11 Class of 2022 Uncommitted Prospects the Pac-12 Needs to Keep out West

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistSeptember 29, 2021

11 Class of 2022 Uncommitted Prospects the Pac-12 Needs to Keep out West

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    5-star offensive lineman Josh Conerly Jr. can go anywhere in the country.
    5-star offensive lineman Josh Conerly Jr. can go anywhere in the country.Credit: 247Sports

    With Oregon's cross-country upset of Ohio State, the top of the Pac-12 is in strong shape. But the rest of the conference still has plenty of issues. 

    UCLA looked good until a collapse against Fresno State, Arizona State was thumped by BYU, USC fired coach Clay Helton and the North division is a mess.

    A good way out of this conundrum is to keep more top-shelf prospects at home. It has plagued the league in recent years, and though the Trojans and Ducks performed solidly in living rooms in the last recruiting cycle, more help is needed.

    Every fan of the conference has to cringe when they see players such as quarterbacks Bryce Young (Alabama) and C.J. Stroud (Ohio State), as well as Georgia true freshman tight end Brock Bowers and others lighting it up elsewhere.

    There are again a bevy of talented playmakers in the 2022 class who are still looking for their collegiate home. Let's take a look at some top prospects the league needs to keep in the region.

David Bailey, 4-Star Linebacker

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    Credit: 247Sports

    One of the brightest defensive stars in the class hails from California's Mater Dei High School, a program used to churning out top talent every year—such as Amon-Ra St. Brown and Elias Ricks, among many others.

    This year, the biggest standout at the school is 4-star speedy linebacker David Bailey

    The 6'3", 220-pound prospect can chase quarterbacks off the edge and possesses sideline-to-sideline speed along with the size that will enable him to play any linebacker position. His coverage skills are ideal for playing outside on the second level, though.

    While programs such as Alabama, LSU, Michigan and Notre Dame are after him, Bailey appears focused on the Pac-12, telling 247Sports' Greg Biggins that USC and Stanford are at the top of his list. He also mentioned he's considering Oregon and UCLA.

    Bailey said the Trojans' decision to part with coach Clay Helton "blew me away," but you can still expect USC to be firmly in the mix.

    Unlike a lot of recent recruits from California, Bailey seems focused on staying near home, which is huge news for the Pac-12 needing playmakers from top to bottom. 

Jovantae Barnes, 4-Star Running Back

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    Credit: 247Sports

    One of Las Vegas' top recruits is running back Jovantae Barnes, who is destined to make headlines in college. The Desert Pines High School prospect is a 6'0", 190-pound electrifying playmaker who falls just outside the top 100 recruits at No. 101.

    Barnes is a tackle-breaking machine who could add 20 pounds and not miss a step. His top group of schools includes Oklahoma, Utah, North Carolina, TCU, Texas, Georgia Tech, USC, North Texas, Texas A&M, Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss and Florida State, according to OUInsider's Collin Kennedy.

    Plenty of Pac-12 teams are trying to get in the mix, though, including both Arizona schools, but Barnes may head elsewhere. Utah and USC are the only Pac-12 members in his top group, and the Trojans are in coaching limbo, while the 2-2 Utes are off to a terrible start.

    Kennedy said the Sooners are in "strong standing" with Barnes, but they already have two running backs in the 2022 class, including California playmaker Raleek Brown.

    Wherever he lands, he'll likely also be a plus in the passing game and could show NFL potential, per Kennedy.

Zion Branch, 4-Star Safety

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Sticking in the Entertainment Capital of the World, the latest Las Vegas native to make the list is 4-star safety Zion Branch, who is an exciting ball-hawk with a laundry list of top programs after him. 

    Like many prospects, the defender from powerhouse Bishop Gorman High School is focused on perennial College Football Playoff contenders. In July, he announced via Twitter his top group includes Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, USC and Oklahoma.

    The 6'3", 190-pound back-end defender is a future star, no matter where he goes. The nation's No. 50 prospect can do it all and is a strong tackler and can play in space, closing gaps between himself and offensive players in a hurry.

    He may need work in coverage skills, but he's a good enough athlete to make up for it with seasoning and collegiate coaching.

    Branch spoke highly of the Buckeyes to Letterman Row's Jeremy Birmingham around the time he announced his top schools. Still, it doesn't seem like a leader has emerged from the group.

    "I was gonna be committed before my senior year," Branch told him. "But that changed. The COVID stuff happened and I just really want to wait a while just to see what feels the most like home."

Darrius Clemons, 4-Star Wide Receiver

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Many of the country's top teams are trying to go into Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal's backyard and pluck Darrius Clemons, one of the West's few remaining game-breaking pass-catchers.

    The 6'3", 205-pound receiver from Portland, Oregon, is a big, physical athlete. But his speed alongside that size sets him apart. Clemons' 247Sports profile lists him with a 4.37-second time in the 40-yard dash, and while that may be inflating things a little, he can move. Auburn, Penn State and Oregon look like his front-runners.

    Cristobal rarely loses battles like this, but Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin has plenty of recruiting ties to the region from his days at Boise State, and Penn State coach James Franklin can go anywhere and sell the Nittany Lions brand.

    According to 247Sports' Brandon Huffman, Clemons has taken official visits to Auburn and PSU and been to Oregon many times. The Westview High School alum is a Florida legacy—his father, Larry, played there—but he'll wind up at one of those three programs unless something changes.

    It's hard counting out the Ducks, but 247Sports' Steve Wiltfong said in early September, "He had a strong official to Auburn back in June and the Tigers are at the top if not the favorite for the four-star pass catcher."

Josh Conerly Jr., 5-Star Offensive Tackle

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    Credit: 247Sports

    The West's biggest remaining prize is 5-star offensive lineman Josh Conerly Jr.

    The 6'5", 275-pound prospect isn't just a space-eater. He's a nimble athlete who has the frame to hold 300-plus pounds and still be a road-grader and an exceptional pass protector.

    The Seattle product may be the latest in a group of elite Washington prospects to shun the Pac-12 and head to the Big Ten, joining Ohio State's J.T. Tuimoloau and Emeka Egbuka. But it probably won't be for the Buckeyes.

    Michigan is deep in this race, as is Alabama, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas and the home-state Washington Huskies. Jimmy Lake hasn't built a lot of goodwill since he replaced Chris Petersen as the head coach at U-Dub before last season, so getting a player of Conerly's ilk would be huge.

    The lineman grew up a Huskies fan, according to Wolverines Wire's Isaiah Hole, but after he visited Ann Arbor for the Rutgers game last weekend, they're a force in his recruitment. The Michigan Insider's crew of writers believe Conerly could be bound for the Wolverines, in light of  Washington's struggles. 

    "Whether there's a real brotherhood on the team and a real culture—a winning culture," Conerly told Hole of things he's looking for. "Because that's something I need after coming through a tough high school career. I really need somewhere where I feel comfortable on and off the field and get my degree and thrive."

Earnest Greene, 4-Star Interior Offensive Lineman

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Despite being known for the glitz-and-glamour positions, the West Coast is turning out some big trenchmen.

    Conerly is the best of the bunch, but another big name is 4-star offensive lineman Earnest Greene, a 6'5", 330-pound cog. 

    One of the schools standing out to Greene, the country's No. 61 recruit, is Georgia, which no doubt is trying to convince him to head to Athens and outfit an offensive line that has some young promising players.

    Ohio State, Texas, Alabama and USC are the other leaders, and the St. John Bosco High School product from Bellflower, California, can go to any of those programs and develop.

    He'll most likely be a guard and can start right away as the nation's second-ranked interior lineman.

    Bucknuts' Bill Kurelic seems to think this is a Georgia-Ohio State battle, and he noted Biggins thinks the Bulldogs lead.

    Regardless, it doesn't look like there are any Pac-12 teams at the top of Greene's list, though there's still time for that to change.

Anthony Lucas, 4-Star Defensive Lineman

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    Credit: 247Sports

    The state of Arizona has watched star prospect after star prospect leave in recent years rather than suit up for the Sun Devils or the Wildcats.

    Ty Thompson (Oregon), Spencer Rattler (Oklahoma), Brock Purdy (Iowa State), Chubba Purdy (Florida State) and Jack Miller (Ohio State) come to mind, and that's just at quarterback.

    The desert has another star player coming out on the other side of the ball this year, and it, too, appears 4-star defensive lineman Anthony Lucas is leaving home. Many top teams covet the 6'5", 275-pound Scottsdale native.

    It appears his focus is on Alabama, Miami (FL), Notre Dame, Oregon, Texas A&M, USC and LSU, according to the East Valley Tribune's Drew Schott. The Ducks and Trojans may be usual suspects on elite players' lists, but they both have a legit shot at landing Lucas.

    Though he named his top seven before USC fired Helton, he has built a rapport with the coaches there, and they will be a factor, according to the Arizona Republic's Richard Obert: "Been on me for a while, and have been building great relationships over there."

    On Oregon, Lucas said: "Amazing facilities and coaches. Were beyond welcoming."

    With the way he holds 300 pounds and maintains mobility, he can expect the red carpet no matter where he visits.

Rayshon Luke, 4-Star Running Back

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Rayshon Luke is one of the few electrifying playmakers remaining in the cycle.

    He's running through the massive holes being opened up by St. John Bosco teammate Earnest Greene, who also is on this list. But he can also create in the open field and make house calls, even when there isn't a ton of space.

    At 5'8", 160 pounds, Luke isn't a prototypical every-down back. Yes, he needs to add weight, but there are several players like him who great coaches get the best out of. His nickname, after all, is "Speedy."

    Luke has a long list of suitors, and the nation's No. 208 recruit is committed to play in the 2022 All-American Bowl too.

    USC, UCLA, Ohio State are the three teams most prominently mentioned for his services.

    In July, despite talking a lot about the Trojans and Buckeyes, he told Biggins that the Bruins were heavy in the mix.

    "UCLA is recruiting me the hardest right now," Luke said. "I just need to go visit, I haven't been able to do that yet unfortunately. Every time I was going to get up there, something always came up but hopefully in July when the dead period ends again I can get up and visit the campus."

Justyn Martin, 4-Star Quarterback

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Inglewood, California, signal-caller Justyn Martin reopened his recruitment last week after he looked set to try to replace Chase Garbers for the California Golden Bears.

    Martin kept his official visit with the Ole Miss Rebels and quickly backed off his pledge after seeing Lane Kiffin's wide-open attack in Oxford. UCLA and coach Chip Kelly are charging hard after the 6'4", 210-pound signal-caller too.

    Martin is big, athletic and has a strong arm. He's exactly the kind of quarterback who usually isn't up for grabs this late in the cycle.

    Though the Bears will no doubt try to stay in the race, this feels like a Rebels-Bruins battle. It could be difficult for Martin to turn down replacing Matt Corral (another California product) with the Rebels, as Kiffin is a known developer of quarterbacks.

    Martin told reporters

    "[Corral] came from Poly, and that's like a 30-minute drive from where I'm from. Just seeing how he adapted to playing in the South, living there, playing in the SEC, it makes me feel better about the whole decision. Coach Kiffin with his California background, too, it's like showing that California players and people can really thrive in that environment."

    Per SI.com, he was set to visit the Bruins last weekend. 

Cyrus Moss, 4-Star Edge-Rusher

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Big, long and athletic edge-rushers are coveted at every level of the sport. One of the best in the 2022 class is 6'6", 220-pound Bishop Gorman (Nevada) star Cyrus Moss, a teammate of Zion Branch's who is paying a little bit more attention to Pac-12 programs than his buddy.

    Moss has the height scouts drool over and the type of frame that can hold 260-270 pounds easily. The nation's No. 54 player is also twitchy and is a fluid athlete who looks like a natural. He's the type of athlete who blows up into a pro prospect quickly.

    Clemson, Oregon, Arizona State, Notre Dame and Florida are the top schools on Moss' list, but Alabama and Ohio State are after him too.

    Moss talked to SI.com's Harrison Holland in the summer and made it sound like his recruitment is fairly open, and while all his Crystal Ball projections point toward the Ducks as the favorite to land him, there is work left to do.

    The Sun Devils need to get him on campus, and others across the country are trying to do the same.

Larry Turner-Gooden, 4-Star Defensive Back

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    Credit: 247Sports

    The jewel of Arizona State's recruiting class looked like it would be 4-star athlete Larry Turner-Gooden, who likely projects as a safety but can play all over the place.

    But the Mission Hills, California, native decommitted last week and began taking visits. He told Biggins he is still considering the Sun Devils, which provides hope for a talent pipeline and program that is under investigation for possible recruiting violations.

    "I still have interest in ASU but with me taking the visits and talking with all the other coaches, it just seemed right to decommit, open it back up and not feel like I'm sneaking around," he said. "I'm sure there will be a few more colleges talking with me now too since I'm de-committed and I just want to give myself every option I can."

    Turner-Gooden surfaced at the Penn State-Auburn game for an official visit and had a great time in Happy Valley, and he is scheduled to visit Texas and has a lot of interest in USC too.

    The 6'0", 179-pound athlete seems like he's going to take his time and enjoy his recruitment.

          

    All stats courtesy of CFBStats and Sports Reference. Recruiting rankings via 247Sports' composite rankings unless otherwise noted.

    Follow Brad Shepard on Twitter, @Brad_Shepard.

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