Top Landing Spots for DJ Uiagalelei, CFB's No. 1 QB Recruit for 2020
After a down year when it comes to elite quarterback recruiting in 2019, the next cycle looks like it’s going to be rich with ability.
The best signal-caller in the country according to the 247Sports composite rankings is 6’4″, 240-pound St. John Bosco (California) Preparatory School prospect DJ Uiagalelei, whose recruitment already is as hot as anybody’s was in this year’s class.
Virtually everybody in the country wants the pro-style quarterback, from SEC powers Alabama, Georgia and LSU to national champion Clemson to everybody out west in Pac-12 country.
In a year that already has seen top prospects like Harrison Bailey (Tennessee), Jack Miller (Ohio State), Max Johnson and TJ Finley (LSU), Drew Pyne (Notre Dame) and Deuce Hogan (Iowa) come off the board, the pursuit of Uiagalelei is only going to get hotter.
In the end of December, he named a top seven of Oklahoma, LSU, Oregon, Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and Mount San Antonio College.
Since it would be a shocker to see him go to Mt. SAC (his two uncles coach there, per 247Sports’ Greg Biggins, and its inclusion seems more like a shout-out than anything), we’ll look at the other six choices plus a couple of wild cards that most sense for the elite signal-caller’s college destination.
Some of them may surprise you.
8. LSU Tigers
Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
LSU coach Ed Orgeron isn’t playing around anymore when it comes to quarterback recruiting.
It’s been a long, lonesome march through the wilderness for the Bayou Bengals at the position, and the program has struggled to develop signal-callers since the Les Miles era. But Orgeron is known for his recruiting acumen, and that’s beginning to bleed through at the all-important quarterback position, too.
Johnson’s father is longtime NFL quarterback Brad Johnson, who went to Florida State. The younger Johnson is the No. 5 pro-style QB in the 2019 class.
Then there’s Finley, a 6’6″, 233-pound gunslinger who chose to stay in the Boot, much like many of his other high school counterparts. He’s from Ponchatoula High School in Louisiana.
That doesn’t mean the Tigers are out of the running for Uiagalelei, though. Or, at least, the elite signal-caller hasn’t said so.
When you’re as good as Uiagalelei, you don’t let competition scare you away. And while it’s hard to envision the Tigers signing three quarterbacks in a class, Uiagalelei is good enough for LSU to cut ties with one of the other two. If he wants in the boat, you let down the gate.
This is Joe Burrow’s last year on the Bayou, so there will be a flashing vacancy sign at the position. The leg work already has been done at quarterback for the ’20 class, but you don’t stop recruiting players of Uiagalelei’s ilk.
7. USC Trojans
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Way back before the worst of the troubles started for Clay Helton and the USC Trojans, it looked like they were the favorite to land the quarterback’s services, at least according to recruiting experts.
The first eight 247Sports Crystal Ball projections for Uiagalelei went to the home-state Trojans.
Then came the bowl-less ’18 season, the struggles of freshman JT Daniels, the uncertainty surrounding Helton’s tenure, the firing of offensive coordinator Tee Martin, the hiring of Kliff Kingsbury to replace him and Kingsbury’s decision to leave before he ever coached a game to be the Arizona Cardinals head coach.
All that probably factored into Uiagalelei not putting USC in his top seven. Nobody said it was his “final” seven, though.
The only question that remains is, with quarterbacks normally committing early, is there enough time for Helton and Co. to convince Uiagalelei the program is heading in the right direction? Winning will do it, sure, but if Uiagalelei escalates his timeline, it may be too late for the Trojans.
If there’s any good news in this, it’s the proximity to home and the fact that Daniels’ freshman year won’t strike fear into prospects’ hearts.
There’s something to be said for being the guy to help resurrect a once-proud program, and that could be something Helton pitches to try to lure Uiagalelei to Los Angeles. Maybe he’ll hit it off with new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, too.
Helton has to try; Uiagalelei is the kind of player who can turn around the program. The Trojans should be in that living room and at the high school every time they’re allowed and make him tell them no.
6. Texas Longhorns
Butch Dill/Associated Press
The other team on the list that wasn’t on Uiagalelei’s top seven but probably should have been because of the trajectory of the program and the need at the position is Texas.
This will be Sam Ehlinger’s junior season, and while he is the kind of talent who can leave early, he also has a lifelong love of the Texas Longhorns that may keep him in Austin for two more seasons.
Even if that is the case, what better way for Uiagalelei to start his career than to learn under somebody who loves the school so much and has played big on the field?
Before you talk about distance from home, look at the other contenders on the prospect’s list.
Also, look at the immense success Texas coach Tom Herman has experienced in California in the past cycle, landing transfer Bru McCoy, elite linebacker De’Gabriel Floyd, elite safety Chris Adimora and outside linebacker Caleb Johnson.
Herman is winning battles in California. Can he convince Uiagalelei that Texas is the place for him?
One thing going against the Horns is Herman’s pedigree when it comes to quarterbacks. Most of the prospects he’s helped develop were dual-threat signal-callers during his days as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator and the head coach at Houston and Texas.
Uiagalelei has to notice that. He is a traditional dropback passer who isn’t going to move the pocket much with his feet but possesses the natural ability to weave away from pressure and make every pass you’d want a quarterback to make.
Despite not being the kind of quarterback Herman normally molds, Uiagalelei needs to see the Longhorns as a program on the rise, and he’s the kind of talent around which you alter your offense. If that works both ways, you keep going after him. He’s had a Texas offer since April, after all.
5. Alabama Crimson Tide
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The Alabama Crimson Tide are still in the thick of this race, and they have an ace up their sleeve in elite quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and his brother, Taulia, who is coming to the school in 2019.
Both are Polynesian quarterbacks, like Uiagalelei (who is Samoan), and the elder Tagovailoa speaks highly of his time at Alabama. The Tagovailoa family even moved to Alabama. There is a bit of history in place that shows that the program understands the culture and heritage.
Uiagalelei will have some similarities to discuss with the Tagovailoa brothers on visits to Tuscaloosa. But their presence can also be a deterrent in his recruitment. Why? They’re both really good.
While this could be Tua’s final year with the Crimson Tide since the Heisman Trophy runner-up is entering his junior season, Taulia is an incoming freshman. Coach Nick Saban also brought in another 4-star quarterback in the 2019 class, and that’s Paul Tyson, the great-grandson of legendary UA coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.
With the younger Tagovailoa and Tyson set to have a one-year head start in the strength and conditioning program (as well as learning the offense), will Uiagalelei see that as a roadblock to playing time?
Saban is a master recruiter, and he can point to the recent quarterback battle between upperclassman Jalen Hurts and sophomore Tua Tagaovailoa as evidence he’s going to play the best player, regardless of class. With the elder Tagovailoa not relinquishing the starting job to a freshman in ’19, it’ll be a clean slate in ’20.
Don’t discount the Tide in this battle, and if they can convince Uiagalelei he’s the player they want to lead the program, he may just listen.
4. Oklahoma Sooners
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What quarterback wouldn’t want to play for Oklahoma?
The Sooners are a factory for producing Heisman Trophy winners. Neither Baker Mayfield nor Kyler Murray was homegrown, though, even though both realized their potential in Lincoln Riley-led offenses.
The 2019 season will feature another potential Heisman threat in Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts.
With rising sophomore Tanner Mordecai on the roster and 5-star prospect Spencer Rattler coming in, there’s talent behind Hurts, as well. Rattler, especially, should provide Sooners fans a ton of excitement.
He isn’t the biggest and doesn’t have the strongest arm, but his accuracy and athleticism are quality attributes.
Still, Uiagalelei wouldn’t be entering a situation wherein there’s somebody with a ton of starting experience unless Hurts gets hurt in 2019. That should be attractive to an elite signal-caller, even if Rattler has a ton of ability.
If you believe in yourself, you should think you could step into a wide-open competition and win it, and the depth chart in Norman is fairly slim. Those are factors that favor the Sooners, plus if Uiagalelei lands in the Southwest, he won’t be as far from home as if he goes to Alabama, Clemson or elsewhere.
Never underestimate Riley’s ability to produce dynamic quarterbacks, which makes for a strong recruiting pitch. The Sooners would love a 2020 battle between Rattler and Uiagalelei for the starting gig in the post-Hurts era.
3. Georgia Bulldogs
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If Uiagalelei wants to play in the SEC, he doesn’t need to go to Alabama or LSU; Georgia has the perfect setup for him in Athens with all the talent and not as much competition.
The quarterback on campus right now—Jake Fromm—doesn’t get nearly enough credit, but all he’s done is beat out 5-stars Jacob Eason and Justin Fields, who have since transferred.
Nobody’s usurping Fromm during the rest of his days at the helm of the offense. But how much longer will he be around?
The rising junior could depart after the 2019 season if he builds on his first two years, which would leave an opportunity for Uiagalelei to step in and start. Even if Fromm stays through his senior season, Uiagalelei could learn under him before being handed the reins.
It’s an intriguing proposition, and Georgia is at least on his mind.
“How good of players they get there every year and how they are always in the run to win a national championship,” Uiagalelei told DawgNation’s Jeff Sentell on why UGA made the cut.
“There is a lot to like about Georgia first, and it has nothing to do with Fields transferring either. I don’t really care about the depth chart part. I liked Georgia when [Fromm and Fields] were both there.”
He may not be worried about the depth chart, but the lure of early playing time has to be a big deal. Also, he said playing for a national championship is important, too, and the way the Bulldogs are recruiting lends itself to that.
Kirby Smart has landed some of the best players in the country over the past three years, and it would mark another muscle-flexing moment to get Uiagalelei in red and black.
2. Oregon Ducks
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Another ideal option for Uiagalelei is Oregon, a program that’s perhaps the most up-and-coming in the Pac-12.
With the league in a bit of a down cycle, it needs an injection of talent, and Oregon coach Mario Cristobal is doing just that. He brought in a 2019 class that ranked first in the league and seventh nationally and featured a 5-star prospect and 11 4-stars.
The Ducks usually have a bunch of Polynesian talent on the roster, and Uiagalelei will walk into a primo situation if he heads to Eugene for college.
Cristobal is loading up with California kids, and though Uiagalelei has just one crystal ball prediction for Oregon, he should at least consider going there.
Justin Herbert is returning to UO for his senior season, and he’ll probably be a high pick in next year’s NFL draft, leaving behind a hole to fill. With Braxton Burmeister in the transfer portal, incoming freshman Cale Millen looks like the most likely candidate to play Herbert’s role.
If Uiagalelei decides to play for Cristobal, though, that would change.
He’s a perfect quarterback to run Oregon’s pro-style offense, and though Herbert won’t be around because he’ll be an NFL rookie, he’ll still be around the program because his brother is a Duck. Plus, the offense and its players are tailor-made for Uiagalelei to have a seamless transition.
The Ducks want to run a NFL-friendly offense, and Cristobal is developing that pro-style makeup with some spread elements for Herbert. The players around him lend themselves to that traditional scheme, and Uiagalelei is the perfect dropback passer to follow in Herbert’s footsteps.
If he wants to stay out west, Oregon makes a lot of sense for a lot of different reasons.
1. Clemson Tigers
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While there was an early flurry of USC predictions in Uiagalelei’s 247Sports crystal ball, everything lately has pointed toward Clemson.
Twelve of the past 13 predictions were for the national champions, which makes you think Uiagalelei is leaning toward coach Dabo Swinney’s program. And why not? Barring injury or some unforeseen setback in his development, Trevor Lawrence is not likely to stay longer than three years.
He’s that good, and it’ll be hard to turn down being the top overall pick in the NFL draft. Of course, a lot can happen in two years, but Lawrence is as close to can’t-miss as you can get.
That means—if Uiagalelei heads to play for Swinney, co-offensive coordinators Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott and Co.—he may have to watch Lawrence play one season as he’s groomed to take over. But there’s nothing wrong with learning from the best.
Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports last week noted Clemson has been the leader for Uiagalelei for “some time.” If the signal-caller committed today, it looks like the rich would get richer.
The Tigers got a developmental prospect in the 2019 class in Taisun Phommachanh, but Uiagalelei shouldn’t be overly concerned. Those two and Chase Brice would compete to take over Lawrence’s job, and there are plenty of other exciting prospects headed to South Carolina to play for Swinney.
Yes, the Tigers have Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross and Amari Rodgers already in the receiving corps, but their ’19 class features Frank Ladson and Joe Ngata. Elite offensive players are committing to Clemson in droves, and Uiagalelei could follow.
Swinney has things running on cruise control, and if the nation’s top 2020 quarterback joins the Tigers, they could go from the Lawrence era straight into Uiagalelei’s.
Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.