There are few things that get everyone from the head coach to the fan on the couch excited like National Signing Day does. On the first Wednesday of every February, the future of the program becomes the present.
Optimism was abundant in the Pac-12 this year, and rightfully so. Despite a limited number of scholarships at several schools, the entire conference turned in its best top-to-bottom finish in recent memory according to various ranking services. No longer a sleepy, after-hours presence on Signing Day, the Pac-12 was a concrete presence in the national conversation.
UCLA turned in a top-five class according to Scout. USC signed more Rivals five-star recruits than any team in the nation, and more than any conference except the SEC and ACC. Oregon closed strong despite a coaching transition and wound up in the consensus top 20 for the fourth year in a row. Washington signed a quality group that will add depth and bring in a few players who should leave their mark as true freshmen. From Arizona to Utah, there was quite the talent influx into the league on Wednesday.
With more television exposure than ever before, facilities upgrades from Seattle to Tucson and a banner year on the field in 2012, it should be no surprise that the Pac-12 shined when everybody was looking during the offseason’s biggest event.
Here are a few things that caught my eye at each program:
ARIZONA Full class of 2013 list
Rich Rodriguez’s first full class in Tuscon is, as expected, a very good effort. The staff found players who fit the Wildcats’ offensive and defensive systems. Though it won’t blow anybody away in terms of star rankings, several players in the class who may be considered undersized or under-recruited figure to contribute early on because they’re being brought in for a certain role. Quarterback Anu Solomon is one of the top dual-threat players out west and likely is in the mix to start right away. RichRod hit California hard, especially talent-rich San Diego, and cleaned up in a number of smaller Western states too – impressive considering Arizona didn’t have a ton of ties to the area. The team needed to restock at several positions and did so with a few luxury additions.
ARIZONA STATE Full class of 2013 list
The Sun Devils did a solid job in state and are quietly making inroads in California and Texas, too. Linebacker/athlete Chans Cox should play early and often for Todd Graham and qualifies as a big win over other notable Pac-12 programs. The Latu twins are going to be terrors on special teams as they learn the defense, and there are quite a few kids who have a chance to add to the depth of a young team. Glancing over the list, it’s clear that Graham is trying to get taller, faster athletes at a number of skill position spots.
CALIFORNIA Full class of 2013 list
He didn’t have a whole lot of time to cobble together a recruiting class, but new Cal head coach Sonny Dykes has to look at his 2013 group and smile. Early enrollee Jared Goff is an Elite 11 signal-caller who adds another talented quarterback to the depth chart that will be transitioning to a pass-happy system. Aaron Cochran is a massive offensive lineman and part of a group of reinforcements in the trenches, many of whom will hit the two-deep when the opener rolls around in Berkeley. Dykes inherits a number of talented skill guys from the previous staff and quickly recognized he had to shore up a few spots where he was thin. Considering the staff’s lack of recent ties to high schools around California, the Golden Bears did a great job hauling in recruits and selling the powerful brand. Keep an eye out for Khalfani Muhammad, who is a small running back who brings sprinter’s speed to the backfield.
Related video: Sonny Dykes Signing Day interview
COLORADO Full class of 2013 list
There was one guy who new coach Mike MacIntyre had to have and it appeared as though quarterback Sefo Liufau never wavered on his commitment to the Buffs, headlining a solid effort with limited recruiting time. This is a rebuilding job so nobody knows how a few players will wind up fitting in, but there’s likely a spot for everyone on the roster to challenge for playing time early. Wide receiver Devin Ross is a sure-handed player who could wind up as a nice compliment in the slot to a returning Paul Richardson. MacIntyre has proven he knows what it takes to turn around a football team and put forth a good first step on Wednesday.
Related video: Mike MacIntyre Signing Day interview
OREGON Full class of 2013 list
New coach, same results for the Ducks on the recruiting trail. Look at this class and it’s readily apparent that plenty of speed is headed to Eugene in 2013, led by five-star tailback Thomas Tyner. Mark Helfrich not only kept players that were already in the fold – such as twins Tyree and Tyrell Robinson – but also managed yet another late Signing Day flip: Torrodney Prevot. Don’t overlook the offensive line group Oregon is bringing in, either. They may not start right away but have all the physical traits of other top-notch guys who have come out of the program.
Related video: Mark Helfrich Signing Day interview
OREGON STATE Full class of 2013 list
Mike Riley is always smiling and one of the nicest coaches in the country, so he won’t boast too much about his class. But it’s clear that this is one of the most talented groups the Beavers have signed in a while. Dashon Hunt was pursued by several other Pac-12 programs and likely ends up being thrown into the mix early. Steven Nelson was lauded by many and could be one of the more polished defensive backs OSU ever has had in Corvallis. Add in a high-upside quarterback in Kyle Kempt and a number of other talents like Sean Harlow and this was a great effort for the Beavers.
Related video: Mike Riley Signing Day interview
The number 12 seems to be a good one for the Cardinal, who won the Pac-12 title in 2012. Because there were so many returnees on the depth chart this was never going to be a big class; it winds up as the smallest in the country to nobody’s surprise. Stanford hit on just about everybody it wanted and added an Andrew Luck-esque quarterback in Ryan Burns and a legacy recruit in Francis Owusu who is a polished speedster to stretch the defenses. Kevin Palma (among others) seems like the perfect fit on defense as a smart, rangy player who can move in space well. David Shaw doesn’t bring in the highest-rated players, but won’t fret a lick because they’re his guys, and will find the next four years laid out for them perfectly as they look to keep momentum going on The Farm.
Related video: David Shaw Signing Day interview
You won’t find much disagreement in labeling the Bruins the toast of the Pac-12 on Signing Day as they closed on a top-five class that adds plenty of playmakers. Jim Mora’s crop of ace recruiters addressed needs with defensive backs such as Tahaan Goodman and Tyler Foreman while also snagging some players who have star potential. Asiantii Woulard, for example, is an Elite 11 quarterback whose stock shot up late despite being a wide receiver just two years ago. UCLA’s big season in 2012 also allowed the Bruins to have success nationally, going from Florida to Tennessee to Washington while also cleaning up at a number of Southern California high schools. Heck of a group for the Bruins, to say the least, in 2013.
Lane Kiffin remarked late Wednesday that there’s not a coach in America who would keep their 12 players over his group of 12, and with the exception of Nick Saban, the USC coach would be correct. It’s a small class partially because the Trojans faltered down the stretch. But make no mistake: This is an impressive list of players that include the top quarterback, safety and running back in the country, according to some. Max Browne could follow in the footsteps of Matt Barkley in more ways than one and safety Su’a Cravens is hitting the field early no matter what. The Trojans can’t miss on evaluating guys with their scholarship situation and while it was a small group, it appears they didn’t whiff with the 2013 group.
The Utes continue to sell the Pac-12 brand across the west, and are reeling in bigger, stronger, faster players than before. Someone like Harrison Handley probably isn’t a guy that the program brings in but will wind up being a contributor early on in his career because he’ll do a number of different things. Brandon Cox and Conner Manning are quarterbacks that should provide much-needed depth. And a number of strong options along the defensive line (such as Sam Tevi and Sese Ianu) are always great to have.
Related video: Kyle Whittingham Signing Day interview
WASHINGTON Full class of 2013 list
You have to love what Steve Sarkisian and his staff did with this class, going after needs (such as signing receivers Damore’ea Stringfellow and Darrell Daniels) while grabbing talent that will wind up helping the program down the road with guys such as quarterback Troy Williams, athlete Elijah Qualls and offensive lineman Dane Crane. Cornerback Kevin King is a bit of a sleeper but is a big player for his position that will help with the continued overhaul on defense for the Huskies.
WASHINGTON STATE Full class of 2013 list
Quarterback Tyler Bruggman is a signal-caller plenty of top programs wanted to sign, but Mike Leach’s system was a heck of a selling point. More than anything, this group provides a number of Pac-12-caliber players to shore up a handful of spots where the Cougars were severely lacking. The lineman, both offensive and defensive, will be more than warm bodies. The best pickup of the group probably is the talented O-lineman Riley Sorenson.
Related video: Mike Leach Signing Day interview