2013 class flies under the radar


When the dust finally settled on national signing day, there was plenty to talk about. Between watching ESPN’s all-day coverage and scrolling through thousands of Twitter posts, there was never a dull moment in tracking the decision-making process of the nation’s top high school football players.

National signing day has been in existence for decades, but never has there been an event that seems to be more suited for this generation than this ritual. Everyone wants up-to-the-second updates, and “winners” are declared immediately based on players who, for the most part, won’t get an opportunity to make an impact on their respective college teams for at least a couple of years.

But the action is always compelling, and this year was no exception. The biggest story of the day was the out-of-nowhere class that Ole Miss was able to haul in, headlined by the No. 1 player in the country, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche.

Though the Rebels were able to crack the top five, the No. 1-ranked class, according to ESPN, belonged to Alabama and head coach Nick Saban, who doesn’t appear to be satisfied with back-to-back national championships. Another “big winner” of the day was Ohio State, which, after posting an undefeated record last season during a one-year bowl ban, brought in a No. 3-ranked class headed by cornerback Eli Apple, the No. 11 player in the country.

Though pundits will argue for months about which school really had the best class, there is no disputing what the most bizarre story of the day was. That honor is bestowed upon running back Alex Collins of Plantation, Fla., who committed to Arkansas but was unable to sign his letter of intent after his mother confiscated the documents.

According to sources close to the situation, Collins’ mother was not exactly thrilled with the idea of her son leaving home, so she took off, letter of intent in hand. Without his mother’s signature, Collins’ letter of intent is not considered valid, meaning something is going to have to give in this intriguing mother-son stand-off.

Collins’ announcement came during the same broadcast that included the commitment of linebacker Reuben Foster to Alabama. Foster had committed to Auburn and announced his decommitment earlier this week, but not before getting a sizable tattoo of the Auburn logo on his right forearm, providing further evidence that the decision-making of high school aged students is sometimes unsound, to put it lightly.

Yes, it was a lively day to be sure. But noticeably absent from the headlines was USC’s 2013 class. Though it is still ranked a respectable No. 14 by ESPN, all the talk seemed to revolve about players who spurned the Trojans, such as Kylie Fitts, Jalen Ramsey and Jason Hatcher. Combine the defectors with the fact that more than half of USC’s class has already enrolled in school, and there was little to be said of USC on this day.

But maybe this is a good thing. Consider that two seasons ago, the Trojans were barely able to crack the preseason rankings at No. 25 and ended the season at No. 6. Last year, the exact opposite happened. USC coach Lane Kiffin admitted recently that the hype surrounding his team had a negative effect on his players’ focus. Expectations have a funny way of impacting performance, and the enormity of last year’s high hopes proved to be too much to handle.

So what are Trojan fans to make of this less-than-heralded class? I say embrace it. Let other schools hog the headlines. That includes UCLA, whose class was ranked No. 12, two spots higher than USC’s. Or Notre Dame, who boasts the No. 4-ranked class after its national championship game appearance in January.

Blue-chip recruits are constantly told how great they are even before setting foot on a college football field. Maybe by being ignored in the national media, this small group of 13 new Trojans can help this team forget about the hype and get to work. The rally cry of “prep not hype” might not be applicable, but that certainly shouldn’t stop this group from doing all it can to reach the top of a different, more important poll in the future.

If they can do that, then they just might make a few headlines along the way.

 

“Inside the 20s” runs Thursdays. To comment on this article, email Nick at nselbe@usc.edu or visit dailytrojan.com.