No football recruiting cycle has ever started like the 2021-22 version, with an extended dead period this spring and ongoing uncertainty over competition in the fall.
Last year, there were six weeks of normalcy before the pandemic intervened.
Within the current storm, the Pac-12 is clinging to a morsel of momentum sourced in USC and Oregon signing top-10 classes in the 2020-21 cycle, the No. 1 player in the west staying home and the California exodus subsiding.
And within this storm, the Hotline will attempt to provide guidance and clarity in the form of a weekly Pac-12 recruiting column.
Our intent isn’t to duplicate the content provided by the likes of Rivals and 247 but, rather, to address trends and issues from the perspective of both the conference collective and the individual programs.
(As an added feature, we’ll offer weekly insights from 247analysts.)
This inaugural edition is a broad-brush look at the class of 2022 — specifically, the top targets for each program.
Key points on the names below:
— We haven’t necessarily listed the highest-ranked recruit on each team’s wish list.
Rather, the selections were based on a highly subjective combination of the prospect’s potential and the team’s chances for eventually securing his signature.
— Where the program’s top target has already committed (examples: Cal and USC), a second option is listed.
— In some cases, the names will change over time. We’ll re-examine the top targets after the evaluation period this spring (assuming there is one).
Arizona: DE Zac Swanson (Phoenix/Brophy Prep). He plays a high-value position, has a four-star rating, is an in-state recruit and, unlike so many other Arizona prospects, has not declared himself bound for the Big 12 or SEC. So we’re saying there’s a chance for the Wildcats — a slim chance. The competition is fierce.
Arizona State: QB AJ Duffy (Moreno Valley, CA/IMG Academy). One of the top quarterback prospects in the west — he transferred to IMG because of the prep sports ban in California — and a position of supreme need for the Sun Devils, who could lose Jayden Daniels to the NFL next winter and are light on quality replacements.
Cal: WR C.J. Williams (Santa Ana/Mater Dei). The Bears have a commitment from their No. 1 target (quarterback Justyn Martin), so Williams qualifies as No. 1B. He’s raw but possesses a high ceiling — so high, in fact, that Alabama and Ohio State are interested. The Bears are in dire need of perimeter playmakers.
Colorado: TB Gavin Sawchuk (Littleton, Colo./Valor Christian). Easy call here, given that Sawchuk is a five-star prospect and the top in-state player by a mile-high mile. Some analysts believe he’s Oklahoma bound, but the Sooners just reeled in a five-star tailback from Southern California (Raleek Brown), so Sawchuk could be open to staying home.
Oregon: ATH Jalil Tucker (San Diego/Lincoln). The Ducks have commitments from several four-star prospects, but Tucker stands as a next-level playmaker who would complement Oregon’s existing personnel. (Of note: Lincoln is the alma mater of former Duck Akili Smith.) Arizona State is in hot pursuit, as are Big Ten programs.
Oregon State: Lamar Washington (Portland/Jefferson). The four-star edge rusher will have his pick of schools by December, but the Beavers could have an advantage after offering the multi-sport athlete a basketball scholarship, as well. (His other hardwood options, thus far, are from mid-majors.)
Stanford: LB Niuafe Tuihalamaka (Mission Hills, CA/Bishop Alemany). One of the top inside linebackers in the class, Tuihalamaka has drawn interest from Notre Dame and Florida. The Cardinal has key targets committed at tailback (Arlen Harris) and tight end (Sam Roush) and needs to hook a top defensive prospect.
UCLA: TB Jaydn Ott (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman). The Bruins are an interesting case in that five-star quarterback Maalik Murphy is atop their wish list. (His mom works on campus.) But we opted for Ott as the best combination of desirable and signable. The four-star prospect will have plenty of offers, whereas Murphy could commit to Texas any day.
USC: OG Earnest Greene (Bellflower, CA/St. John Bosco). Greene is the pick only because the Trojans have secured a commitment from their first choice, Domani Jackson, the No. 1 cornerback in the country. The homegrown Greene is one of the top guards in the country, and USC must upgrade the talent on its offensive line.
Utah: LB Lander Barton (Salt Lake City/Brighton). Another obvious call. Barton is the top-ranked player in the state and the younger brother of ex-Utes Jackson and Cody — and he’s arguably the best prospect in the family. Michigan and Notre Dame are among the programs in pursuit, but the end-game seems fairly clear. Even his parents are Utes.
Washington: OT Josh Conerly (Seattle/Rainier Beach). The top-ranked tackle on the West Coast is a local kid and a critical recruit for the Huskies, who need to re-establish themselves in Seattle after disappointing results with the class of ’21. One problem: Everyone is recruiting Conerly, including Alabama and Oklahoma.
Washington State: WR Tobias Merriweather (Camas, Wash./Union). Notre Dame, Oregon and USC are after the four-star prospect, who might seem like a reach for the Cougars. But don’t count them out just yet: Merriweather’s former prep teammate, Lincoln Victor, just transferred to WSU (from Hawaii), and a reunion on the Palouse seems possible.