National Signing Day storylines from around the Pac-12 Conference
One of the biggest days on the college football calendar lands outside of the season itself. That’s National Signing Day, of course, and we here at the Pac-12 Networks are set to load you up with info on your favorite school’s incoming freshmen. To get you ready for the madness that will be Wednesday, here are some storylines throughout the conference to keep an eye on:
Rich Rodriguez has done a whole lot of good in Tucson in his first two seasons, building a consistent winner that has knocked off a top-10 team in both 2012 and 2013. One thing he hasn’t done, however, is win the state of Arizona, as the Wildcats have come up short in the Territorial Cup both times. That trend appears to be translating to the recruiting trail as well, so what help can RichRod sign to reel back his counterpart Todd Graham?
Todd Graham confidently said that championships could be won in Tempe upon his arrival, and, with a Pac-12 South title already on his trophy shelf in just two years on the job, why not believe that more is on the horizon? Top-notch high school football players have taken notice, and Graham is well positioned to take down the top recruiting class in the Pac-12 this year. Guys like Carl Bradford and Will Sutton might be gone, but the Sun Devil locomotive doesn’t appear to be coming to a halt anytime soon.
It was going to be a long rebuilding job for Sonny Dykes no matter how you sliced it, but with more early entrants to the NFL draft than any other Pac-12 school, Dykes needs quality bodies STAT. If these incoming true freshmen don’t grow up quickly on the field in the fall (especially if the injury bug bites as hard as it did in 2013), it could be another season filled with growing pains. Outside of quarterback (and let’s face it, you can never have enough depth here), there are needs mostly everywhere for the Golden Bears. It looks like Dykes could land a middle-of-the-pack Pac-12 recruiting class, but signing day has been harsh to the Golden Bears in the recent past.
The Buffs took a lot of great strides in year one of the Mike MacIntyre era, improving their record by three victories. In order to really get up to speed in the Pac-12, MacIntyre needs to build depth in Boulder, and perhaps that is no more glaring than the quarterback spot. Going into spring ball, the Buffs have only two listed quarterbacks on their roster (Sefo Liufau and Jordan Gehrke), so picking up a couple of signal callers on Wednesday will be essential.
It’s the first full recruiting cycle as head coach for Mark Helfrich, who narrowly missed out on a BCS bowl game but still led his team to an 11-win season. The Ducks have found plenty of explosive athletes who could contribute right away, so can Helfrich uncover the next De’Anthony Thomas or Thomas Tyner in this class? It always helps to have sparkly facilities that only promise to get sparklier and sparklier.
Signing day has never been a banner day in Corvallis, but that hasn’t kept Mike Riley from consistently putting out a winning product. The dean of Pac-12 coaches doesn’t necessarily need to find diamonds in the rough, per se, but the guys who make a difference for Oregon State aren’t the five-star guys that make national headlines – Scott Crichton was just a two-star recruit according to Scout. He leaves the defensive line, and Brandin Cooks, regarded as a three-star recruit by Scout, leaves the receiving corps. Who will be the somewhat-overlooked gems to come out of the class of 2014?
Coaches always talk about recruiting kids who fit their system, but perhaps that mantra best applies to Stanford given its academic standards that narrow the recruiting pool. David Shaw has been stellar in landing big-name, brainy and brawny recruits – especially in 2012, when he landed the No. 5 class in the nation according to Rivals – and he could potentially land a top-15 or top-20 class again in 2014.
There’s no denying it: Jim Mora has made UCLA the program to beat in the Los Angeles area. The USC name still probably carries a little more luster behind it, but the Bruins have staked their claim in SoCal by beating the Trojans two years in a row and signing the No. 3 recruiting class nationally in 2013 by Scout (USC was No. 18 by the same publication). That class produced the Myles Jack of all trades; what will this potentially-top-20 group spawn?
Sure, UCLA might have won two straight against the Trojans, but don’t expect one of the most storied programs in all of college football to stay “down” for long (USC did win 10 games last year, after all). Steve Sarkisian has returned again to Troy, only this time, he’s the one calling the shots. Can Sark slow Mora’s roll? He only had a couple of months to put this class together, and it will be interesting to see how many former Husky commits he can get to follow him south as well as how many Kiffin guys he can keep in SoCal (his ties to the former USC head coach should help there).
Kyle Whittingham and the Utes have experienced some major growing pains in making the jump from the Mountain West to the Pac-12. They have proven they can play with anybody in the conference (Exhibit A: beating Stanford at home last year), but in order to be more consistent, they need more Pac-12-caliber bodies. Notching the kind of athletes that can generate a highly ranked recruiting class wasn’t nearly as important in the Mountain West, and while the early returns for 2014 don’t seem like they will bring a ton of fanfare, you can bet bringing in more prized recruits who have the potential to be big playmakers in a major conference is a point of emphasis in Salt Lake City.
Like the Utah program, Chris Petersen didn’t need to bring in top-25 classes to compete for conference championships and potential BCS berths when he was manning Boise State. Now that he’s in the Pac-12 and taking over a Washington program that just lost its heart and soul in Keith Price and a couple of his top aides (Bishop Sankey and Austin Seferian-Jenkins), Petersen will look to make a statement on Wednesday that he can recruit with the big boys. It shouldn’t be an issue for such an accomplished coach now that he has the proper backing to do so, but he can’t be totally judged for this class either way since he’s been on the job for two months.
Coming off their first bowl game in a decade, the Cougars have their faithful feeling good about what Mike Leach is putting together in the Palouse. Quarterbacks and receivers in the prep ranks surely will be attracted to the pass-happy Leach attack, but it will be getting more consistent performances defensively in conference play that will put the Cougs that much closer to the top. Hard-hitting Deone Bucannon is no longer in the Palouse, so secondary help would be nice. Safety Markell Sanders is one of six early signees for the Cougs, and there should be a few more defensive backs to sign on Wednesday.