September 12, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian greets defensive tackle Delvon Simmons (52) after a defensive play against the Idaho Vandals during the first half at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
With the Sunday afternoon bombshell that Steve Sarkisian has been told by USC to take a leave of absence, many UCLA fans have begun to wonder about the impact that the turmoil in Heritage Hall would have on the Bruins, specifically with regards to recruiting.
The best answer to that question is not much in terms of quantity of recruits, but a substantial amount in terms of quality. Looking at the current state of USC’s 2016 football recruiting class and target list (the latter of which isn’t precise by any stretch, but is good enough right now for our purposes), there are five recruitments that are likely to involve UCLA and USC doing head-to-head battle down the stretch and all five involve top-100 national recruits. The Bruins and Trojans will be doing some heavyweight prizefighting for players who would be glittering jewels in either program’s 2016 class.
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1. 5-Star LB Mique Juarez (Torrance, CA/North)
Mique Juarez is, without a doubt, the biggest fish still on the board for both the Bruins and the Trojans. Following up on an absolutely remarkable junior season in which Juarez basically played every possible position under the sun to a very high level, Juarez elevated himself to a consensus 5-star linebacker prospect who draws constant comparisons to Myles Jack.
Juarez silently committed to USC back in January, but that commitment soon became public despite Juarez’s desire to keep that news contained at that time. Since then, he’s stuck to his USC commitment but acknowledged that it’s a very soft commitment and that his eyes are still wide open to potential suitors, namely UCLA. It is well known, though, that Juarez comes not only from an ardently pro-UCLA family, but also from a pretty anti-USC one.
The fact that he has remained committed to USC, regardless of how flimsy that pledge might be, and has not totally opened things up yet speaks to how well the Trojans are recruiting him. But with Steve Sarkisian, a Torrance native, out of the picture for the foreseeable future and unavailable to exploit his local connections to help keep Juarez in the fold, it might be just a matter of time before Juarez thrills his momma with the news that he is flipping from USC to her beloved UCLA.
2. 4- Star ATH Jack Jones (Long Beach, CA/Poly)
Transitioning from the recruit with the most UCLA voices in his ear on this list to the one with the least, Jack Jones is the player who can best be labeled the bellwether of UCLA’s 2016 class. Jones is the type of player that UCLA is sorely lacking at the moment, with a comprehensive skillset that is spookily similar to that of fellow electric jitterbug Adoree Jackson.
While Juarez is a more gifted physical specimen, Jones is the player who would create an earthquake in recruiting circles if he ended up picking UCLA over USC. Jones might as well bleed USC’s colors with the amount of Trojan influences in his life. From his high school football program (historically a conveyor belt of talent to USC) to his family and friends (all lifelong USC diehards, including himself), there’s nothing about Jones on the surface that would suggest that he’s anything but a lock to follow the path that has seemingly already been chosen for him.
And yet… there seems to be the slightest glimmer of hope that Jack Jones might be the long-awaited one to break the Long Beach Poly hex and become the first Poly recruit with offers from both UCLA and USC to choose the Bruins over the Trojans since tight end and Bruin great Marcedes Lewis did so way back in 2002. UCLA was the first school to offer Jones a scholarship, extending him an offer in the summer of 2014 before his junior season after he blew Jim Mora‘s staff away at UCLA’s summer recruiting camp, and Jones has consistently maintained that UCLA has prioritized him far more than USC.
As he sees former Poly stars Juju Smith-Schuster and Iman Marshall deal with being front-and-center for the latest turmoil in Troy, the hope for Bruin fans is that Jones is the much-desired Long Beach Poly recruit who is able to get past his previous immersion in Trojan kool-aid so that he can actually view USC as the clown show that it currently is. If he is indeed that mythical creature, then UCLA very well might be able to grab the commitment of the player who would instantly become the most symbolic signee of the Jim Mora era in Westwood.
3. 4-Star TE Devin Asiasi (Concord, CA/De La Salle)
Long considered a stone-cold USC lock, jumbo athlete Devin Asiasi has recently become a recruit who is firmly in play for UCLA for reasons that have nothing to do with the Trojan soap opera.
The main reason is that USC flat-out recruited over him. Asiasi is absolutely set on playing tight end in college, despite his mammoth 6-foot-5, 260-pound frame projecting better at defensive end or even tackle depending on how much he grows once he gets into a college strength-and-conditioning program. USC, despite knowing Asiasi’s positional preference, went out to Pennsylvania and grabbed 4-star tight end Cary Angeline during the summer, thus pouring quite a bit of cold water on Asiasi’s recruitment and prompting Asiasi to give other programs like Alabama, Washington, and UCLA closer looks. UCLA, in particular, is able and willing to sell Asiasi on the Bruins’ need for a large, in-line tight end after the (comical) departure of Chris Clark from the program.
Asiasi also happens to be the high school teammate and close friend of one of UCLA’s highest-priority targets in this class, 4-star nose tackle Boss Tagaloa. With Tagaloa leaning very heavily to UCLA at the moment, the Bruins are likely to have a powerful ally in their corner while recruiting Asiasi for the next few months.
Strangely enough, the current turmoil at USC might actually end up working against UCLA when it comes to Asiasi’s recruitment. USC is likely to see the most negative repercussions from its current state of affairs manifest themselves with the Trojans’ out-of-state recruits, who are presumably considering and/or committing to USC for the current staff and program rather than as an inevitable result of the Trojan kool-aid chugging indoctrination most local youngsters endure. Consequently, it is very easy to foresee a scenario unfold in which Angeline decides that he no longer wants to travel all the way across the country to play at USC and decommits, allowing Asiasi to slot into USC’s class as its lone tight end, as he wanted to be all along.
4. 4-Star DB Lamar Jackson (Elk Grove, CA/Franklin)
Jackson, an imposing player who is physically reminiscent of 2015 UCLA signee Dechaun Holiday and projects as a ball-hawking safety at the next level, has been considered a tug-of-war recruit between UCLA and USC since his recruitment began to take off in the spring.
Jackson’s recruitment has been far more straight-forward and less dramatic than those of the rest of the players on this list. He’s had a consistent list of favorites and is content to play out the process with minimal amounts of upheaval until he’s 100% sure about where he wants to go.
While Jackson has an extremely close relationship with UCLA defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin, he is thought to be far more enamored with the USC program as a whole. Jackson is definitely a recruit who could swing from a USC lean to a UCLA lean if USC absolutely implodes in the aftermath of the turmoil that has defined its 2015 season to date, but an implosion is probably what it would take to get Jackson out of the clutches of the Trojans.
5. 4-Star WR Theo Howard (Westlake Village, CA/Westlake)
We’ve saved the most likely Bruin for last, as Theo Howard has been considered a heavy UCLA lean (by everyone who isn’t part of the Trojan bandwagon at 24/7 Sports, that is) ever since his decommitment from Oregon two months ago.
To that end, his borderline giddy reaction to the Sarkisian drama at USC has done nothing to dispel the notion that Howard, whose speed and explosiveness are an absolute sight to behold, is headed from Westlake to Westwood fairly soon. Howard has gone out of his way to chronicle the recruiting hits USC has taken in the last 24 hours and mock USC commits (H/T @TheArmoTrader) for choosing the Trojans. The evidence suggests that the USC drama has sealed the deal with Howard to UCLA, which would give the Bruins wide receiving corps a much-needed infusion of pure speed on the outside.