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5 Things We Learned About the Pac-12 After National Signing Day 2016

Jim Mora

Jim Mora

The SEC is king of the recruiting hill, which National Signing Day 2016 reaffirmed, but the Pac-12 did well for itself collectively in this year's cycle.

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Six Pac-12 programs finished ranked in the top 30 of's composite tally. Ten checked in at No. 47 or better. Four Pac-12 teams ended up in the top 30 of Athlon Sports’ team consensus rankings with eight checking in at 37th or higher.

Related: College Football 2016 Team Recruiting Rankings

The conference-wide results reinforce some widely held beliefs, while at the same time foreshadowing what may be to come.

1. Southern California is Still the Epicenter

USC and UCLA set the pace per 247sports, landing the nation's No. 8- and No. 12-ranked classes. Both finished with a flourish, and both relied heavily on local prospects.

Two California Interscholastic Federation sections — Los Angeles and Southern — are the primary feeders for both the Trojans and the Bruins. Each program is able to use its proximity to tap into the best high school talent from Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange, Ventura and San Bernardino counties.

The rest of the Pac-12 also recruits the talent-rich Southland, but USC and UCLA have been able to cultivate meaningful connections with regional powerhouses like Long Beach Poly and Gardena Serra. Those two schools produced some of the most celebrated Bruin and Trojan signees of this recruiting season: USC defensive end Oluwole Betiku, safety C.J. Pollard, and UCLA safety Brandon Burton (Serra); and USC cornerback Jack Jones (Long Beach Poly).

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2.  Recruiting Success Raises Stakes for USC and UCLA

USC and UCLA finishing atop the Pac-12 recruiting rankings is nothing out of the ordinary. Either the Trojans or Bruins finishing atop the conference come December? That's another story.

USC has not won a conference championship since 2008; for UCLA, the drought's a full decade longer. While both programs are competitive most seasons — USC reached the Pac-12 Championship Game in 2015 and UCLA won 10 games in both ‘13 and ‘14 — their success recruiting suggests underachievement on the field.

Both UCLA's Jim Mora and USC's Clay Helton can expect more scrutiny if either fails to win the Pac-12 with the bevy of talent each has in his program.

3. Stanford's Base is America

Stanford head coach David Shaw said last season that his program doesn't recruit, so much as interested players seek it out.

With its lofty academic reputation, and now boasting football of matching quality, Stanford is an intriguing option for prospects with the credentials to qualify. To that end, the Cardinal have a recruiting base that extends nationwide.

Ten states are represented in Stanford's 2016 signing class, from Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey in the east; Illinois and Indiana in the Midwest; Texas; New Mexico and Utah in the west; and, of course, California.

With three Pac-12 championships in four years, it's no surprise Sanford has such extensive reach.

4. Chris Petersen is Building Washington for the Long Run

Perhaps the most intriguing element of Petersen coming to Washington from Boise State, where he built a successful program into a nationally recognized commodity, was how successful he could be with Power 5 conference resources.

Petersen's Boise State teams thrived with overlooked prospects. At Washington, he has the opportunity to instill that overachieving mindset into top-tier talent. The Huskies' best recruiting class since his arrival two years ago gives Petersen a foundation for something truly special at Washington, which hasn't reached the Rose Bowl since the 2000 season.

5. Upward Mobility is Tough to Gain in the Pac-12

With as much recruiting parity as the Pac-12 has, it's no wonder the conference beats itself up internally in the fall. Consider a program like Arizona State, which has enjoyed a boost in recruiting since Todd Graham's arrival in 2012.

The Sun Devils finished just 6-7 in 2015, and enter ‘16 with uncertainty despite a top-30 recruiting class. Utah, coming off a breakthrough 10-win 2015, finished with a recruiting class rated in the bottom half of the league. Ditto Arizona, just 14 months removed from playing in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Recruiting is only one component of a larger equation — Oregon's won four of the last seven Pac-12 titles yet never led the conference's recruiting rankings — but it’s an important component nonetheless.

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.