November 12, 2011; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin calls out a play against the Washington Huskies during the second half at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE
The NCAA-imposed 30 scholarship reduction over a 3-year span was supposed to cripple the recruiting ability of USC football. For decades, USC had a fence around the immense football talent in Southern California. Granted there were a few holes in that fence particularly during the 90s that allowed some of that talent to sneak out, but the fence became reinforced with the hiring of Pete Carroll in 2001. These NCAA sanctions and the departure of Carroll were supposed to bring down that reinforced fence and open the flood gates.
Lane Kiffin and the Trojans staff had other plans in mind.
With the reduced number of scholarships it became more important than ever that the Trojans focus on quality over quantity. There is less room for error. Any guy brought in has to fit the program, has to be able to produce right away, and has to be a character guy.
In the first year dealing with the reduced scholarship allotment, the Trojans signed a class that was ranked 13th nationally and the top class in the Pac-12 according to ESPN. The class was headlined by California stand-outs Jabari Ruffin & Max Tuerk. The Trojans even reached to the other side of the country, pulling Nelson Agholor and Leonard Williams out of Florida. They went into Washington to grab Zach Banner from the Huskies’ own backyard.
After sealing the deal on National Signing Day 2012, Kiffin and his staff immediately went back to work to build a stellar class for 2013. We are still far away from those recruits being able to formally commit to the program but the verbal commitments the Trojans are pulling in are nothing less than impressive. The class so far has the college football world buzzing and should have members of the Pac-12 concerned.
It is estimated that the Trojans will have approximately 18 scholarships for the class of 2013. So far there have been 9 verbal commitments from talent strong enough for the class to be ranked 8th overall by ESPN. There are 7 of the 9 commits that currently rank in the ESPN’s Top 150 players in the country and all 9 are in the Top 300. The Trojans are still securing the top talent in California while reaching outside of the state for other top national talent. This is very similar to the formula that Carroll used when he had the Trojans recruiting machine humming. Let’s take a quick look at the talent set to come to Troy:
Kenny Bigelow – Bigelow is a 6’ 3” 297 lbs. defensive tackle out of Maryland. ESPN has him rated the 2nd defensive tackle in the nation and the 9th best overall player. Rivals has him rated the 2nd overall player and the 6th best overall player.
Max Browne – Brown is a 6’ 5” 214 lbs. QB out of Washington. ESPN has him rated the 2nd QB in the country and the 12th best overall player. Rivals has him the #1 QB and the 5th best overall player.
Su’a Cravens – Cravens is a 6’ 1” 205 lbs. safety from Murrieta, Ca. ESPN has him rated the #1 safety in the country and the 14th best overall player. Rivals has him rated the #1 safety and the 8th best overall player.
Ty Isaac – Isaac is a 6’ 3” 217 lbs. running back out of Illinois. ESPN has him rated the 7th running back in the nation and 70th best overall player. Rivals has him rated the 3rd running back and the 24th best overall player.
Chris Hawkins – Hawkins is a 6’ 0” 170 lbs. corner from Rancho Cucamonga, Ca. ESPN has him rated the 9th corner in the country and the 71st best overall player. Rivals has him rated the 7th corner and the 78th best overall player.
Kylie Fitts – Fitts is 6’ 4” 245 lbs. defensive end from Redlands, Ca. ESPN has him rated the 7th defensive end in the country and 87th best overall player. Rivals has him rated the 10th defensive end and 97th best overall player.
Steven Mitchell – Mitchell is a 5’ 11” 176 lbs. receiver from Mission Hills, Ca. ESPN has him rated the 17th receiver in the country and the 142nd best overall player. Rivals has him rated the 8th receiver and the 63rd best overall player.
Eldridge Massington – Massington is 6’ 3” 205 lbs. receiver out of Texas. ESPN has him rated the 21st receiver in the country and the 163rd best overall player. Rivals has him rated the 19th receiver and the 141st best overall player.
Justin Davis – Davis is a 6’ 1” 200 lbs. running back from Stockton, Ca. ESPN has him rated the 15th running back in the country and the 177th best overall player. Rivals has him rated the 5th running back and the 41st best overall player.
All 9 of these players are top players and fill a specific need for the program. Kiffin deserves a ton of credit for the recruiting job he and his staff are doing, especially under the circumstances that they are operating under. There are limited scholarships available and they are making them count. They are bringing in top shelf talent, some at the same position that are willing to compete with each other. The talent level and the willingness to compete will only enhance the overall program.
With 9 scholarships still available there is a chance that Kiffin and his staff could haul in the top overall recruiting class in the nation. If the Trojans perform up to expectations this fall, it will only improve their ability to recruit other top players.
Strong academics, tradition, winning, and the ability to advance players to the next level are an explosive combination when on the recruiting trail. The Trojans and Kiffin can offer all four and will use these as selling points in many living room visits as the recruiting season heats up.
Let’s not forget that during campus visits recruits will get to see the $70 million McKay Center due to open this summer, which will house the football program as well as all athletic department academic and training support. This focused improvement on facilities will show potential recruits the investment the school, the athletic department, and its alumni are willing to put into the program to make it a first class organization all the way around.
It will be interesting to watch and see if the scholarship reduction will really be as crippling as experts predict and as the NCAA hoped, but for now, it seems that coach Kiffin and his crew are undoubtedly making the most out of their situation.