Pac-12 Football Mailbag: Recruiting vs. SEC, Defensive Coordinator Changes

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Pac-12 Football Mailbag: Recruiting vs. SEC, Defensive Coordinator Changes
Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

In honor of national signing day, the original plan for this week's Pac-12 mailbag was for questions to be submitted exclusively via fax machine. Then I came to the realization I barely know how to operate a fax machine, and I was raised in an age when the technology was cutting edge.

The generation of recruits sending out their national letters of intent next week were raised entirely in a cell phone and email era. Barring the one moment when the fax machine is paramount to his future, the technology must seem as archaic as the rotary telephone. After reading the mailbag for this week, check out Adam Kramer's ode to this stalwart of national signing day. 

If you choose to submit your mailbag questions by more modern means, tweet @kensing45 or email pac12mailbag@gmail.com

 

The Pac-12 is at an immediate disadvantage compared to the SEC in that the SEC's geographic footprint is football country. California certainly has its share of prep talent—it's big three states on the recruiting trail—and there are pockets in Seattle, Phoenix and Las Vegas that routinely produced BCS-caliber prospects. 

Overall though, recruiting in the SEC is a lot like nonconference scheduling in the SEC: There is a decided home-field advantage. Mode Analytics' breakdown showing from where every Division I football player originates really drives the point home. 

The other two of the big three recruiting states—Florida and Texas—both have SEC programs. Georgia, Louisiana and Alabama are all on that next tier down from the top three recruit-producing states. 

Recruiting at the top tier means recruiting in SEC country, which can be difficult. A good example is UCLA, which heavily pursued Auburn, Ala., linebacker Rashaan Evans. The 5-star Evans opted not to take his scheduled visit to UCLA and appears likely to remain in his home state.  

There are exceptions to every rule and some of the conference's best talents are from the Southeast: USC alone has Floridians Leonard Williams, Buck Allen and Nelson Agholor. However, just as much an exception are those recruits from Western states who opt to go to the SEC, or any other conference for that matter.

Of course, the geographic talent disparity is always an issue, but the Pac-12 has not had quite the struggle it faces this year. There are no teams currently ranked in 247Sports.com's top 10, and just one (UCLA) in the top 20. 

That should change in the final week. UCLA, USC and Stanford are all making pushes for premier recruits that would elevate the conference's overall recruiting profile. USC could add offensive lineman Damien Mama, athlete John "JuJu" Smith and is competing with UCLA for cornerback Adoree' Jackson, while Stanford is in good shape to add defensive end Solomon Thomas

A torrid finish should salvage the overall ranking of this collective Pac-12 class.  

For a year that was somewhat less hectic on the carousel—two new head coaching hires is the Pac-12's fewest in three years—there certainly was an active shell game going on with defensive coordinators. Remarkably, half the teams in the conference lost the coach who held this post in the 2013 season.

Those who got out struck when the proverbial iron was hot; with what is returning to most of the Pac-12's offenses, defensive coordinators' jobs are going to be more difficult.

Oregon's Don Pellum and Stanford's Lance Anderson were logical choices to replace Nick Aliotti and Derek Mason. Each served as his program's recruiting coordinator and excelled in recent years as linebackers coaches. 

UCLA has not yet made an official announcement, but initial reports suggest the Bruins are also going the internal route with linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich

Calling any of these hires a loss is, frankly, incorrect. All are great assistants with solid resumes. Staying in-house and promoting positions coaches just doesn't make waves. 

Considering some of the hassle it took to bring him in, Justin Wilcox at USC is my winning defensive coordinator hire. He's done great things no matter where he's gone, whether it be Boise State, Tennessee or Washington. With the talent already present at USC, he should flourish. 

Art Kaufman is a solid hire to replace Andy Buh at Cal. He is well-tenured, most recently coordinating Cincinnati to the nation's No. 14 defensive scoring ranking. But Kaufman faces the most difficult task of perhaps any defensive coordinator in college football next season. 

Is Jared Goff doing a Myles Jack impression and playing on both sides of the ball? The defense needs all the help it can get, especially after losing linebacker Khairi Fortt, cornerback Kameron Jackson and defensive tackle Viliami Moala to early NFL draft entries.

It's just remarkable how bad Cal's defense was last season. The only team that surrendered more points was Idaho, a refugee of the Western Athletic Conference playing an independent schedule. 

Goff is an incredible talent at quarterback and, when healthy, played with poise well beyond his true freshman status. Following his 371-yard, three-touchdown performance against Ohio State, I bought one of the first tickets on the Goff bandwagon

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Should he return strong from shoulder surgery, he'll have two of the more dynamic young receivers in the conference, Bryce Treggs and Kenny Lawler, catching passes. The bear-raid offense should be more balanced with a healthy Khalfani Muhammad at running back splitting carries with Daniel Lasco, who averaged six yards per rush. Dykes is from the Mike Leach coaching tree, but prefers a more consistent run game, which Cal never quite got jump-started last season. 

Cal isn't going to make a bowl game, and expecting it to is asking a lot. Losses are inherent in a rebuilding project, particularly for a program that returned the fewest starters from a season prior, as was the case for Cal in 2013. 

But Cal has to be more competitive. Lopsided blowouts every week of his second season cost Jon Embree his job at Colorado. The same is unlikely for Dykes, given his experience and the massive buyout Cal paid Jeff Tedford, but another year like 2013 will certainly crank the thermostat.

Goff has a high ceiling and could gun the Golden Bears into a few games, but ultimately, Kaufman at defensive coordinator is the position that will determine the temperature of Dykes' seat.  

 

Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. Tweet your questions to him @kensing45 or email pac12mailbag@gmail.com. 

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