Which Pac-12 team will hoist the conference's championship trophy in 2013? The answer to that question might depend on which team is able to sign its most important recruits in the 2013 class.
With only one week to go before national signing day (Feb. 6), all of the Pac-12 teams are scrambling to hold onto their prized recruit commitments, and continuing to chase top prospects.
According to Rivals.com, the Pac-12 currently holds seven of the top 30 classes and 10 of the top 50—only Stanford at No. 57 and Colorado at No. 77 rank outside the top 50 classes in the nation.
There is, however, a one-week sprint remaining in this recruiting marathon, and this daily-changing, fluid process is not for the timid. Cross your fingers that your favorite team can hold on to its biggest recruit.
In reverse order of their current Rivals.com standing, let's look at each Pac-12 team's most important recruit.
Colorado has only one 4-star recruit, but he could end up being the face of the Colorado Buffaloes' program.
Quarterback Sefo Liufau, from Tacoma, Washington's Bellarmine Prep, is listed as a pro-style quarterback, but he has shown dual-threat capabilities.
New Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre has indicated to Liufau that the Buffs may open things up a bit more on offense:
He told me that we will be running a lot of mixed formations like they did at San Jose State. Without letting the cat out of the bag too much, he said it will be sort of like a spread offense. Not a spread offense like Oregon's, but certain aspects will be similar.
Colorado has a gaggle of quarterbacks on the roster already, including Jordan Webb, Connor Wood and Nick Hirschman. But with the Buffs' record in 2012 (1-11), you have to ask yourself if any of those three are the answer in 2013.
Liufau has a strong arm and good QB smarts. If the Buffs want to come all the way back, Liufau is a very important recruit for them.
Due to Stanford's roster situation and the time it takes to get clearance for prep athletes' enrollment, the Stanford Cardinal still has some distance to go to improve their 2013 class prior to national signing day.
But while Stanford's 2013 class may not have quantity, it has quality. It's tough to pick the Cardinal's most important recruit.
It's tempting to go with one of the excellent tight ends who have verbally committed, if, for no other reason, to ensure that Stanford keeps its awesomeness at that position going in the future.
However, the Cardinal will always be strong on offense, so let's go with linebacker Peter Kalambayi. Out of Matthews, NC, the 6'3", 238-pound 4-star Kalambayi is the No. 7 ranked outside linebacker in the country. He is also a soccer standout, and is the first member of his Trinidad family to be born in the U.S.A. Cool.
According to Rivals.com, Kalambayi is currently a "soft verbal" for Stanford. The Cardinal need to hold onto this guy.
A snarky person would say that Washington State head coach Mike Leach should forget about "Air Raid", and see if he could recruit some players on defense that could actually stop opponents.
But where's the fun in that?
Leach is, instead, going after players who fit his system. And pro-style quarterback Tyler Bruggman from Phoenix, AZ's Brophy Prep will definitely fit the Leach QB mold. Bruggman is a 4-star prospect who ranks in the top 20 for pro-style QBs in the nation, according to Rivals.com.
A straight A student, Bruggman says he admires Joe Montana, and has modeled his game after Drew Brees, Aaron Murray and Tom Brady. Smart kid who knows who to watch.
Bruggman may be the recruit that Leach starts building around.
It probably doesn't matter who is designated Oregon State's most important recruit next week. The Oregon State Beavers best player in a year or two will likely be some 2-star or no-star player you've never heard of (see Jordan Poyer) who Mike Riley has coached to superstardom.
But for the sake of this article's integrity, let's go with 3-star running back Lawrence Mattison. With Mattison's recruitment, the Beavs have dipped into the rich Texas RB stomping ground of their foes 40 miles south—Mattison is from Spring Branch, TX.
Although he committed to OSU last summer, Mattison didn't take his official visit to Corvallis until last weekend. According to Angie Machado of Rivals. com, Mattison found a home with his new Oregon State family. The young man lost his father when he was in the sixth grade, and made the trip to Corvallis alone.
It feels like the Beavs may have found their running back of the future, and Mattison may have landed in the right place. Not sure how it could get any more important than that.
There is another Lotulelei coming to Utah in this 2013 class—Lowell, former Utah Utes defensive tackle Star Lotulelei's younger brother. Lowell is also a defensive tackle. While Lotulelei is a 3-star prospect and someone Utah can build around defensively, he's probably the second most important recruit this year.
The most important recruit the Utes have in this class is junior college wide receiver Andre Lewis. Lewis is a 4-star prospect out of Diablo Valley JC (California), and he will compete for a starting role in 2013.
Lewis is a big target at 6'4" and 215 pounds, and he has speed and good leaping ability. He should do just fine against some of the Pac-12's athletic defensive backs.
Lewis is a big play guy, and Utah is lucky to get him. Let's go out on a limb here and say that Lewis will be one of the top three receivers in the Pac-12 in 2013.
For Arizona State's most important recruit let's go with another community college transfer, defensive end Marcus Hardison.
Hardison will compete for playing time immediately, even though the Arizona State Sun Devils return all of their defensive front starters, including standout Will Sutton. Let's not forget that ASU's run defense finished tenth in the Pac-12 last year.
The 4-star prospect went back-and-forth between Arizona State and Kansas State, and just committed to the Sun Devils on Jan. 18. Hardison is a big, strong kid (6'4", 290 lbs) and he knows how to sack quarterbacks.
He's a good get for Todd Graham's program.
If you are an Arizona fan, you have to love the Arizona Wildcats' 2013 recruiting class.
With under one week to go, head coach Rich Rodriguez has worked his magic and landed 25 commits. And, it's not just about the numbers; there is quality here as well.
It's tough to pick one kid out as the most important recruit, but because we're talking about the pass-happy Pac-12, let's go with cornerback Derek Babiash. Out of Poway, CA, the 4-star cornerback is aggressive, reacts quickly, and looks right in line with Rich Rod's modus operandi.
Babiash is versatile and could play either offense or defense, but he fits in better with what Arizona needs on defense. He has offers from five other Pac-12 schools, along with Nebraska and Oklahoma. Babiash briefly committed to Washington in April, 2012, but soon saw the error of his way and decommitted a few weeks later.
Babiash took his official visit to Arizona on Jan. 18 and solidified his commitment then.
If you follow this prep recruiting biz, you will know that Oregon's 2013 class has fallen off the pace dramatically this year...at least, by the Oregon Ducks' lofty standards.
Most people lay the blame at Chip Kelly's feet, whether it was his indecision about going to the NFL or staying at Oregon, or his assistants not knowing exactly what to tell recruits out on the trail. No matter what the reason, the Ducks got off to a slow start, but are beginning to eke out progress since new head coach Mark Helfrich's appointment.
None of that may matter if Oregon can hold onto consensus 5-star running back Thomas Tyner. Rivals.com has Tyner as the No. 17 player in the nation, and the No. 2 running back, and some people think that's even a little low.
Tyner rushed for 3,415 yards and 47 touchdowns in his senior season. That's in one year, folks, not his high school career.
Tyner has waffled somewhat in his commitment to Oregon, but now appears solid. Sorry, rest of Pac-12, but it looks as if the Ducks will have another running back in the mold of LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner.
If this article had been written last week, linebacker Victor Egu's name would have been on the slide title. The De La Salle High (California) prospect was just what the California Golden Bears needed to jump start their defense.
But Egu's flip last week to Yale—which must make him the top recruit ever at the Ivy League school—requires a U-turn to 4-star quarterback Jared Goff.
Cal's new head coach Sonny Dykes has put together and/or held onto a really nice class. No recruit exemplifies that more than Jared Goff, Cal's quarterback of the future. The Cal Bears didn't have to look far for Goff either, as he hails from nearby Greenbrae, CA.
Goff has good size (6'4", 190 lbs) and is a pro-style QB. He plans to enroll early and participate in spring practice, where he should be in the competition to replace Zach Maynard.
Does Goff remind you of a recently departed Pac-12 quarterback?
Don't hold it against him.
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian and his assistants have been recruiting beasts this year. In fact, conference foes would probably put Sark right up there with Ohio State's Urban Meyer as guys they are sick of seeing and hearing about out there on the recruiting trail.
While it's tempting to tout one of the Huskies' superb playmakers on offense as their most important recruit, you really have to go with one of the defensive line prospects, don't you think?
How about 4-star defensive tackle Elijah Qualls from Petaluma, CA? At 6'2" and 265 pounds, Qualls is a beast and could shore up Washington's defensive line.
If Washington can hold on to Qualls and not let UCLA or Nebraska steal him away, he has the potential to almost single-handedly improve the Washington Huskies' defense in 2013.
Well, it appears that location really does matter, at least in recruiting. With less than one week to go, the top two 2013 recruiting classes in the Pac-12 belong to UCLA and USC.
Sixteen 4-star recruits makes choosing just one as the most important an impossible task. The newest UCLA recruits, fellow defensive backs Priest Willis and Tahaan Goodman, were certainly impressive gets by Jim Mora Jr. and his staff.
But for sheer impact on future UCLA Bruin teams, it would be crazy to not recognize the offensive line prospects lining up in Westwood next fall. UCLA has verbal commits from seven OLs, and six of them are 4-star recruits.
That's just ridiculous. And really unfair if you are a fan of any other team in the conference.
Yes, there's been some leakage in USC's much vaunted 2013 recruiting class.
Yes, the USC Trojans have only 14 committed recruits.
And, yes, your team would take every single one of those 14 kids if they could.
With six 5-star prospects and eight 4-star, USC has really stacked the deck during their limited scholarship period. It's difficult to say which of these golden boys will be the savior of the Trojans in coming years, but if you pick safety Su'a Cravens, you won't be too far off.
According to Rivals.com, Cravens is the No. 1 safety in the nation, and the No. 12 player overall in the country's 2013 class. The Trojans' defense was—how to be nice?—really sucky in 2012. USC finished seventh in the Pac-12 conference in total defense.
You have to think that Cravens could have helped out the Trojans' defense last year.
He will this year, and for years to come.
No matter which Pac-12 team wins the conference championship in 2013 and, hopefully, goes on to BCS glory, it will be great fun to welcome the new recruits to the mighty Pac-12.
May your team keep your soft verbals and land your dream prospects. And don't you dare go anywhere between now and Feb. 6.
Kay Jennings is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.