Which Powerhouse Program Is Best Fit for 5-Star ATH Juju Smith?

Tyler Donohue@@TDsTakeNational Recruiting AnalystOctober 25, 2013


Dynamic playmaker John Smith is considered a premier prospect at several positions, including wide receiver and defensive back. The 6'1", 200-pound athlete stars at Long Beach Polytechnic High School in Southern California, where he's commanded attention from college scouts across the country.

Smith tallied 51 tackles and six interceptions on defense as a junior, per 247Sports. He added 49 receptions for 752 yards and nine touchdowns.

The 5-star senior prospect earned a spot in the 2014 Under Armour All-America High School Football Game. Smith is listed as the nation's No. 13 overall recruit and California's second-best prospect in 247Sports composite rankings.

His lengthy list of scholarship offers includes Ohio State, Alabama, Oregon, Michigan, UCLA, USC and Notre Dame. Smith's official visits are underway, as he'll inspect the campuses of five out-of-state teams.

Like several Southern California standouts, Smith won't use an official visit at UCLA or USC. He has a longstanding familiarity with each program, spending time at both schools.

With seven outstanding squads in contention for Smith's services, let's take a look at how each school might suit him.

Ohio State

Smith made Ohio State his first stop on a busy official visit tour that spans three months. He was in the Horseshoe on Sept. 28, when the Buckeyes beat Wisconsin.

For those keeping track, that was when LeBron James showed up to deliver a pregame speech.

Urban Meyer has already assembled an impressive recruiting class that currently ranks second nationally in 247Sports rankings. The class includes several versatile two-way players, including 4-star prospects Noah Brown and Sam Hubbard.

There's room for Smith on both sides of the ball. Philly Brown, the team's leading receiver, is a senior, so there will certainly be a spot to fill on offense.

However, he likely ends up at safety in Columbus, where he would immediately bolster the Buckeyes backfield.


Notre Dame

Note Dame was next on Smith's trip list. He visited South Bend last Saturday to watch the Fighting Irish prevail over rival USC, another team contending for his commitment.

Smith fits the mold of receivers with size at Notre Dame, but the team could really use his athleticism in the secondary. He came away impressed by the experience in South Bend.

“The game atmosphere was incredible," Smith told Scout.com writer Greg Biggins (subscription required). "It was kind of weird watching USC in a different stadium because I’ve grown up watching them play at the Coliseum but it was a lot of fun for me."

Notre Dame is still looking for defensive back help in this class and Smith fits the bill perfectly.


Smith is in Eugene this weekend for an official visit. He'll watch the Ducks take on UCLA, giving him a glimpse of two teams he's considering.

Oregon is always on the hunt for versatility and Smith fits the team's style of play. Former Ducks standout cornerback Cliff Harris had a similar approach on defense, although he is considerably more slender than Smith.

If the Southern California kid ventures north up the coast, he's likely to vie for immediate playing time in the secondary. The Oregon program has repeatedly shown it's ready, willing and able to give freshmen featured roles.


The two-time defending national champions are set to host Smith during the second weekend of November. He'll be on hand when the Crimson Tide clash with SEC rival LSU.

If he's looking for a program with strong pedigree at the safety position, Alabama makes plenty of sense. Junior Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is currently considered one of the best in the country and is on his way to joining a growing list of high NFL draft picks from Nick Saban's squad.

Recent Crimson Tide standout safeties include current pro players Mark Barron, Rashad Johnson and Robert Lester.

Competition to crack Alabama's defensive lineup may be the most fierce in the nation. A player of Smith's caliber is up to the task.


A weekend with the Wolverines will wrap up Smith's official visit schedule. He'll be in Ann Arbor on Nov. 30, when Michigan faces Ohio State.

Brady Hoke has been able to assemble an outstanding 2014 class, including 5-star prospect Jabrill Peppers. The New Jersey athlete is arguably the nation's top recruit and is likely to line up in the Wolverines secondary.

Smith has an opportunity to pair up with Peppers for at least the next three years. The tandem would form one of nation's most dynamic defensive duos for an emerging Big Ten squad.


The Bruins have had Smith on campus for unofficial visits, and Jim Mora would love to keep the playmaker home while sticking it to USC. He was in the Rose Bowl for UCLA's season opener against Nevada.

“UCLA looked really good, they blew them out in the 2nd half and were really impressive," Smith told Biggins. "I got to go in to the locker room after the game and I really enjoyed myself."

The Bruins are in need of his talents on offense. Smith could have a chance to shine with the ball in his hands.

There's no question UCLA has made significant strides under Mora, but some players simply want to leave home. That's might ultimately be the issue for both the Bruins and USC.


If the Trojans intend to rebuild the program and return to prominence, the team must secure commitments from local products like Smith. USC presently has nine players in its 2014 recruiting class, but none possess the explosive skill set that Smith brings to the table.

A pedestrian offensive attack is likely to lose junior wide receiver Marquise Lee to the NFL draft after this season, so USC also seems like an ideal spot for Smith to shine on offense.

He attended summer camp at USC. The Trojans aren't likely to hire a head coach until after Smith completes his five official visits, which doesn't bode well for the team's fortunes in this race.


Smith has done an exemplary job of putting in the effort to examine each campus, while catching some of the great games of this college football season. It's a difficult decision because he'll be a factor as a freshman with each team.

Ultimately, it comes down to Notre Dame, Michigan and Alabama. He enjoyed his trip to South Bend, and there's no need to explain the allure of that historic program.

The fact that he finishes up in Ann Arbor is positive for Hoke, but how will he handle Michigan weather in late November? For a kid from Long Beach, it's a culture shock to say the least.

In the end, this has the feel of a recruiting race that Saban wins. The coach will sell him on Alabama's prowess at safety and the obvious opportunity to compete for national championships every season.

It may take Smith longer to carve out a major role with the Crimson Tide, but that's the ideal destination.


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