National Signing Day: Pac 12 be warned, USC on the rise

Long Beach athlete John "Juju" Smith was one of the highlights for a strong USC recruiting class. Photo: USA Today Sports

The Steve Sarkisian era at USC is off to a rock solid start. On his first national signing day as head coach of the Trojans, Sarkisian and his staff put together the top recruiting class in the Pac 12, edging two-time defending champion Stanford and nudging ahead of cross town rival UCLA. That's a solid way to leave a mark and set a tone for a program just waiting to get back to full strength.

USC was the big story of the day in the Pac 12. The Trojans built a strong defensive secondary and they did not have to go very far to put the pieces together. Five-star safety John "Juju" Smith from Long Beach was the cherry on top of what was already a solid secondary unit put together in the Class of 2014. The Trojans had already added four-star corners Jonathan Lockett out of Santa Ana and John Plattenburg Jr. from Houston. USC also received a hard commit from Gardena corner Adoree' Jackson, although his letter of intent was delayed in confirmation, either due to a compliance issue or a family issue. Regardless, the addition of Jackson gives USC a five-star corner, which should give the Trojans a solid lock-down defensive back on both sides of the field for years to come.

USC recruit Adoree' Jackson's commitment caused some confusion, but he is expected to join the Trojans. Photo: USA Today Sports

The work done in the offensive backfield may have overshadowed what USC did to improve their offensive line (a pair of four-star offensive guards in addition to another already enrolled for the spring semester. With a foundation for a strong offensive line put together, the potential seems to be high for Class of 2015 quarterback Ricky Towns, who will wait a year before being able to join the program if USC can hold on to the California quarterback. For USC, it is good to be back in full operational order when it comes to the recruiting game, with a full arsenal of scholarships to offer. If Sarkisian can now put it all together on the field and show signs of progress instead of maxing out before clearing the bar as he did at Washington, USC is going to be back to conference championship level in short time.

USC's success was just half of the store in Los Angeles. UCLA also had a solid day by bringing in a class that should help the Bruins add some good depth across the roster and help the program keep pace with the best in the Pac 12. UCLA signed 10 four-star prospects and is in line for one more still to come. The top players in the class will help give the defense some more edge with linebackers Zach Whitley and Kenny Young, defensive tackle Ainuu Taua, safety Jaleel Wadood and corner Adarius Pickett. All are four-star talents. USC may have won the recruiting star battle, but UCLA proved to the rest of the Pac 12 they are not going anywhere.

Sarkisian's replacement at Washington, Chris Petersen, did not exactly have a whole lot of time to work with at his new program, but we will get a better sense of what he can do at Washington in recruiting in 2015. For now, the Huskies scored a four-star quarterback in K.J. Carta-Samuels, a great pick-up for Petersen to work with. It will be nice to see what Petersen can do with a quarterback with some stars behind him. Petersen will do some good work at Washington and all eyes will be set on 2015 for the Huskies.

The two dominant programs over the last few years, Stanford and Oregon, once again brought in some of the top classes in the Pac 12. Stanford's haul was remarkable and hammered what should be the last nail in the coffin of any doubts about whether or not Stanford can sustain this level of competitiveness. The Cardinal got the day started with a huge addition when five-star defensive end Solomon Thomas put a tree on the table and pulled out a pair of nerd glasses for effect as he made his announcement. Stanford added 10 more four-star recruits according to the 247 Sports composite rankings with a strong emphasis on defense. But that group also included pro-style quarterback Keller Chryst from Palo Alto. Is this the next Andrew Luck in the making? Stanford sure hopes so.

You might be asking, "What about Oregon?"

Oregon may actually be overlooked when discussing the top Pac 12 classes, but the Ducks still brought in one of the top classes out there. The newest Ducklings are led by five-star running back Royce Freeman out of California and the latest dual threat quarterback, four-star Morgan Mahalak (pictured, right, USA Today Sports). Four-star wide receiver Jalen Brown was already enrolled, so that should be your nucleus on offense in the next couple of years. It looks like Oregon is sticking to their typical formula on offense, but the defense did not bring in many highly rated recruits to improve that side of the football. Oregon signed three four-star talents on defense — cornerback Arrion Springs, linebacker Jimmie Swain and defensive end Tui Talia. It seems as though Oregon has lost some ground in some recruiting battles, but the Ducks have more than enough left in the tank to remain among the top teams in the conference for some time so we are not forecasting a great downfall of the Oregon empire just yet.

Elsewhere we saw Arizona and Arizona State put together decent classes but programs that struggled may not surprise you. Oregon State didn't sign any four star players. Utah signed one but still lags behind the rest of the conference. Washington State head coach Mike Leach called his Class of 214 his best since arriving at the school, but there is still plenty of work to be done in Pullman. And please, won't somebody help Colorado out?

the SEC still brought in the best overall talent in the country, but the Pac 12 plucked some talented recruits out of some of the SEC's fertile grounds, including three form the same high school powerhouse in Louisiana. There is plenty of buzz surrounding the Pac 12, and for good reason. The conference has grown in talent and coaching in the last couple of seasons and is becoming a deeper conference as a result.

Pac 12 Class of 2014 Rankings by 247 Sports

[Source: 247 Sports]

1. USC

2. Stanford


4. Oregon

5. Arizona State

6. Arizona

7. Washington

8. California

9. Oregon State

10. Utah

11. Washington State

12. Colorado

About Kevin McGuire

Contributor to's College Football Talk, Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Host of the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher Radio and iHeart Radio. FWAA member and Philadelphia-area resident.