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2016 National Signing Day: 5 Pac-12 storylines (and a bonus)

Feb 2, 2016

The college football season might run from August to January as far as training camp and games are concerned, but there is no real offseason on the gridiron. Hope that Rose Bowl celebration was short-lived, David Shaw, because you have just one month to turn commitments into letter of intents, “flip” high school senior studs from University of X to Stanford and try to win an 11th-hour battle or two on Feb. 3  – National Signing Day.

[Related: How to watch the Inside Pac-12 Football: Signing Day Special plus recruiting coverage online]

Pac-12 Networks and will have National Signing Day coverage all day Wednesday, culminating in Pac-12 Football Weekly: Signing Day Special at 4:30 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Network. Here are some of the top story lines concerning the Conference of Champions this year:

1. Pac-12 in play for some of the best available – While many recruits have made their decisions already, four of the top 10 recruits and 12 of the top 25 according to Scout are still undecided. At least one Pac-12 school is in play for five top-25 recruits and 10 top-100 guys (Scout), so some instant-impact freshmen might be throwing on the hat of a Pac-12 school at some point Wednesday. USC could be a major playmaker on this front (more on that later).

2. Restocking rosters to account for early entrees and transfers – Guys leaving to go pro or take their talents to another program is nothing new in college football, and coaches surely have this in the back of their mind when hitting the recruiting trail. UCLA and Stanford, however, had to deal with this more than they probably would have liked. The Bruins had six guys leave college eligibility on the table to try to get paid, while the Cardinal saw its starting center retire, one of its top running backs behind Christian McCaffrey transfer and its top tight end head to the NFL draft with two years of eligibility remaining. How quickly can schools like UCLA and Stanford rebound from these losses (more on these guys later)? Those two are far from the only Pac-12 schools that face that predicament this year, however, as Arizona has to replace its top playmaker on both sides of the ball and Cal has to move on from its record-setting quarterback, for starters.

3. Clay Helton’s first recruiting class – There are three things USC fans expect out of their team – Pac-12 championships, national championships and top-ranked recruiting classes (no pressure, Clay). Point No. 3 is what made Helton such an attractive permanent hire for Pat Haden – California high school coaches love them some Clay Helton, a guy who is obviously familiar with the high school powers in Southern California having been at USC for six years. But will that translate into another highly-regarded recruiting class? That’s still TBD – the Trojans have a top-25 class right now (No. 23 Scout, No. 16 ESPN) but could make a serious jump up with a splash on signing day, as USC is in the running for five top-100 recruits (Scout) who are still undecided, including the No. 1 player in the nation.

4.Stanford re-tooling up front – One of the keys to the Cardinal’s “intellectual brutality” is its bruising offensive line. David Shaw’s marquee 2012 recruiting class was built on the strength of the guys in the trenches like Andrus Peat, Josh Garnett, Kyle Murphy and Graham Shuler. Well all of those dudes are gone now – Peat will be entering his second year as a pro, Garnett and Murphy have exhausted their eligibility and Shuler has retired. Luckily for the Cardinal, David Shaw has commitments from three four-star offensive tackles and the No. 12 center according to Scout, along with a three-star guard.

5. Utah rising – It ain’t easy making the switch from Group of 5 to Power 5, mainly because of the talent gap. That comes down to recruiting, and as Utah has started to rack up more wins, the Utes are starting to climb the recruiting rankings as well. Fresh off its first 10-win season since joining the Pac-12, the Utes are poised to haul in their best class in four years. Two years ago, Utah had the 11th-best class in the Pac-12 and 69th in the nation according to Scout. This year, Utah is currently No. 41 in the nation and has a commitment from a five-star prospect for the first time since 2009 (Scout). Having lost four-year starter Travis Wilson, the Utes have turned to the JuCo ranks, already signing former Husky Troy Williams to a letter of intent (he spent last year at Santa Monica College). Williams is one of three top-50 junior college prospects the Utes are expected to sign, including the No. 1 JC prospect in the land.

6. Bonus story line  Who will haul in the top recruiting class in the Pac-12? That’s still up for debate, with Stanford and UCLA leading the chase. Scout has UCLA as the top-ranked class in the Pac at No. 10, while ESPN has Stanford at No. 11 and UCLA at No. 15. Still in play for so many top-ranked recruits, USC could potentially jump those two, while Scout lists Oregon as having the No. 17 class in the nation.