With less than a week left before national signing day, there are plenty of questions surrounding Oregon’s 2014 recruiting class. The only guarantee is that the next seven days will be eventful, one way or another. There are also seven names to keep an eye on during that time: DT Trey Lealaimatafao, DT Rika Levi, DT Ratu Mafileo, S Matrell McGraw, S Khalil Oliver, WR/S JuJu Smith and current Oregon CB commit Arrion Springs.
Here are my thoughts leading up to signing day:
- The Charles Nelson commitment is a big one. The speedy wide receiver out of Florida effectively fills the spot that Budda Baker vacated. There are many similarities between the two, namely, size. Both are small, lightning-fast slot receivers, although Baker might have an inch and 10 pounds on Nelson. Obviously, Baker is much more highly rated, but those who followed Nelson’s high-school career offered up some valuable thoughts regarding his rating. Apparently, Nelson had a great Sophomore campaign, and after a good summer on the camp circuit, was drawing interest from a lot of big names. Then, during his junior season, he tore his ACL and interest slowed. College coaches wanted to see how he would recover. Well, despite not being 100% during his senior season, Nelson had a great year and earned offers from Miami, Florida, Michigan State, USC and Notre Dame, among others. I’ve been told that he’s a great kid off the field as well (much like Baker). As he continues to recover, Nelson has a great opportunity to be a very good college player at Oregon and his commitment certainly lessens the blow of Baker’s decision.
- If you haven’t been following the Trey Lealaimatafao situation, let me break it down for you. Basically, Trey was considered a heavy Oregon lean, even after he visited LSU two weekends ago. It wasn’t until after his visit to Eugene this past weekend that LSU became a real player to land the former Texas commit. Apparently, Trey ended up staying inside playing FIFA all night with his host, Bralon Addison, instead of going out on the town. He posted his concerns about the lack of night life on twitter, and voiced the same to an LSU recruiting analyst. The Oregon message boards erupted. The emotionally-charged debate got fairly ugly, and was probably fueled by the frustrations of a fan-base who has spent the last half-decade clamoring for a big, 300-pound defensive tackle. I’m not going to get into the debate here, but I will say that Trey’s relationship with Aarion Springs may be enough to swing the pendulum in Oregon’s favor. It will be disappointing if Oregon’s not able to land Lealaimatafao, and the situation is more complex than simply suggesting that, “he wouldn’t have been a good fit here, anyway.”
- The Ducks appear to be in great shape for safeties Mattrell McGraw and Khalil Oliver. McGraw has been hyping an Oregon/Texas A&M battle for his services, but I’m told this is simply to draw interest. In fact, it’s likely that he’s been a silent commit for quite some time. His antics have been a turn off to some fans, but he’s clearly enjoying the process, and the fact that Neal has been after him throughout the entire cycle says a lot. If Neal wants him, I want him.
- Rika Levi and Ratu Mafileo are both new targets at the defensive tackle position. Both are massive. Levi is 350-pound JUCO prospect who played at the College of San Mateo with OG Haniteli Lousi, who has already signed his letter of intent will be in Eugene this spring. Levi is a Texas Tech commit, but he’s visiting this weekend and could definitely flip. Mafileo is also visiting this weekend, and though he hasn’t earned an offer yet, that could change soon as the coaches are waiting for his transcripts. The relatively unknown prospect out of Hawaii will commit on the spot if offered, and that should excite Oregon fans as the 6’3″ 320-pound tackle is a nephew of Oregon legend Haloti Ngata. While it’s reasonable to consider whether Levi and Mafileo are backup options, there’s no doubt that both have high ceilings and would fill a hole for the Ducks.
- In my opinion, the Ducks will end up with Levi and Mafileo but miss out of Lealaimatafao. The fact that Levi was offered right after Lealaimatafao’s visit makes me think that Trey is headed to LSU. What will be interesting to watch is whether the Oregon coaches would accept commitments from all three. That would be a great dilemma to have.
- An emerging story-line surrounding Arrion Springs suggests that he may visit Texas this weekend. That’s not good. I actually heard from a source a week ago that Springs wasn’t as solid as everyone believed. It’s odd to think about since he’s been such a vocal member of the recruiting class and has often helped recruit other players, but Springs is from Texas and the Longhorns have a new staff that has recruits excited about the direction of the program. Apparently, the new staff got to Springs’ mother. Again, not good. Now, Springs hasn’t confirmed his weekend plans and I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I think Oregon will lose him, but I’m definitely worried. A Texas kid visiting Texas on the last weekend before national signing day with a chance to stay close to family and play for the local blue-blood is a troubling recipe. Now couple that with the fact that Charlie Strong could recruit a snowball into hell and will be in his ear all weekend. As Samuel L Jackson once famously said, “hold on to your butts.”
- On the other side of the coin, Greg Biggins is reporting that John “JuJu” Smith is considering an unofficial visit to Oregon this weekend. Smith is considered a USC lock, but he absolutely loved his official visit to Eugene. Biggins has always said that Oregon was USC’s only real competition. If Smith was to take an unofficial this weekend, on his own dime, that would say a lot about his interest in the Ducks. Could this be DAT 2.0? I’m not getting my hopes up; Justin Hopkins of 247 doesn’t believe that the Ducks have a shot. He’s usually quite accurate when he makes definitive statements like he has about Oregon’s chances with Smith (see: zero chance). Nonetheless, Biggins knows his stuff too and so this is something to watch. If Smith is on campus this weekend, all bets are off. You can be sure that USC will do everything in its power to keep him from visiting, so we’ll see what happens. I’m not holding my breath. Okay, maybe a little.
So there you have it. Seven days, seven names. Just think, next week at this time, it’ll all be over and you’ll be reading my class analysis piece. Here’s to a magical week full of JuJu’s, Lealaimatafao’s and Mafileo’s. Until then my friends.
Top photo by D.C. Photography