This Wednesday marks the most scrutinized date during college football’s offseason: national signing day. Forty-year-old men will log onto Twitter, troll, then “unfollow” high school recruits who elect to sign with their alma mater’s rivals. Coaches will hole up in their offices all day, waiting for the signed letters of intent to filter through their fax machines. Current players will witness the fruits of their labor after hosting several recruits on official visits.
As overhyped and nauseating as national signing day has become, there’s still ample evidence that recruiting stars matter, especially when programs’ so-called “can’t-miss” recruits perform as expected and justify their hype. For example, Matt Barkley and Robert Woods, USC’s 2009 and 2010 consensus top recruits, respectively, both appear ticketed for the 2013 NFL draft’s first round.
Of course, high school recruiting remains an inexact science. Not every five-star recruit pans out, and countless less-heralded prospects flourish.
Oftentimes, highly touted recruits fall flat because that’s the nature of the business. It’s dicey predicting how a 17-year-old kid will respond to a marked uptick in competition and the various time demands of performing as a Division I student-athlete. Indeed, many recent USC recruits, to this point of their careers, have failed to meet expectations. Out of the 2011 recruiting class’ top-10 signees according to ESPN, only one — sophomore wide receiver Marqise Lee — started in more than two games for USC this past season.
That said, national signing day still wields a magnetic quality, if only because we’re all just starved for more college football news and eagerly counting down the days until spring practice. In that vein, I’ll break down who I consider to be USC’s three most important recruiting targets in the 2013 class, excluding the seven players who already enrolled early at USC this spring semester.
Cornerback Jalen Ramsey
It’s no secret that USC’s secondary is in shambles. A team that has consistently allowed opponents about seven yards per passing attempt in the past three seasons just lost its top three safeties and junior Nickell Robey — USC’s only shutdown cornerback option.
Ramsey, a 6-foot speedster from Tennessee’s Brentwood Academy, would help restock USC’s bare cornerback cupboard. Rated ESPN’s No. 14 overall prospect in the nation, the USC verbal commit has left some observers thinking that he might renege on his promise and choose the University of Florida or Florida State come Wednesday. Those sentiments intensified when USC recently fired defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders. But if USC reels in the star prospect, the Trojans can pair him with fellow 2013 recruit Chris Hawkins to form an enviable cornerback tandem for the next few years.
Defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes
Originally a USC commit, Vanderdoes decommitted from the Trojans on Dec. 27, citing no particular reason other than the fact that he enjoyed in-home visits from Notre Dame, Washington and UCLA. Since that time, USC has clearly prioritized landing the consensus five-star talent. Vanderdoes would fit new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s 3-4 defensive scheme perfectly as a nose tackle who can occupy multiple blockers.
Rumors persist, however, that the 310-pound brick wall currently leans toward signing with UCLA — a not-so-enticing prospect given USC’s porous offensive line. Regrettably, former four-star defensive end commit Kylie Fitts, who starred in the football program’s latest controversy when USC head coach Lane Kiffin disallowed him from enrolling early days before the spring semester began, appears poised to join Vanderdoes along that Bruin defensive line. Ace recruiter Ed Orgeron needs to live up to his reputation here.
Running back Ty Isaac
In one of his many postseason retrospectives, Kiffin vowed that USC will return to a more physical style of play on offense. Isaac, a 6-foot-3, 217-pound tailback from Joliet, Ill., factors heavily into that plan. The verbal commit, who amassed 45 touchdowns as a junior, features a nice blend of power and elusiveness.
For the first time since 2009-— when the Trojans fielded Joe McKnight, Stafon Johnson and Allen Bradford -— USC appears to have an abundance of viable tailback options. Senior running back Silas Redd will likely start, but competition for his immediate backup will be stiff. Promising sophomore Tre Madden will return from a torn ACL and freshman Justin Davis — a fellow four-star talent — has already enrolled early this spring.
Though the 15 hours of coverage on ESPNU is laughably obnoxious, like it or not, Wednesday matters. After a ghastly 2012, national signing day begins USC’s long ascent back to national — heck, even Pac-12 — preeminence.
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