The repercussions of USC’s demoralizing 38-28 loss to crosstown rival UCLA appears to have had a balancing effect on the recruiting landscape in Los Angeles.
USC, following a disappointing season that began with BCS championship aspirations, suddenly has serious competition locally. UCLA, under the leadership of fiery first-year coach Jim Mora, has made noticeable strides on the field, and that progress has extended into recruiting.
An impressive list of local recruits converged on the Rose Bowl on Nov. 17, many of whom exited the stadium impressed by the upstart Bruins.
The Trojans are holding strong at No. 2 in the 2013 recruiting class rankings. They only have finishing touches to make on a group that includes commitments from some of the top Southern California-based recruits: safety Su’a Cravens (Murrieta, Calif./Vista Murrieta), cornerback Chris Hawkins (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Rancho Cucamonga), offensive tackle Nico Falah (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco), defensive end Kylie Fitts (Redlands, Calif./Redlands East Valley) and receivers Sebastian LaRue (Santa Monica, Calif./Santa Monica) and Steven Mitchell (Mission Hills, Calif./Bishop Alemany). Unless something drastic happens in the next two months, USC will sign the top class in the Pac-12 despite the scholarship limitations.
But UCLA, with the wave of momentum generated by reaching the conference championship game, has shown that it might be a force for years to come.
“I think a lot of players are going to look that way now,” said ESPN Watch List linebacker Dwight Williams of Gardena (Calif.) Serra, the same high school that produced USC receiver standouts Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. “That coaching staff over there knows exactly what to do and how to use their personnel. UCLA is going to be great.”
To counter, USC has maintained its focus on recruiting nationally. The Trojans’ staff has extended scholarship offers to just four California recruits for 2014: quarterback Keller Chryst (Palo Alto, Calif./Palo Alto), offensive guard Toa Lobendahn (Lakewood, Calif./Lakewood), tight end Tyler Luatua (La Mirada, Calif./La Mirada) and Jordan Poland (La Jolla, Calif./Country Day School).
Locally, however, UCLA has gone a long way toward changing its perception.
Williams’ high school teammate, Watch List cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, was one of the many impressive Class of 2014 recruits who watched the Bruins beat the Trojans. While UCLA has already offered both Jackson and Williams, USC has not -- an indication that, with nothing to lose, the Bruins are getting a head start on some of the city’s underclassmen.
“They keep succeeding,” said Jackson, who has worn a pair of red USC gloves in his games this season. “I know the UCLA coaches are really busy, but they still have time to reach out to me. I really appreciate that. It's a possibility I can see myself considering them.”
Judging by the number of highly rated 2014 prospects watching UCLA-USC, it looks like the Bruins’ goal is to get out early and make an impression on local prospects.
“UCLA has had a strong year and I think it's going to be big for their recruiting,” said cornerback Jaleel Wadood (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco). “A lot of people didn't think the coaches would turn around the program this quickly, so the win (against USC) was definitely a boost. They will definitely start getting more guys. It was a convincing win. I think it did a lot.”
Now, for USC to sustain its recruiting dominance in Los Angeles, coach Lane Kiffin and Co. must convince recruits that the loss to UCLA -- its first since 2006 and second in 14 years -- was just a minor hiccup and not a shift in power.