Top stories in the West

MORE: Counting Down to Signing Day | Announcement Watch | Expert Commit Predictions
The Pac-10 region, especially California, was home again to some of the biggest news items of the year.
No, the news didn't focus on what Kim Kardashian did this week or some other Hollywood gossip; the biggest news college football fans cared about involved another star quarterback from California, the recruiting roller-coaster ride that one of the nation's best athletes took us on and the emerging recruiting power in the Bay Area. breaks down the top five stories in the West for the class of 2009.
1. Barkley's the real deal
Most people believed Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei quarterback Matt Barkley was too good to be true. People said there could be no way that another California quarterback can be this good. After throwing for 3,560 yards as a junior, ranked Barkley as the nation's top player. Then came the struggles on the field – 22 touchdowns with 18 interceptions in 2008 – and everybody started to criticize the 6-foot-3, 226-pounder. But like any good story, this one has a happy ending. When he got a chance to shine on the national stage at the Under Armour All-American Game, Barkley proved his critics wrong with an MVP performance by passing for 237 yards and two touchdowns.
2. Carroll's on-again and off-again commitment
Randall Carroll, the four-star athlete from Los Angeles Cathedral, was one of USC's earliest commitments. He always insisted he would take other official visits, but most assumed it was simply Carroll wanting to take other trips. Then as time passed it became clearer that Carroll wasn't so sold on the Trojans. He took official visits to places like UCLA and Arizona State. Heading into the final week, it looked like his status was 60-40 in favor of the Trojans. Then talk surfaced late last week that there's a chance his mother might not sign his letter of intent on Wednesday, making this easily one of the more compelling stories to follow on National Signing Day.
3. Year of the linebacker
If you needed a freak linebacker, then you headed West this season. Headlined by five-star standouts Vontaze Burfict of Corona (Calif.) Centennial and Manti Te'o of Honolulu (Hawaii) Punahou, the linebacker class in the West was extremely deep in 2009. There are 20-plus linebackers who are ranked as mid-three stars or higher in this year's class. Burfict and Te'o deservedly grab all the headlines, but there are other high-level linebackers out West like Marquis Simmons, Todd Golper and Trevor Erno.
4. Cardinal one of nation's biggest surprises
Stanford's average finish in the team rankings the past three seasons was 51st in the nation, but coach Jim Harbaugh has the Cardinal in line to sign a top 25 class for the first time since 2003. That year Stanford finished 25th, but this year the Cardinal have done a tremendous job not only in California but also nationally. Stanford expects to sign eight four-star players and at least 12 three-star recruits. The Cardinal has to expect big things from star linebacker Shayne Skov, receiver Jemari Roberts and running back Tyler Gaffney.
5. Coaching changes shake things up
It's a whole new world for many programs in the West after coaching changes at programs like Washington, New Mexico, New Mexico State and Utah State have altered the way those programs attack the recruiting front. Many programs, like Utah and UCLA, didn't see changes at the top but assistant coaches moving on has cause a ripple in the recruiting front. But the biggest move came at Washington when it hired Steve Sarkisian, USC's offensive coordinator, as coach. Sarkisian knows he has a big mountain to climb, but his first recruiting class wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been considering UW's struggles on the field.