Got talent? Here is a breakdown of where your favorite college football team stands going into National Signing Day on Wednesday, according to CollegeFootballNews.com (Rankings based on CFN’s preseason team rankings within the conference):
1. Oregon (12-2)
What’s needed now: Defensive linemen. Last year was the big class of top-shelf talent. This year the focus is on a line that needs pass rushers to help boost up the depth. With Terrell Turner and Brandon Hanna gone, Oregon needs as many options and bodies for the outside as possible, and this class will do it. The secondary will get a nice boost at safety for a few years from now; the Ducks are stocked for the near future.
Team concerns: Offensive backfield. Most programs would be crippled by the loss of players like QB Darron Thomas and RB LaMichael James, but head coach Chip Kelly has done a phenomenal job of upgrading the talent level enough so that it’s simply a matter of putting in the next guy. Kenjon Barner is good enough to be another James, while Bryan Bennett has to show he can be the leader Thomas was. A few key stars from the defense — end Terrell Turner, LB Josh Jadu, and safety Eddie Pleasant — will be missed.
2. California (7-6)
What’s needed now: Receivers. The work was done over the last few classes to improve the lines as much as possible, and now the payoff is about to come. The receiving corps is fine for this year, even with Marvin Jones gone to the NFL, but head coach Jeff Tedford is looking to make the big push now with a potentially special class of targets coming in. Landing Scout.com’s No. 1 safety Shaquille Thompson already makes the recruiting season a success for the defense.
Team concerns: An improved Zach Maynard is a must if a loaded Cal offense is going to play up to its potential. The defensive front needs a few new starters, safeties D.J. Campbell and Sean Cattouse are done, and linebackers Mychal Kendricks and D.J. Holt aren’t easily replaceable, but things aren’t that bad. The team’s biggest loss could turn out to be punter Bryan Anger, putting the pressure on Jed Barnett to become a weapon.
3. Stanford (11-2)
What’s needed now: Receivers. Stanford was terrific over the last few years partly because the lines were strong, partly because Andrew Luck was Andrew Luck, and partly because Jim Harbaugh did a terrific job of recruiting. David Shaw brought in a nice class last year, especially for the defensive front, but he has to upgrade the athleticism and speed at receiver. He’s getting enough variety for the receiving corps to come up with a few instant options to help keep the Luck-less passing attack rolling.
Team concerns: All the attention will be on Brett Nottingham and the quarterback race to replace Luck, but the bigger problem could be on the line with left tackle Jonathan Martin and right guard David DeCastro leaving early for the NFL. The program is strong enough to come up with elite quarterbacks, but finding pro O linemen and a top tight end like Coby Fleener is a bit tougher. The defense loses safeties Michael Thomas and Delano Howell, putting the pressure on a few underclassmen to show they’re ready.
4. Washington (7-6)
What’s needed now: Quarterbacks. Everything is fine for the moment with Keith Price firmly entrenched as the main man, and with a good pecking order behind him, but the coaching staff is looking ahead to 2014 while upgrading the depth. Jeff Lindquist and Cyler Miles are big passers who fit what Steve Sarkisian wants to do with his offense, and the receivers will be in place with a good haul last year and a few good prospects coming in this season.
Team concerns: Sarkisian has a good-looking team returning, but the offense needs some skill help with receivers Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar gone and workhorse back Chris Polk leaving early. Finding a few big bodies for the lines with 301-pound left tackle aenio Kelemete and 333-pound defensive tackle Alameda Ta’amu off to the NFL.
5. Washington State (4-8)
What’s needed now: Take a wild stab at what new head coach Mike Leach is looking to bring in. It actually isn’t quite what you’d think, even though a few nice receivers are signing up. Leach is starting up front by signing up offensive linemen to build around for the next few years. There aren’t a lot of top prospects coming in – there hasn’t been enough time for Leach to work – but it’s a huge class with lots of options to play around with. Soon, though, he’ll be going after the passers he needs to run his attack.
Team concerns: Is there a quarterback who can wing it around the yard 50 times a game? The receivers are in place with Marquess Wilson leading a strong group, and the running backs are just good enough to potentially add a little balance, but the offseason will be all about the quarterbacks. The defense gets nine starters back and could be terrific up front with last year’s JUCO transfers about to play bigger roles.
6. Oregon State (3-9)
What’s needed now: The defensive back seven. The Beavers have done a great job on the defensive line over the last few recruiting classes, and now it’s time to work on the backfield, especially the secondary, with safety the key to the season and a few nice-looking corner prospects ready to sign on. The offensive line was worked on mostly in the 2009 class, and now come the reinforcements for three years from now led by Isaac Seumalo, Scout.com’s No. 1 ranked guard.
Team concerns: More offensive production. Sean Mannion appears settled in at quarterback, but the running game that was so miserable has to start getting a push from the line. Two starters are gone up front, and the passing game needs retooling with WR James Rodgers and H-Back Joe Halahuni both gone. Defensively, replacing safety Lance Mitchell will be the biggest job.
1. USC (10-2)
What’s needed now: The bull’s-eye. USC will be in everyone’s preseason top five, and maybe even No. 1 overall, but there’s part of the equation that recruiting experts are quick to point out: the effects of the sanctions are about to kick in. The program might have gotten through the storm, but the scholarship reduction part of the penalty is going to hurt even with a ton of players redshirted and waiting in the wings. Lane Kiffin can sign just 15 players in each of the next three seasons meaning there’s no margin for error whatsoever. Anyone being signed now has to be a starter at some point in the next few years, or else.
Team concerns: The defensive line is the only area of real concern with end Nick Perry leaving a year early and with the tackle situation in need of an overhaul. There are terrific prospects waiting to show what they can do, and there’s enough depth at the moment for a good rotation. Finding a left tackle to take over for Matt Kalil is the only other major question mark.
2. Utah (8-5)
What’s needed now: The offensive line is the target, even though only one player is gone off the 2011 two-deep depth chart. The Utes are building up for three years from now, and this is the class to do it. However, a few JUCO transfers like Junior Salt and Marc Pouvave are massive-bodied blockers who’ll push for time in the rotation right away. The offense isn’t exactly ignored, but there isn’t a big need for prospects with the 2011 class so strong on receivers.
Team concerns: It’s all about getting QB Jordan Wynn healthy. Jon Hays proved he could get the job done as a fill-in, but Wynn is the star with the ability to take the program to a Pac-12 title. Defensive end is the team’s biggest hole with three players in the rotation done, meaning JUCO transfer Sione Tupouata will have the spotlight on from the start.
3. UCLA (6-8)
What’s needed now: Jim Mora is doing a good job keeping many of Rick Neuheisel’s recruits coming in. The Bruins loaded up two years ago and had a smallish class last season, and now it’s about bringing in as many good prospects as possible across the board. The defense has improved over the last several seasons, and now it’s time to work harder on the offense with QB Devin Fuller a major coup, even though Brett Hundley was the star of last year’s class. The defense is getting plenty of bodies for the secondary with a tremendous group of corners coming in.
Team concerns: Offense. The defense was strong last year and it should be again even though starting tackles Justin Edison and Nate Chandler are done. The Bruins have to start putting points on the board and that starts with better quarterback play from Kevin Prince. If he can’t get the job done, there are a slew of terrific options waiting in the wings.
4. Arizona State (6-7)
What’s needed now: Defense, and lots of it. The last three classes under Dennis Erickson were loaded up with offensive talent and firepower. New head man Todd Graham’s biggest job in a short time is to keep everyone already scheduled to come in, but mostly he has to work on improving a defense that came up short time and again. The cornerbacks should be good, the linebackers better, and JUCO transfers Mike Pennel and Jake Sheffield are expected to immediately play a big role at tackle.
Team concern: With QB Brock Osweiler leaving early for the NFL, the Sun Devils need one of last year’s key recruits, Mike Bercovici, to be more of an all-around playmaker than the bomber Osweiler was. The defensive front seven needs an overhaul, especially at linebacker, where all three starters are gone including Vontaze Burfict in the middle. In all, seven starters have to be replaced on defense giving all the new recruits a chance at seeing time right away.
5. Arizona (4-8)
What’s needed now: Players who can run the spread. Arizona was No. 3 in the nation in passing with Nick Foles under center, and now Rich Rodriguez has to find a Denard Robinson/Pat White type who can run his offense. He’s saying he’ll tailor the offense around the players and not the players to the offense, but that doesn’t mean he’s not going after the players he needs. However, this doesn’t look like it’ll be a big class of running backs with most of the attention paid to the defensive line.
Team concerns: Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. Foles is off to the NFL and the top backup options are all gone, so the job this offseason will be wide open to any and all prospects coming in. Even with the emphasis about to go on the running game, a No. 1 receiver has to emerge — Dan Buckner, your table is ready — with Juron Criner gone. The defense has to find two new starting linebackers and needs a shutdown corner to replace Trevin Wade.
6. Colorado (3-10)
What’s needed now: Lots and lots and lots and LOTS of bodies. This will be a huge class with a little something for all spots, especially for a defensive line that has to be the cornerstone of the program’s resurgence. If all goes according to plan, this might be the Big 12’s best class of defensive tackles, while the ends aren’t too shabby with three-star prospects the norm. The offense doesn’t need pass catchers after loading up in previous classes, but a few solid prospects are expected to sign on.
Team concerns: The defensive line. Three starters are gone off a decent front, and while there are plenty of young prospects waiting in the wings, the goal will be to use as much of a rotation as possible. Most importantly, the offense has to score more points. QB Tyler Hansen is finally done as is top tailback Rodney Stewart, opening up the competition in spring ball for both jobs.