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February 4, 2008

Rivals5: Top stories in California

Rivals5: Top stories in Florida | Shocking switches | Super sleepers | State battles

California was home again to some of the biggest news items of the year. No, the news didn't focus on Britney's crazy life or Paris Hilton's stay in jail, the biggest news that college football fans cared about involved some big time offensive line prospects, the nation's top running back and a significant change at one of the state's flagship programs. Rivals.com breaks down the top five stories in California for the class of 2008.

Rivals5: Top stories in California
1. Rick's back
Rick Neuheisel was named as the new coach at UCLA, replacing Karl Dorrell after he couldn't get it done on the field. The hiring of Neuheisel and the addition of offensive coordinator Norm Chow should shake things up in Southern California. USC has had its claws in most of the top talent in Los Angeles for years now, and with two of the best offensive minds in college football now at Westwood, things could get interesting.

The Bruins were also able to retain DeWayne Walker, which should help the Bruins continue to do some damage with already established pipeline schools in the future. But still now that Neuheisel is back in LA, the battles between the Bruins and Trojans should be fun to watch. Step back and enjoy recruiting fans.

2. Darrell Scott
Last year it was Jimmy Clausen that was the headliner in the California recruiting crop, but in the 2008 class it's a talent running back Darrell Scott of Ventura (Calif.) St. Bonaventure. The 6-foot, 204-pound five-star rusher is the nation's top running back prospect and the battle to land him has been quite intense.

Scott is expected to make his announcement on Signing Day between Texas and Colorado, but since Scott has avoided talking to the media for almost a month now nobody has a real clue as to what he's thinking. With most players, you get a great idea of what is going to happen before it happens, but with Scott there will be some serious drama on Wednesday.

3. USC continues to dominate California
Like in many years past, many of the top players in California are heading to USC. While the competition was much tougher as UCLA, Cal and even Arizona State made things interesting this recruiting season, the Trojans are still top dogs with the top talent in California. Looking at the top 25 in California, the Trojans secured commitments from five of the top seven players and half of the top 14.

USC is going to miss on the top prize in the state (Scott), but it did pull in stud linemen Matt Kalil and Tyron Smith and tight end Blake Ayles should be a big-time weapon for the Trojans. Kalil comes in at No. 2 in the state, Smith at No. 3 and Ayles at No. 5. The Trojans' dominance doesn't end there as defensive end Wes Horton comes in at No. 6 and defensive tackle Armond Armstead comes in at No. 7.

4. Centennial's stellar season
Corona Centennial did everything but win a state championship this season. The Huskies came up short in the Division I championship game against Concord (Calif.) De La Salle, but nothing should be taken away from the job coach Matt Logan did. They finished 13-2 this season and will have five blue-chip players sign national letters of intent on Wednesday.

The headliner in the group is Rivals100 running back Ryan Bass, who is heading to Arizona State. Quarterback Matt Scott is going to be a great fit at Arizona and Arizona State is getting major steals with linebackers Shelly Lyons and Brandon Magee. Centennial is also where stud 2009 linebacker Vontaze Burfict also emerged as a big-time player. After missing most of his sophomore season, he came back and proved he's one of the nation's top defensive prospects.

5. Record-breaking junior
Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei standout Matt Barkley was the first quarterback under coach Bruce Rollinson to start as a freshman since Rollinson took over in 1989. Why is that such a big deal? Because quarterbacks like Matt Leinart and Colt Brennan also played at Mater Dei. Barkley passed for 3,560 yards and 35 touchdowns last season on his way to earning Rivals.com's Junior of the Year Award.

"He's got the God-given arm strength, his vision is impeccable and he has great instincts for the position," Rollinson said. "But it's his passion for the game and his work ethic that separates him. He studies so much film he even spent time with us learning the pass protection schemes so he'd know where pressure was coming from on each play. It's the little things like that."

Barkley is accumulating honors at a fast clip. In addition to the Rivals.com award, he was the first junior to win the Gatorade Player of the Year award for football.

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