USC on top after Signing Day

If a college football program were to describe its ideal signing day, it would be eerily similar to what transpired for USC last Wednesday. The Trojan football team performed perfectly in what could go down as one the greatest national signing days in USC history. While that might sound hyperbolic before spring practice even begins, last Wednesday meant a lot more than just bringing in the    No. 1 nationally-ranked class.

The excitement and anticipation for signing day reached a fever pitch on Tuesday morning when top-rated linebacker Porter Gustin committed to USC. Prior to the announcement, rumors that Urban Meyer and Ohio State were able to secure a silent commitment during the Utah area prospect’s official visit to Columbus arose. That proved false when Gustin donned the Cardinal and Gold hat in his video announcement, setting the stage for Wednesday.

Much like last year, when Sarkisian and company were able to close on the talented trio of Adoree’ Jackson, Juju Smith and Damien Mama, last Wednesday presented another chance to assert southbound recruiting dominance for the Trojans. They hit on this year’s big three, nabbing linebacker John Houston and lineman Rasheem Green from Serra and coupling that with defensive back Iman Marshall from Long Beach Polytechnic.

After closing on the final five commits — Osa Masina and the aforementioned four — it was assumed that the Trojans had closed out their class. They had one last surprise in store, however. Through blue shirting offensive lineman Clayton Johnston, they were able to add Salesian defensive lineman Kevin Scott to add an exclamation point to a phenomenal day.

Much like Lamont Simmons last year, Scott could be the under the radar prospect signed at the last minute that ends up paying major dividends down the road. While Simmons didn’t have an impact last year, he adds depth to secondary moving forward. The same can be said about Scott, who at 6-foot-5 and 280 pounds can grow into his frame and add versatility to the line.

The influx of talent is huge for the Trojans. In between injuries and sanctions, the roster has been whittled down significantly. The first full class in the Sarkisian era will alleviate some areas of concern. The team won’t fully recover for another year or two, but it definitely helps to have so many freshmen who can contribute right away.

Much has been made about the fact that rankings aren’t always accurate and this excitement might be premature. One can point at highly-touted recruits at USC who never materialized like Whitney Lewis, Cyrus Hobbi and Blake Ayles. However, for every Lewis and Ayles there is also a Brian Cushing or Rey Mauluagua, who were both top 20 recruits when they were brought to USC.

Given the choice between a bevy of five-star recruits and an average recruiting class, every coach in the country would take the highly-touted prospects. Now it’s up to the position coaches and players to fulfill their immense potential as individuals, and as a class.

The jury is still out regarding the effects the players will have on the field, but even more profound than the talent grab is the effect that last Wednesday had on the USC football program’s reputation. Los Angeles is a frontrunner city, and when teams are good, the fan base comes out.

That’s just how it is, and it probably won’t ever change. The fan base came out on Wednesday — students could be overheard casually discussing the commitments of Green and Houston. People even streamed the Iman Marshall announcement and music video in class. The last few years have been plagued by empty seats in the student section. Outside of the 2013 Stanford game, this is the first time there has been a noticeable level of excitement and attention paid to the team on campus. There was a palpable level of tension prior to Marshall’s announcement. That buzz has been missing, and Wednesday was the first sign that it could be coming back.

On a grander scale, USC flexed its muscles to the college football world. Teams that go 9-4 don’t generally close on every single target. Even more impressive, not one Trojan-commit defected on signing day. When was the last time a school got over 20 teenagers to stay resolute in their commitment?

Pac-12 teams definitely took notice. Even though Oregon has dominated the conference the last couple of years and just played in the national championship game, they were thoroughly outclassed by the Trojans on the recruiting trail. UCLA has beat USC three straights on the field, and while they put together a great class in their own right, they didn’t beat out USC head-to-head for any of the top LA-based prospects.

Free from the unjust sanctions of the NCAA, the Trojans made a statement on Wednesday. To the NCAA, they effectively said that no matter how hard it tries to cripple USC, we still are a national powerhouse. Reputation and public perception matter when it comes to college football. USC did a lot to boost their credibility last Wednesday; now the key is making sure the on-field product matches the recruiting abilities of the Trojan program.