How much less is 15 than 25? Quantitatively, the answer happens to be the difference in new scholarships available to the USC football team for the upcoming year —compared to its previous season. The Trojans, still under NCAA sanctions will have to forfeit 10 scholarships per season over the next three years, which allows them to return to normalcy before the 2015 season.
For a team that — under typical circumstances — operates with 85 scholarship players, the penalty is easy to see as more of a sizable inconvenience than a knockout punch. You could argue that USC, with its current bevy of talent complementing a deep and well-tread coaching staff, is good enough to outlast its punishment without letting the program as a whole take a hit.
But, as you know, football is not a game based solely on numbers, and anyone looking at this predicament from a qualitative perspective will realize that 10 players lost, even in one year, will put USC at a steep disadvantage.
That’s because it’s not simply a number lost, but rather an athlete — an athlete that now finds himself elsewhere in the country, perhaps even gearing up to face the Trojans in the future.
Take junior college fullback Kelvin York, who originally committed to USC but changed his mind after realizing the scholarship math didn’t add up in his favor. He will now call Utah his home and will bolster a potentially powerful Ute squad that seems to be the Trojans’ best challenge in the South Division.
Three-star athlete Jaydon Mickens shares the same story, barely missing the cut because of the scholarship reduction. He is heading to Washington to play for the Huskies, who have used newly acquired recruiter Tosh Lupoi to bring in their best recruiting class in recent memory.
There are certainly others, beyond these two, who have had to face a similar reality as well. Consider the blue chippers who simply denied USC because of the situation the team is in, opting to play for programs with more stability and recent success.
Several top offensive linemen the Trojans targeted relentlessly — five-star recruits Kyle Murphy and Andrus Peat — chose Stanford, while five-star safety Shaq Thompson publicly expressed his doubts in USC on Twitter before deciding to sign with Washington.
At the center of all of this is USC coach Lane Kiffin and his staff, who have been juggling numbers and talent non-stop for the past few months. Kiffin had to reduce interest in recruits like York and Mickens to make space for other potential candidates, but in doing so put the team at risk of not fielding the 15 best possible athletes.
There was almost no room for error for the Trojans — a tricky situation when trying to predict the future.
Of course, national signing day brought some relief in the form of two four-star prospects, Leonard Williams and Nelson Agholar, who were by no means a lock to commit. Coupled with recent signees on the offensive line — Zach Banner and Gerald Bowman — and the other seven recruits that give USC a top-10 class, according to Rivals.com, and it’s easy to see that much of this juggling paid off for the Trojans.
This year’s class can be seen as a major success, no matter the reduced numbers. But this is just the first of three extremely difficult trials for the Trojan coaching staff, who will have to deal with a limited roster next season and the upcoming departure of several key components of the team, including star quarterback Matt Barkley.
All of this is to be expected, but hardly any of these issues can be prevented. And as long as the Trojans need to continue to turn away potential stars to stay within their scholarship limitations, there will continue to be a significant force working against them.
How much will this force impact the team? Good luck doing the math on that.
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