Class Warfare: Top Pac-12 storylines heading into National Signing Day
National Signing Day arrives on Wednesday, Feb. 1. With the Early Signing Period what it is, the pomp of the February signing day has been tamped down a bit, but there are still some 5-stars on the board and a number of blue-chip prospects who will swing some classes one way or the other.
The Pac-12 could have a splashy day. Here are some of the league’s storylines heading in.
Oregon’s late push
Coach Dan Lanning and the Oregon Ducks are on the hunt to improve upon a class that already ranks inside the Top 10 nationally.
247Sports recruiting director Steve Wiltfong recently reported that Oregon is in strong position to net commitments from 5-star athlete Nyckoles Harbor as well as 4-star cornerback Rodrick Pleasant. The Ducks are fighting with Michigan, Maryland, and South Carolina for Harbor’s signature. USC is a major player for Pleasant alongside Oregon.
Harbor’s official visit this weekend included red carpet tour of the track facilities as he aspires to run in the Paris Olympics and is looking for the program that can best help get him there. In fact the Oregon track team had a meet in Texas and the program’s head coach stayed back to hang with Harbor and his family in letting him know what a priority he is moving forward. Harbor toured the Phil and Penny Knight Center, spent time with the University president, attended a basketball game and of course got a lot of time around Lanning and the staff. Looking at the intel, I wouldn’t be surprised if Harbor landed at Oregon with distance being the biggest hurdle at the end.
The 6-foot-5 Harbor is one of only two remaining 5-stars on the board ahead of Wednesday. The Ducks have put the full-court press on in recent weeks, going in-home with him last week ahead of his visit and then, as Wiltfong laid out, treating him like a priority once he landed in Eugene. Lanning and his staff think Harbor can be an excellent tight end at the collegiate level.
While we don’t know much about what Will Stein’s offense in Eugene will look like, we know what quarterback Bo Nix can do with his arm and we know the tight end talent showed last season it could be a major weapon. Terrance Ferguson caught five touchdown passes last season. Cam McCormick, Moliki Matavao, and Patrick Herbert each caught touchdowns as well.
That unit doesn’t figure to fade to the back anytime soon, but the depth is a question heading into spring.
McCormick and Matavao, along with Terrell Tilmon, have entered the transfer portal. Ferguson and Herbert are the only returning scholarship tight ends from last year’s team.
Four-star Kenyon Sadiq has already enrolled and will go through spring ball to give Oregon three scholarship players at the position. Sadiq was one of the biggest movers in the 2023 class, an explosive 6-foot-3 athlete who climbed from low 3-star status into the 247 Composite Top 150.
But there’s a pathway for Harbor to immediate playing time in Eugene, as well as a track situation that’s among the most attractive in the country.
If Oregon were to come out as the winner in both Harbor’s and Pleasant’s recruitments, the Ducks’ 2023 high school class could jump up a few more spots, possibly even get into the 247 Composite top five.
Lanning and his staff have proven adept closers on the trail already. The Early Signing Period last December featured some major wins. Do the Ducks have more in store this week?
Can USC close on another 5-star?
Remember what was said about Harbor being one of only two remaining 5-star prospects on the board? Duce Robinson is the other, and USC has been after his commitment for a long time. USC quarterback Malachi Nelson predicted he’d be part of the Trojans’ class back in June of last year.
The Phoenix (Ari.) Pinnacle tight end is the 17th-ranked recruit in the class, according to the industry-generated 247 Composite. He has everything you want. Production? As a senior, Robinson put up 1,614 yards and 14 touchdowns on 84 receptions. Frame? He’s 6-foot-6 with range and the ability to add weight in a positive way.
According to a report from 247Sports’ Blair Angulo, Robinson hosted both USC coach Lincoln Riley and Georgia coach Kirby Smart for in-homes last week. Those two, the Trojans and Bulldogs, are believed to be the top two in the race for Robinson’s signature.
Angulo also reported that Robinson might not sign on Wednesday. The complicating factor in his recruitment is the allure of the MLB.
Robinson is looking to play baseball in addition to football at whatever college he picks. He’s a prospect who could garner some MLB Draft buzz depending on how the spring season plays out. There’s one pathway where he signs a professional baseball contract and then walks on at a school to play football.
“I want to play both sports professionally,” Robinson recently told The Athletic’s Grace Raynor.
At USC, he could certainly develop into the kind of player who could do either. Lincoln Riley mentored Mark Andrews at Oklahoma, a third-round pick who has been an AP All-Pro selection and a three-time Pro Bowler so far to begin his career.
Winning that recruitment could give USC a top-10 class heading into Year 2 under Riley and another receiving threat to add to a ridiculous amount of offensive talent in Los Angeles.
Is it the Pac-12 for Jaden Rashada?
Has there been a recruitment as wild as Rashada’s this cycle? Hard to argue against it. The 4-star quarterback was widely predicted to land at Miami, committed to the Hurricanes last summer, flipped that commitment to Florida in November, signed with the Gators in December, then never showed up to campus in January and eventually asked out of his letter of intent.
There was the mess of a reported NIL deal — with numbers reportedly entering eight-figure territory — that feels downright outrageous. Rashada became the poster recruit for everything the college football public doesn’t like about the new NIL era. Set that aside for now.
He’s a college football free agent.
And Arizona State is a possible landing spot.
The Sun Devils currently hold a commitment from 3-star Corona (Calif.) Centennial quarterback Israel Carter and have also received a transfer commitment from former Notre Dame starter Drew Pyne. But Rashada would be a splashy win on the trail for first-year head coach Kenny Dillingham.
Dillingham recruited Rashada when he was at Oregon. Rashada’s list of finalists when he chose the Gators had Dillingham’s Oregon squad firmly in the mix. When he left Florida’s class, the question that immediately popped up in Tempe was whether or not the Sun Devils could get into the mix.
That answer became a pretty firm yes. Rashada reportedly took a visit to ASU. And he’s reportedly taken another to TCU. Cal and Washington were both believed to be teams interested in him as well. Colorado and Deion Sanders loom, too.
Arizona State’s attraction is obvious. Rashada would step in with a chance to win the job right away, and it’s a school his father played for. Cal’s interest is obvious, too. Both of its top 2022 quarterbacks transferred, and it can pitch the ability to play closer to home. Washington’s situation would force Rashada to sit and wait a year until Michael Penix Jr. departs, but the Huskies didn’t sign a 2022 quarterback, don’t have a 2023 quarterback, and lost 2021 quarterback Sam Huard to the transfer portal after the season.
Is Rashada interested in any of those spots? Is he going to pick a school this week or take a bit more time?
If the process here has taught us anything, it’s that nothing is off the table. And Rashada’s high school career showcased he’s plenty worthy of taking a chance on.
Pittsburg's @jadenrashada balled out during his senior season.
Dude threw for 3,000+ and 32 touchdowns to go with nearly 500 yards rushing and 7 TDs. pic.twitter.com/5yL11v5plg
— Zack Poff (@Zack_Poff_MP) January 26, 2023
Where does Walker Lyons land?
Utah has its best class in school history already locked up. It’s a program trending toward big things on the recruiting trail, with five of the seven highest-ranked prospects to ever sign with the Utes coming in the last four classes. Two of them signed in the 2023 class — offensive tackles Caleb Lomu and Spencer Fano
Lyons would make it 6-of-8 for Utah.
The 4-star tight end from Folsom (Calif.) was a Stanford commit up until the coaching change, opting to re-open his recruitment once David Shaw stepped down. Lyons is reportedly still considering the Cardinal.
First-year Stanford coach Troy Taylor made an in-home earlier this month. Utah’s staff, including coach Kyle Whittingham, made an in-home visit a few days after. USC tried to get involved. Georgia and coach Kirby Smart went out to visit last week.
Lyons plans to take a mission trip this year, but he’s the kind of prospect teams are keen to wait on.
Utah is pitching the ability to continue what’s becoming a strong tradition of wonderful tight end play. Lyons was on campus for the Utes’ win over USC last October when Dalton Kincaid had a record-breaking night, catching 16 passes for 234 yards and a touchdown.
The upward trajectory of the Utes’ recruiting profile stands to get a massive boon if Lyons chooses Whittingham’s program. Beating out Georgia for a blue-chip talent? That’s the next step.
Does Deion Sanders have any more fireworks on tap?
Coach Prime should have another nickname when it comes to the recruiting trail. Someone needs to find a way to incorporate “wild card” into the nomenclature.
Since landing at Colorado, Deion Sanders has pushed the Buffs into the recruitment of what seems like every blue-chip prospect. There was reporting that CU was expecting a visit from 5-star athlete Nyckoles Harbor. The Buffs are popping up in “Top Whatever” recruiting graphics left and right. They’ve already flipped a 5-star recruit, getting Lakeland (Fla.) cornerback Cormani McClain to flip from Miami and join Sanders in Boulder.
He’s expected to sign with the program on Wednesday, a win on its own.
It seems a little overkill to keep bringing it up, but it’s still worth mentioning that Sanders flipped 5-star corner Travis Hunter from Florida State to Jackson State during the December 2021 Early Signing Period. It was a recruiting win the likes of which no one in the industry had seen. It was a stunner, and nothing about Sanders’ first few months at Colorado suggests he isn’t capable of doing something similar again.
Colorado could absolutely make serious noise in the 2024 class and beyond after hosting a star-studded Junior Day event. Does CU have a loud February Signing Day, though? Maybe, maybe not. There doesn’t really appear to be a Hunter-sized move to be made anyway.
Then again, Coach Prime can steal the spotlight whenever he wants.
Will he do it again on Wednesday?