If there's one lesson to be learned about this year's recruiting process, it has to be you can't count out Lane Kiffin.
Late developments Wednesday led to USC passing Florida for the nation's No. 1 recruiting class - for now.
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At a Wednesday afternoon news conference, USC announced 18 signings. Later in the day, though, the Trojans added commitments from the nation's No. 1 fullback, four-star prospect Soma Vainuku of Eureka, Calif., and from four-star junior college defensive end Marquis Jackson of Santa Clarita (Calif.) College of the Canyons.
Neither has signed a letter-of-intent, but each is expected to sign in the next 24 hours; the point values from their commitments were enough to give USC the Rivals.com recruiting national championship.
Still, uneasy rests the crown. Reports late Wednesday surfaced that offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson, the nation's No. 2 prospect, had not signed with the Trojans. He had announced on national TV earlier in the day that he had decided on USC, but the New York Times - which had a reporter spend a week with Henderson recently - reported that Henderson was having second thoughts because of possible NCAA sanctions against the Trojans.
Henderson reportedly will not sign until after USC appears before the NCAA infractions committee Feb. 19-21. While no NCAA decision is expected to be announced at that time, Henderson's father told the Times that the hearing would provide the family with some sort of idea of what could happen.
If Henderson does not sign with USC, Florida would have the No. 1 class.
Earlier Wednesday, Rivals.com had announced Florida as the No. 1 team in the nation. But as was proven in the past six weeks, things in college football can - and did - change quickly. Behind USC and Florida are Texas, Auburn and Alabama. The rest of the top 10: LSU at No. 6, Oklahoma at No. 7, UCLA at No. 8, Tennessee at No. 9 and Florida State at No. 10.
"Obviously, it was a great day for the Trojan family," said Kiffin, who was hired as USC's coach less than a month ago. "I'm extremely proud of the work done by our staff and everyone involved. To be here for just a couple weeks and to be able to sign so many of the top-ranked high school players in the country speaks volumes about the past and the future of the USC football program.
"Our goal is not to sign a lot of players just to fill spots on the roster. Our goal is to sign players who can compete at the highest level. … We feel the quality of the players we signed is of the highest level."
Kiffin's formula was two-fold. First, he had to keep on board a number of blue-chip recruits who had been a part of Pete Carroll's class. This included five-star prospects Kyle Prater, Robert Woods and Dillon Baxter. Kiffin and his staff were able to keep 11 of the 14 players who had pledged to the Trojans at the time of Carroll's departure.
The new staff then went to work on some other prospects. That included Henderson and five-star wide receiver Markeith Ambles, a former Tennessee commitment. Ambles has sent his LOI to USC.
USC also reeled in four-star prospects Giovanni Di Poalo, Hayes Pullard, Nickell Robey, Glen Stanley and Christian Thomas on Wednesday, completing a sprint to the finish that allowed USC to edge out every other team in the nation. At least for the moment.
Meyer's magical class
Though Florida slipped to the No. 2 spot, it doesn't take anything away from what the Gators accomplished in this recruiting class.
When Urban Meyer announced he was leaving Florida because of health concerns Dec. 26, it sent shockwaves through college football and into the living rooms of a number of the nation's top recruits. The Gators already had assembled one of the nation's best recruiting classes, but many prospects feared what a future without Meyer would bring in Gainesville.
Meyer is known for pouring his heart and soul into the relationships with his players and recruits. Consequently, he quickly changed his mind and decided he would not retire. Instead, Meyer said he would take a short leave of absence - which he said would begin today and end before the start of spring practice.
Meyer's change of heart reassured recruits enough to catapult the Gators to the second-best class.
Florida already was in position to have the nation's top class before Meyer's situation developed. The Gators had the No. 3 class after early commitments from Rivals100 prospects Gerald Christian, Jaylen Watkins, Leon Orr and Ian Silberman - all before April 20, 2009. Throw in additional pledges from Rivals250 stars Jordan Haden and Jonathan Dowling, and the foundation for an elite class was set.
Then, something special happened Jan. 9. On that day, the Gators landed three-five star commitments on national TV at the U.S Army All-American Bowl.
It started with five-star safety Matt Elam.
Elam originally pledged to the Gators early, then dumped his commitment to Florida on New Year's Eve for Florida State. That FSU pledge was short-lived, and Elam announced his final decision for UF at the Army Bowl.
"I'm happy it's over," Elam said at the time. "I made a commitment my junior year. I committed to Florida and Urban Meyer. I'm going to put my faith and trust in him, and hopefully he stays."
Later in the game, the Gators landed five-star defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and the nation's No. 1 player - Ronald Powell. Floyd, the No. 4 player and top defensive tackle, picked UF over Ohio State and a host of others. Powell, a defensive end, selected Florida over USC.
Floyd and Powell said Meyer's personal relationship with them weighed heavily in their decisions.
"Urban Meyer has been nothing but loyal to me," Powell said when he committed. "The fan support, the city, the players, everything is great. The class coming in with Sharrif Floyd and Matt Elam, we're going to do this thing. We're going to win a title. We're going to come in as freshmen, play as true freshmen and get a chance at that SEC championship. After we win that, you know where we're going."
Big movers on Signing Day
L.A. was ground zero for the day's biggest movers, as both USC and UCLA pushed their way into the top 10 in the team recruiting rankings. While most of the attention ended up across town at Heritage Hall, the Bruins signed a special group, too.
UCLA's move up the charts was highlighted by the addition of five-star defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa. He picked the Bruins over Nebraska, Oregon State and a host of other national programs. Throw in National Signing Day decisions from four-stars Anthony Jefferson, Jordan Zumwalt, Dietrich Riley and Josh Shirley, and it was a day that people in Westwood will remember for a long time.
"I really think UCLA has what it takes to turn the program around, and I'm looking forward to being a part of it," Jefferson said. "I like Coach [Rick] Neuheisel a lot, and he was the one personally recruiting me throughout the entire process. I love this recruiting class, and I'm really proud to be a part of it. We're building something special, and today was a day that we'll talk about years later as the first big step for us."
Last year, Ole Miss was in a similar position - outside of the top 25 but in great position to land quality kids down the stretch. And again on this National Signing Day, the Rebels scored commitment after commitment and burst into the top 25.
Ole Miss landed Will Denny, Cordell Giles, Tony Grimes, Delvin Jones, Quadarias Mireles, Vincent Sanders, Cedric Smith and Ralph Williams all in the final 24 hours, helping push the Rebels to the No. 17 spot.
A big reason for the push? Ole Miss assistant Chris Vaughn cleaned up at the 11th hour.