Lane Kiffin and USC Past the Worst of the Sanctions in Terms of Recruiting


Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports

When USC head coach Lane Kiffin was getting blasted for the Trojans’ dismal conclusion to the 2012 season, the rationale for keeping him around was routinely tied to his prowess as a recruiter.

With sanctions limiting the Trojans’ intake to just 15 scholarships per class, the sentiment was that USC could not afford to miss out on the top talent. Therefore, the need to win at recruiting became ever more critical than before, and perhaps seemingly more emphasized than winning on the field, or coaching for that matter.

Yesterday, Kiffin put the finishing touches on his fourth class at USC, in addition to setting a record for the highest average star rating in Rivals’ history at an astounding 4.42. The quality was there that was clamored for, as one third of the class had five-star marks and not a single three-star recruit inked a letter of intent.

Where it gets interesting however, is that due to a slew of de-commitments, the Trojans actually found themselves grin and bearing the worst of the sanctions and swallowing their lost scholarships quickly in one gulp.

Kiffin signed just 12 players, five short of the 17 allowed limit with early enrollee slots taken into account. Those five carryover however, giving USC the option to sign up to 20 players in 2014, the last year under sanctions.

Interestingly enough, dating back to 2004, USC has eclipsed 20 signees just twice, which includes the Class of 2011, when Kiffin overloaded his haul with early enrollees to combat the forthcoming sanctions in 2012.

In 2010, USC had the nation’s No. 1 class according to Rivals and they did so with exactly 20 signees, a number they had not equaled or surpassed since 2006, when USC brought in 27 recruits to lead Pete Carroll to another top-ranked class.

So, history would suggest that moving forward, USC won’t be critically hamstrung, at least relatively speaking to the context of recent recruiting classes. But, that ties back to Kiffin’s value as the head coach of the Trojans.

If his stature is weighted by his reputation as a recruiter and his willingness to take the USC job despite knowing that sanctions were looming in 2010, then it appears that his primary window of value is closing, and sooner than expected at that.

A 75-man limit and two successive 12-man recruiting classes keep the Trojans’ roster thinner than Zach Maynard’s appendages, but the priority for USC now needs to be shifted toward cultivating their elite talent into elite game-changing players, not just simply reeling in the talent.

Kiffin, who has faced numerous criticisms for the handling of personnel and game strategy even when times were good in 2011, likely is not that guy.

With a 20-man class in reach and the need for more internal management, it appears that Kiffin’s make-or-break status in 2013 got plenty firmer on Wednesday. Should Pat Haden opt to go a different route following the season, USC is considerably more attractive to a prospective with 20 scholarships in 2014 and 25 in 2015, than just 17 in 2013 and 15 in 2014.

Kiffin needs to find his 2011 self quickly, as recruiting won’t save him from another sub par season.