward for a Pac-12 heavyweight. The Stanford Cardinal moved up four spots to No. 24 overall, just one behind Pac-12 leader Arizona at No. 23. The conference still has just three teams ranked in the top 40, with Arizona State coming in at No. 35.

Trending up: Stanford. The Cardinal added defensive tackle Nifae Lealao (Sacramento, Calif./Capital Christian) last Friday and were rewarded with a big move in the rankings.

It was hardly a surprise when Lealao announced his commitment, as Stanford had been his leader since the start of the recruiting process. But adding the ESPN 300 big man -- the No. 299 prospect in the nation -- was an important addition for this class. After rounding up four very talented linebackers, Stanford is going to work on its front three, as Lealao joins three-star defensive end Harrison Phillips (Omaha, Neb./Millard West) along the defensive line. Lealao gives the Cardinal some versatility at the spot, as he has the size and talent to line up at defensive end or possibly move to tackle down the line. He also gives Stanford four ESPN 300 prospects in this class already, which is just one shy of its haul in the 2013 class.

Trending down: In-season official visitors.
Cal, Oregon and Utah all hosted a number of official visitors this past weekend, but the overall number of official visits in the conference for game weekends is trending down and will likely stay on that trajectory. It's unlikely that USC will host any official visitors this season, after telling ESPN 300 cornerback Adarius Pickett (El Cerrito, Calif./El Cerrito) that they couldn't bring him in and then saw he commited to UCLA. Stanford also won't look to set any official visits for game weekends, while Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon and Washington have also shown that they prefer to wait until December or January for big recruiting weekends. The strategy for each school rests along the same line. It's all about allowing the coaches to spend more time with recruits. During a game weekend, the 48 hours is eaten up on Saturday by game prep and the game, while spending time with recruits on Sunday cuts into coaches' film evaluation.

With recruits showing that they want personal attention and to develop a strong relationship with the coaching staff, it doesn't appear that simply letting them experience the game-day atmosphere on an official visit is the recruiting pitch Pac-12 coaches want to take. This is going to make the later months very interesting, as recruits could be forced to juggle which big recruiting weekends they want to attend.

One to watch: RB Demario Richard (Palmdale, Calif./Palmdale) The four-star running back will release his top five today, and several Pac-12 teams are expected to make the cut. Toward the top of his list sits Arizona State and Washington, and both teams could be in good position to land the talented back. The running back situation out West is interesting, as there are just three ESPN 300 tailbacks in the West and two of them -- Royce Freeman (Imperial, Calif./Imperial) and Nick Wilson (Fresno, Calif./Central East) -- are committed to Oregon and Arizona, respectively. With Joe Mixon (Oakley, Calif./Freedom) down to five schools, attention on the two uncommitted four-star backs in the region, Richard and Squally Canada (Milpitas, Calif./Milpitas), who recently pulled back from his commitment to Boise State, continues to increase.

Bold prediction: Pac-12's strong finish
This is a repeat from several weeks ago, but it deserves to be mentioned again. When all is said and done following the first Wednesday in February, at least half of the Pac-12 will find itself ranked among the top-40 classes in the country. The play on the field this season has surpassed expectations, and recruits across the country are taking notice. In addition to the three classes already listed, Oregon will put itself in the mix once recruits begin taking official visits and committing in droves. Washington always closes its classes in impressive fashion, and UCLA has the feel of a program that's simply biding its time as it puts itself in position for some big-time prospects on a national level. USC has a chance to get back into things, either with a successful season or on the strength of a new coach. Even Cal, despite what the record may say at the end of the season, has recruits excited about the offensive production and direction in which new head coach Sonny Dykes is taking his program. Getting eight teams into the top 40 might be a bit of a stretch, but if the Pac-12 continues its high level of play, placing six, or even seven, programs in the rankings shouldn't be a reach.