1. Rising from the dead (period)
Three of the top programs in the Pac-12 received a huge favor in their pursuit of a massive recruit.
J.T. Tuimoloau isn’t merely the best unsigned player in the West in the class of 2021. He’s the top overall player in the country, according to 247Sports.
And he’s from the Seattle area.
And he plays a position of dire, desperate, supreme need for the Pac-12 (defensive line).
Tuimoloau was prepared to kiss the conference goodbye, with Ohio State viewed as the favorite for his services and Alabama in close pursuit.
His list of finalists included three Pac-12 programs — Washington, Oregon and USC — but they were considered more challengers than frontrunners.
And then along came the NCAA, doing the Pac-12 a solid.
The Division I Council announced 10 days ago that the recruiting dead period would be extended until May 31, thus giving the conference new life in the collective pursuit of Tuimoloau.
An official visit to Columbus or Tuscaloosa, with all the pomp and circumstance — and at no cost to his family — will have to wait three months.
Is he willing to hold out that long?
“I don’t anticipate him wanting to wait until after the dead period to take his official visits, or else he’d have to go on his own dime and wouldn’t get to meet with coaches or see facilities until the dead period ends,’’ 247Sports recruiting analyst Brandon Huffman told the Hotline earlier this week.
“Then you’re looking at early June as the soonest. The Pac-12 could end up benefiting.”
That’s a long three months of uncertainty as Tuimoloau’s friends — both football players and regular students — gear up for college.
Put another way:
It’s easy to commit to being non-committal right now, in late February.
But staying patient through the last three months of his senior year could prove more difficult than Tuimoloau realizes.
2. The Pac-12 pecking order
What if the desire to gain closure on the next chapter in his life becomes too great and Tuimoloau decides to commit this spring, without taking official visits to Ohio State or Alabama?
Which of the three Pac-12 suitors has the best chance to land the 280-pound defensive end?
We’re handicapping the race in this manner, from least likely to most likely destination:
3. Washington: If Tuimoloau truly felt comfortable with the coaching staff — if he really wanted to play for his hometown team — then why aren’t the Huskies in better position now?
If anything, the departure of defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski (to Texas) might have worsened UW’s position relative to the other Pac-12 teams.
Ditching the Huskies for Ohio State or Alabama is one thing. But if Tuimoloau opts for another Pac-12 team, the optics would be far worse for UW.
2. USC: The prospect of joining fellow five-star Korey Foreman to form a devastating defensive line tandem might be tempting, and Tuimoloau has family in Southern California.
But we wonder if it’s just a bit too far when a closer options exists.
1. Oregon: The best combination of Pac-12 options — close to home, comfort level with the coaches, the chance to compete for a playoff berth.
If he doesn’t head across the country and has no intention of staying in Seattle, then Tuimoloau might decide the best fit is just five hours down the road.
Anyhow, that’s our view of the last great recruiting chase in the class of ’21, from the (far) outside looking in.
Bottom line: Tuimoloau would be gigantic pickup for the conference, whether he ends up in Seattle, Eugene or L.A.
Add him to a list that features Foreman (USC), quarterback Sam Huard (Washington) and offensive lineman Kingsley Suamataia (Oregon), and the Pac-12 would have retained four of the top five prospects in the West.
3. Signs of life
USC’s successful pursuit of Foreman — the top prospect in the country based on the 247Sports composite ratings — forms one half of an emerging L.A. story.
Just over one month later, the UCLA basketball program received a commitment from the No. 3 player in the country in the class of 2022: Amari Bailey, a combo guard from Chatsworth, CA.
Yes, that’s the No. 1 player in the football class of ’21 heading to USC and the No. 3 player in the basketball class of ’22 pledging to UCLA.
The L.A. schools remain far from the lofty perches of their past, but the Foreman-Bailey double is nonetheless encouraging for the conference at large.
If USC football and UCLA basketball aren’t relevant nationally, the Pac-12’s path to prominence is considerably more narrow.
4. Selection Sunday squeeze
Pac-12 basketball officials entered this pandemic season with two goals:
Play as many games as possible as safely as possible; and send as many teams to the NCAA tournament as possible with the highest seeds possible.
— On the former, the outlook is encouraging:
Every team will play at least 18 conference games (out of the 20 scheduled), unless something goes very wrong this week.
— On the latter matter, the situation isn’t quite as bright.
Stanford’s home losses to the Oregon schools — and its three-game losing streak overall — narrowed the Cardinal’s path into the at-large field and undercut the Pac-12’s odds of hitting the desired quantity of NCAA berths.
Meanwhile, USC’s losses on the Mountain swing — and its three-game losing streak overall — clouds the Pac-12’s outlook for collecting the highest quality seeds.
Had the Trojans finished strong, they might have climbed to a No. 4 seed. Instead, the late slide could drop them several lines.
At the moment, the conference appears headed for a somewhat gloomy finish with just four teams in the NCAA field, all of them No. 6 seeds or lower.
From that spot in the bracket, deep advancement is difficult.
As we noted two weeks ago, every seed line matters.
5. Stretch run fun
The Pac-12 would rather have more teams in contention for NCAA bids and for the top-four seeds, but it couldn’t have asked for a better final week of the regular season.
First, the top of the standings:
Next, the remaining games:
UCLA: at Oregon (Wednesday), vs. USC (Saturday)
Oregon: vs. Arizona (Monday), vs. UCLA (Wednesday), at OSU (Sunday)
USC: vs. Stanford (Wednesday), at UCLA (Saturday)
Colorado: vs. Arizona State (Thursday)
The seeding for the conference tournament is based on winning percentage, in order to account for the unequal number of games played.
Which means …
— If the Bruins win out, they’re the top seed.
— If the Ducks win out, they’re the No. 1 seed based on a half-game (or more) advantage over UCLA.
— If USC wins out and Oregon loses once, the Trojans are the No. 1.
— Colorado can win it, too: The Buffaloes must beat ASU for a 14-6 finish and get immense help in the form of two losses by UCLA, two by Oregon and one by USC.
Should be a riveting week.