USC, UCLA football arm for a big battle with Big Ten on horizon


Editor’s note: This is the Thursday, Dec. 22. edition of the “Game Day with Kevin Modesti” newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.


As USC and UCLA get ready to wrap up successful football seasons in bowl games, they’re taking steps toward even better years ahead by completing strong recruiting classes. We’ll look at how strong they are after a glance at the news.

• The Clippers, healthy at last, scored a season-high 126 in a win over the Charlotte Hornets.

• The Lakers have given up 130-plus points in consecutive losses after falling in Sacramento.

• The Ducks looked tame against the Wild in the first of 10 straight home games.

• UCLA’s men’s basketball team capped its nonconference schedule by crushing UC Davis.

• USC beat Colorado State in Phoenix for its sixth win in a row.

• Columnist Jim Alexander caught up with former UCLA coach Steve Lavin, who is back from “sabbatical” and now coaching the University of San Diego.

• Baseball columnist J.P. Hoornstra wonders where MLB is headed with these long-, long-term contracts.

• Former La Habra High, San Diego State and Denver Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman has died at 31 from cancer.

Yesterday was national signing day, the first chance for high school players to officially commit to colleges, and USC coach Lincoln Riley and UCLA coach Chip Kelly did very well.

The Trojans’ 20-man high school recruiting class, headed by quarterback Malachi Nelson (Los Alamitos High) and receivers Makai Lemon (Los Al) and Zachariah Branch (Bishop Gorman), ranks 15th in the nation, according to the widely quoted 247Sports.com.

USC’s ranking is an improvement from 70th a year ago, when Riley focused less on high school recruiting than on using the college transfer portal to jump-start the program in his first season, a strategy that paid off in an 11-2 record and No. 8 national ranking going into the Jan. 2 Cotton Bowl against Tulane.

Read all about USC recruiting in Adam Grosbard’s story and more about Nelson and Lemon in Dan Albano’s story.

The Bruins’ 14-man recruiting class, topped by quarterback Dante Moore (Detroit King High) and receivers Jeremiah McClure (Chula Vista’s Mater Dei Catholic) and Grant Gray (Norco), is ranked 37th in the nation by 247Sports.

The ranking is up from 61st a year ago, which was before UCLA continued its improvement on the field by going 9-3 with a No. 18 national ranking going into the Dec. 30 Sun Bowl with Pitt.

Reporter James Williams has more on UCLA’s recruits and the significance Kelly attaches to the fact that six of them played on championship teams as seniors.

As Williams noted earlier, this is the first recruiting class since UCLA’s and USC’s athletic programs announced they’re moving from the Pac-12 Conference to the Big Ten beginning in the fall of 2024, so these young Bruins and Trojans will spend most of their college careers in the conference of Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.

Columnist Mirjam Swanson points out that playing a Big Ten schedule appeals to a young man like Moore – that, plus the appeal of going to school in L.A., with the opportunities here for name, image and likeness earning power.

Swanson ends with the challenge the Bruins face in the years ahead: They’ll have to pull in more recruiting classes like this or better.

“They’ll need to if they’re going to keep pace with the Trojans or make a dent nationally as a member of the Big Ten,” Swanson writes. “They’ll need to do a heck of a lot of it.”

True.

Compared to other Pac-12 schools, USC’s recruiting class ranks second behind Oregon, and UCLA’s ranks fifth behind those teams and Utah and Washington.

But compared to the current Big Ten schools, USC’s recruits would rank only third behind Ohio State and Penn State (though ahead of Michigan), and UCLA’s only seventh, behind all of those plus Michigan State, Nebraska and Maryland.

The Trojans and Bruins are getting better.

But starting in 2024, so is the competition.

For more national signing day coverage, see the stories on local high school stars’ decisions in the Daily News, Tribune, Daily Breeze, Press-Telegram and Press-Enterprise.

TODAY

The Kings, winners of three in a row, host the Calgary Flames in the first of back-to-back games (7:30 p.m., BSW). Preview.

READERS REACT

The newsletter asked: If you’re a Rams fan, are you happy that former Rams quarterback Jared Goff is having success in Detroit?

Reader MrJLeather’s response was like most: “Any human being should be happy for another’s success. Football is a game, entertainment and a hobby for fans. For the players it is their livelihood, we should hope everyone in the league has a level of success. Good for Goff!”

NEXT QUESTION

Should USC’s and UCLA’s move from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten starting in 2024 make the schools more attractive places to play football? Share your thoughts by email (KModesti@scng.com) or on Twitter (@KevinModesti).

280 CHARACTERS

“Right now, the Lakers are playing Wenyen, Lonnie, Max Christie, Dennis and Troy Brown in a lineup, and this group took a 22-19 lead just now.” – Kyle Goon (@KyleGoon) before the Lakers, without Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook and Austin Reaves, lost the lead and the game to the Kings last night.

1,000 WORDS

Teamwork: UCLA forward Adem Bona, left, sets an effective screen for guard Tyger Campbell, who drives past UC Davis guard Ty Johnson in the first half of the Bruins’ win yesterday at Pauley Pavilion. The photo is by Jayne Kamin-Oncea for Getty Images.

LET’S TALK

Thanks for reading the newsletter. Send suggestions, comments and questions by email at KModesti@scng.com and via Twitter @KevinModesti.


Editor’s note: Thanks for reading the “Game Day with Kevin Modesti” newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.



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