Utah and USC were battling to stay out of last place in the Pac-12 Conference recruiting rankings when the college football early signing period opened Wednesday morning. One team closed strongly and shot up the rankings, while the other sputtered at the December checkpoint.
The Trojans briefly moved ahead of Utah with the signing of Lawndale High defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu. He chose to join his brother at USC over several other offers, including Utah.
But that would be the Trojans’ last new addition to their class. They missed out on Upland linebacker Justin Flowe and Rancho Cucamonga quarterback CJ Stroud, and a late push couldn’t bring Santa Ana Mater Dei quarterback Bryce Young into the fold after he flipped to Alabama in September.
They also failed to flip a number of players who took official visits to USC in the month leading up to the signing period. Harbor City Narbonne linebacker Jordan Banks, Arizona defensive lineman Regan Terry, Hawaii linebacker Muelu Iosefa, Florida receiver Elijah Canion and New Jersey safety Jordan Morant all chose to stick with their original commitments, leaving the Trojans with the 79th-ranked recruiting class.
Things went the other way for the Utes.
They had already started December strongly, picking up late commitments from Corona Roosevelt defensive back Kenzel Lawler and Utah offensive lineman Alex Harrison and flipping running back Ty Jordan from his pledge to Texas. They also added graduate transfer quarterback Jake Bentley, a three-year starter at South Carolina before missing this season following a foot injury in the opener.
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Then Utah got even more commitments during the signing period. Former Texas Longhorns four-star defensive line commit Van Fillinger briefly became the top prospect in the class when he signed Wednesday. The Utes also signed previously uncommitted three-star prospects Connor O’Toole, Nate Ritchie and Sione Fotu.
Clark Phillips III waited an extra day. The La Habra High cornerback chose to sign his letter of intent on his birthday. He had pledged to Ohio State in June, but Phillips flipped to the Utes. Four-star defensive lineman Xavier Carlton and Hawaiian offensive lineman Solatoa Moea’i also signed Thursday.
Phillips is unquestionably the centerpiece of the Utes’ class. The No. 47 overall prospect and No. 4 cornerback in the nation is the highest-ranked high school recruit to sign with Utah in the modern recruiting era, and he pushed the Utes into new territory, moving them to No. 32 in the national rankings. The highest the Utes have finished is No. 33.
Pac-12 settles in SoCal
Through the first two days of the December early signing period, 103 Southern California high school prospects signed with Football Bowl Subdivision schools. Pac-12 schools snagged 53 of those, with the most notable coming from Oregon when it signed Flowe, the Southland’s top-ranked player, in a nationally televised ceremony.
The Ducks signed five high school prospects from Southern California, as did Arizona State, Stanford and Washington State. California and Washington each signed seven prospects from the area to lead the Pac-12. UCLA and USC combined to sign seven players from local high schools, with the Trojans getting four and Bruins three. Arizona was the only Pac-12 school to sign fewer from the area.
Fourteen Southern California high school prospects signed with Power Five conference schools outside the Pac-12. Kansas led the way with three Southland prospects after getting Lawndale quarterback Jalon Daniels to flip his commitment to Middle Tennessee State, leaving Navy as the only Group of Five conference school to sign a Southern California prospect.
Independents Army and Brigham Young also dipped into Southern California, with the Black Knights getting four signatures from the area and the Cougars signing a pair.