Let’s get this out of the way now: The recruiting season is going to turn out OK for USC. Come Wednesday, national signing day, the school is going to announce a recruiting class that will, naturally, be ranked near the top of essentially every national ranking possible. So exhale. It’ll be fine. It always is.
In the wake of a disappointing 7-6 season, accentuated by a Sun Bowl loss to Georgia Tech on New Year’s Eve, you’ve read dozens of doom and gloom stories when it comes to the Trojans’ efforts on the recruiting trail. You’ve read about the de-commitments and, of course, there have been a handful of them: At least six once-USC commits reopened their recruiting process since November, seemingly the result of the disappointing 2012 campaign in which the program went from the Associated Press’ preseason No. 1 team to not receiving a single vote in the final AP poll. And so the speculation has continued: Will USC’s incoming recruiting class, once the consensus top class last July, fall apart?
Well, no. Historically speaking, USC just doesn’t appear to do anything other than hailing in top-10 recruiting classes in football come winter time. It hasn’t had a class ranked lower than No. 8 nationally, per Yahoo! Sports’ Rivals.com, since February 2002.
Moreover, isn’t it fair to give USC coach Lane Kiffin the benefit of the doubt here? For whatever shortcomings he has when it comes to leading a football program week in and week out as a head coach — and, to be clear, there are plenty — those aren’t what we’re dealing with here. Debating his recruiting prowess stands as a rather pointless exercise. The guy assembles football talent, can manage a roster and has quite the grasp on dealing with NCAA-imposed scholarship limitations. He might handle this just fine.
Look at the class as currently constructed. As of Monday night, the Trojans’ class was ranked No. 7 by Rivals, with the highest average star rating (4.43) among any school. The next closest is Notre Dame with an average of 3.87. Not to mention, seven incoming freshmen, which include four five-star prospects in defensive tackle Kenny Bigelow of Elkton, Md., quarterback Max Browne of Sammamish, Wash., defensive back Su’a Cravens of Murrieta, Calif., and defensive back Leon McQuay III of Seffner, Fl., have enrolled for the spring semester and will participate in spring practices. Browne and Cravens were also the USA Today offensive and defensive national players of the year.
“I can’t imagine a better collection of players to ever have joined a program mid-year,” Kiffin said in a statement last month. “It speaks volumes of the power of USC that four of the best players from the state of California and a trio of five-star out-of-state players chose to come here.”
Yes, it does speak to USC’s “power,” or more specifically, to its ability to recruit. But this has never really been an honest question to ask. As much concern as there has been over a recruiting class some might proclaim to be falling apart, we’re arguing over semantics here. Is USC going to have the No. 1, the No. 5 or the No. 15-ranked recruiting class? Either way, in any scenario, the program’s going to be bringing in talent, even with scholarship reductions.
USC, as a general rule, attracts talented football players, many from a Southern California region full of top-notch high school programs. And to Kiffin’s credit, he’s tapped into that during his tenure and convinced others from around the country to flock to South Los Angeles.
This is what will happen Wednesday. This is what Kiffin does this time of year. He recruits — as well as any coach there is, really. But whether the Kiffin era, to put this in black and white terms, pans out for USC ultimately won’t stem from what happens in February. It won’t stem from whether a five-star defensive end flips, or commits, or de-commits or re-commits. Not that recruiting season is irrelevant by any means, but USC’s obstacles aren’t necessarily tied to it.
It comes down to whether Kiffin can win not just in February but in November as well, to steal an old line once often used by Texas coach Mack Brown. It comes down to whether Kiffin, a collector of elite individual talent, can get USC to play elite, collectively.
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