Yesterday, we took a closer look at the new signees that USC acquired on Signing Day. Now it’s time to consider what USC got out of those signees, as well as the places that still leave something to be desired. The recruiting strategy was simple: sure up the offensive and defensive lines, snag a couple of mega stars, and show the world and future recruits that next year’s campaign isn’t going to be a swan song as the Trojans plummet into the football dark ages. In this, they were successful.
With just 15 scholarships to dole out, USC did secure some prize athletes and ended the day with a Rivals.com top 10 recruiting class, but there were some positions that the Trojans really needed to score depth at and it didn’t happen.
First, we will look at THE GOOD:
Three of the nation’s top offensive line recruits committed to USC, significantly beefing up the offense’s first line of protection. OL Zach Banner, Max Tuerk and Jordan Simmons all have the talent to make an immediate impact for the Trojans, and this could be key in USC maintaining its dominance that it found halfway through last season. In the beginning of the fall, there were many questions surrounding the O-line, not the least of which was how capable such an inexperienced group was of keeping the offense moving. They ultimately answered the question by establishing a running game and keeping Matt Barkley on his feet. However, there wasn’t much depth behind them, so it made all the difference in the world that no one was majorly injured. With the addition of Banner, Tuerk, and Simmons, USC can expect to have a beefed up O-line with more capable bodies to rotate on the field.
Down the road, these will probably be the most important acquisitions of the recruiting season, because no matter how talented the skill position players on an offense are, history has shown us that if the offensive line isn’t good, their talent wont shine through. In the scholarship reduced seasons the Trojans will be able to pull in less talent at the skill positions, something whose impact will be minimized by a talent-laden offensive line. After all, you don’t need an Adrian Peterson if your offensive line can move the defensive line back five yards every play.
The Trojans managed to steal WR Nelson Agholor and DL Leonard Williams out of Florida. This stealthy move was not anticipated by many and was indeed a pleasant surprise for all of Trojan Nation. In the days leading up to Signing Day there was some talk that USC was aggressively pursuing Agholor, but the Florida Gators were courting him as well. History has shown that the recruits coming out of the South rarely leave home when they have teams like LSU, Bama, and Florida constantly knocking on their doors, but there have been instances where other schools have been able to secure one or two players from this recruiting hot bed.
USC is one of those schools.
For the past few years, USC has managed to nab a top recruit out of the South (CB Nickell Robey, S Jawanza Starling, and RB Joe McKnight to name a few) and this year was no different. Like the O-linemen, Agholor is a megastar in training that will be able to pair with George Farmer (who has been moved back to receiver) in backing up highlight-makers Robert Woods and Marquis Lee. Last season it was pretty much the Woods and Marquis Lee show, with special guest appearances by the few other receivers USC has. With Agholor added to the crew, Woods—who is recovering from an ankle injury—and Lee will be able to get some rest here and there throughout the season, which will be better for their numbers in the long run. As for Williams, he was a crucial get for the defense. The D-line has already lost two big-time players in Nick Perry and Christian Tupou, and at the end of next season, both starting defensive ends Devon Kennard and Wes Horton will be graduating. Williams—in addition to early enrollee defensive ends Morgan Breslin and DeVante Wilson—will be able to have a solid year of practice backing up Kennard and Horton, and will be able to relieve them when need be before it is his time to start in the Trojan’s first line of defense. This depth is something that will become important as coaching changes in the Pac 12 (and Chip Kelly’s continued presence at Oregon) are ushering in an offensive revolution on the West Coast.
Tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick running back Jaheel Pinner will help—in theory—reestablish USC’s power running game. Last season, we didn’t see the ground game emerge until midway through the season but once it did, it was unstoppable. Curtis McNeal was one of the main components of the run game, but he was greatly aided by USC’s big, imposing tight ends, Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble. USC also has Junior Pome’e at the position and we might see something from him this season. But having FOUR capable tight ends could mean a massacre for opposing teams’ run defense. As we saw with Stanford last season—who played with five tight ends regularly—this versatile skill position player can definitely define a team’s running game. Since USC doesn’t have a strong fullback presence and the ability to run the ball will live and die by Curtis McNeal staying healthy, USC’s tight ends will make all the difference in the world. Pinner will spend time learning from McNeal alongside D.J. Morgan and Javorius “Buck” Allen, and hopefully when McNeal graduates at the end of the season, these guys will be ready to fill his role.
USC has struggled for the past two seasons with a lack of depth at pretty much every position, but it has still managed to make something out of nothing (a phrase I use lightly, since the Trojans haven’t had a class outside of the Top 15 since I was in middle school). This recruiting season, they successfully snagged a good amount of offensive players that will provide depth, and will overall strengthen the force that is Matt Barkley and the Trojan offense.
But it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns for USC. Tomorrow we will look at the areas where USC didn’t do so well, in our next installment: THE BAD.
Topics: Curtis McNeal, D.J. Morganm Javorius Allen, DeVante Wilson, Devon Kennard, George Farmer, Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, Jawanza Starling, Joe McKnight, Jordan Simmons, Junior Pome'e, Marqise Lee, Matt Barkley, Max Tuerk, Morgan Breslin, Nickell Robey, Randall Telfer, Robert Woods, Trojans, Wes Horton, Xavier Grimble, Zach Banner