Pac-12: Washington State Cougars
2013 summary: 4 carries, 18 yards; 3 catches, 50 yards, 1 TD.
The skinny: A brief look at West's season summary doesn't read like a player in line to make a big impact next year -- and that still could be the case. His regular-season totals -- 1 carry, 1 yard; no catches -- are even less inspiring. So, why West? The Gildan New Mexico Bowl, that's why. Whether it was something he did during the bowl lead-up that opened coach Mike Leach's eyes or a build up that finally peaked, there was a difference. West got an opportunity to showcase what he can do and took full advantage. In addition to contributing in both the receiving and running game, West blocked a punt. He won't necessarily make a huge impact as a runner, receiver or on special teams next year, but he looks like a player who could hold a measurable value doing all three.
Arizona: The Wildcats welcome back four starters, losing only RG Chris Putton. This mostly starless unit led the second-best rushing attack in the Pac-12 and yielded the second fewest sacks (17) in 2013. Junior Lene Maiava, the line's top backup at OT and OG last year, is a good bet to step in for Putton. By the way, all the 2013 backups are back as well.
California: Cal welcomes back all five guys who started the Big Game against Stanford, a crew that included three freshmen and one sophomore. Only one of those guys, sophomore Jordan Rigsbee, started the first game, and he had moved from LG to center. The truth is, these guys played OK late in the season, and you'd think they'd improve significantly after a year of seasoning. Rigsbee and LG Chris Borrayo are good players, and Chris Adcock and Matt Cochran will be back in the mix after injuries derailed their seasons. There's also juco transfer Dominic Granado and four redshirt freshmen. As with most positions after the Bears’ miserable 2013, this unit should be much-improved.
Colorado: Three starters are back from a line that often struggled in 2013 -- LG Kaiwi Crabb, RG Daniel Munyer and RT Stephane Nembot -- with LT Jack Harris and C Gus Handler departing. Crabb was the backup center last year, so he might get a look there. In the mix are junior Marc Mustoe, junior college transfer Sully Wiefels, sophomore Alex Kelley and four redshirt freshmen.
Oregon: The Ducks lose undersized OG Mana Greig, who often struggled last year, but welcome back four starters, though LT Tyler Johnstone will miss spring practices after knee surgery. Center Hroniss Grasu earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors for a second time last year and is a likely preseason All-American -- he was second team for the FWAA in 2013. OG Cameron Hunt, who started five games as a true freshman, is almost certain to step into a starting guard positions opposite Hamani Stevens. Junior Andre Yruretagoyena is a guy to watch, also. It's likely position coach Steve Greatwood will do a lot of shuffling this spring, working a variety of combinations that allow him to develop depth.
Oregon State: Two starters are back -- C Isaac Seumalo and RT Sean Harlow -- and three starters are gone: LT Michael Philipp, LG Josh Andrews and RG Grant Enger. Seumalo earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors and could get All-American consideration this fall, while Harlow should be much-improved after taking his lumps as a true freshman. Sophomore Grant Bays, junior Josh Mitchell, junior Gavin Andrews and juco transfer Luke Hollingsworth are in the mix.
Stanford: While the Cardinal are replacing four starters from the Pac-12's best offensive line last season -- only LT Andrus Peat returns -- a number of the 2013 backups saw significant action. So the hope is Josh Garnett replaces David Yankey at LG, Graham Shuler steps in for Khalil Wilkes at center, Johnny Caspers replaces Kevin Danser at RG and Kyle Murphy takes over for Cameron Fleming at RT. And the best guys who don't beat them out will act as the sixth and seventh O-linemen in Stanford's now-infamous "jumbo" packages.
UCLA: While UCLA loses first-team All-Pac-12 guardXavier Su'a-Filo to the NFL, the Bruins should be strong on the offensive line after injuries force them to start three true freshmen last fall. And those freshmen, Alex Redmond, Caleb Benenoch and Scott Quessenberry, played pretty darn well, considering. Jake Brendel is back at center -- he and Redmond earned honorable mention all-conference honors -- and tackles Torian White and Simon Goines, starters sidelined by injuries last year, are back. Then there's Miami transfer Malcolm Bunche and Conor McDermott and Ben Wysocki, among others. Figures to be a lot of competition this spring.
USC: The Trojans lost center Marcus Martin, first-team All-Pac-12 in 2013, and RT Kevin Graf, but welcome back sophomore LT Chad Wheeler, senior LG Max Tuerk and senior RG Aundrey Walker, though Walker will be out spring after breaking his ankle against UCLA. Further, with a new coaching staff on hand, there's sure to be competition and some position changes. Junior Cyrus Hobbi and redshirt freshman Khaliel Rodgers figure to battle at center, and with sophomore Zach Banner sitting out with an injury, senior Nathan Guertler and redshirt freshman Nico Falah likely will man the RT spot. True freshman early enrollee Toa Lobendahn also could get into the mix, as could true freshman Damien Mama when he arrives in the fall, though he plans to take a Mormon mission in 2015.
Utah: Utah loses two starters, LG Jeremiah Tofaeono and center Vyncent Jones, but welcomes back junior LT Jeremiah Poutasi, RG Junior Salt and RT Siaosi Aiono, though Isaac Asiata started the final three games at RT. Sophomore Hiva Lutui was the backup center last year, but he'll battle Nick Nowakowski for the starting job, while junior J.J. Dielman has the inside track at LG.
Washington: Not only does Washington welcome back all five starters from 2013, it welcomes back a crew that started every game together. (Well, actually, James Atoe started the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl at RG for Colin Tanigawa). And not only that, this is the Pac-12's most veteran crew, perhaps the most experience group in the nation, with four senior starters and one junior. Oh, and not a single backup from the Apple Cup depth chart graduated either, though Erik Kohler took injury retirement. LT Micah Hatchie and LG Dexter Charles both earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors last year. This has a chance to be a very good line.
Washington State: Offensive line is a questionable area for the Cougars this spring. They lost three starters, topped by center Elliott Bosch, the line's leader in 2013, and three top backups. Junior LT Gunnar Eklund and junior LG Joe Dahl are back. Sophomore Riley Sorenson is almost certain to win a starting job, likely at right guard, while Sam Flor and Carlos Freeman will battle at center, while Cody O'Connell, Cole Madison, Devonte McClain and Jacob Seydel are in the mix at the vacant tackle spot.
Spring start: March 31
Spring game: April 26
What to watch:
- Kaufman effect: New defensive coordinator Art Kaufman has his work cut out for him after inheriting a Cal defense that allowed 45.9 points per game during coach Sonny Dykes' first season. This isn't a case of needing few tweaks back to respectability; it could take a complete overhaul to get things turned in the right direction.
- Developing Goff:Jared Goff jumped right into the starting job as a true freshman, and his considerable talent was evident from the beginning. With a year under his belt, Goff will take on more of a leadership role as he begins his first spring as the unquestioned starter.
- Get healthy: Cal's 2013 season was met with a rash of injuries that made one of the nation's toughest schedules even tougher to navigate. The Golden Bears will show extreme caution during the spring as to remain as healthy as possible for fall camp.
Spring start: April 1
Spring game: May 3
What to watch:
- Life after Mariota? Much like Andrew Luck's 2011 season at Stanford, it's clear Marcus Mariota is headed into his final season as the Ducks quarterback despite having two years of eligibility left. It really began last season, but Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues, who served as dual backups last year, will continue to compete for the soon-to-be-vacated starting job.
- Pellum takes over: Don Pellum replaces longtime defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, who held the job for the previous 17 seasons. It'll take some adjusting without Aliotti around, but Pellum, who has spent 23 years coaching at Oregon, figures to make it close to a seamless transition.
- Building receiver depth: Bralon Addison is back, but the Ducks will need to find players to replace Josh Huff, Daryle Hawkins and De'Anthony Thomas in the passing game. Keanon Lowe will likely jump into the No. 2 role, but after that the pecking order is unclear.
Spring start: March 31
Spring game: May 3
What to watch:
- Garrett steps in: There won't be any major philosophical overhauls under new offensive coordinator John Garrett, but new twists are inevitable. He and fifth-year senior quarterback Sean Mannion will spend the spring getting on the same page.
- Revitalized running game? Running backs Terron Ward and Storm Woods will have to be more involved as the Beavers pursue greater offensive balance. Chris Brown's development will be important to add depth at the position after he saw scarce playing time as a redshirt freshman.
- Replacing Crichton: Receiver Brandin Cooks isn't the only big-name player leaving Corvallis; finding a replacement for defensive end Scott Crichton will be just as important. Lavonte Barnett and Jaswha James are two players to keep in mind at the spot opposite Dylan Wynn, while defensive tackle Jalen Grimble should immediately contribute on the line as well.
Spring start: Feb. 24
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- RB by committee? After Stanford's first spring practice, coach David Shaw touched on how it might become a running-back-by-committee in the Stanford backfield. He said it last year too, but without an experienced ball carrier on the roster, it rings truer this time.
- Reloading on defense: The Cardinal had four defensive players at the NFL combine and also will replace first-team All-Pac-12 defensive end Ben Gardner. OLB Kevin Anderson, S Kodi Whitfield, DE Luke Kaumatule and ILB Blake Martinez are four players fighting for a chance at more playing time.
- Staff changes: The program faces the most staff turnover in Shaw's tenure, with defensive coordinator Derek Mason (head coach, Vanderbilt), quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford (offensive coordinator, Boise State) and inside linebackers coach David Kotulski (defensive coordinator, Vanderbilt) all taking promotions elsewhere. Spring will be an important time to bring new coaches Lance Taylor and Pete Hansen -- and a third yet to be hired -- up to speed.
Spring start: March 4
Spring game: April 19
What to watch:
- Petersen era begins: Chris Petersen's arrival to a major conference will be a national story line heading into the 2014 season. After posting a 92-12 record at Boise State in eight seasons, expectations are high in Seattle, where he'll replace Steve Sarkisian.
- Status of Miles/Stringfellow: Quarterback Cyler Miles, who was expected to take over as the starting quarterback, and receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow were suspended indefinitely on Feb. 6, leaving questions about their status with the team. With Miles away, Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams will get more opportunities.
- Replacing Sankey: Jesse Callier, Deontae Cooper and Dwayne Washington will all compete for carries with Bishop Sankey off to the NFL. That much is clear. How the offense will use the trio isn't, thanks to the arrival of Petersen.
Spring start: March 27
Spring game: April 26
What to watch:
- Secondary turnover: The Cougars will replace three members of their secondary in cornerbacks Damante Horton and Nolan Washington and safety Deone Bucannon. Spring will be important for the potential replacements that include safeties Isaac Dotson and Darius Lemora and corners Daquawn Brown, Charleston White and early-enrollee Marcellus Pippins.
- Bruggman watch: There's a lot of buzz in Pullman about backup quarterback Tyler Bruggman, who redshirted in 2013. While he's not expected to challenge incumbent Connor Halliday for the starting job, his development will be monitored closely.
- OL makeover: WSU needs to replace the right side of its offensive line and center Elliot Bosch. Left tackle Gunnar Eklund and left guard Joe Dahl return, while Riley Sorenson, Jacob Seydel, Devonte McClain, Cody O'Connell, Sam Flor and Cole Madison will compete for jobs.
Is 2014 the season for a new color scheme at the top? Will the South (Division) rise again? (We're eyeballing you, UCLA.) While we're at it, will the conference, which last won a national title in 2004, break through this fall, finishing atop the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff?
These are the big-picture questions that start to get answered as Pac-12 teams begin spring practice. Stanford got rolling Monday. Arizona, Washington and Colorado hit the field next week. Oregon and UCLA won't get cracking until April 1, and the Ducks and Oregon State won't finish until May 3, officially sending us into the long, hot days of the summer offseason.
As is the case most years, there's a little old and a little new in the Pac-12 this spring.
Start with the head coaches. USC and Washington will hit the field for the first time with new guys in charge, making Oregon State and Utah the only two conference teams headed by the same guy since the 2010 season. Neither coach is much of a stranger. USC hired Steve Sarkisian away from the Huskies, and Washington turned around and lured Chris Petersen away from Boise State.
The bigger area of turnover was coordinators. Just three teams didn't make any changes on the top of their offensive and defensive units: Arizona, Colorado and Washington State.
There will be more stability at quarterback. Ten teams welcome back their 2013 starters, if we can be optimistic enough to include Utah's Travis Wilson, who will practice this spring with no contact but still has not been fully cleared to continue his career due to a pre-existing medical condition.
Arizona and Washington will stage full-on competitions to replace B.J. Denker and Keith Price, respectively. Wilson's uncertain status makes the Utes' QB situation complicated, while at USC, touted redshirt freshman Max Browne is expected to provide a strong challenge to incumbent starter Cody Kessler.
Meanwhile, the returning QB talent is strong. Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley will be near the top of every preseason Heisman Trophy watch list. Arizona State's Taylor Kelly and Oregon State's Sean Mannion aren't too far behind.
The situation at running back and receiver is not as strong. The top four rushers from 2013 are gone: Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, Washington's Bishop Sankey, Stanford's Tyler Gaffney and Arizona State's Marion Grice. The top three receivers -- as well as USC's Marqise Lee -- also are off to the NFL: Oregon State's Brandin Cooks, Colorado's Paul Richardson and Oregon's Josh Huff.
While Stanford and Oregon -- it used to be Oregon and Stanford -- will remain the favorites among many, both have big questions on defense. The Ducks will be projected ahead of the Cardinal, however, because of Mariota's return and Stanford having to replace Gaffney and four starting O-linemen.
Yet this go-around, Stanford has the winning streak in the series and consecutive crowns and Oregon has the chip on its shoulder.
"It's not that we should [have a chip on our shoulder]. It's that we need to," Oregon running back Byron Marshall said. "Like you said, Stanford has kind of had our number the past couple of years. … As one of the leaders on this team, it's my job to remind everyone that [Stanford] beat us the last two years. It hasn't really been a close game. It might be close by score, but they've dominated us in both performances. We need to have a chip on our shoulder in order to get where we want to this year."
That last line pretty much applies to every Pac-12 team this spring.
The conference was as deep as it's ever been in 2013 and a record six teams ended up ranked in the final Associated Press poll, but the conference produced just one BCS bowl team and no team finished in the final top eight.
Will a Pac-12 team advance from good to elite in 2014? Spring practice provides an important step toward that possibility.
- Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey listed as one of three running backs with falling draft stock.
- Arizona State's motto this year is "unfinished business."
- California coach Sonny Dykes breaks down his offensive recruits.
- Colorado football player Jeffrey Hall was arrested on suspicion of second-degree assault on a police officer, according to the Boulder Daily Camera.
- Former Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas is vying for a starting job with Portland's new arena football team.
- Brandin Cooks' 40 time earned him a $100,000 payday from Adidas.
- A Stanford notebook to open up spring practice.
- A recap of UCLA at the combine.
- Looking at how the contingent of USC players did at the combine.
- Former Oklahoma quarterback Kendal Thompson has transferred to Utah.
- A preview of Washington's running backs before spring practice.
- Washington State's Deone Bucannon helped himself at the NFL combine.
- Two Pac-12 running backs are listed among Top 10 college running backs on the rise.
Arizona: With Ka'Deem Carey off to the NFL, figuring out Arizona's running back situation requires a bit of guesswork. Backups Daniel Jenkins and Kylan Butler are out of eligibility and rising junior Jared Baker tore his ACL in the regular-season finale. That leaves no running backs who had a carry last season. Those competing for carries will be redshirt freshmen Pierre Cormier and Zach Green, and true freshmen Jonathan Haden, an early enrollee, and Nick Wilson.
California: Much was made about Brendan Bigelow's talent during his career in Berkeley, but it never materialized the way many expected it would. He was beaten out by true freshman Khalfani Muhammad a year ago, then opted out of his final year of eligibility for a shot at the NFL -- and subsequently was not invited to the combine. Getting a feel for how coach Sonny Dykes would like to use his running backs is tough considering the lopsided nature of most of the games last year, but Muhammad showed all the signs that he would develop into a good Pac-12 running back.
Colorado: Christian Powell and Michael Adkins II will both be back after combining for 1,097 yards rushing in 2013. With receiver Paul Richardson off to the NFL, there's the need for added production on offense, and while coach Mike MacIntyre showed at San Jose State he'd prefer that to come through the air, it could add up to more opportunities for Powell and Adkins.
Oregon: Does it even matter who the Ducks hand the ball to? Sometimes it doesn't seem like it, but, regardless, Oregon remains loaded with speed and talent at running back. Byron Marshall (1,038 yards rushing) and Thomas Tyner (711 yards) will both see plenty of carries when quarterback Marcus Mariota (715 yards) isn't running on his own. The team does lose De'Anthony Thomas, who opted to leave early for the NFL, but Thomas turned into a relative afterthought last season anyway.
Oregon State: It shouldn't be hard to improve the Beavers' running game after they ranked 115th in the country in rushing yards per game last season. Their top two backs -- Terron Ward and Storm Woods -- return and figure to see more use under new offensive coordinator John Garrett. There was a glimpse of what could be against Boise State in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl as the Beavers unleashed a more balanced approach. Woods ran for 107 yards on 16 carries and Ward added 54 yards on nine carries in a comfortable 38-23 victory.
Stanford:The Cardinal's running back situation is outlined here in more detail, but it should be noted that the competition between Remound Wright, Barry J. Sanders and Ricky Seale -- competing to replace Tyler Gaffney -- will also include Kelsey Young. Young was recruited to Stanford to play running back, but was switched to receiver and is now back at running back. Sanders has the name recognition, but all signs point to Wright getting the first crack at being the primary back. However it plays out, it would be a complete shock if one back was used as much as Gaffney was in 2013 and Stepfan Taylor the two seasons before that.
UCLA: If things play out the way UCLA coach Jim Mora hopes they will, linebacker Myles Jack will be just that … a linebacker. After winning Pac-12 Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year, the Bruins would ideally keep him on defense. For that to happen, someone needs to step up. That conversation still includes Jordon James and Paul Perkins, while Craig Lee, a four-star recruit who redshirted last year, also factors into the equation.
Utah: Another season, another new offensive coordinator for the Utes. This time it's Dave Christensen's job to invoke life in the Utah offense, which will return leading rusher Bubba Poole (607 yards) and Lucky Radley (284 yards). The Utes averaged just 4.1 yards a carry as a team last year, which is partially to blame for the change from Dennis Erickson to Christensen after just one year.
Washington: The NFL combine taught us that Bishop Sankey might have been the most physically gifted running back in the country last year. It's not as simple as plugging in another guy to replace him, but the Huskies are still in good shape. Senior Jesse Callier (48 carries, 213 yards in 2013), who was slated to be the starter before an ACL tear in the season opener in 2012, is intriguing and will compete with fellow senior Deontae Cooper (43 carries, 270 yards) and sophomore Dwayne Washington (27 carries, 332 yards).
Washington State: Considering quarterback Connor Halliday had three single-game passing totals that were more than leading rusher Marcus Mason ran for in entire season (429), any discussion about the Cougars' running game is tough to take seriously. Yes, there will still be running backs on the roster. No, they probably won't combine to run for 1,000 yards as a team.
He gets up around 7 a.m., eats breakfast and makes his way to the Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla., for a day’s worth of workouts in preparation for the NFL scouting combine. First he hits the weights, and then it’s outside for speed and conditioning work followed by position drills and a break for lunch. Combine drills follow lunch, then more speed work and, finally, more technique drills.
Such is life for those training for a shot at the NFL.
It’s a shot few believed Bucannon would get during his high school days at Vanden High in Fairfield, Calif. He received just four scholarship offers: WSU, San Diego State, Nevada and Cal Poly. Not exactly a who’s who list of NFL feeder programs.
While Bucannon was certainly under the radar then, that has changed.
In 49 games for WSU, including 43 starts, Bucannon finished with 384 tackles, which ranks fourth in school history. He developed a reputation as one of college football's biggest hitters and has blossomed into one of the fastest-rising safety prospects in the draft.
“I want to be drafted in the first round. Like anyone else, honestly,” he said. “It’s a possibility for me. I feel like I’ll be a great player and I’ll make an immediate impact on a team and do whatever it takes.”
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Bucannon as the No. 4 overall safety prospect in the draft .
Bucannon will arrive in Indianapolis for the combine on Saturday, where he plans to participate in all of the drills. He said there isn’t a particular area in which he hopes to impress, only that he leaves a good overall impression with the NFL coaches and personnel executives.
“I feel like I’m going to be above what they expect of me,” Bucannon said.
That includes the interview portions of the four-day event.
“I’m ready for whatever they’re going to ask me,” he said. “I want to prove that I’m a student of the game. If they ask me about scheme, I want to show I know what everyone on defense is supposed to do. If it’s more of a social thing, we can talk about whatever.
“Not saying I’m not a little nervous about it, though.”
If things go well at the combine, Bucannon likely won’t do all the same drills at the WSU pro day on March 13. He’ll likely just participate in position drills.
Up next: Halli’doh!
Who and against whom: Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday put on a clinic in the New Mexico Bowl only to see his team on the short end of a 48-45 loss to Colorado State.
The numbers: Halliday completed 37 of 58 passes for 410 yards with six touchdowns and an interception.
A closer look: Here at the Pac-12 blog, we understand there is only so much one player can control. So we’re not going to leave a magnificent performance out because of defeat. Besides, the Cougars wouldn’t have had a 35-13 lead near the end of the first half if it weren’t for Halliday tossing five of his six scores in the first 30 minutes. After his second pass of the game was intercepted, Halliday was surgical from then on, connecting with six receivers for scores. River Cracraft led the way with nine catches for 125 yards. With the loss, Halliday inherited some unfortunate honors. He became the first quarterback in bowl history to throw for six touchdowns and lose. He was the seventh quarterback in the last 10 seasons to throw for at least six touchdowns in a loss and the third this season, along with Derek Carr (Fresno State) and Sean Schroeder (Hawaii). This game will ultimately be remembered for Colorado State’s unlikely comeback. But Halliday’s performance shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle because it was record-setting … for the right and wrong reasons.
Despite still being yoked by the final year of NCAA recruiting sanctions, USC was the unanimous choice for the Pac-12's top class, though the Trojans ranked no better than 10th with any of the major recruiting services. Still, with just 19 commitments, the Trojans surged with the smallest class in the ESPN.com top-15.
It was a matter of quality for USC, as well as notching four big commitments on national signing day.
Stanford finished second in the conference behind USC and 15th in the nation. The Cardinal again was very strong on the lines.
After those two, there was some fluidity.
Arizona State, UCLA, Oregon and Arizona were the next four in the class rankings, though their positions varied, both nationally and in the Pac-12. All four, generally, were ranked within or near the top-25.
After those six, Washington was a consensus pick for the No. 7 class in the conference, with first-year coach Chris Petersen rallying for a few late commitments, and California was a consensus No. 8.
Washington State, Oregon State and Utah fell in thereafter, with Colorado ranking last among three of the four major recruiting services.
Here are how things stacked up.
ESPN.com (Click the team to see the class)
21. Arizona State
61. Washington State
67. Oregon State
16. Arizona State
48. Oregon State
59. Washington State
22. Arizona State
49. Oregon State
71. Washington State
23. Arizona State
61. Oregon State
65. Washington State
After several of the top 10 West region recruits from the Class of 2014 got away from Pac-12 teams, the conference will look to clean that up with the 2015 group. It's off to a strong start, as the only two committed prospects among the top 10 are headed to UCLA and USC. The 2015 class in the West region is loaded and there will be huge commitments from any of the 52 ESPN Junior 300 prospects in the West, but there's no surprise that the top five Pac-12 targets are the top five uncommitted prospects in the region.
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While it was a terrific day for the Pac-12 overall, USC stole the signing day spotlight on Wednesday, hitting for the cycle in landing its top four targets.
The day began well for new coach Steve Sarkisian, as three-star cornerback Lamont Simmons (Jacksonville, Fla./Raines) faxed over his signature, but that was only an appetizer for the Trojans. With 19 scholarships available this year -- NCAA sanctions limited the Trojans to just 15 scholarships in this class and USC was able to roll four unused rides over from the 2013 class -- Simmons took the class to 16. Left on the board were a trio of Southern California ESPN 300 prospects in No. 9 overall prospect, cornerback Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra), No. 24 overall prospect, athlete John "JuJu" Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) and No. 67 overall prospect, offensive guard Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco).
The Trojans wound up with the No. 1 class in the Pac-12, but the rankings in the conference were bunched at the top.
Stanford made a huge run late, landing commitments from all six recruits it targeted over the past two months. The Cardinal added signatures from ESPN 300 defensive end Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Tex./Coppell) -- at No. 25 overall, the highest rated Stanford addition since ESPN began its rankings in 2006 -- and three-star cornerback Terrence Alexander (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian). Though the Cardinal lost a late commitment from defensive end Uriah Leiataua (Compton, Calif./Dominguez), it was a very strong visit and a terrific class headed to the Farm.
Alexander wasn't the only recruit from John Curtis Christian to commit to the Pac-12, as Oregon and UCLA took their biggest commitments of the day from that program. The Ducks landed ESPN 300 safety Mattrell McGraw, while UCLA picked up its lone signing day commit in Kenny Young.
Oregon missed out on Smith and defensive tackle Trey Lealaimatafao (San Antonio/Earl Warren) but was able to land safety Khalil Oliver (Meridian, Id./Rocky Mountain) in a battle against Washington.
UCLA coaches will likely be disappointed with the day. Although the Bruins did reel in Young, UCLA missed on Thomas, No. 1 overall wide receiver Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian) and the Southern California trio, which made matters worse for Jim Mora & Co. by committing to the Trojans. UCLA brought a very good recruiting class into signing day and did a good job of holding onto everybody, but the Bruins took some big swings at some big prospects across the country and didn't get the results they were hoping for.
Arizona State slid a few spots in the national rankings, but the Sun Devils did everything they could on signing day. Todd Graham brought a relatively full class into the day and was able to add two huge signatures in ESPN JC 50 prospects defensive tackle Dalvon Stuckey (De Funiak Springs, Fla./Pearl River CC) and cornerback Kweishi Brown (El Cajon, Calif./Grossmont). The Sun Devils were also able to hold onto another junior college standout in wide receiver Eric Lauderdale (Fayetteville, Ga./Saddleback College), who received a significant late push from Florida.
Arizona was relatively quiet. The Wildcats brought in a huge list of verbal commitments and didn't lose anybody off the top of the class, landing five ESPN 300 prospects. Defensive tackle Marcus Griffin (Bellevue, Wash./Bellevue) was the big addition, as the big lineman selected Arizona over Cal, Mississippi State and Washington State.
Oregon State grabbed a signature from offensive guard Kammy Delp (Pomona, Calif./Diamond Ranch), who will play defensive tackle for the Beavers. Utah announced defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei (South Jordan, Utah/Bingham) as a part of this class after he attempted to sign with the Utes in 2013.
Washington's big addition came Tuesday night in the form of ESPN 300 safety Bishard "Budda" Baker (Bellevue, Wash./Bellevue), but Chris Petersen and the Huskies also received a signing day commitment from intriguing 6-foot-5 receiver Brayden Lenius (West Hills, Calif./Chaminade). The Washington State Cougars closed with their second four-star commitment in this class, safety Deion Singleton (Paco, Wash./Chiawana).
But the day in the West belonged to USC, which jumped from No. 4 in the conference to landing the Pac-12's top 2014 recruiting class. Nationally, the Trojans moved from No. 24 to No. 15 overall.
Stanford (15th), Arizona State (21st) and Arizona (23rd) all finished among the top 25 recruiting classes in the nation.
Arizona: DT Marcus Griffin (Bellevue, Wash./Bellevue)
6-2, 299 pounds
The Wildcats jumped into the process late for Griffin but made enough of an impression that the big lineman took an official visit to Tucson last weekend. Griffin will announce on signing day from a group that consists of Arizona, Cal, Mississippi State and Washington State. While the Wildcats have a full class at this point, it looks as though they'd like to add one more big body along the defensive line and Griffin is one of the top defensive tackles in the region, regardless of commitment status.
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For Leach, it was simple: WSU checked all the boxes. He wanted to be in a college town, needed the support of the school president and athletics director and sought a place with a real opportunity to build a winner. The nearby hunting and fishing options didn't hurt, either.
After two years in Pullman, Leach reaffirmed he made the right choice.
Few questioned whether the town or administration were a good fit, but few expected a timely turnaround after the Cougars were among the least competitive FBS teams in the four seasons before Leach arrived.
"Nobody thought we'd go to a bowl this year," Leach said. "They thought we'd win two games or something.
"And even though we all felt like we left meat on the table, the program hadn't been to a bowl game in 10 years. So from that standpoint we're ahead of schedule."
There would be decisively less meat on the table if the Cougars had hung on to beat Colorado State in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl, but a late-game meltdown prevented that and the team finished 6-7. Instead of an offseason focused on another winning season, the Cougars' attention is on finishing.
"It's every day," said receiver Kristoff Williams, who finished third on the team with 51 catches. "We don't want to have that feeling again, so that's become the emphasis. It doesn't matter what we're doing, we're always focused on finishing strong."
That goes with recruiting, too.
With less than two weeks before national signing day on Feb. 5, Leach and his staff are in what he called "the hand-to-hand combat portion of recruiting" and are trying to solidify what has the potential to be one of the program's highest-ranked classes in recent memory. Leach said it seems like more doors opened this year, and he has been happy with the job his staff has done on the recruiting front.
"We've had a pretty good reception," he said. "Part of it is this is one of the best recruiting staffs I've had. They work hard work at getting to know people and building relationships."
A stigma that has long-been attached to the WSU football program is the concept that it's difficult to convince big-time recruits to play in such a small town. A lot of the time -- maybe even most of the time -- it holds true, but Leach pointed out there are times when Pullman's setting is a positive.
"In [the Pac-12] there are mostly urban settings," he said. "The two schools in true college towns are WSU and Oregon State. If you're the type of player looking for that atmosphere, we're it."
Those are the kids they've made a priority to go after.
Once the staff ties a bow on the recruiting class, it'll get some time off before spring practice begins on March 27.
“"I'm optimistic about getting some skiing in," Leach said. "I'll do the best I can to make that happen."
We're teaching each other to compete. Coach [Mike] Leach is tough. He doesn't take any nonsense. He definitely knows what he's doing and expects a lot out of you so as long as you buy into what we're doing, it becomes easier.” -- WR Kristoff Williams
For the players, it's not that simple. They're currently in the midst of the most intensive part of their offseason training regimen. It includes three days a week of running, four days of weight-lifting and two days of seven-on-seven competition.
"We're teaching each other to compete," Williams said. "Coach Leach is tough. He doesn't take any nonsense. He definitely knows what he's doing and expects a lot out of you so as long as you buy into what we're doing, it becomes easier."
When classes begin following spring break on March 24, the team will spend the first three days back on campus watching cutups of the season before entering spring-practice mode. Leach, who doesn't believe in splitting the spring into multiple sessions, will spread out the 15 sessions between then and the spring game on April 26.
In terms of replacing outgoing players, WSU's top priorities in the spring are on the offensive line and secondary, where it loses three players from each group -- most notably safety Deone Bucannon and center Elliott Bosch. Other than that, the team returns pretty much intact.
"In our case, we have a very young team, predominately freshman and sophomores getting still getting acquainted [to college football]," Leach said. "A lot of them haven't been through a college offseason so it's really important for us to get them acclimated. They'll discover they can work a little harder than they think they can."
Up next: Horton, WSU win with ... defense
Who and against whom: Washington State CB Damante Horton scored as many touchdowns as USC in the Cougars' 10-7 road upset of then-No. 25 USC.
The numbers: Horton had two key interceptions: the first he returned 70 yards for WSU's only touchdown and the second sealed the game with 2:18 remaining.
A closer look: The list of improbabilities that occurred at USC on Sept. 7 is astonishing. WSU hadn't won there since 2000, hadn't beaten the Trojans anywhere since 2002 and USC hadn't dropped a home opener since 1997. So, naturally, a Mike Leach-coached team snapped those streaks because of its defense. Horton returned his first interception 70 yards for a touchdown -- which led USC coach Lane Kiffin to bench starting quarterback Cody Kessler -- then picked off Max Wittek to seal it at the end. Only Marqise Lee, who Horton covered for most of the game, caught more balls from USC quarterbacks, but Horton still finished with more interception return yards (75) than USC finished with receiving yards (54). The Oakland, Calif., native added a pair of tackles for loss. The game dramatically changed the course of each team's season. If USC won, it's unlikely Kiffin gets fired after losing to Arizona State (you can't fire the coach of a 4-1 team, right?) and WSU's decade-long bowl-less streak would have been extended.
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