As the players and coaching staff walked off the field in Arlington, Tex., after a disappointing loss to Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl, their focus was already beginning to shift to next season.
“Now, it’s trying to make it to the playoff and win a national championship,” head coach Clay Helton said after the game. “We won’t be satisfied until that happens.”
Though the season has ended, the next two months present an incredibly important challenge for USC football, as they must fight to bring in recruits who will shape the foundation of the team for years to come. This year, the college football recruiting process looks different from previous years, as there are now two signing periods, as opposed to just one. The first chance players have to sign with a school, dubbed the “early signing period,” took place from Dec. 20-22. USC’s class ranked 13th in the nation coming out of this early signing period, according to Rivals. They signed 10 players, but have several more hard commitments from players expected to sign on National Signing Day in February.
Headlining USC’s signed commits in the 2018 class are inside linebacker Palaie Gaoteote, the highest-ranked linebacker in ESPN’s ratings, and athlete Talanoa Hufanga, the top-rated prospect from the state of Oregon. Gaoteote, who played in high school at national powerhouse, Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, chose USC though many experts believed he would sign with Ohio State. Hufanga is listed as an athlete, though he will likely play as a safety at USC due to his range and ball skills.
Though they have not signed yet, two of USC’s top recruits have made hard commitments to play for the Trojans in 2018. Quarterback JT Daniels, the reigning Gatorade and Maxpreps National Football Player of the Year, and his high school teammate Amon-Ra St. Brown, the consensus top receiver from California, both intend to sign with USC in February.
Daniels, who just finished his junior year of high school, is reclassifying to enroll early, and is expected to compete for the starting job next year with Sam Darnold declaring for the NFL Draft. Daniels comes from Mater Dei High School, where former USC greats Matt Leinart and Matt Barkley also played, but there is speculation from some scouts that Daniels could be the best of the group. In 2017, he accounted for more than 4,500 yards and 61 touchdowns, while only throwing four interceptions and leading his team to a perfect 15-0 season, all while holding the No. 1 ranking nationally.
St. Brown, the 10th-ranked player and second-rated receiver in the nation, according to ESPN, committed to USC on Jan. 6 during the Army All-American Football game. St. Brown has one brother, Orisis, who plays for Stanford, and another, Equanimeous, who just completed his career at Notre Dame. Both schools heavily recruited the five-star talent, but ultimately, he chose to carve his own path and announce his intent to sign with the Trojans. He was named offensive MVP of the Army All-American game for his four catch, 93-yard performance.
Other notable signings for USC include Markese Stepp from Indianapolis, the 13th-rated running back in the nation, Chase Williams, an athlete from Corona, Calif., Justin Dedich, the second highest-rated center in the country and Raymond Scott, a top-5 outside linebacker.