Five years ago, when the NCAA handed down the most devastating penalties since SMU’s death penalty, they did so with the intention of crippling the USC Trojans. The most dominant team of the century up until then, USC was banned from post-season play for two years in addition to being docked ten scholarships a year for three years, totaling 30 scholarships over the sanctions period.
Those Trojans have one more season of sanctions remaining and it has become increasingly clear that the NCAA got their wish. Though it is doubtful the NCAA intended that crippling to be quite so literal.
Arbogast (@uscvoice) on how banged up USC was: “The only guy that was relatively healthy out there was Cody Kessler”
— ESPNLA 710 Radio (@ESPNLA710) October 20, 2013
The USC offense could double as a triage unit this season. Four of the five leaders in all-purpose yards will have missed at least one game due to injury heading into the game against Utah. In order, Tre Madden is fighting a hamstring, Marqise Lee sprained his knee, Justin Davis tweaked his ankle and Silas Redd missed the first five games after off-season knee surgery.
Nelson Agholor, who is second in all-purpose yards, gave Trojan fans a scare when he stayed down after a crushing blow on what turned out to be USC’s final offensive play on Saturday and remains one of USC’s few healthy scholarship receivers.
It’s not just the main men who have had trouble staying on the field. USC will take the field this coming Saturday with just one scholarship tight end. Both Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer have been ruled out against Utah with injury. The Trojan passing game has suffered further with ankle injuries slowing wide outs Darreus Rogers, De’Von Flournoy and Victor Blackwell. Meanwhile back up running back Ty Isaac has been limited in practice while veteran DJ Morgan has been unavailable all season.
On the defensive side of the ball, things look only slightly better. USC’s leading pass rusher Morgan Breslin has missed two games this season. Starting cornerback Anthony Brown missed five. Kevon Seymour has been limited after injuring his leg against Hawaii. Devian Shelton, who vied for a starting cornerback spot before going down injured, has been ruled out for the season with a foot problem, as has defensive lineman Greg Townsend Jr. with a knee injury.
Injuries are a part of life in football, but most teams aren’t contending with a roster as limited as USC’s. On top of all those players forced off the field, the Trojans are without an additional 20 scholarship players and have to contend with a total roster limit of 75 because of the NCAA.
When they traveled to face Arizona State in September, the Trojans brought just 56 scholarship players. That same week USC Athletic Director Pat Haden petitioned the NCAA for relief from scholarship reductions on the basis of player safety.
“We proposed creative ‘outside the box’ solutions to the scholarship issues resulting from the injuries and transfers experienced by our football team over the past three seasons,” Haden said. “Because time is of the essence regarding these issues, we have asked for the NCAA’s response as soon as practical.”
The NCAA, of course, told USC to pound sand and the injury issues have only gotten worse. Thinned ranks mean less wiggle room to allow players to heal fully as a single injury could mean the difference between starting a scholarship player who has been there for years and a walk on whose contributions to the team would ideally be on the practice field or a freshman who isn’t ready physically or mentally for the college game. The players USC lacks could fill an extra line on the depth chart across nearly every position.
In light of the penalties that have been levied against Miami this morning, loss of nine scholarships over three years, the injuries hurt even more. While schools with violations, most of which arguably outweigh the infractions of USC, get off with slaps on the wrist, the men of Troy pay the price with their bodies.
#USC lost more players to injury Saturday night at Notre Dame than Miami lost scholaships to NCAA sanctions today
— InsideUSC (@InsideUSC) October 22, 2013