Will UCLA catch up to USC?
We’ve been asking this for years now, and even as both programs inch closer to national signing day Wednesday, nothing indicates that such a scenario is on the horizon.
So the question has become, “Okay, will anything, even sanctions, derail the Trojans’ run of success?
That’s where we are now. It’s where we’ve been since June.
The advantage in terms of college football recruiting in Los Angeles has not tilted toward Westwood, and by now, that’s a rather puzzling occurrence.
A year ago, the Bruins reeled in the eighth best recruiting class nationally, according to Yahoo! Sports’ Rivals.com. Granted, USC was still atop the country at No. 1, but nonetheless, all signs appeared to indicate that UCLA was making deep inroads. There was, it seemed, progress.
After the Trojans’ sanctioning by the NCAA last summer prompted a wide variety of doom-and-gloom stories, there were a lot of people buying into the notion that the Southern California landscape was altering.
“The program is sanctioned and Pete Carroll’s in Seattle,” they said. “This is a perfect opportunity for UCLA.”
But as we’ve seen in recent months, that’s not quite right. What UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel accomplished recruiting-wise last February was more of a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence that won’t soon be replicated.
That’s not to say the Trojans’ crosstown rivals can’t recruit. But what we’ve learned is that stringing together highly-ranked recruiting classes in successive seasons is rare for most programs.
Which is what makes USC’s success this winter all the more remarkable.
As of Jan. 30, the Trojans rank fifth nationally on Rivals.com’s list of top 2011 classes, ahead of both BCS champion Auburn and national runner up Oregon, a feat that is certainly raising more than a few eyebrows on the national circuit.
Yet, in spite of sanctions, which technically limit USC to 15 scholarships in each of the next three seasons, Kiffin and his staff have trotted ahead and conducted business as usual, for a program accustomed to reeling in high-end talent on the gridiron.
And they can thank the appeal for that.
Because USC is in the midst of appealing its NCAA-levied sanctions, the penalties are delayed until the appeals committee renders a decision. As you can guess, a resolution made available prior to signing day Feb. 2 is highly unlikely, allowing the program to operate in a pre-probation climate.
Kiffin, consequently, will be able to sign a maximum of 25 scholarship players, in addition to the nine early enrollees, all of whom signed financial-aid agreements earlier this month allowing them to count against the program’s 2010 recruiting class.
In short, it’s conceivable that this coaching staff could sign 34 players in one class, which would be the highest total for the program in at least a decade. Currently, they have 26 commits.
Conversely, UCLA has followed its sub-.500 season in 2010 by soliciting a mere eight commitments thus far — a third of the Trojans’ tally. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times last week, athletic director Dan Guerrero remarked that it’s likely that the Bruins will sign just 15 or 16 players this offseason, insinuating that the small class is part of Neuheisel’s larger plan.
For perspective, sanctioned USC will offer at least 30 scholarships, while UCLA may offer roughly 15.
The Trojans, in many respects, have been able to exceed expectations recruiting-wise by solidifying their grip on the Southland, placing an emphasis on keeping the region’s top talent home.
So far, of USC’s 26 total commits, 23 hail from Arizona, Nevada and California, with 16 of those coming from Southern California. Quality, however, has not suffered.
Two of the country’s most talented skill players, Junipero Serra High School wide receiver George Farmer and Crenshaw High tailback/cornerback DeAnthony Thomas, grew up just a few highway exits south of the Coliseum and have given verbal commitments to play at USC.
But it is the 2011 class’s quantity that provides USC the opportunity to swiftly navigate past pending scholarship restrictions.
Kiffin has potentially constructed a foundation akin to Pete Carroll’s 2003 recruiting class, which included future all-Americans such as Reggie Bush, Lawrence Jackson and Ryan Kalil, and a grand total of 28 commits, who served as the building block of a modern-day football dynasty.
The size of the class alleviated pressure in the coming seasons, as Carroll offered just 19 scholarships in each of the two subsequent years.
By signing such a large class, sanctions aside, USC has afforded itself the opportunity to maintain its stranglehold on the region, much to the detriment of its rivals.
In August 2008, UCLA’s marketing department infamously printed a full-page ad in the Times, which read: “The football monopoly in Los Angeles is officially over.”
Those of us residing between the friendly confines of Adams and Exposition Boulevards are still waiting for that day. We’ve been waiting for some time.
“The 19th Hole” runs Mondays. To comment on this article e-mail Joey at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit dailytrojan.com.
Correction: 1/26/11: A previous version of this story listed George Farmer’s high school as “Gardena Serra High.” The actual school’s name is Junipero Serra High School, located in Gardena.