Wilner Hotline – Pac-12 Football Signing Day Preview

(AP Photo/Ralph Freso, File)

We’re hours from the early signing period for high school seniors, and the Pac-12 is facing a dire situation that could get even worse.

An unmitigated disaster awaits just around the bend.

The conference is currently devoid of top-10 recruiting classes, according to the 247Sports national rankings, and only one school, Stanford, can lay claim a top-30 class.

How does that compare? Glad you asked.

Number of schools with top-30 classes, per Power Five conference:

SEC: 11
Big Ten: six
ACC: five
Big 12: five
Pac-12: one

That bleak state of play for the Pac-12 comes despite surprising success within California, where the conference has struggled to defend its home turf in recent years.

Four of the state’s top 10 prospects in the prep class of 2022 are currently committed to the Pac-12, with three more likely to follow, including the No. 1 recruit on the West Coast. Cornerback Domani Jackson pledged to USC last winter, then re-opened his recruitment weeks ago after visiting Alabama. But the Mater Dei prospect now appears likely to sign with his hometown team later this week.

The Pac-12’s poor position relative to peer conferences was easily foreseen. Its three heavyweight programs (USC, Oregon and Washington) have all experienced coaching changes, and a fourth school with solid recruiting chops (Arizona State) is under NCAA investigation.

But there are other challenges, including a weak pipeline. Only three West Coast prospects carry  five-star ratings from the 247Sports analysts: Jackson, the Mater Dei cornerback; his teammate, tailback Raleek Brown, who has committed to USC; and Seattle offensive lineman Josh Conerly, who is expected to sign with either Washington or Michigan.

Within that dip in West Coast talent is a notable paucity of top-tier quarterbacks.

The three highest-ranked passers in the Pac-12 footprint are headed elsewhere: Devin Brown, of Draper, Utah, is expected to sign with Ohio State; while Maalik Murphy and Katin Houser, who are from Southern California, appear bound for Texas and Michigan State, respectively.

Equally concerning for the conference: Of the 13 offensive and defensive linemen across the country deemed worthy of five-star ratings, only one, Conerly, is from the West Coast.

That said, there is time to salvage the recruiting cycle.

Oregon’s class is currently ranked No. 31 but could rebound with Dan Lanning in place as permanent coach.

Washington’s class is No. 83 as Kalen DeBoer assembles his staff and attempts to clean up the mess left behind.

USC’s class is No. 102, jammed between Air Force and Liberty in the rankings, because only a handful of players have committed for new coach Lincoln Riley.

We cannot ignore the upturn in Stanford’s recruiting — the Cardinal is No. 13 in the 247Sports rankings — or the pleasant surprise unfolding in Tucson, where Arizona is compiling a top-50 class despite its woeful on-field performance.

But just as the Big Ten needs Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan to lead the way, so does the Pac-12 needs its heavyweight programs to produce top-20 classes.

The early signing window is open for three days this week, followed by a lull until the traditional period in early February.

When all the classes are signed and sealed, USC should be comfortably in the top 25. Oregon might be, as well. And Washington surely will climb into the top 40.

Short of concurrent upticks from the Trojans, Ducks and Huskies, an unmitigated disaster for the Pac-12 could become reality.

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