Lessons learned from national signing day

If you’re wondering what got into the Pac-12 this February, believe me, you’re not the only one. Of Rivals.com’s top-25 recruiting classes, six of them came from schools from the “conference of champions.” Sure, the Pac-12 has historically performed admirably when it comes to national signing day, but 2012 certainly looked like its best year in recent memory.

UCLA, which went 6-8 a season ago and fired coach Rick Neuheisel, signed 26 players, nine of whom ranked as four- and five star players. Stanford signed a consensus top-10 class. And USC, despite scholarship limitations which capped its class at 15, managed to sign the No. 8 class, according to Rivals.com. Though spring practices are still at least a month away, national signing day provided a few glimpses into the future of the conference and USC.

Here are five things we learned from last week’s recruiting circus.

1. Tosh Lupoi’s departure to Washington was felt up and down the coast

Perhaps no signing was more important — recruiting-wise — this offseason than the deal former California defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Lupoi inked with Washington in January, worth a reported $416,000 per year. Before his departure, Cal was on track to reel in a top-10 class, but several previous commits ended up elsewhere and the Golden Bears stumbled. Five-star safety prospect and once-Cal commit Shaq Thompson of Sacramento, Calif., followed Lupoi to Washington. Others, such as five-star defensive end Ellis McCarthy of Monrovia, Calif., and four-star wide receiver Jordan Payton of Westlake Village, Calif., — who were both Cal commits at some point — ended up at UCLA. And Oregon landed four-star defensive end Arik Armstead of Elk Grove, Calif., who had been considering Cal. Despite cold feet from some, coach Jeff Tedford and the Golden Bears still managed to sign a top-25 class.

2. Roster management remains critical in Southern California

How the L.A. schools handle their scholarship allocations in the coming months will be a rather interesting development to follow.

As has been well-documented, USC, because of sanctions, cannot carry more than 75 scholarship players when fall camp begins in August. Though USC coach Lane Kiffin has declined to reveal how many players the Trojans are carrying at the moment, Wednesday’s 12 signees do appear to move the magic number to 77, which does not include senior defensive end Armond Armstead. So at some point, Kiffin and company will have to either see two players transfer or take away two scholarships to get to 75.

Oddly enough, Kiffin’s counterpart across town, UCLA coach Jim Mora, will also need to do some roster dwindling of his own. Before signing day, UCLA had 68 scholarship players on its roster, as noted by Los Angeles Times UCLA beat writer Chris Foster. But by signing a class of 26, it would appear as if UCLA now has 94 scholarship players. Teams are allowed to carry just 85 scholarship players, so somehow the Bruins must cut nine guys loose.

3. Stanford coach David Shaw can recruit 

Following Jim Harbaugh’s departure to the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, the overwhelming notion has been that Stanford is headed toward some sort of a drop-off, especially with the graduation of quarterback Andrew Luck. That no longer seems to be a foregone conclusion. Under Shaw, the Cardinal signed a consensus top-10 class, according to multiple recruiting services, and the No. 5 class per Rivals.com. Shaw went toe-to-toe with Kiffin and USC and came out a winner, too. Five-star offensive tackle Kyle Murphy of San Clemente, Calif., five-star offensive tackle Andrus Peat of Tempe, Ariz., and five-star defensive end Aziz Shittu of Atwater, Calif., all signed with Stanford. Typically, the Trojans have had to fend off Cal, Oregon or UCLA for local prospects, but based on this year, it’ll have to keep a close eye on Shaw and Stanford in the coming years.

4. Kiffin couldn’t afford to gamble on a plan B

One of the primary reasons USC signed just 12 players, as opposed to 15, which it had hoped to do, largely stemmed from not wanting to take risks. With Murphy and Peat headed to Stanford and four-star quarterback Cyler Miles of Denver, Colo., signing with Washington in the afternoon on signing day, USC had two remaining options. One, it could try and fill the class with three-stars in order to reach 15. Or, it could save the three spots for next season. It opted to go with the latter. So, combined with five early enrollees, USC’s 2012 class wrapped up at 17 and next season, it will be able to sign a total of 18 — with three players counting toward the 12-signee 2012 class.

5. Fifteen can never be “greater” than 25

Despite the inference that quality trumps quantity on the recruiting trail, it’s a somewhat faulty premise. Sure, the Trojans had the highest average star rating, per Rivals.com this year at 4.07, but the restrictions can already be felt — as Kiffin is often quick to point out. Running back and defensive tackle remain two positions that could easily use more bodies. At tailback, USC has just three scholarship players and just two who have appeared in any meaningful games, senior Curtis McNeal and sophomore D.J. Morgan. It’s worth noting, as well, that Morgan has had injury problems in the past, including a torn anterior cruciate ligament during his senior year of high school. The transfer of Amir Carlisle didn’t exactly help either. And at defensive tackle, there are just four scholarship players, Suffice to say, USC can’t really afford serious injuries at either position come fall.


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