- Craig Haubert, ESPN Staff Writer
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After a long reign at the top of the Pac-10 by the Trojans, an exciting race for the 2009 conference title ended with Oregon grabbing the top spot. Overall, the conference represented itself well as seven teams went bowling. While things went fairly well on the field for the conference, things are also going well on the recruiting trail. Though the highest ranked team is USC at No. 10, the conference does have six teams ranked in the top 25 classes, including Washington. The Pac-10 may not field a top-5 class, but overall the conference is recruiting well and showing that the gap between USC and the rest of the conference could be continuing to close.
Commits: 20 | ESPNU 150: 0
Back-to-back eight-win seasons have recruits taking notice of the Wildcats and this is one of the deeper classes we have seen in regard to three-star quality. Arizona filled needs as well, particularly on the offensive line. Athletic 6-foot-7 tackle Trent Spurgeon (Owasso, Okla./Owasso) headlines this unit. Explosive top-25 defensive tackle Kirifi Taula (Anaheim, Calif./Servite) is a great land out of California, while versatile athlete Marquis Flowers (Goodyear, Ariz./Millenium) is the No. 2 overall prospect in the state of Arizona -- another good sign that UA is retaining some of the best homegrown talent.
Top prospect: Taula may challenge for early playing time in Tucson because he is physically ready and advanced in his hand technique, which is crucial on the interior. He consistently gets a strong push off the line and overall is just a disruptive defender with some upside.
Don't be surprised if: Recent linebacker pledge Kyle Benson (Tempe, Ariz./Corona Del Sol) develops into a very productive outside linebacker.
Commits: 22 | ESPNU 150: 0
Consecutive losing seasons in Tempe, Ariz., have led to a lackluster recruiting class for Dennis Erickson and the Sun Devils. Wide receiver was a major position of need in 2010 and they did do a good job addressing that area. Kevin Anderson (Lakewood, Calif./Lakewood) is a smooth, polished receiver out of the prep ranks who will join two juco prospects. Tight end is a key position in this offense, so getting a pledge from top-15 positional prospect Josh Fulton (Phoenix/Saint Marys) was significant. We also like versatile running back Deante Lewis (Norco, Calif./Norco).
Top prospect: Hopefully his recommitment sticks for Sun Devils fans because we think Fulton is a very good football player. At tight end, he consistently comes down with the difficult grab and has a good pair of hands. Overall, he's not going to strike you with his measurables, but is a productive two-way player.
Don't be surprised if: Projected linebacker Nduka Onyeali (Denver, Colo./J.K. Mullen) decommits from ASU down the stretch in favor of the Trojans.
Commits: 13 | ESPNU 150: 2
Cal didn't live up to expectations on the field last fall, but coach Jeff Tedford has managed to build a small yet quality class in Berkeley. The Bears did a great job bolstering their outside linebacker position in their 3-4 defense. ESPNU 150 defensive end Chris Martin (Aurora, Colo./Grandview) and outside linebacker Cecil Whiteside (Newport Harbor, Calif./Newport Harbor) are both hybrid type defenders. Guards Chris Adcock (Mesquite, Texas/Dallas Christian) and Alex Crosthwaite (San Diego, Calif./Cathedral Catholic) are both massive and rated No. 9 and No. 11, respectively, at their position. Quarterback Austin Hinder (Steamboat Springs, Colo./Steamboat Springs) is a four-star signal-caller with the necessary physical tools, while running back Trajuan Briggs (Van Nuys, Calif./Birmingham) shows flashes of being a good one down the line.
Top prospect: While we still feel Martin has some room for fundamental development, his physical makeup and ability is very impressive. In terms of size and straight-line speed there are few edge defenders in this class with matching measurables. Martin wants to continue playing linebacker at the next level and Cal's defensive scheme may be the ideal fit.
Don't be surprised if: Linebacker Nick Forbes (Frederick, Md./Governor Thomas Johnson) contributes early. He can play inside or out, is physically ready to make the jump and ahead of the curve from a fundamental standpoint.
Commits: 17 | ESPNU 150: 2
Oregon's 2009 season was not in the first-year head coach's manual, but Chip Kelly and the Ducks rebounded to a Rose Bowl season and acclaimed national headlines. The latter in recent years has helped Oregon comprise a top-25 class heading into signing day. No. 5 tight end Curtis White (Eugene, Ore./Sheldon) could be the heir apparent to Ed Dickson at a vital position for Kelly's potent offense. Quick-footed corner Dior Mathis (Detroit/Cass Technical) made his decision down the stretch and it helped ease the pain of losing out on Under Armour All-American game MVP defensive tackle Dominique Easley (Staten Island, N.Y./Curtis). Keep your eye on running back Dontae Williams (Houston/Aldine), who is explosive and may have slid under the national radar.
Top prospect: The Ducks have good depth at tight end, but it's a key position in their spread offense, which is why the pickup of Eugene's own White is so significant. He has very good hands and is fluid for his size. His large frame coupled with his good speed and athleticism should continue to create mismatches at the position. We also like the fact White is versatile enough to play defensive end, if needed.
Don't be surprised if: The Ducks close well on signing day and land Oregon native Owamagbe Odighizuwa (Portland, Ore./David Douglas), ESPN's No. 2 rated defensive end prospect.
Commits: 13 | ESPNU 150: 0
The job Mike Riley has done without top-25 recruiting classes is really remarkable. Once again, the Beavers lack a flashy class and don't have any headline names, but they are one of the better programs at developing talent and discovering sleepers on the recruiting trail. Oregon State has recruited California well, landing a top-30 quarterback prospect in raw but strong-armed pocket passer Sean Mannion (Pleasanton, Calif./Foothill) and ESPN's No. 10 center Roman Sapolu (Huntington Beach, Calif./Edison). The Beavers appear to have swayed away from the junior college route and we expect them to ink the signatures of a few more significant prep names on signing day.
Top prospect: Size, arm strength and accuracy makes Mannion the complete package out of high school. We don't think he has garnered the national attention he deserves. Mannion plays under center and is a proficient quarterback in multiple sets and drops. He may need some time to develop in Corvallis, but can make all the college throws and should be a productive Pac-10 quarterback.
Don't be surprised if: Oregon State signs Hawaii native Shaydon Akuna (Kapolei, Hawaii/Kapolei), ESPN's No. 22 rated outside linebacker, who has great range and athleticism.
Commits: 24 | ESPNU 150: 2
Jim Harbaugh certainly has created a recruiting buzz in Palo Alto and has attracted a large class comprised of great football players more than elite ESPNU 150 members. The Cardinal is still recruiting nationally and only has a handful of in-state commitments. Four-star safety Devon Carrington (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton) is a rangy and versatile athlete with good physicality and a hitter's mentality. Four-star running back Anthony Wilkerson (Tustin, Calif./Tustin) has the physical tools and body composition to develop into a strong, workhorse runner or early change-of-pace, power back. Well-rounded tight end Davis Dudchock (Birmingham, Ala./Oak Mountain) is Stanford's third top-15 rated positional prospect. Stanford has been struck with some decommitments, including losing three prospects to Notre Dame over the year, but the Cardinal have also made some nice gains like quarterback Brett Nottingham (Danville, Calif./Monte Vista), who recently left UCLA's class to join the Cardinal.
Top prospect: Carrington headlines this class and epitomizes everything Harbaugh looks for in a football player. He's athletic, versatile and tough with an overall blue-collar feel to his game. Very well-rounded in skill set because he can come up in the box and provide stout run support or cover his deep hash with great range and ball skills. His great physicality and special-teams play should get this ESPNU 150 safety on the field early.
Don't be surprised if: The 213-pound, bruising Wilkerson has a very productive career as a Cardinal and turns into a workhorse like Heisman candidate Toby Gerhart.
Commits: 18 | ESPNU 150: 4
The Bruins' goal of closing the recruiting gap between cross-town rival USC just got more difficult with Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron arriving. However, this is a talented top-20 class with a pair of in-state running backs ranked in the top 10 nationally at their position. Under Armour All-American Jordon James (Corona, Calif./Corona) has a great blend of speed, shake and deceptive power. Malcolm Jones (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian) is a strong downhill runner, who can carry the load and wear down a defense. The Bruins also added another potential weapon at running back in ESPNU 150 ATH Anthony Barr (Torrance, Calif./Loyola), who has a nice blend of size, speed and athleticism. However, the No. 11 ranked athlete in the country could also play as an H-back or even on defense. It is important to note that his senior season was cut short by a broken ankle and it will be interesting to see how he rebounds from it. On defense, linebacker Aramide Olaniyan (Woodberry Forest, Va./Woodberry Forest) brings speed and smarts to the defensive front seven. Defensive tackle Julious Moore (Bellevue, Wash./Bellevue) is an explosive penetrator. However, losing Nottingham to Stanford last weekend hurts a position still in need of depth.
Top prospect: James fell a bit under the radar in the early going due to limited junior footage as a result of a hand injury. However, when healthy, this explosive and sudden 190-pounder can hurt defenses between the tackles with yards after contact or on the perimeter with great outside burst and long speed. He should see the field early in Westwood as a complementary back.
Don't be surprised if: Kip Smith (Broomfield, Colo./Legacy) is the next excellent UCLA kicker. Rated No. 2 at his position by ESPN, Smith is versatile and can kick off, punt and has long range on field goals.
Commits: 14 | ESPNU 150: 8
The gang is back together at a program that already holds distinct national acclaim on the recruiting trail. Kiffin has quickly added stability to a potential top-10 class, highlighted by two top-10 receivers in Robert Woods (Gardena, Calif./Serra) and Kyle Prater (Hillside, Ill./Proviso West). The Trojans also have an Under Armour All-American quarterback in Jesse Scroggins (Lakewood, Calif./Lakewood) and plenty of future weapons for current USC quarterback Matt Barkley, with the versatile D.J. Morgan (Taft, Calif./Woodland Hills), No. 1 tight end prospect Xavier Grimble (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman) and California's single-season touchdown record holder in Dillon Baxter (San Diego/Mission Bay). Baxter just recently solidified his commitment to the Trojans, allowing them to maintain all the commits that were on board when Pete Carroll left for the NFL.
Top prospect: Woods recently jumped up our recruiting rankings into a top-10 overall spot in the ESPNU 150. It's rare to find a prospect with his size, speed, athleticism and ball skills. Against top-flight competition in national all-star competition, Woods consistently created separation as a route-runner. The California native has the physical tools and range to also develop into a top level safety.
Don't be surprised if: This small but talented class signs a few more significant prospects -- including a few former Tennessee pledges.
Commits: 30 | ESPNU 150: 0
Steve Sarkisian has created great buzz around the Huskies' program and a promising outlook for future recruits. This class is very deep with improvements in team speed, athleticism and overall playmakers on offense. Physically imposing receiver Jamaal Kearse (Lakewood, Wash./Lakes), load-back Deontae Cooper (Perris, Calif./Citrus Hills) and freakish athlete Melvin Davis (Harbor City, Calif./Narbonne) are four-star examples of this. Quarterback Nick Montana (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian) is not elite in any area, but is a real steady and well-rounded signal-caller. The defensive line has been upgraded as well, led by defensive tackle Sione Potoa'e (Lakewood, Wash./Lakes). Of the Huskies' 30 commitments, 17 are from California, which is a good sign.
Top prospect: Retaining the No. 2 overall prospect in the state is certainly auspicious for the rebuilding Huskies. You would be hard-pressed to find many receivers in this class with Kearse's strength and savviness. Not a real speed threat, but could see the field early as a red zone/jump-ball specialist.
Don't be surprised if: The Huskies continue to recruit well through this year's spring evaluation period. They received their first 2011 commit recently in versatile athlete Brandon Bigelow (Fresno, Calif./Central East).
Commits: 22 | ESPNU 150: 0
Paul Wulff will be back in 2010 after posting just three victories in two seasons. To revitalize the program and retain his job, Wulff must first achieve success on the recruiting trail. His current class lacks any real difference-makers, but is relatively large with solid three-star depth and a few major sleepers. The Cougars have recruited the state of California well, headlined by near four-star tight end Asante Cleveland (Sacramento, Calif./Christian Brothers), who's ranked No. 15 nationally at his position. Look for underrated receiver Bobby Ratliff (Etiwanda, Calif./Etiwanda) to also challenge for early playing time. He's a well-rounded receiver who offers a nice total package at the position.
Top prospect: To land an upper-tier tight end prospect with the state of the Cougars' current program is a good sign. Cleveland can be a physical and effective in-line blocker as well as a good intermediate pass-catcher. His solid hands and blocking skills are a commodity out of high school, which is why we feel Washington State plucked a good one out of California that some fellow Pac-10 teams missed out on.
Don't be surprised if: Wide receiver Kristoff Williams (Antioch, Calif./Deer Valley) provides a spark early in his career as a Cougar with his versatile skill set on offense. Also, it wouldn't be shocking if Cleveland is swayed away by Miami by national signing day.
Craig Haubert is the recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. and has more than a decade of coaching experience. Billy Tucker also contributed to this story.
Six Pac-10 teams are in the top 25, proving the distance between USC and the pack is closing.