Huffman on Pac-12 recruiting: The impact of realignment on Cal, Oregon State and Washington State (so far, so good)

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The Hotline is delighted to provide Pac-12 fans with a regular dive into the recruiting process through the eyes and ears of Brandon Huffman, the Seattle-based national recruiting editor for 247Sports.

By the time Cal took the field for its season opener at North Texas, the Bears knew they had a future in a Power Five conference. The day before, the ACC had officially invited Cal, along with Stanford and SMU, to join in 2024.

So there was plenty of anticipation when the Bears returned to Berkeley and began preparations for their home opener against Auburn. There were also plenty of recruits who were excited to see the Bears coming off their win over North Texas, to watch them play an SEC program and to know Cal had a future in the power conferences.

While the Bears lost a late lead and fell to Auburn, the fourth-quarter collapse didn’t ruin their mojo.

Linebacker Marco Jones, who attends San Ramon Valley High School in San Ramon, is the top 2025 prospect in the Bay Area and the No. 2 prospect in Northern California in his class.

He attended the game and was encouraged by what he saw — and, more importantly, with the future.

“I really like the coaching staff that they have there, and I feel like they are building some big things in the future,” Jones, rated a four-star prospect by 247Sports, said.

Quarterback EJ Caminong, a three-star prospect from Garfield High School in Seattle, had initially committed to play in his backyard, at Washington, before he opened up his recruitment.

In June, he took an official visit to Cal and committed to the Bears shortly after. A few weeks later, the Pac-12 was on life support; Cal’s future was murky. But the ACC move was greeted warmly by Caminong, who is eager to see another side of the country.

“Football-wise, I’m excited to see some of these bigger schools,” Caminong said. “It’s going to be a bigger stage, so I’m excited to face that. But I’m also excited to see some new places around the country. That’s cool to me as well.”

Caminong joined several other Cal commits in Strawberry Canyon last weekend and said he and his fellow pledges are eager for the future.

“I think we all were very relieved and excited when talking with my guys,” Caminong said. “Talking with my guys, we all feel strong and are happy with realignment.”

Stanford will finally open its home slate this weekend when the Cardinal hosts Sacramento State, first-year coach Troy Taylor’s former school.

With its invitation to the ACC secure, the Cardinal opened the season later that day and trounced Hawaii. A week later, Stanford lost badly at USC — the school that opened the Pac-12 realignment floodgates with its move to the Big Ten in the summer of 2022.

Though Cal and Stanford dropped their second games, optimism is high with their destinations secured.

Things aren’t as clear for Oregon State and Washington State in regards to their conference destination.

What is clear is that Washington State coach Jake Dickert and Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith aren’t letting the tumultuous backdrop distract their teams.

Both won their road openers in convincing fashion over Mountain West schools (Colorado State and San Jose State, respectively), and both won their home openers the following week over ranked teams. WSU handled Wisconsin and OSU thumped UC Davis, which is ranked at the FCS level.

Despite uncertain futures, the Cougars and Beavers had a significant number of prospects attend their home openers.

Washington State’s collection of visitors was heavy on in-state prospects but included a recruiting from the Bay Area: three-star cornerback Kamani Jackson of El Cerrito High School, who will announce his decision this weekend.

Jackson looked ready to stay in-state and sign with either San Diego State or San Jose State before the Cougars swooped in with an offer.

He has always wanted to play in the Pac-12. While the future of the conference is uncertain, WSU’s allure hasn’t been impacted. The Cougars are the favorite to land Jackson. He raved about the coaches, fans and energy inside Martin Stadium.

Dickert, now in his second year as the permanent coach, isn’t acting like the situation is fraught; he’s coaching and recruiting with the same energy that has endeared himself to Cougars fans.

Meanwhile, Oregon State went to Silicon Valley and whacked San Jose State in its opener; now, the Beavers are trying to flip one of SJSU’s top commits.

Athlete Jabari Mann, a three-star recruit from Serra High School in San Mateo, committed to the Spartans in February. But after his stellar play early in the prep season, Mann received a scholarship offer from the Beavers.

Now, the process is moving quickly. Mann will take his official visit this weekend when the Beavers host San Diego State. The uncertainty looming over Oregon State’s future home isn’t an issue for him — or, it seems, for the Beavers’ recruiting efforts in general.

They welcomed the No. 1 player in the state (in the 2025 class) to campus last weekend: Baron Naone, a four-star athlete from West Linn High School. He’s an OSU legacy whose father, Charlie, played for the Beavers.

And this weekend, the No. 2 player in the state (in the 2025 class) will visit: Zhaiel Smith, a three-star receiver from Central Catholic.

Top players from across the region are eager to see the Beavers play. Smith and director of player personnel Cole Moore haven’t let the uncertainty of their future home damper their recruiting efforts.

Perhaps the finest coach the Pac-12 has ever known, John Wooden, once said, “Never mistake activity for achievement.”

In this case, both the Beavers and Cougars are staying active while trying to achieve the goal Cal and Stanford have already accomplished.

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