Closing Time

Signing Day is nearing with some of the nation’s top recruits undecided and others questioning their commitments. Mike Farrell breaks down what to expect with only two weeks until the biggest day in recruiting.

? We knew the USC class would be the most interesting and exciting to follow down the stretch because so many of the commitments were taking visits. Now, Lane Kiffin is inadvertently helping destroy his own recruiting class. Kiffin waited quite a long time to hire a defensive coordinator to replace his dad and then his new guy, Clancy Pendergast, decides he wants to coach defensive backs on his own, so Kiffin fires defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders two weeks before Signing Day.

Will changes to USC’s defensive staff affect the commitment of five-star CB Jalen Ramsey?

That’s a big problem because five-star cornerback Jalen Ramsey liked Sanders and Sanders was working with super recruiter Tee Martin on players such as Matthew Thomas and Quinton Powell. Luckily for USC, defensive backs Su’a Cravens, Chris Hawkins and Leon McQuay III are already enrolled. While it’s doubtful Cravens would have ever flipped, Hawkins did flirt with other schools. It’s unclear how Sanders’ firing would have affected McQuay had he still been available.

With the de-commitment of Jason Hatcher this week, USC has now lost six commitments from a class that was once No. 1 in the nation. Now, it is ranked no. 7 and still sliding. In addition to Hatcher, USC has parted ways with Sebastian Larue, Eddie Vanderdoes, Max Redfield, Eldridge Massington and Kylie Fitts.

USC could lure Fitts back into the fold, although I think that’s a long shot, and the Trojans could still end up with Vanderdoes. USC is also still involved with some players such as Thomas, Powell and Tyrell Robinson and Tyree Robinson. However, it could be more important for the class to keep Ramsey, Torrodney Prevot and Ty Isaac.

Predicting how it will play out is impossible, but I think two things are very clear: First, USC will still finish with a very quality recruiting class with an average star ranking that will make every other Pac-12 team jealous. But second, the last month has shined a light on Kiffin when it comes to his current team as well as his recruiting ability. USC fans have to be a little worried moving forward about the stability of the program under their head coach. A whole lot has gone wrong for USC since the Trojans were many pundits’ pre-season No. 1 in August.

With the USC topic comes this — a verbal commitment is now only an indicator as to who leads for a prospect more than at any point in recruiting history. There are as many prospects “committed” taking official visits this January than there are uncommitted players.

? We mentioned a while ago that UCLA was going to finish strong and Wednesday was a huge key to that finish. Landing safeties Tahaan Goodman and Priest Willis, long considered a package deal, is huge.

It seemed unlikely that the Bruins could feasibly surpass USC in the team rankings, now it’s a distinct possibility. The race for No. 2 in the Pac-12 is an interesting one and doesn’t include Oregon or Stanford after both finished in the national top 16 a year ago. UCLA and Washington will slug this out until the end, but neither will pass USC.

? I get asked every day about the following guys multiple times — DE Carl Lawson, RB Derrick Green, DB Jalen Ramsey, LB Reuben Foster, OT Laremy Tunsil, LB Matthew Thomas, DT Eddie Vanderdoes, DT Montravius Adams, DB Vonn Bell and DT A’Shawn Robinson, all five stars. Some guys are a little easier to read than others. But it seems right now Green is favoring Michigan, Tunsil is a clear lean toward Georgia, Adams is leaning toward Clemson and Robinson is likely to stick with Texas. However, with others, it’s all about gut feeling, so as of right now here are my best guesses: Lawson to Tennessee, Ramsey to Florida, Foster to Auburn, Thomas to Miami, Vanderdoes to UCLA and Bell to Alabama. Let the yelling begin and keep in mind, some of these guys have official visits left so anything can change.

On the rankings

? There is one guy I think just missed five-star status who will be an absolute star in college? Ohio State commitment Jalin Marshall. In Urban Meyer’s offense, this kid could have a special season.

? Derrick Henry earned his designation as a running back from Rivals.com after his performance at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, but didn’t get his fifth star, and Alabama fans think we’re nuts. We may be proven wrong in the end, but Henry’s situation reminds me a lot of James Wilder Jr. back in the 2011 class. We thought Wilder would be a better linebacker than a running back, that he was too big and upright to be a natural tailback and we had him rated as an athlete for much of the process. However, we flipped him to running back in the end and he kept his initial five-star status. So what’s the difference and why hasn’t Henry been a five-star since the start? Henry hasn’t proven he can play another position like Wilder did (136 tackles and 19 sacks as a senior), so the versatility is not there. Wilder Jr. has been a solid situational back for Florida State with 12 career touchdowns, but he hasn’t lived up to five-star running back expectations. Will Henry prove us wrong? Time will tell.

Quick hitters

? One of the more unpredictable recruiting sagas has involved four-star cornerback Mackensie Alexander from Immokalee, Fla. Depending what day of the week you talk to Alexander, or his brother Mackenro Alexander, it is likely their situation will change. I mention Mackenro because most feel that both will sign with the same school. It has been confirmed that the brothers plan to visit Rutgers this weekend, which was a rather random addition to the conversation about a month ago. Clemson is still seen as the leader, but considering how this has gone so far, it would be folly to pick a leader. Alexander is one player I could see delaying his decision past Signing Day, and I’m not convinced the brothers will end up at the same school.

? Four-star wide receiver Devon Allen has long hinted that if Oregon were to offer him they would immediately move to the top of his list. Well, new head coach Mark Helfrich finally gave Allen the news he had been waiting for on Tuesday, but the question remains, was Allen only interested in Chip Kelly’s Ducks? Some assumed that a commitment might quickly follow, but that has yet to happen. Allen has one more visit set at this time to Arkansas during the weekend of Feb. 1, and while the Ducks are now seen as the leader, the Razorbacks, UCLA and Stanford continue to be in the chase. Watch out for Stanford, especially if he is admitted, and this could end up being an Oregon-Stanford battle.

? Oregon and West Virginia’s battle for Tanner McEvoy continues. Most people assume West Virginia leads, as it’s his obvious destination for a chance of early playing time with Eugene Smith moving onto the NFL. But now with Brian Bennett transferring out of Oregon, could this make the Ducks more of a threat again? Marcus Mariota is obviously still the main man in Eugene, but now, without anyone behind him with any experience, it should be interesting to see if the Oregon makes a bigger push on McEvoy. You still have to think Mountaineers here.

? Four-star wide receiver Tyler Boyd, who is committed to Pittsburgh, is still scheduled to take an official visit to Tennessee. However, the good news for Pitt fans is that Penn State’s late push to get the in-state receiver to Happy Valley for an official visit came up short. Boyd is still considered a pretty solid Pitt commitment despite his upcoming visit to Knoxville, but you never know what can happen during an official visit weekend. The Vols will push hard.

? Despite losing Na’Ty Rodgers to South Carolina, things look good for Maryland with linebacker Yannick Ngakoue for a re-commitment. FSU was hot for a bit with him, but the Gamecocks have been in this race the longest. In the end, I feel he’ll choose the Terps again and play with good friend Derwin Gray.

? WR Marquez North will announce on Signing Day at his school and choose between Tennessee and North Carolina. North Carolina got the last official and are favorites of his parents, but Tennessee has made this very close.

? You’d think Texas A&M has enough potential wide receivers even with the de-commitment of Tony Stevens to Auburn, but the Aggies are joining Florida in going after FSU commitment Levonte Whitfield. You can’t blame Kevin Sumlin for striking while the iron, or in this case Johnny Football, is hot. Whitfield is tiny but he’s electric. The Aggies are also now the leader for former USC commitment Sebastian Larue now that Notre Dame dropped out. But the question begs to be asked — how does A&M have room if all these guys want to jump on board? It wouldn’t shock me if Larue ended up at a school that either just offered him or will offer late.

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