USC secures strong first class under new head coach Steve Sarkisian
TEMPE, Ariz. — UCLA had made some inroads on USC for recruiting dominance in Southern California and the Pac-12 in recent years, finishing ahead of the Trojans each of the past two seasons.
With a new coach in place, USC is back at the top of the heap in the Pac-12 and in its own backyard.
Landing three of the highest-rated players who had yet to pick a school before signing day, USC coach Steve Sarkisian got his tenure in Troy off to a superb start by bringing in a 2014 class that was ranked 10th by both Rivals and Scout.
The Trojans were rated best in the Pac-12 by both services, while UCLA was ranked third by Rivals (18th overall) and fourth by Scout (19th).
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Sarkisian already had a good initial class going and bolstered it on deadline day by adding three highly touted players from California: massive offensive lineman Damien Mama from Bellflower, cornerback Adoree' Jackson from Gardena, and safety John "Juju" Smith from Long Beach.
Jackson ended up being the top-rated player in USC's class, ranked sixth overall nationally by Rivals and Scout.
USC wasn't the only team to make news on national signing day. Here's five things that happened in the Pac-12:
BEST CLASS OTHER THAN USC: Stanford coach David Shaw has become an adept recruiter since taking over as the Cardinal's coach and had another stellar class in 2014.
Bolstered by a late decision by defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, the two-time conference champion Cardinal pulled in a recruiting class that was ranked 14th by Rivals and 15th by Scout.
Stanford's class also includes quarterback Keller Chryst, considered one of best pocket-passers in the country and the son of San Francisco 49ers quarterback coach Geep Chryst, and running back Christian McCaffrey, the son of former Stanford and NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey.
IMPACT PLAYER: Smith, USC. The player known as Juju was a two-way player for Long Beach Poly, but figures to play on the defensive side of the ball for the Trojans.
Smith has good size at 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, and has a quick burst out of his breaks. He was ranked as the No. 2 safety by both Rivals and Scout, and top-five by both as an athlete. He had been considering Oregon, Notre Dame and UCLA, but now should give the Trojans some needed help in the secondary.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Eric Lauderdale, Arizona State. The Sun Devils found a big-play receiver from the junior-college ranks by landing Jaelen Strong. Lauderdale gives them a chance to have matching JUCO stars.
At 6-2, 195 pounds, Lauderdale is a big, physical receiver like Strong and was rated one of the nation's best JUCO prospects coming out of Saddleback College in Georgia.
With Strong on one side and Lauderdale on the other, teams will have a hard time figuring out who to stop in Arizona State's high-octane offense.
BIGGEST SURPRISE: Cal's class. The Bears had a rough first season under coach Sonny Dykes, finishing 1-11.
But despite his team's dismal finish, Dykes managed to land a solid recruiting class, ranked 43rd by Scout and 45th by Rivals. It was still in the bottom half of the Pac-12 and well short of Dykes' prediction of being top-3 in the conference, but still pretty good for a team that beat Portland State and no one else.
BIGGEST DUD: Colorado made a bit of progress in its first season under Mike MacIntyre, winning four games after going 1-11 in 2012.
The Buffaloes didn't do much to keep up with the rest of the Pac-12 in terms of recruiting with this year's class, which was ranked 64th nationally by Rivals and 72nd by Scout.
Colorado did land Shay Fields, a good catch-and-run receiver that it hopes can replace Paul Richardson, who left for the NFL after breaking 20 school records.