Trojans grab several top prospects late under new coach Clay Helton.
The Pac-12 finished with three teams in Rivals’ national top 20 recruiting rankings, but overall, slumped a little this year in terms of how its teams fared on the national level compared to the other Power Five conferences.
“It’s not shocking, though, because I felt like the talent in the West was slightly down this year compared to last year,” said Adam Gorney, Rivals.com’s West Coast recruiting analyst.
Still, the usual suspects came away with big hauls.
Rivals.com’s Gorney and ESPN.com both accorded USC the title of Pac-12 recruiting champion this year, while Scout.com had UCLA in its top spot.
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The Trojans finished strong Wednesday, acquiring signatures of seven touted prospects that included five-star cornerback Jack Jones from Long Beach Poly (Calif.) High, Miami (Fla.) Central defensive back Jamel Cook who flipped from Florida State, running back Vavae Malepaei (who was formerly committed to Oregon), and defensive end Connor Murphy from Brophy High in Arizona, who picked USC over Michigan and Arizona State.
It’s an impressive haul for Clay Helton and his new staff, which has been tasked with leading USC back to the top of the Pac-12.
UCLA and Stanford finished behind USC for second and third place in the Pac-12, Gorney said.
The Bruins’ biggest coups were in the signing of five-star linebacker Mique Juarez (Torrance, Calif.), who is ranked No. 11 nationally by 247Sports.com, and offensive guard Francisco Perez, who was originally committed to Cal.
Stanford lost Loyola (Los Angeles) cornerback David Long to Michigan in December, but gained Hickory (Hermitage, Pa.) High safety Andrew Pryts on Wednesday when he decommitted from Penn State to sign with the Cardinal. The Cardinal also held on to quarterback K.J. Costello, the nation’s second-ranked pro-style signal caller, and Kaden Smith, ranked the No. 2 tight end nationally.
Behind the blue bloods, Gorney said he liked how Cal made out in the Pac-12 North, and singled out Utah in the Pac-12 South as a team that signed a class full of sleepers.
“I like Cal’s class,” Gorney said. “They got guys that fit that system – to be able to spread you out and dump off the ball and run.”
Oaks Christian (Thousand Oaks, Calif.) Academy quarterback Max Gilliam is the biggest name in Cal’s 2016 class and he’s already enrolled in school in Berkeley. However the Golden Bears’ biggest signing-day acquisitions were quarterback Victor Viramontes, who picked Cal over Michigan, Arizona and Utah, and Charter Oak (Covina, Calif.) High athlete Zion Echols, who chose Cal over Washington State.
In the Pac-12 South, Utah managed to keep six of the top in-state prospects including Herriman High defensive end Leki Fotu, and also held on to Leuzinger (Hawthorne, Calif.) High defensive lineman Semisi Lauaki, whom USC made a strong push for.
The perennial Pac-12 title contender that was strangely quiet on Wednesday was Oregon, which signed a 19-man class to little fanfare. Through this recruiting cycle, the Ducks got commitments from, but failed to sign, several blue chippers: Malepaei, who defected to USC; four-star cornerback Jared Mayden, who went to Alabama; and Winter Garden, Fla., receiver Eddie McDoom, who signed with Michigan).
Ranking the conference
|How scout.com ranked the Pac-12’s 2016 recruiting classes:|