Future championships will be built on what happens Wednesday, Feb. 6 as National Signing Day brings dozens of student-athletes into the fold at programs across the Pac-12. Pac-12 Networks and Pac-12.com will become premiere destinations for the latest news surrounding Signing Day for the league’s football programs with text, audio and video commentary analysis over a variety of platforms.
To set the table for such an important day for schools and student-athletes, here are a few story lines and questions that surround the Pac-12 heading into Wednesday.
[Related: National Signing Day is Feb. 6]
1. Will both LA schools finish in the top 10? Top 5?
There’s little doubt that the Los Angeles-based schools – USC and UCLA – enjoy a slight advantage compared to other schools across the country with the sheer amount of talented football players the Southern California region produces. As a result, it’s not all that surprising to see both programs near or in the top 10 in many recruiting services’ class rankings. USC is ranked as high as No. 6 in the country on one website and UCLA occupies the same high point on another. There seems to be plenty of momentum for both programs to finish in the top 10, but with so many twists and turns on Signing Day itself, one never knows until the recruits’ signatures are on the National Letter of Intent and faxed in.
2. Can Mark Helfrich close a good first class?
Those that follow Oregon have expected Helfrich to take over the helm of one of the most prominent programs in the country for some time. But with Chip Kelly’s delay in leaving the Ducks, recruiting could be affected by timing more than it will the change at the top. Oregon isn’t expected to sign a highly ranked class, sticking to what has gotten them where they are by ignoring the star system and evaluating prospects for what they bring to the table on offense and defense. Most of the assistants are still in Eugene from another successful run to a BCS game in 2012-13, so a lot falls on Helfrich selling recruits on him being the perfect man for the job as the program looks to take the next leap with a loaded team for next season.
3. How many will USC sign?
Thanks to NCAA sanctions, the numbers game at USC has never been very easy to figure out. They are limited to 15 initial counter scholarships for this signing class, an important distinction when considering that the school enrolled seven players early this year. Many of them will “count back” to the last signing class and their scholarships will not count against this class’s 15-man limit. If one looks at a scholarship chart, the Trojans could wind up with as many as 18 players, but it’s also possible that the late-season slide means the program signs fewer than that. What the exact number is and who the recruits are that fax in their letter will be a key question in the Pac-12.
4. Do better-than-expected seasons help boost Oregon State, Arizona State and Arizona?
It was quite the turnaround by Mike Riley and the Beavers this season – one of the best in school history, as a matter of fact. How much will that unexpected success help on the recruiting trail? Judging by reports, quite a bit. Likewise at Arizona and Arizona State, two schools with new head coaches in 2012, good win totals and big bowl victories make it look like both programs are in the right direction under Rich Rodriguez and Todd Graham. With an abundance of talent in the state of Arizona and the ability to dip into both California and Texas with ease, both schools may wind up with a significant haul on Wednesday.
5. How will Sonny Dykes fare out west?
The former Louisiana Tech head coach has deep roots in the Southwest from his days out at Texas Tech to his time at Arizona as an assistant. It’s not the same old Pac-12, however, and he’s recruiting to a school he doesn’t really have ties to. With little time to forge new bonds with recruits and high school coaches, it will be a combination of building on the previous staff and hitting the ground running for the Golden Bears this year before Dykes and company have time to settle in. There’s a lot of young talent on the roster, so any top players Cal gets will be icing on the cake.
6. Does Stanford capitalize on its Rose Bowl run?
It was arguably the most successful season in school history for the Cardinal as it captured a Pac-12 title and capped things off with a Rose Bowl win. More importantly, the program moved ahead without Andrew Luck under center and proved they are more than just a one-man band down on The Farm. This won’t be a big class – it may even have fewer signees than USC – but it will be one that needs to have a few impact players. Who David Shaw and company end up signing will be interesting to see as the program should be in store for a nice bump following a successful season.
7. Will this be the best class Sark and company sign at Washington?
Steve Sarkisian and his staff has the Huskies’ class of 2013 ranked in the top 12 of several team rankings, and they may not be done. The program is on the rise on the recruiting trail despite a slide at the end of the year, and more and more recruits are mentioning Washington as one of their top schools. There appears to be plenty of impact players in the group headed to Montlake, from early enrollee quarterback Troy Williams to a number of kids that will don the purple and gold on Wednesday. Will it be the best the staff has signed since arriving at the school? We’ll find out Thursday.
8. Will Mike MacIntyre boost Colorado’s class?
It wasn’t the cleanest transition, but Colorado brought in a proven coach in Mike MacIntyre that has transformed a program from barely competing to a conference contender. His staff has good connections to California that will no doubt be good for the near and long term but it will be interesting to see how the 2013 class takes shape up in Boulder. Facilities upgrades are in the works and the town is a great place to play football and go to college – no doubt major selling points for MacIntyre and his assistants. Whether that results in a bump in the team rankings when all is said and done remains to be seen, but it’s likely we won’t know about this class until they’ve had time to mature on the field.
9. Who finds the best diamond in the rough?
Every year there are players who go overlooked in the recruiting process and turn out to be steals. LaMichael James was a solid prospect out of Texas that Oregon turned into one of the top backs in conference history. Utah has been producing top draft picks and Super Bowl winners (such as the Ravens’ Paul Kruger) by moving guys to the right spot where they can contribute the best. Championships are won on the field, but often the difference between winning and losing is not star power on Signing Day but impact players. As the San Jose Mercury News’ Jon Wilner points out, the 2012 Pac-12 all-conference team (first team selections) had no five-star prospects and only seven of the 22 players were four-star recruits.
10. The class who will ultimately have the biggest impact and other Signing Day surprises:
Talk all we want about the players coming in: it’s all just a prediction of success and not a guarantee. Sign more five-stars and you probably have a better chance at winning games, but that’s not all it takes to have a good season. One of the groups the Pac-12 coaches sign will be part of a big turnaround. Another class will have disappointing results. Such is life in college football nowadays. If one is going by numbers and stars, USC figures to have a greater share of freshman making an impact early, but that doesn’t mean that a crop of talented players heading to Oregon State won’t wind up pushing the program to the top of the final polls.
It’s always a wild ride on Signing Day and Pac-12 schools are often a part of it. It could be a last-minute flip between rivals or a surprise signee that nobody saw coming. Sometimes, even what is expected to happen turns into a pleasant surprise as reports cloud what is really happening behind the scenes. No matter what, the only guarantee about recruiting and Signing Day is that there will be plenty of twists and turns.