USC Football: Coach Sarkisian's Biggest National Signing Day Battles
National signing day is just a week away, and for new head coach Steve Sarkisian and the USC Trojans, closing strong down the stretch is critically important for this class of 2014.
Sarkisian has fared well so far in his first month on the job for USC, landing commitments from top-rated players like 4-star tight end Bryce Dixon, and keeping the commitment of others, like 4-star offensive guard Viane Talamaivao, who gave his verbal to USC back when Ed Orgeron was the interim head coach.
Unlike in 2012, Sarkisian has done an excellent job keeping and building USC's class of 2014, though much of that probably has to do with USC's 10-4 record and dominant performance in the Las Vegas Bowl. A year ago, former head coach Lane Kiffin and his staff were reeling from an abysmal 7-6 season and really scrambled to keep recruits from abandoning ship.
Sarkisian has five guys already enrolled and 10 others considered "hard commits" by recruiting experts at 247Sports.com (defensive end Malik Dorton visited USC over the weekend and has reportedly shut down his recruitment and told ESPN's Blair Angulo, posting on the WeAreSC.com message board, he is fully committed to the Trojans), which bodes well for how well Feb. 5 will go.
That said, Sarkisian still has some major ambitions for national signing day. There are a handful of players up for grabs whom the Trojans would love to have in the ranks. Let's take a look at who they are and what they could bring to the table. Athletes will be listed from most questionable to those who are surer bets.
All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.com unless otherwise noted.
5-Star ATH Adoree' Jackson
USC has been in the mix for Adoree' Jackson from the early stages of his recruitment process, and Sarkisian and his staff are hoping to cash in on that come national signing day. On Tuesday evening, the 5-star athlete tweeted his final four, naming the Trojans as well as Florida, LSU and UCLA.
Jackson intends to remain mum on his choice until Feb. 5, when he will announce at 11:05 a.m. from Junipero Serra High School, according to Eric Sondheimer of the Los Angeles Times.
The Trojans have a number of cornerbacks in the class of 2014, so Jackson could end up signing as a wide receiver. Given the depth issues at that position, his presence there would be a godsend for USC. Either way, Jackson is such an explosive player and dynamic talent on either side of the ball and would be a real asset for the Trojans.
Jackson has also made it clear that he wants to do track and field while he is in college, because he has other goals of competing in the 2016 Olympics. His final four are all schools that have noteworthy track and field programs, and the Trojans more specifically have a fabled Olympic tradition. Florida is also a dominant force in the SEC for track and field, which has made the Gators a more attractive option for Jackson.
Interestingly, Jackson still has UCLA in the mix, despite not having taken an official visit there at all. The Bruins could be making a strong, late push for Jackson and could cause some serious ripples in the Pac-12 if they land his commitment.
That said, Jackson's decision will likely come down to USC and Florida, per 247Sports.com.
3-Star CB Lamont Simmons
Lamont Simmons decommitted from Rutgers a week ago and since then has been in play for USC. The 3-star cornerback hosted defensive backs coach Keith Heyward at his Florida home last Tuesday and decommitted from Rutgers upon receiving an offer from the Trojans, according to 247Sports' Scott Schrader and Fox Sports' Greg Biggins (h/t Reign of Troy's Alicia de Artola).
The 6'2", 180-pound cornerback would need to add some weight before he is ready to hit the field on game day, but he nonetheless brings depth, and the Trojans most certainly need that. He would join John Plattenburg Jr., Jonathan Lockett and Rahshead Johnson as defensive back commits for USC, though Johnson could end up at wide receiver in college.
Virginia Tech is also of interest for Simmons, according to 247Sports.com, but USC looks to be the favorite.
4-Star OG Damien Mama
Damien Mama is thought to be a Trojans lock come national signing day, but don't underestimate USC's competition, Alabama and BYU. The 4-star offensive guard had cancelled his official visit to BYU this weekend so that he could spend it in Bruins territory instead. But on Wednesday, Greg Biggins tweeted that he has since cancelled his visit to UCLA, and Mama seems to have eliminated it from consideration altogether (h/t Alicia de Artola).
Mama indicated that the Trojans, Crimson Tide and Cougars are his top three schools, and he will make his announcement next week.
It's hard to argue against Nick Saban and his team, as they have completely dominated college football over the past few years. And since Mama is a devout Mormon who plans to take a two-year mission after his freshman year, BYU has an advantage there.
Then again, USC has his "uces" Viane Talamaivao firmly committed and current Trojans Toa Lobendahn and Nico Falah already on campus. John "JuJu" Smith is also still keen on USC, and the possibility of playing with teammates and fellow Polynesian friends could prove to be a strong sell.
'Bama and BYU will make a final push for Mama, but expect him to sign on the dotted line with USC next Wednesday.
5-Star ATH JuJu Smith
Like Mama and Jackson, 5-star athlete John "JuJu" Smith is another athlete USC has been trying to lock down since last summer.
Earlier this month, Smith named the Trojans a favorite, alongside Notre Dame, Oregon and UCLA. USC is considered the favorite, but don't count out the Ducks, as they make a last-ditch push for him.
According to Justin Hopkins of Duck Territory (subscription required), Oregon considers itself a "dark horse candidate" for Smith. He and the Ducks reportedly are still engaging in dialogue, which is a good sign for them. With the plethora of state-of-the-art athletic facilities and awesome wardrobe provided by Nike, Oregon is an incredibly attractive candidate and could sway Smith away from USC over the next week.
Then again, like Mama, playing his college ball with his "uces" and his high school friends, coupled with the tradition that USC represents, is just as attractive of an opportunity. He just spent the weekend on an official visit to USC, and according to USC commit Malik Dorton, via ESPN's Blair Angulo on WeAreSC.com, he gave off "a great vibe" about being in Troy.
Barring an unforeseen surprise, Smith is likely to end up a Trojan next Wednesday, and Sarkisian and his staff will have something to celebrate.