If anyone doubted the validity of Murphy’s law prior to the USC-Notre Dame game, then they must be certain of it now.
USC squandered chance after chance throughout its 14-10 loss to the Irish, with a multitude of self-inflicted wounds that included dropped passes, missed kicks and penalties (oh, the penalties). After 60 minutes of play, it was quite apparent that anything that could go wrong for the Trojans on Saturday most certainly did.
It appears such is simply the nature of USC football these days.
I imagine this is what the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions had in mind when it levied its sanctions on USC back in 2010 — a razor-thin Trojan roster struggling to find adequate depth at multiple positions while the team remains mired in the 5-8 stretch it currently finds itself in.
As USC limps its way back to Los Angeles this week to resume Pac-12 play, the length of its injury list is almost comical. Interim head coach Ed Orgeron has already ruled redshirt junior tight ends Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer inactive for Saturday, as well as freshman running back Justin Davis.
That leaves the Trojans with just one scholarship tight end available — sophomore Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, who has just one reception on the season. USC’s once-deep backfield has now shrunk to just three healthy tailbacks, with redshirt sophomore Tre Madden, the team’s leading rusher, listed as questionable for the Utah game.
At receiver, the cupboard is even barer. Junior wideout Marqise Lee was pulled from action against Notre Dame after re-aggravating his left knee sprain. With redshirt sophomore Victor Blackwell already out with an injury, the Trojans were left with three scholarship receivers available. On the team’s last-gasp effort to take the lead in the final minutes, walk-on redshirt freshman wide receiver Robby Kolanz was forced into action during the game’s most crucial waning moments.
USC finds itself in this desperate situation for several reasons. First and foremost are the sanctions, which have robbed the Trojans of anything even remotely close to resembling depth at virtually every position. The scholarship reduction was not meant to be a fast-acting punishment, but rather have a delayed effect, taking a few years to really take its toll on the program. That effect is currently being felt, though the clock has been sped up a bit thanks in large part to the collectively underwhelming performance of the Trojans’ 2011 recruiting class, the last year in which USC was able to sign a full-sized class.
The 2011 national signing day saw Lee, Madden and junior linebacker Lamar Dawson, three consistent contributors to varying degrees, sign with the Trojans, but many of the “big-ticket” signees have turned into downright busts.
Of USC’s top nine 2011 commits, as ranked by ESPN, two (running back Amir Carlisle and defensive lineman Christian Heyward) are no longer enrolled at the school. The rest of the bunch, except for Lee, are no more than reserve players.
Redshirt sophomore defensive linemen Antwaun Woods and Greg Townsend Jr. have yet to make a big impact on the defense. Blackwell has only recently started to see playing time in games, redshirt sophomore quarterback Max Wittek, ranked the No. 3 quarterback in the class of 2011, failed to win the starting job this season and redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Cyrus Hobbi appeared in several games last season but appeared overmatched at times, most notably in USC’s 21-14 loss to Stanford.
But by far, the most notable underachiever from the 2011 class has been junior wide receiver George Farmer. Out of high school, Farmer was the consensus No. 1-ranked receiver in the country and had garnered far more attention than Lee, his high school teammate. But a combination of playing behind Lee and former star wideout Robert Woods, coupled with debilitating injuries, including a torn ACL suffered before the 2013 season, has rendered Farmer a forgotten man, with only five receptions and no touchdowns in his career.
Other names on the list have also disappointed. Junior kicker Andre Heidari has struggled mightily since his standout freshman season in 2011. Junior offensive guard Aundrey Walker has been in and out of the starting lineup, and former tight end Junior Pomee- — ranked the No. 13 tight end in his class — was arrested and dismissed from the team before the 2013 season.
In total, USC signed 31 players from the class of 2011. The Trojans signed 31 players in 2012 and 2013 combined. Eight players from the 2011 class are no longer on the roster, which means each of the past three recruiting classes are either undersized or have underachieved badly.
Recruiting in college football is an inexact science of the highest degree. Peruse the ESPN Top 100 list from any year and you’ll find plenty of names at or near the top of the list that will leave you scratching your head.
The class of 2011 wasn’t the first year USC misfired with a recruiting class, and it certainly won’t be the last. The class as a whole, of course, does not deserve the lion’s share of the blame for the team’s recent struggles. It was simply just the worst time for USC to sign a bad class, given the impending sanctions that were about to take place.
It’s too early to give up on the 2011 class, or the rest of USC’s roster for that matter, altogether. As disappointing as the group has been, there is still time for players to revive their careers.
Until then, though, bad breaks and close losses will most likely await the Trojans in the near future.
“Inside the 20s” runs Tuesdays. To comment on this story, email Nick at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit dailytrojan.com.