USC Turmoil Means Recruit Shake-Up

It was a day USC fans feared would come but thought never would. Now, the other nine teams in the Pac-10 are trying to pounce on the recruits committed to USC or those that were leaning to the Trojans in the class of 2010...

With Pete Carroll's decision to head to the land of Starbucks, his colleagues in the college football coaching world are now boosted by caffeine, making a pitch to the top recruits that seemed destined to play at USC.

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A commitment list that already features five Scout.com five-star prospects, including the nation's top two receivers and top tight end, as well as the second-ranked defensive tackle and fourth-ranked running back, has now become open season for the rest of the country.

Robert Woods, a Los Angeles native who starred at Gardena (Calif.) Serra the past four years, is ranked No. 1 nationally at receiver by Scout.com, and he committed to the Trojans during the summer. Despite being rocked by Carroll's decision to take the Seattle Seahawks job, Woods is holding steady with his commitment, and in fact, in the last few days, has said he's more solid than ever. In Woods' eyes, he committed to the school, not the coach.

But for Kyle Prater, ranked right behind Woods at second, the Proviso (Ill.) East receiver isn't as sure.

Set to enroll at USC on Monday, Prater went Home to Illinois after the U.S. Army All-American Bowl instead of flying out to Los Angeles as originally planned.

Now, Prater isn't sure what he's going to do.

"He messed up a lot of recruiting," Prater said about Carroll. "There are a lot of kids down here who feel just like I do. I mean, he told me he was going to be there and now he's not. I don't know what to think right now. I don't even want to talk about it anymore."

Instead of being in Los Angeles, ready to begin life as a college student, Prater now finds his phone constantly ringing, with coaches trying to gauge where they could potentially stand.

Dillon Baxter, California's single-season record holder for touchdowns, committed to USC before he'd even started his junior year in high school. Carroll is almost entirely the reason Baxter committed to the Trojans.


National player of the year Dillon Baxter
Like Prater, Baxter thought he'd be walking the campus in Los Angeles wearing a backpack this week.

Also like Prater, Baxter went home, in his case to San Diego, instead of USC, to get his thoughts and plans together before deciding what he'd be doing.

This weekend was setting up to be USC's biggest recruiting weekend of the season. The plan was for 11 recruits to be there, including two commits, and a handful of out-of-state recruits.

With Carroll likely in the Emerald City by the end of the week, that recruiting weekend looks like it won't happen.

Meanwhile, across town at UCLA and in of all places, Seattle, where the University of Washington resides, their big recruiting weekends were coming up. Now each school could see their visitor lists expand.

UCLA already benefitted from that on Friday. When news broke that Carroll was taking the Seahawks job, Dietrich Riley, a long-coveted safety by both the Bruins and the Trojans, hastily scheduled a visit to Westwood, taking his official visit to UCLA. Riley was set to visit USC this upcoming weekend, but now that is up in the air and he's said he may take an unofficial to UCLA again.

Washington, where head coach Steve Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Nick Holt helped resurrect a once-proud Huskies program in their first season in Seattle, also could see more official visitors this weekend. Sarkisian was called over the weekend to gauge his interest in taking over the USC program where he was offensive coordinator, because of his familiarity of the program, but he quickly said no, wanting to continue what he's building at Washington.

Yet expect both of those schools, along with Oregon, to gain the most from the departure of Carroll.

Oregon, fast becoming a national name, has been in on several of USC's targets, including Lache Seastrunk, the No. 2-ranked running back in the nation. Seastrunk was set to visit USC this weekend, after having already visited Oregon, and while the Ducks made a favorable impression, the feeling was that he was USC's to lose. Now Oregon can put the full-court press on and try to woo the Texas native.

Washington, given their coaching staff's ties to USC and to Los Angeles, will try to recruit more aggressively the committed USC prospects they initially missed out on, as well as the recruits who may have been favoring the Trojans.

And of course, UCLA, long in the shadow of the powerhouse 20 minutes away, could be in line to snag a couple of recruits themselves from USC, guys they wanted, but like too many times before, weren't able to land.

George Uko is one of those, the elite defensive tackle from Chino, Calif., who UCLA had in for a visit, while Uko was a silent commit to USC. Uko verballed to the Trojans on Christmas Day, but with Carroll leaving, and more importantly, the potential of defensive line coach Jethro Franklin, a former NFL assistant, going with Carroll to the Seahawks, UCLA could be right back in it for him.


Five star commitment George Uko
Several players USC was heavily recruiting liked the Bruins, Huskies and Ducks. Ricky Heimuli, a defensive tackle from Salt Lake City, was wowed by his visit to Eugene, and is set to visit UCLA and Washington this month, but USC has long been a favorite.

Crenshaw High linebacker Hayes Pullard, the top prospect in Los Angeles, was down to basically UCLA and USC. Crenshaw has been a pipeline of late to UCLA, but assistant Ken Norton Jr. was recruiting Pullard hard to USC. Now the Bruins could be in the driver's seat.

Josh Shirley, the top outside linebacker in the West, seemed wrapped up to be a Trojan, too, like his teammate Anthony Brown at Fontana (Calif.) Kaiser, but the Huskies are hoping they can get him. Shirley took his official visit to Washington the weekend the Huskies knocked off the Trojans in Seattle.

Nationally, Jackson Jeffcoat looked like he'd be a Trojan, too, but the Texas native could end up at a bunch of different places now: Texas, Oklahoma, Houston (where his father Jim coaches) or Arizona State (where his father played).

Most notably, though, is Seantrel Henderson from Minnesota, Scout.com's top-ranked prospect in the class of 2010. An elite, athletic offensive lineman, many thought Henderson could end up at USC, but now Ohio State, Notre Dame and even home-state Minnesota are trying to sway him.

There is the looming clouds of potential NCAA sanctions for USC, though the feeling with many of the 2010 recruits is that those possibilities were there with Carroll, so that isn't as big of an issue.

What will be an issue is how quickly USC can hire a new head coach, and just as important, how quickly that head coach assembles a staff.

With Carroll planning to take, at minimum, offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates and Norton with him, and potentially more (like Franklin), recruits who clicked with positional coaches now need to know if they will connect with the new coaches, or even if they fit in to the new scheme.

Mike Riley, a former USC coordinator, agreed to an extension with Oregon State this week, and will be in Corvallis for the long haul, turning down overtures from USC. Jeff Fisher, a USC alum, removed himself from consideration (and with the emergence of Vince Young and Chris Johnson this year with the Tennessee Titans, it's understandable).

That brings up Jack Del Rio, a former Trojan linebacker and the current head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Once looking like an up-and-comer in the NFL, especially with how the Jags caught fire in 2007 and gave the unbeaten New England Patriots all they could handle in the playoffs, the Jags have stagnated the past two years, missing the playoffs in 2008 and 2009.

Del Rio has said that USC is his "dream job" and that opportunity could be coming sooner, rather than later.

If it's Del Rio, he'll bring the same street cred that Carroll did in 2001, though Del Rio has actually won a playoff game in the NFL. He's also no stranger to the history and tradition of USC, and will certainly have the support of the alumni.

Who he would be bringing in as assistants, though, will be the most important to this recruiting class.

Of course, after the initial shock wears off with the recruits and USC puts in place a new head coach who will probably have some recruiting cache, USC will undoubtedly make a strong run at many of these recruits. After all, high school seniors were in third grade the last time USC took the field with a coach other than Carroll, and USC's success has been ingrained in the heads of most recruits from Southern California and beyond.

So don't be surprised if USC hangs on to many of its recruits, or maybe just loses a couple.

With only three weeks until Signing Day, the USC coaches, whoever they may be, will need to be pulling all-nighters to round up what was once potentially a top-three class.

They'll need the caffeine too.

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