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January 30, 2014

Down the stretch for USC




With 15 players committed in the 2014 class, USC can take 19 on signing day. After last weekend's round of official visits, tight end Bryce Dixon was the only verbal commitment in question.

Dixon's family cancelled his UCLA official visit after he took his trip to USC, but that didn't stop the Bruins from recruiting the four-star tight end. UCLA coaches stopped by St. Bonaventure on Monday and convinced Dixon to take that official visit on Jan. 31.

But just as quickly as Dixon rescheduled the visit, he re-canceled it.

Steve Sarkisian, Tim Drevno, Clay Helton and Marques Tuiasosopo stopped by Dixon's residence for an in-home visit Wednesday night, and now sources say further communication with UCLA has ended.

After tweeting, "I'm a Trojan and nothing can change my mind..." the question of where he would be this weekend ended. Dixon will unofficially visit USC this weekend with his teammates quarterback Ricky Town and Davonte Nunnery. Both of whom are also committed to USC. Town will be on campus in 2015, while Nunnery will walk-on.

Whether USC is aiming to take four or five more prospects come signing day, they have plenty of options. Their first priorities are arguably the three best players in Southern California, Adoree' Jackson, John Smith and Damien Mama. After that, USC has also plenty of prospects waiting on the final spot.

There are only educated guesses when it comes to what school Gardena (Calif.) athlete Adoree' Jackson will choose. Tennessee was the most recent presumed front runner for the five-star prospect, but he just dropped them from his final four schools of consideration. USC, UCLA, LSU, Florida remain as possible choices.

Florida has been a favorite of his since childhood and they also offer a strong track program. But Florida is also recruiting from where USC was in 2012. After becoming a perennial SEC power under Urban Meyer, Florida lost to a school in the FCS and missed a bowl game last season. Florida also saw a flurry of transfers this off season, which add to question of instability within the program.

But Jackson did unofficial visit the Gators this summer on his own dime, and Florida was considered his favorite for several months during the off season. It also wouldn't be shocking if decided to be an LSU Tiger. LSU and Florida offer Jackson a similar football and track experience, with Baton Rouge being close to his parents in East St. Louis (Ill.).

UCLA is the surprise selection for his final four. One source close to Jackson couldn't recall the Under Armour All-American attending a practice or game of the Bruins last season. Although UCLA brought down their entire staff for an on campus visit at Serra Monday, the Bruins didn't have in-home visits the two prior weeks.

As for the Trojans, it's been tough to gauge where they stand with Jackson. Before Lane Kiffin's firing in September, many sources wrote off USC's chances of landing Jackson. At that point, Jackson had little to say about USC and with the season the Trojans were having after 2012, there was little to say.

After Kiffin was fired and Ed Orgeron helped revitalize the program, Jackson began to take notice again. However, that's not to say he was unfamiliar with the program to that point. Quite the opposite. Jackson has been a regular at USC practices and games. He even traveled to watch USC play in the Las Vegas Bowl with his teammate and quarterback commit Jalen Greene.

However, just because Jackson has been to USC does not mean he is going to USC. He has yet to finalize his final official visit, and sources say he may balk at the trip altogether. With the twitter handle @AdoreeKnows, it is clear that he may be the only one that really does.

It wasn't long ago that everyone had Long Beach (Calif.) athlete John Smith penciled in for USC. But the five star prospect that is affectionately nicknamed Juju, has recently given the impression that he's strongly considering other schools. He took his last official visit to USC, but afterwards went on unofficial visit to UCLA.

Kennedy Polamalu is the main reason Smith is considering the Bruins, who were once thought to be out of the running for his commitment. Now there's some talk that he might pay his own way up to Eugene to take an unofficial visit to Oregon this weekend. Smith has already taken all five of his official visits, which make that trip unlikely, but telling if it happened.

As it stands, USC is still the safe bet for Smith. With Smith's uncle, Johnny Nansen, on staff for the Trojans, it gives USC a clear and constant line of communication to the esoteric athlete. Notre Dame and Oregon had in-home visits with Smith Wednesday with USC coming in Thursday.

Bellflower (Calif.) Damien Mama is a player that Trojan fans can feel better about; after a few days of drama. Mama visited USC on the 24th, but after that visit, things got interesting. He was originally going to take an official visit to BYU on the 31st, but then he decided to squeeze in an unofficial visit to UCLA before going to BYU.

Shortly after that decision, he cancelled his BYU official visit and scheduled a UCLA official visit. That decision had many experts, who once thought Mama was almost certain to sign with USC, questioning where he would end up.

But then Mama cancelled his UCLA and dropped them from his top four. He's now considering Alabama, BYU and USC, but he hasn't rescheduled his official visit to BYU. He might take an unofficial visit to USC this weekend instead.

After those three, there are a collection of prospects with USC scholarship offers that could fill those final spots. But many who have recently showed interest, or even visited, are unlikely to end up as a Trojan.

Springdale (Ark.) defensive tackle Josh Frazier has expressed interest in visiting USC throughout the entire process, even as recently as this month. But with a new coaching staff and without an official visit, it seems very unlikely that Frazier will be a Trojan at this point. Cornerback Tee Shepard was also a target recently but now it seems certain that he'll sign with Mississippi State.

As for recent visitors, Fresno (Calif.) athlete Michiah Quick was on campus on Jan. 17 but now he has a top three of UCLA, Oklahoma and Notre Dame. San Antonio (Texas) safety Arrion Springs visited on Jan. 24, but he remains committed to Oregon. There were also whispers that Springs took that visit for a free trip to Los Angeles. Daytona Beach (Fla.) slot receiver Charles Nelson committed to Oregon after his visit to USC. Nelson is more likely to be in play than others on this list if USC has an open spot, but no one is anticipating a signing day switch-a-roo.

Since Bellevue (Wash.) safety Budda Baker de-committed from Oregon, there's a slight possibility he could still officially visit USC Friday. And there's an emphasis on slight. The reason he reopened his recruitment was because his mother is ill and he wants to be closer to her. That makes Washington the obvious frontrunner. UCLA is also under consideration, but since Eugene is closer to his hometown than Los Angeles, claims that he is a silent commitment to the Bruins seem unlikely. He visited UCLA on Jan. 24 and could possibly visit USC on Jan. 31.

There are five prospects, besides Jackson, Smith and Mama, that are also still in play, having visited USC or are in line to visit this weekend.

They are: Jacksonville (Fla.) cornerback Lamont Simmons, San Marcos (Calif.) linebacker Fred Warner, Sammamish (Wash.) safety Drew Lewis, Los Angeles (Calif.) linebacker Jabril Frazier and Carson (Calif.) offensive lineman Bobby Johnson.

Some expected Lamont Simmons to commit to USC after his official visit, but that didn't happen. Simmons has been quiet throughout the entire process, but his interest in USC is real. After his visit on Jan. 24, he had a positive review.

"It was a great trip," Simmons said. "I enjoyed seeing USC and California for the first time. Downtown L.A. really stood out to me. It's a great place and a great city. It felt great to be surrounded by those bright lights. I felt like I was at home."

The Trojans' needs in the secondary also make them appealing.

"They have a great want and need for cornerbacks," Simmons said. "They made it apparent on the visit and it's interesting to know I could compete for playing time very quickly."

Simmons will visit Penn State on Jan. 31. Besides USC and Penn State, he's also considering Arkansas, Auburn and Georgia Tech.

Fred Warner has been a verbal commitment to BYU since April 2013, but he's also been recruited by USC all throughout the process. Even after the Trojans hired a virtually new coaching staff, Warner remained a priority. He'll be on an official visit to USC this weekend and currently has a scholarship offer.

Drew Lewis committed to Washington when Steve Sarkisian was there and has shown interest in following his old staff to USC. He doesn't have a scholarship offer yet but he did visit on Jan. 17. If USC has an extra spot, Lewis could get an offer. He he does, USC could be a contender to take him away from the Huskies.

Jabril Frazier also doesn't have a scholarship offer from USC, but the Trojans have told him that he could get one if they have an extra scholarship available after signing day. Frazier has a scholarship offer from Boise State and that's the school he's considering besides USC. He won't make a final decision until after signing day.

Bobby Johnson is another prospect that doesn't have a scholarship offer from USC, but could still end up a part of the 2014 class. The 275-pound offensive lineman is considering an official visit this weekend, but that became more complicated when he committed to Fresno State two days ago. Johnson's recruitment will become more clear on Monday.

No matter what happens on signing day, it should be exciting.

Gerard Martinez contributed to this report


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