For college football fans, National Signing Day is akin to Christmas morning, except with a great deal more drama. Although a vast majority of athletes have issued verbal commitments to their respective universities, today is the last opportunity for the remaining few recruits who haven’t signed, to make a switch to a different university.
The Pac-10 Conference will add two teams in Utah and Colorado in 2011, and the Pac-12 will be born.
This slideshow ranks each of the newly-christened conference’s 12 schools in order of success in recruiting.
Although USC was limited to 15 football scholarships for the 2010-2011 recruiting season, the university appealed the sanctions, which thereby suspends the penalties until the NCAA reaches a decision either later this month or possibly even March.
The appeal translates to business as usual at Heritage Hall, where Trojan head coach Lane Kiffin and his intrepid team of recruiters landed ‘SC another fruitful haul of young student-athletes who will likely keep USC in the upper echelon of Football Bowl Subdivision programs as the university overcomes the aftermath of the Reggie Bush investigations.
Let’s start with a 5-star recruit who brings a 4.4-second 40-yard dash time to Southern Cal.
WR George Farmer is a blazing fast talent at 6’2” and 192 lbs. The Junipero Serra (Gardena, CA) product boasts world class speed and enormous hands. Although his sheer strength makes him difficult to tackle, Rivals.com’s No. 1-rated receiver can also serve as an instant asset on punt returns.
USC also lured a conference-leading nine recruits on ESPNU’s Top 150 list to the university. No. 12 Farmer (85 rating) is only one of the listed athletes mentioned.
Coach Kiffin was also able to land some last-minute talent on NSD.
ATH Marqise Lee (ESPNU No. 96, Rating 81): Lee is ranked as Rivals' No. 3 safety available in this recruiting class. Although he can also play wide receiver, he is an exceptional defender. Lee is very fast with a long, smooth stride, and can be much more imposing on defense once he adds some more muscle to his 6'1", 187-pound frame.
ILB Lamar Dawson: The Danville, Kentucky product is an ideal physical specimen to play inside linebacker, and relishes fierce collisions. As he is already mature enough to make an immediate impact at the college level, don't be surprised to see this 6'2", 230-lb playmaker starting for the cardinal and gold in the next couple years.
OL Aundrey Walker: This 6'5", 355-lb man-beast is built like a bulldozer, carrying a low center of gravity. In spite of his enormous size, he is light enough on his feet to play either guard or tackle. Above all else, though, Walker has a nasty streak that makes him especially effective and intimidating to opposing defensive linemen. Provided Walker stays in shape, he could serve as part of the foundation of the Trojan offensive line for years to come, as he is talented enough to see significant playing time as a freshman.
Other top-rated athletes on ESPNU’s aforementioned list include:
DT Antwaun Woods (ESPNU No. 33, 82 rating): The 6’1”, 315-lb Woodland Hills, CA native provides a disruptive presence in the trenches, bringing an efficient motor and remarkable quickness off the ball. Although he’s not the tallest defensive tackle in the class of recruits, he could be one of the most fun to watch.
OG Cyrus Hobbi (ESPNU No. 34, 82 rating): The 6’1”, 285-lb lineman from Scottsdale, Ariz. is the top rated guard according to ESPNU and is so explosive, he is expected to compete for playing time immediately.
QB Max Wittek (ESPNU No. 58, 81 rating): Wittek may once again serve as Matt Barkley’s heir apparent under center in a couple years, after already replacing him once at Mater Dei High School. While Wittek turned down 14 other offers from competing schools, his 6’4”, 215-lb frame provides an ideal complement to his sound quarterbacking mechanics. Once Wittek is handed the keys to the Trojan kingdom, he may opt to find a familiar target in his old high school teammate…
WR Victor Blackwell (ESPNU No. 59, 81 rating): …, who delivers good height (6’1”, 186 lbs) and incredible speed on fade routes and has demonstrated the mental toughness to make the big play in crunch time. Although his route-running and run blocking are merely decent given his smallish frame, his jumping ability coupled with especially long arms makes him an even bigger downfield target.
DE Greg Townsend Jr. (ESPNU No. 84, 81 rating): The son of the former Raiders defensive end enjoyed an illustrious career at Beverly Hills High School and passed up offers from Miami (Fla.) and TCU to stay in Los Angeles. Townsend brings a solid power base to the table and has long arms to swim past opposing linemen. However, he’ll need to add some mass to his 6’4”, 242-lb frame if he is to dominate offensive tackles the way his father did during his playing days.
DT Christian Heyward (ESPNU No. 111, 81 rating): Heyward is the No. 6-rated defensive tackle recruit according to Rivals and displayed unusual versatility with his ability to move around both inside and outside on the defensive line. The 6’2”, 275-lb San Diego native, who often plays out of a two-point stance, was viewed as a hot recruit to many West Coast programs before he eventually accepted the offer from USC.
ATH Amir Carlisle (ESPNU No. 114, 81 rating): Carlisle is a gifted athlete with excellent speed and quick feet. Although the 5’10”, 181-lb running back needs to add 20-25 pounds of muscle to his frame to sustain the pounding college linebackers can dish out, the Sunnyvale, Calif. native could excel early in his Trojan career as a kick returner.
RB Javorious Allen (ESPNU No. 148, 80 rating): The Tallahassee-based Allen decided to travel across the country to join the cardinal and gold. Rated the 12th best running back in this year’s recruiting class, his slashing style and smooth stride coupled with his tireless endurance make the 6’1”, 210-lb recruit a dangerous addition to Lane Kiffin’s already-impressive cadre of halfbacks.
The Ducks discovered how much easier the recruiting process can be when the program came off a first place Pac-10 finish and an AP No. 2 ranking that yielded a trip to the BCS championship game.
Although Oregon has perennially battled adversity to gain sufficient exposure and credibility in a college football landscape typically dominated by the Southeast, the university scored a big victory when it was able to lure some top talent away from rival Pac-12 schools.
Most of the Ducks’ biggest playmakers will return for another season, so their impressive recruiting class will, at the very least, provide ample depth for returning starters like QB Darron Thomas and Heisman trophy finalist RB LaMichael James.
Oregon has signed six athletes off the ESPNU Top 150 list and also brings two rare 5-star recruits to Eugene.
OLB Colt Lyerla is rated by Rivals as the top recruit in the state of Oregon and brings incredible size and athleticism to the position. His 4.5 speed makes him a candidate to play either linebacker, defensive end or tight end in college, but he’ll need to add roughly 25 pounds of muscle to his 6'5", 225-lb frame if he is to take on offensive linemen on a consistent basis.
Scout.com labels Lyerla as “one of the most athletic big men in the country,” and the beastly specimen has been compared to NFL greats Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher in terms of raw ability.
RB De’Anthony Thomas (ESPNU No. 16, Rating 84) is a versatile back who can provide a spark either as a slot receiver on special teams returns or as a cornerback. Although he had verbally committed to Southern Cal last spring, the Crenshaw product had a change of heart and left his hometown late on NSD for Eugene.
The 5'9", 160 lb back will likely have to add some muscle to his diminutive frame, but at the same time, his size renders him hard to tackle in the open field, making him a legitimate home run threat any time he has the ball in space.
Let’s take a look at some of the university’s other coveted recruits that will call Autzen Stadium home for the next several years:
ATH Devon Blackmon (ESPNU No. 23, Rating 83) is an unusual talent in that he possesses 4.4 speed to serve Oregon as a cornerback and the elusiveness to play quarterback for its spread offense as a dual threat. Since he’s a lean 6’0”, 175 lbs, he’ll need to fill out more to withstand the punishment of the college game.
Blackman is accustomed to pressure situations and is most dangerous in the open field. Provided his maturation and development goes according to plan, the Fontana, Calif. native could replace starter Darron Thomas under center in a couple years.
WR Tacoi Sumler (ESPNU No. 62, Rating 81) is a diminutive deep threat who runs a 4.38 40-yard dash time and has the special talent to burn nickelbacks as a slot receiver. In addition to elite speed, Sumler also has soft hands and could also make big plays on special teams.
OT Andre Yruretagoyena (ESPNU No. 102, Rating 81) is the seventh-rated offensive tackle according to ESPNU and is especially known for his dominant run blocking. Yruretagoyena's quick feet and long arms make him effective in pass protection, but the talented recruit will need to add some mass to his 6'4", 265-pound frame in order to realize his potential at the college level.
QB Jerrard Randall (ESPNU No. 126, Rating 80) is athletic enough and built (6’2”, 185 lbs) to play wideout or safety, but he has such a lively arm and he can extend plays with his legs so that he can serve as a threat in the pocket. The Hollywood, Fla. native needs to improve his consistency at quarterback before he is expected to lead Oregon’s offense.
LB Anthony Wallace (ESPNU No. 147, Rating 80) is an ideal middle linebacker with the tenacity and right size (6'1", 220 lbs) to fit in Oregon's scheme, as well as terrorize opposing running backs. His uncanny football instincts cause him to fly towards the ball and eventually could serve as LB Casey Matthews’ heir apparent once Matthews goes pro.
California ranked a dismal 87th out of 120 FBS programs in total offense and will require an influx of offensive talent to fortify their roster with legitimate playmakers if the Bears are to make a run in the Pac-12 in 2011 and beyond.
Unfortunately for Cal fans, RB Brendon Bigelow (Fresno, CA), a 5’10”, 180-lb physical specimen with amazing speed is the only 4-star running back that head coach Jeff Tedford’s recruiting staff was able to lure to Berkeley. Otherwise, 3-star RB C.J. Anderson (Oakland, CA) is a back whose 5’11”, 205-lb frame makes him a load to bring down when factoring in the 4.5 time he clocked in the 40-yard dash.
Other 3-star RB recruits headed to Cal include Texans Darren Ervin (Houston) and Daniel Lasco (The Woodlands). In all, these young athletes will compete to help replace the production that 2010 starter Shane Vereen will leave behind. Vereen announced in January that he will skip his senior season and declare for the NFL Draft in April.
On the defensive side, Tedford’s squad recruited well, and there should be enough 4-star recruits to help Cal maintain, if not improve, its 17th overall national ranking from last season.
Here are the 4-star recruits:
DT Todd Barr (ESPNU No. 48, Rating 81) is relatively undersized at 6’1”, 265 lbs for a defensive tackle, but his tireless motor, good angles on opposing linemen and use of his hands makes him a power presence along the defensive line.
S Avery Walls (ESPNU No. 68, Rating 81) is a ballhawking-type safety who is great in coverage and is gifted with a high football IQ. Although he’s a little undersized at 5’10, 180 lbs, he has a well-built frame, and the McDonough, Georgia native should serve as a valuable asset to Cal’s secondary for years to come.
WR Maurice Harris (ESPNU No. 91, Rating 81) spurned offers from schools like Alabama and Clemson to come play football on the West Coast. The Greensboro, N.C. native is considered a vertical threat who brings a nice blend of size and speed to the Cal offense.
DT Viliami Moala (ESPNU No. 97, Rating 81) was recruited by half the Pac-12 Conference, but ESPNU’s seventh-ranked DT opted to stay relatively close to his home in Sacramento by choosing Cal. The 6’2”, 325-lb defensive tackle is rather quick for an athlete of his size but is powerful enough to push offensive lineman backwards and is talented enough to serve as the heart and soul of the Bears defensive line the next few seasons.
OLB Jason Gibson (ESPN No. 131, Rating 80) is a natural pass rusher who can play both defensive end as well as outside linebacker. The 6’3”, 212-lb athlete will need to add some size before he can be considered an every-down defensive player. As things currently stand, he’s too small to take on run-blocking linemen at the Division I level.
Despite rigid academic requirements and the departure of former head coach Jim Harbaugh, Stanford's recruiting team brought in a robust crop of talent to build around QB Andrew Luck as he returns for his senior season.
ILB James Vaughters (ESPNU No. 44, Rating 81): The 6’2”, 230-lb Vaughters has been labeled a “one-man wrecking crew” by various scouts, as his instincts coupled with his tireless motor make him one of the most unique linebackers to enter the NCAA ranks in 2011. He also plays with enough speed to excel at defensive end, but it remains to be seen how he will be used at Stanford.
S Wayne Lyons (ESPNU No. 71, Rating 81): The Fort Lauderdale, Fla. native plays a physical brand of football and is fearless in the box against the run. He is already built (6’1”, 190 lbs) to play at the college level and his 33-inch vertical leap makes him all the more effective when defending passes thrown downfield.
Stanford’s other four-star recruits that will join the program in 2011 include:
QB Kevin Hogan (Washington DC): The 6’4”, 200-lb signal caller possesses the necessary tools to take over for Andrew Luck after the Heisman finalist matriculates to the NFL in 2012.
OT Brendon Austin (Parker, CO): The 6’6”, 265-lb tackle has the strength and arm length to play either right or left tackle at the college level, as well as the intelligence to quickly adjust to blocking assignments.
RB Remound Wright (Fort Wayne, IN): At 5’9”, 195 lbs, size seems to be Wright’s only detriment. Equipped with solid receiving skills, Wright can also flourish as a receiver out of the slot, but the low center of gravity he runs with makes him difficult to tackle, and his home-run speed makes him dangerous from anywhere on the field.
RB Kelsey Young (Norco, CA): The 5’10”, 190-lb back runs with great balance, and seems to almost always fall forward when he gets tackled in spite of being relatively undersized for a power back.
WR Ty Montgomery (Dallas, TX): The 6’1”, 201-lb Montgomery is a fine all-around talent who is not afraid of contact when running crossing patterns, is a very good route runner, and is versatile enough to line up at any receiver position on the field.
Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian was able to lure only two 4-star recruits to attend college in Seattle. With QB Jake Locker gone to the professional ranks, 2011 could prove to be an uphill battle for the Huskies despite finishing the 2010 season with a Holiday Bowl victory.
RB Bishop Sankey: The 5'9", 183-lb Sankey burns rubber with 4.4 speed, and his versatility makes him an intriguing freshman who could grace the offense as a true freshman. His superb hands make him a multi-purpose threat as a receiver, and the Spokane native will win the hearts of fans across the state.
WR Kasen Williams: The 6’2”, 200-lb Williams is sneaky fast for someone his size and can excel in the return game or as a vertical threat. Although the Washington native has good downfield speed, he doesn’t possess elite acceleration.
TE/OL Austin Seferian-Jenkins: At 6’6”, 250 pounds, Seferian-Jenkins is a fine blocker who can also make plays catching the ball. While he does boast some athleticism, he’s not elusive enough to serve as a true tight end and may be asked to add weight and play on the offensive line instead.
S James Sample: The Sacramento native ranks No. 9 on Rivals' list of safeties, and draws a 4-atar rating from Scout.com. Despite nine competing offers from schools up and down the West Coast, Sample opted to play for Coach Sarkisian. His impressive closing speed and penchant for big hits will surely please the coaching staff, as well as the Husky faithful.
As the Utes switch conferences to the Pac-12, their recruiting haul can be chalked up as merely so-so. Let’s take a look at the ESPNU 4-star recruit and two others headed to Utah.
Harvey Langli: The 6’1”, 220-lb Utah native is skilled at creating space with an impressive set of soft hands. He could be used as an H-Back as well as special teams, and his athleticism could create matchup problems for linebackers assigned to cover him.
David McGill: The 6'4", 215-lb safety out of Norwalk, Calif. is sized similarly to a linebacker but needs to get more involved in the play and fly to the ball more often in order to turn the corner as a college defensive back.
Anthony Denham: Denham is one of the nation's top junior college wide receivers, and could provide immediate help to Utah's passing offense. His 6'5", 215-lb frame provides a large target for quarterback Jordan Wynn, especially in the red zone.
The Wildcats could only lure one 4-star recruit to Tucson, as RB Ka'Deem Carey is viewed as a multi-purpose running back with the size to break through tacklers, as well as the speed to run around them. Although the homegrown Carey is blessed with great vision and good size (5'11",190 lbs), he needs to tighten up his ball security to be considered one of the premier backs in the Pac-12.
Although they secured their 4-star quarterback of the future in Brett Hundley months ago, head coach Rick Neuheisel did not live up to his reputation as a master recruiter. Given all the turmoil with Neuheisel's program leading to turnover on the Bruins coaching staff, it should come as little surprise that most of college football's top recruits didn't want to play for a team in a state of flux, especially on the defensive side. Chuck Bullough was fired as defensive coordinator as the Bruins head coach approaches thin ice in his fourth season.
The Bruins are thin at wideout given the regression of their 2010 starters and need to vastly improve the position after their passing offense ranked 114th in the nation out of 120 FBS teams.
Rivals rates WR Devin Lucien as a 4-star recruit, and the Encino, Calif. native brings 4.5 speed as well as a 6'1", 189-lb frame to Westwood. Lucien probably won't start out of the gate but he could establish nice chemistry with Hundley once the two start playing together in practice. Unfortunately, Lucien, like the other UCLA wideouts, still don't know who their receivers coach is, as Reggie Moore was fired at the same time as Bullough.
Bruin Nation got a proverbial kick to the groin when 3-star OL Torian White reneged on his verbal commitment to UCLA back in June and ditched Westwood for the hated Trojans across town.
However, UCLA's recruiting day ended on a high note with the signing of 4-star DT Kevin McReynolds. The 6'2", 281-lb lineman is quick off the ball with a nice wingspan, but needs to improve his swim move in order to get past offensive linemen more consistently.
The Beavers lured 4-star WR Brandin Cooks to Corvallis, and his speed coupled with gifted hands make him especially dangerous after the catch. At 5'11", 165 lbs, Cooks is a large enough target to find downfield in traffic but will need help from QB Ryan Katz to find him consistently.
Dylan Wynn is a 4-star, top-20 defensive end according to Scout.com, and his biggest assets are his explosion off the ball, his ability to pursue, and his high football IQ. If he adds some muscle to his 6'2", 235-lb frame, he could play outside linebacker for the Beavers.
Other than Cooks and Wynn, though, there's not a lot for Beaver Nation to get overly excited about with this recruiting class.
Arizona State traditionally has a fairly strong reputation from a recruiting standpoint but could only secure a pair of 4-star athletes to play in Tempe.
Michael Eubank (Corona, CA) is a mobile quarterback who can serve as a dual threat. His 6'5", 220-lb frame makes it easy for him to make reads downfield, and his running ability makes him dangerous outside the pocket. Eubank has a strong arm but needs to work on his throwing mechanics to flourish in a pro-style offense like ASU.
DT Mo Latu is a mammoth two-way player who is athletic enough to both stuff the run as well as punish defenders off the line of scrimmage. His 6'3, 306-lb presence will surely help reinforce the Sun Devils' run defense which ranked an impressive 16th in the nation in 2010.
Colorado University failed to impress with their recruiting effort in their first season as a member of the Pac-12 and may experience a rough transition from the Big 12 to the new conference.
That said, the Buffaloes did land a couple of Hawaiian high school teammates whose chemistry could set the tone for the rest of the recruits as they settle into life in the Pac-12.
Paulay Asiata is a 6'5", 285-lb guard who originally committed to Washington but will now accompany former teammate in 3-star DE Juda Parker as they trek across the Pacific Ocean to their new home in Boulder.
As usual, there's little reason for optimism in Cougartown.
First, the expansion of the Pac-10 to 12 teams means that last place Washington State will likely eclipse their perennial ignominy by finishing even lower than 10th place.
In all probability, WSU will finish behind Utah in the standings, but Pac-12 newbie Colorado may give the 2010 cellar dwellers a fight to the finish for last place.
On the recruiting front, 3-star TE Mansell Simmons signed his letter of intent, and 4-star guard Alex Mitchell is expected to commit to Wazzu in the next few days. The 6'3", 300-lb lineman nicknamed "Flat Back" can only help the Cougars so much as they attempt to rise from the doldrums of the conference.
One bit of good news for Cougar fans, though: Drew Bledsoe's sons, Stuart (age 13) and John (age 11), are currently playing Pop Warner football and might be ready to commit to Wazzu in the next five or so years if their maturation stays the course.
If USC is signing 13-year-old quarterbacks like David Sills, then why can't the Cougars also stay one step ahead of rival recruiters and lock up the Bledsoe brothers so they don't get poached by another program?
To track all the recruits from National Signing Day and beyond, click here: