Recruiting 2016: The Year UCLA Overcomes USC?

Feb. 6 -- So many west coast recruits grew up liking USC, and it's been difficult for UCLA and Jim Mora to recruit against that. Is 2016 finally the year in which the USC Syndrome ends and UCLA has the hearts of most of the recruits?

UCLA is clearly recruiting at a very high level since Jim Mora arrived in Westwood. He’s overcome quite a bit in recruiting, many stigmas that recruits and high schools had about UCLA after Rick Neuheisel’s regime. There were probably even some longer-held stigmas that pre-dated Neuheisel that Mora had to beat down.

With the 2015 recruiting cycle, too, you could even say that he broke through a bit in his national recruiting, going to Texas to get the nation’s #1 running back prospect in Soso Jamabo, and across the country to Connecticut to get the #1 tight end in Chris Clark. He also snagged the #1 prospect in the state of Oklahoma, OL Josh Wariboko, the #1 center in the nation from Hawaii in Fred Ulu-Perry and the #1 OL in the state of Utah, Andre James. Despite the Signing Day snafu, you’d have to also give him credit for going into SEC country and getting the nation’s #1 middle linebacker, Georgia’s Roquan Smith.

There really is just one more recruiting break-through left for Mora.
Breland Brandt
Overcoming the USC Syndrome.

Since Mora has arrived at UCLA, in recruiting he’s been fighting against the USC Phenomenon, or perhaps, since this is the UCLA site, the USC Syndrome. It’s definitely an affliction that has tended to affect many prospects in Southern California and the west. Kids contracted the disorder at a young age, when they watched Pete Caroll and USC, and became fans of that program. While Mora has done well recruiting the west, he’s had a tough time trying to break recruits of the USC affection that infected them at a young age. In every one of Mora’s recruiting cycles since he’s been at UCLA it’s been strongly evident. It was pretty bad with the class of 2014, when Mora recruited some SoCal guys pretty aggressively only to see them ultimately sign with USC. Mora learned his lesson with the 2015 class, not putting much time into the recruits that most people knew were destined to go to USC.

It’s a tough thing – when most kids in the west grew up USC fans in the 2000s. Most of the elite recruits in each of the last three recruiting classes were still USC fans when it was their time to be recruited. It’s a tough mindset to break, and Mora will probably even admit that he wasn’t successful generally in breaking that mindset in many recruits from the west.

But the tide looks to be turning.

UCLA has now beaten USC three years in a row. So it’s getting to the point that the Pete Carroll era of USC is becoming ancient history and, for 2016 recruits and beyond, the three most recent years are at least as prevalent in their minds and memories. Anthony Barr and Myles Jack are probably just as recognizable now, if not moreso, than Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart.

UCLA, too, under Mora and his staff, has worked to create in-roads to many big west coast high school football programs and 7-on-7 organizations, and that’s beginning to pay off.

Here’s some proof that perhaps the USC Syndrome is dwindling: In the 2013, 23014 and 2015 classes on the west coast, if you looked at the top prospects in each class in February you would pencil in probably 3/4s of them as early USC leans. The 2016 class is now clearly different. Because of all of these factors, this February, when perusing the just released 2016 Top 100, if you’re looking at it from a UCLA/USC perspective there is definitely a stronger tinge of blue and gold.

Of the 15 west coast prospects in the top 100:

-- Probably 10 of them that are leaning to UCLA or USC early, and conservatively six of them are UCLA leans.

-- UCLA has two commitments in the top 100, USC has 1. UCLA’s two commitments are in the top 50 while USC’s is ranked 96th.

-- The top two overall prospects in the west are UCLA leans.

-- The top three defensive prospects in the region are leaning to UCLA.

-- With the #1 prospect in the west, linebacker Caleb Kelly (Pictured Above), it’s not a matter that he just prefers UCLA slightly over USC; He is a UCLA lean while not liking USC at all, according to sources.

Here are the west coast prospects in the top 100 for 2016:

Caleb Kelly, LB, Clovis West, #9 – As we said above, he’s an early UCLA lean and doesn’t like USC, with the Trojans not among his favorites. He attended UCLA’s summer camp last year.

Breland Brandt, DE/LB, Santa Monica Windward, #12 – Verbally committed to UCLA and really didn’t have much interest in USC. We would expect he’ll get hit hard by the Trojans, however.

Tyler Vaughns, WR, La Puente Bishop Amat, #15 – One of the typical USC types that is long-time Trojan fan.

Javon McKinney, WR, Corona Centennial, #30 -- UCLA was on him early but we’re hearing he’s leaning to the Trojans now.

K.J. Costello, QB, Santa Margarita, #36 – You probably have to consider it a win that a south Orange County kid who grew up a USC fan doesn’t have the Trojans leading at this time, with Stanford his leader. Normally it wouldn’t matter that USC has 20 quarterbacks on their depth chart, a kid like Costello would go there anyway.

Michael Pittman
Michael Pittman, WR, Westlake Village Oaks Christian, #42 – The UCLA-committed prospect attended USC’s Junior Day last weekend. With so many standout receivers in the west for 2016, USC will probably pursue others aggressively and UCLA has a good chance to hang on to Pittman.

Boss Tagaloa, DT, Concord De La Salle, #47 – The #1 defensive tackle in the west is clear early UCLA lean. He’ll probably be inundated with attention from around the country, including from USC.

Dylan Crawford, WR, Santa Margarita, #51 -- The word is USC leads, but that UCLA could have a chance, depending on the decisions of many of the other receivers in the west.

Collin Johnson, WR, San Jose Valley Christian, #61 – Committed to Texas, where his father went and where his running back brother just signed.

Lokeni Toailoa, LB, Rialto Carter, #65 – Toailoa is a heavy lean to UCLA while getting recruited aggressively by USC. We’ll see if UCLA potentially losing Jeff Ulbrich impacts Toailoa and other linebacker leaning to the Bruins for 2016.

Devin Asiasi, TE/DE, Concord Del La Salle, #69. Right now Asiasi likes both UCLA and USC and isn’t thought to be favoring either.

Oluwole Betiku, DE, Gardena Serra, #71. The word is that Betiku likes UCLA and USC, so the arrow is sideways, but we would never bet that a Serra kid would go to UCLA if USC wants him.

Byron Murphy, RB, Scottsdale (Ariz.) Saguaro, #83 -- The feeling is that neither UCLA nor USC is on real short list. It might actually be Texas A&M leading.

Theo Howard, WR, Westlake Village Westlake. #89 – UCLA is thought to be his slight leader, probably over Texas Christian. He attended USC’s Junior Day so we expect they’ll get some bounce from that.

Mique Juarez, LB, Torrance North, #96. Verbally committed to USC.

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