With the 2014 recruiting cycle ending in five weeks, those teams atop the conference recruiting rankings are beginning to separate themselves. Currently sitting atop these rankings is none other than the Oregon Ducks. In question, however, is whether or not they can maintain their position. What about your Pac-12 school of choice? Here’s the objective data, commentary and individual school rankings within the conference:
When looking at Pac-12 recruiting rankings, it quickly becomes clear that the conference is evenly split between two distinct tiers. Dwelling at the bottom you’ve got Washington, Colorado, Oregon State, California, Utah and Washington State. All six teams are closely bunched together, apart from Washington who currently has one of the worst classes in the entire country. Surprised? Of their seven commits, four are safeties and none are four-stars according to 247’s composite rankings. Putting it kindly, that is atrocious. The class wasn’t good before head coach Steve Sarkisian accepted the USC job, and his departure left it in shambles. New head coach Chris Petersen faces the extremely difficult task of salvaging what remains.
None of the other five teams have impressive classes. Only California and Utah even have a four-star recruit currently committed. This means player evaluation, talent development and coaching will be at a premium if any of those schools are hoping to be competitive in the near future. Oregon State has been a great example of a program that doesn’t recruit well but manages to compete. However, the limitations of that reality become apparent when the Beavers have run into well-coached teams that are more talented. It’s so difficult to play at a high level without recruiting at a high level.
Luckily for the top half of the conference, things are going a bit better. UCLA, USC, Arizona, Stanford, Arizona State and Oregon all have at least five four-star recruits. In contrast to last year’s historic class, UCLA’s current group of commits is a bit disappointing. Regardless, they’ve still managed to land verbal commitments from stud defensive backs Adarius Pickett, Jaleel Wadood and John Plattenburg. They should have one of the country’s better defensive backfields in the near future. Going forward, look for the Bruins to add Oregon-target Bryce Dixon, a talented four-star tight end, to round out their class.
Currently in 4th, Arizona has managed to do a great job of improving their talent profile under Rich Rodriguez. In addition to some high profile transfers, the ‘Cats have commitments from four-star linebackers Marquis Ware and Jamardre Cobb, in addition to WR Cameron Denson. With a very solid class top to bottom, Arizona is looking like a team poised to become very competitive, especially if the program can put together a couple of more classes like this one.
Stanford is sitting at 3rd, rebounding from a poor 2013 class (largely due to a small class size). They have a commitment from Keller Chryst, the top quarterback prospect in the country, along with four-star defenders Nifae Lealao, Brandon Simmons and Jesuit’s Joey Alfieri. This isn’t the dynamite class they had in 2012, but putting Chryst behind what will be one of, if not THE, best offensive lines in football for years to come, has to concern the conference’s defensive coordinators.
At No. 2 are the Arizona State Sun Devils, who’ve put together a surprisingly good class, headlined by four-star defensive players such as Tyler Whiley, Derik Calhoun, Tashon Smallwood and Central Catholic’s Connor Humphreys. While it’s not a star-studded class, it is very deep from top to bottom. With 24 commits to-date, don’t expect many more additions, meaning that Arizona State won’t be challenging for the No. 1 spot, and will likely be unable to retain their current current position.
Oregon is at No. 1, thanks to yet another strong recruiting class led by huge names such as Royce Freeman, Budda Baker and Arrion Springs. In what will be their fifth straight top-20 class, Oregon is putting themselves in great position to remain nationally relevant. Unanimous four-star quarterback Morgan Mahalak could propel this class to historic heights if he develops into Mariota’s eventual replacement.
There’s only one team that could knock Oregon off their perch, and that’s USC. The Trojans gained some momentum when Kiffin got fired, and that new life has only accelerated since Sarkesian’s hiring. As I always say, “blue bloods are blue bloods for a reason.” Los Angeles is one of the nation’s premium recruiting hotbeds, and most of the elite recruits are always looking for any excuse to stay home. Now that there is a new head coach and new hope, blue-chip prospects such as John “JuJu” Smith, Adoree Jackson and Damian Mama are all favored to pledge for USC in the coming weeks. Those three additions would be significant enough to give Oregon some company atop the rankings.
Oregon is still in good shape to land Jimmie Swain and Mattrell McGraw. If they can add Frank Ihenacho as well, which is possible but not probable at this point, then no one can challenge them for tops in the Pac-12. If not, it could be close.
Ultimately, the rankings in any single year don’t have huge significance. The bottom line, though, is that both USC and Oregon are only going to strengthen their positions as the conference’s two most talented teams. What the Trojans are doing along their offensive line should scare everyone. This year alone, it looks like they’ll end up with Viane Talamaivao, Toa Lobendahn, Chris Brown, Jordan Poland and Damian Mama, all big-time recruits. They’ll never have trouble adding elite skill-position players, so building a dominant offensive line would make them very, very tough as they emerge from sanctions.
For the Ducks, they just need to continue doing what they’re doing. Five consecutive top-20 classes is a really big deal. Very few other programs have managed to do the same – less than ten in fact – and it means that Oregon will continue to be one of the more talented teams nationally going forward. In 2015, the coaches will need to focus on improving talent across both their offensive and defensive lines, but as it stands, 2014 will be another great cycle.
Top Photo by Kevin Cline