- Craig Haubert, ESPN Staff Writer
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No one could knock mighty USC from the top of the Pac-10 mountain in 2007. California came close with an early season run but fell apart in the second half of the season and wound up finishing in the bottom half of the league standings. Neither Cal nor any of the other teams that finished in the bottom half of the Pac-10 will challenge USC for the recruiting title either. Cal is working to rebuild its skill positions to make another run at No. 1 in the nation, but it is actually Washington, Arizona and Stanford that have the best shot of possibly landing in the final top 25 recruiting rankings from this group. A look at the bottom half of the Pac-10 based on 2007 records:
Schools in order of 2007 finish
Signing day storylines: A season-ending loss to rival Arizona State dashed a late season surge by the Wildcats and ended any hope of returning to a bowl game for the first time since 1998. The Wildcats disappointed on defense in 2007 but showed some promise on offense with new offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes' spread attack. Once again Arizona will enter a season with promise, but it is becoming high time the promise is realized. Despite not making a bowl game in Mike Stoops tenure, the heat will also be turned up in the Arizona dessert as Arizona State is making quick improvements. The Sun Devils are winning on the field under Dennis Erickson and are also recruiting better, meaning the battle for talent has intensified.
The Sun Devils had a better year on the field, but making matters worse for the Wildcats from a recruiting standpoint is that Arizona State's top three committed prospects are all former Arizona commitments. Despite that, they have still assembled a class on the cusp of the top 25.
Top prospect: The top-rated prospect for Arizona may not even be needed in 2008. Arizona will return several starters to its offensive line but still made a good grab in the underrated Vaughn Dotsy (Ventura, Calif./Saint Bonaventure). Dotsy is a massive lineman who will very likely project to guard in college. Despite his size he moves well and will flash some nimble feet for such a big fella. He also plays the position well and displays a solid feel for offensive line play. He needs to watch his weight and will likely need to reshape his body as he gets into a college weight program. Hopefully Arizona can do enough on the field in 2008 so Stoops can reap the benefits in 2009 and beyond.
Class highlights: The immediate highlight of this class may be the commitment of Robert Golden (Fresno, Calif./Edison). This defensive back has promise at either corner or safety and will very likely get a chance to contribute right away. Golden is one it almost let slip away as he de-committed at one point, but the Arizona coaches were able to lure him back and are probably pretty glad they did.
Hawaiian athlete prospect Solomon Koehler (Kaneohe, Hawaii/Castle) could play on the offensive or defensive line. He is still a bit raw but may be most helpful on defense where he can be disruptive. While they may need to decide what to do with Koehler, they will know exactly what to do with Chris Merrill (Scottsdale, Ariz./Saguaro). This defensive tackle prospect is a sleeper and a favorite of ours. He is a high-motor kid who finds a way to make plays. He reminds us in many ways of former Boston College defensive tackle Chris Hovan and will likely get a chance to contribute right away.
Scatback Keola Antolin (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman) could provide a spark for offensive coordinator Dykes. He may prove to be too small to be an every down back, but he can run and make plays as a receiver, running back and possibly a return man. The Wildcats currently have five juco transfers with three on the offensive line and two on defense.
Could see the field in 2008: CB Golden, RB Antolin, DTs Koehler and Merrill and any of the junior college additions.
Signing day storylines: With a redeeming opening-week win over Tennessee and a 5-0 start, head coach Jeff Tedford seemed to have his team poised to knock Pac-10 ruler USC from their throne. Ranked No. 2 in the nation and on the verge of becoming the No. 1 team in the land, things fell apart with a 1-6 finish. The Golden Bears did salvage a bowl appearance and a win to head into 2008 on a positive note. Cal's flirtation with No. 1 had to help raise awareness in recruiting and allow Tedford and his staff to try to build it into a national title contender.
Its recruiting is still not on par with the likes of conference foes USC or UCLA, but Cal displays an ability to land some very good talent. The Bears may likely finish in the bottom half of the Pac-10 in recruiting, but the 2008 class has some good qualities and fills some needs.
Top prospect: The top guy on the Golden Bears' list helps to fill a need. Cal recently found out that explosive junior wide receiver DeSean Jackson was opting for the NFL Draft. His playmaking ability will be missed and coupled with the fact that fellow targets WR Robert Jordan, WR Lavelle Hawkins and TE Craig Stevens are gone, Cal has a big need for receiving help. So beating programs like Oregon for Marvin Jones (Etiwanda, Calif.) is a big get. The in-state receiver is built similar to Hawkins and is a smooth runner with great hands. He can make the play on the deep ball and displays good concentration to catch the ball in a crowd. Though lean, he is a deceptively physical player who can take a hit and break arm tackles. He can get a little fancy at times trying to dance for big yards instead of getting upfield to get gains and also may lack that true second gear to blow by defenders at the college level. He will likely get a chance to prove himself early on.
Class highlights: Cal met some needs, but the question is will it be enough to make another legit run at No. 1? Besides Jones, it also has verbals from another prep wide out and a junior college receiver. Another receiver or two would probably benefit this class and the recruitment of Martin Bayless Jr. (Fresno, Texas/Hightower) down the stretch is something Cal fans may want to keep an eye on.
At running back, Cal lost leading rusher Justin Forsett, and promising freshman Jahvid Best finished 2007 with a hip injury. With those developments, the addition of Covaughn Deboskie (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton) becomes even bigger. Deboskie is an aggressive back. He does not have a lot of flash to his game, but he quickly attacks the line of scrimmage and can create some big plays when he gets into the second level.
The defense also adds some possibly needed help in a junior college corner and linebacker J.P. Hurrell (San Mateo, Calif./Serra). Hurrell lacks ideal size but can be a defensive playmaker.
Could see the field in 2008: WR Jones, TE Ladner, RB Deboskie and the junior college additions.
Signing day storylines: The Cougars kick off the Paul Wulff era with this class. The new head coach will try to return Washington State to contender status after four losing seasons. The one-time Cougar player will have his work cut out for him and will not make any waves with this initial class.
It would be unfair to judge Wulff and his staff on this class since they have had limited time to work. The 2009 class will paint a better picture of this former FCS head coach's ability to lure talent to Washington State. Wulff did have success at nearby Eastern Washington and that familiarity with the area should help him quickly contend for talent in the Pacific Northwest.
Top prospect: It is always good for a class's top prospect to be a need-filler and that is what the Cougars have accomplished. Skylar Stormo (Mukilteo, Wash./Kamiak) not only has one of the cooler names in the 2008 class but also can step in at tight end, a spot loaded with upper classmen in 2007. Stormo is a good prospect with nice upside. He has a good frame and should be able to develop into a more ideal college tight end size-wise with some work in a college weight program.
The Cougars need someone to come in and compete for playing time and Stormo should be able to do that. He runs good routes and has soft hands. He can also make a play after the catch and will fight for yards. He needs to keep developing as a blocker and that should come with time and added size. Not among the elite tight ends in this class, Stormo's best football is still ahead of him. Still, he should be able to contribute some to an area of need early.
Class highlights: This class will not have recruiting fans talking but is a decent jumping-off point for Wulff as he tries to rebuild. Many of the names in this class are unfamiliar to recruiting fans, but many of these kids are blue-collar, productive prospects. Stormo was a good grab, but it also added two more tight end prospects and that is probably pretty smart as new blood was needed. Stormo tops the class, but we feel Andrei Lintz (Bellingham, Wash./Meridian) is not too far behind. He is an athletic kid with nice upside. He will need to adjust to a higher level of competition, but with some work he and Stormo could be a nice tandem, especially as receiving tight ends.
Defensive line is another area of need, but it has not been addressed with prep talent. Dan Spitz (Spokane, Wash./Mead) is a good-sized defensive end who plays the run well but can't come in and make a difference. A solid addition, but Washington State probably needed to do more here.
For some quick fixes, the Cougars have hit the junior colleges to address defensive line needs. They have commitments from two juco defensive ends and one defensive tackle. That should hopefully buy them some time while they build this position up with prep talent.
Washington State got good news when talented wide receiver Brandon Gibson said he would return for his senior year. A solid pick up among the receiver commits is Kevin Norrell (Long Beach, Calif./Poly), a well-rounded receiver with excellent hands out of a good high school program.
Could see the field in 2008: TE Stormo, WR Norrell, DE Spitz and any of the juco additions.
Signing day storylines: Stanford may have finished under .500 and second-to-last in the Pac-10, but it is hard to discount the immediate impact first year head coach Jim Harbaugh made. He quickly got the Cardinal back in the media spotlight when he had a verbal tiff with his alma mater, Michigan. Then, on the field he led Stanford to a shocking upset win over national power USC and ended the season with a win over rival California in the "Big Game."
There is still plenty of work to do, but Harbaugh seems to have this program heading in the right direction and recruits seem to be noticing. Stanford currently has four prospects ranking within the top 25 of their position, and the overall depth of talent has improved this year under the fiery new coach. Harbaugh has built a class worthy of top-25 consideration -- definitely a good first step.
Top prospect: It is no shock that the former college and NFL signal caller wants his own quarterback to groom. Harbaugh has landed a top-10 quarterback prospect in Andrew Luck (Houston/Stratford) to develop into Stanford's future field general. The Elite 11 quarterback comes from a football family and is a well-coached, polished, crisp passer. He has good pocket awareness, is an underrated athlete and displays good poise and decision-making ability. He does not have elite arm strength but can make all the throws with good velocity and accuracy. Luck has very good upside and Harbaugh likely landed a good one his first time out.
With Michigan transfer Jason Forcier already on campus and 2007 starter Tavita Pritchard returning, there could be a battle for the quarterback spot. It could also allow Luck a chance to acclimate and come along a little slower. He is further ahead of many other prep quarterbacks in terms of the little things of the position at this stage, but a year to adjust to the college game could help his long-term development.
Class highlights: Stanford needs some help at wide receiver and at defensive end. It made moves to address that, but has it done enough? It got a highly competitive, productive end prospect in Under Armour All-American Chase Thomas (Marietta, Ga./Walton). He is a bit undersized and will need to add bulk but is good against the run and pass shows Harbaugh's recruiting range. Wide receiver Chris Owusu (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian) is a smooth, speedy receiver with soft hands. He should be able to help the Cardinal receiving corps fairly quickly. Stanford also added the tall Warren Reuland (Mission Viejo, Calif.), who could develop into a solid possession receiver.
Stanford made a pair of good pickups along the offensive line. David DeCastro (Bellevue, Wash.) is a good center prospect and Jonathan Martin (North Hollywood, Calif./Harvard Westlake), a one-time UCLA commit, is a nice addition. Martin could be a versatile lineman who has a good blend of size, skill and nastiness and should be a productive lineman for the Cardinal.
Could see the field in 2008: DE Thomas, WR Owusu.
Signing day storylines: Despite directing Washington to three straight losing seasons and no bowl appearances, head coach Tyrone Willingham still has many Huskies fans hoping brighter days are soon ahead. The emergence of Class of 2006 recruit quarterback Jake Locker created a big stir this season and Washington seems to have many Pacific Northwest recruits believing the Huskies are on the upswing.
Though on the outside looking in of the current ESPN top 25, Willingham and his staff have hit in-state recruits and the nearby California hard for talent. Of its top 15 commitments, only two don't hail from Washington or California. While seemingly following a smart recipe for success by looting California, even more importantly it is doing well in-state. Of the top 10 prospects in Washington, seven are committed to the Huskies, including the state's top-ranked player. Willingham will need to get it turned around pretty quickly, but he may be bringing enough talent to make the needed jump.
Top prospect: Keeping Kavario Middleton (Lakewood, Wash./Lakes) home is huge for two reasons: First, it shows belief in the program and builds support among the in-state prospects when you can keep a nationally-rated prospect like Middleton close to home. Second, and maybe more importantly, the kid is very good. Physically impressive, Middleton is one of the more versatile prospects in this class, especially considering his size. He could project to defensive end, where he has the tools to develop into a productive player. He also is a promising tight end and will likely start his career there for the Huskies.
At about 6-foot-6 and around 250 pounds, he already has the ideal size for a college tight end and has good hands. His size would indicate he can develop into a strong blocker and should be a productive and well-rounded tight end at the college level fairly quickly with some work.
The nation's No. 2-rated tight end is a big grab for Washington, and fans hope he can come in and make some big grabs from Locker to help Washington get back into the Pac-10 picture.
Class highlights: As already mentioned, this class is filled with prospects from Washington and California. Twenty-two of the 26 commitments hail from one of those two states. A good grab along the offensive line out of California is guard Allen Carroll (Oakland, Calif./McClymond). The Under Armour All-American will likely play guard and has a good combination of size, ability and attitude. The offensive line also boasts several other good commitments like monster guard Alameda Ta'amu (Seattle/Rainier Beach) and tall tackle Terence Thomas (Caldwell, Idaho).
An interesting dynamic to this class is the number of quarterback prospects brought on board, seemingly odd with the success and youth of redshirt freshman Locker. With the idea that competition and depth is good, though, the additions of Luther Leonard (Burien, Wash./Evergreen) and Dominique Blackman (Carson, Calif.) are nice pickups.
Wide receivers Chris Polk (Redlands, Calif./East Valley), Jordan Polk (Portland, Ore./Lincoln), Cody Bruns (Prosser, Wash.) and Jermaine Kearse (Lakewood, Wash./Lakes) address a position of need and could be asked to play early. Chris Polk, a one-time USC commit, has good hands, Jordan Polk is small but quick and has big-play ability and Bruns had a record-setting high school career.
Craig Haubert overviews the Pac-10 teams trying to push into the upper-echelon of the conference with their 2008 recruiting efforts.