USC, UCLA classes moving in opposite directions
Signing Day is fast approaching, and plenty still has to be sorted out. Several of the nation's top recruits remain undecided, while others are currently questioning their commitments. Rivals' national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell breaks down some of the top storylines to monitor with only two weeks left until Feb. 6.
• Is USC's recruiting class deteriorating? We knew the USC class would be one of the most interesting to follow down the stretch because so many of the commitments were taking visits. Now, coach Lane Kiffin might inadvertently be jeopardizing his prized haul. Kiffin waited a long time to hire a defensive coordinator to replace his father, Monte, and his new his choice, Clancy Pendergast, has decided he wants to coach defensive backs on his own. So Kiffin fired former defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders two weeks before Signing Day. And that could spark a major fallout.
Perhaps most pressing: Will the changes to USC's defensive staff affect the commitment of five-star cornerback Jalen Ramsey?
Sanders departure could be a big issue because Ramsey liked Sanders, and Sanders was working with recruiter Tee Martin on prospects such as Matthew Thomas and Quinton Powell. Luckily for USC, defensive backs Su'a Cravens, Chris Hawkins and Leon McQuay III have already enrolled. While it's doubtful that Cravens would have ever flipped, Hawkins did flirt with other schools. It's unclear how Sanders' exit would have affected McQuay had he still been available.
Moreover, with the decommitment of defensive end Jason Hatcher this week, USC has now lost six commitments from a class that was once ranked No. 1 in the nation. Now, it has fallen to No. 7 and is still sliding. In addition to Hatcher, USC has parted ways with Sebastian Larue, Eddie Vanderdoes, Max Redfield, Eldridge Massington and Kylie Fitts.
USC could lure Fitts back into the fold -- although that seems like a long shot -- and the Trojans could still end up signing Vanderdoes. The Trojans are also still involved with players such as Thomas, Powell, Tyrell Robinson and Tyree Robinson. Before eyeing new recruits, however, it needs to retain Ramsey, Torrodney Prevot and Ty Isaac.
Predicting how everything will play out is difficult, but two things are very clear: USC will still finish with a quality recruiting class, but the last month prompted new questions about Kiffin, both in regard to his current team and his recruiting ability. USC fans have to be a little worried moving forward about the stability of the program under their head coach. A lot has gone wrong in Los Angeles since the Trojans were many pundits' preseason No. 1 team in August.
• UCLA's haul just keeps getting better. A while ago, it seemed that UCLA was going to finish this recruiting cycle with a bang. Wednesday was key to that finish. The Bruins' additions of safeties Tahaan Goodman and Priest Willis -- long considered a package deal -- is huge.
It seemed unlikely that UCLA could feasibly surpass USC in the team recruiting rankings; now there's a slight possibility.
• Where do the five-stars go? I get asked every day about potential landing spots for the following five-star prospects: defensive end Carl Lawson, running back Derrick Green, Ramsey, linebacker Reuben Foster, offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, Thomas, Vanderdoes, defensive tackle Montravius Adams, defensive back Vonn Bell and defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson. And some are a little easier to read than others. For now, though, it seems right that Green is favoring Michigan, Tunsil is leaning toward Georgia, Adams is leaning toward Clemson and Robinson is likely to stick with Texas. However, with others, it's all about gut feeling. Here are my best guesses: Lawson to Tennessee, Ramsey to Florida, Foster to Auburn, Thomas to Miami, Vanderdoes to UCLA and Bell to Alabama. Keep in mind, some of these guys have official visits remaining so anything is subject to change.
• The one guy who just missed five-star status who has the potential to be an absolute star in college? Ohio State commitment Jalin Marshall. In Urban Meyer's offense, this kid could have a special season.
• Derrick Henry earned his designation as a running back from Rivals.com after his performance at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, but didn't receive a fifth star -- and Alabama fans think that's nuts. The reasoning? The 6-foot-3 Henry's situation is reminiscent of that of James Wilder Jr. in the 2011 class. Back then, there was speculation that Wilder would be a better linebacker than a running back, and that he was too big and upright to be a natural tailback. Wilder Jr. has been a solid situational back for Florida State with 12 career touchdowns, but he hasn't lived up to five-star running back billing. Henry could outperform his four-star designation, but only time will tell.
• One of the more unpredictable recruiting sagas has involved four-star cornerback Mackensie Alexander from Immokalee, Fla. Depending what day of the week reporters talk to Alexander, or his brother Mackenro Alexander, it is likely that their situation has changed. Most assume that both will sign with the same school. It has been confirmed that the brothers plan to visit Rutgers this weekend, which was a rather random addition to the conversation about a month ago. Clemson is still seen as the leader, but considering how things have gone so far, it would be folly to pick a leader. Alexander is one player who could delay his decision past Signing Day -- and I'm not convinced the brothers will end up with the same program.
• Four-star wide receiver Devon Allen has long hinted that if Oregon were to offer him, they would immediately move to the top of his list. Well, on Tuesday, new head coach Mark Helfrich finally provided Allen with the news he had been waiting for. But the question remains: Was Allen only interested in Chip Kelly's Ducks? Some assumed that a commitment might quickly follow, but that has yet to happen. Allen has one more visit set to Arkansas during the weekend of Feb. 1, and while the Ducks are currently seen as the leader, the Razorbacks, UCLA and Stanford continue to be in the chase. Watch out for Stanford, as this could end up being an Oregon-Stanford battle.
• Oregon and West Virginia's battle for Tanner McEvoy continues. Most people assume West Virginia leads, as Morgantown is the clear destination for early playing time given Eugene Smith's departure to the NFL. Still, with Brian Bennett transferring out of Oregon, the Ducks could be more of a threat again. Marcus Mariota is obviously still the main man in Eugene, but no one behind him has any significant experience. It should be interesting to see if Oregon makes a bigger push on McEvoy.
• Four-star wide receiver Tyler Boyd, who is committed to Pittsburgh, is still scheduled to take an official visit to Tennessee. However, the good news for Pitt fans is that Penn State's late push to get the in-state receiver to Happy Valley for an official visit came up short. Boyd is still considered a pretty solid Pitt pledge despite his upcoming visit to Knoxville, but you never know what can happen during an official visit weekend. The Vols will push hard.
• Despite losing Na'Ty Rodgers to South Carolina, things look good for Maryland in regard to linebacker Yannick Ngakoue and a recommitment. Florida State was hot with him for a bit, but in the end, it seems likely he'll choose the Terps and play with good friend Derwin Gray.
• Wide receiver Marquez North will choose between Tennessee and North Carolina at his school on National Signing Day. North Carolina got the last official visit and is North's parents' favorite, but Tennessee has made this race very close.
• You'd think Texas A&M has enough potential wideouts even with the decommitment of Tony Stevens to Auburn, but the Aggies have joined Florida in pursuing Florida State commit Levonte Whitfield. You can't blame Kevin Sumlin for striking while the iron, or in this case Johnny Football, is hot. Whitfield is tiny but he's electric. The Aggies are also the leader for former USC pledge Larue now that Notre Dame has dropped out. But the question begs to be asked: How does A&M have room if all these guys want to jump on board? It wouldn't shock me if Larue ended up at a school that either just offered him or will offer late.
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