USC football recruiting remains in full gear as Signing Day approaches, with the linebacking corps still waiting on two key targets to join an already committed five-star.
The Trojans already boast a capable group of linebackers, including returning starters in soon-to-be junior Su’a Cravens, redshirt senior Anthony Sarao and redshirt junior Scott Felix.
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Starters lost to injury in 2014 are also set to make a return, namely redshirt senior Lamar Dawson and redshirt junior Jabari Ruffin.
Beyond that, players like Michael Hutchings, Quinton Powell, Olajuwon Tucker and Uchenna Nwosu wait in the wings.
With that in mind, could the 2015 recruiting class turn USC’s linebacker corps into an embarrassment of riches? It just might
Cameron Smith, the four-star inside linebacker out of Granite Bay in Northern California, is already enrolled at USC and will participate in spring ball. What he lacks in speed he makes up for brawn, earning the rank of the No. 7 inside linebacker according to 247Sports composite average.
Osa Masina, the five-star outside linebacker from Salt Lake City, committed to the Trojans last week, giving USC a true talisman at the position. Rated as the No. 3 player at his position, according to the 247Sports composite average, Masina has to potential to become a top player in college with ideal size, strength and instincts.
Who Could Be In?
Porter Gustin, the four star outside linebacker out of Salem Hills, Utah, is high on the Trojans wishlist and his friendship with Masina could help lead him towards USC when he announces his decision on Signing Day. Gustin was named the defensive MVP of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
John Houston, the four-star outside linebacker, would become yet another big grab from the Serra pipeline if he chooses USC on Signing Day. With a versatile skill set that allows him to excel in the pass rush and in pass coverage, Houston is the No. 6 rated player at his position and the No. 7 player in California according to the 247Sports composite average.
Oct 18, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans linebacker Hayes Pullard (10) against the Colorado Buffaloes at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
USC pursued four-star outside linebacker Roquan Smith from Montezuma, Georgia. He took an official visit but nothing came of it.
The bigger loss in this group was that of outside linebacker Keisean Lucier-South, a five-star out of Orange Lutheran, to UCLA.
In 2015 USC must fill the shoes of departed seniors J.R. Tavai and Hayes Pullard.
All four linebackers, should Gustin and Houston decide to join the Trojans as expected, would have a chance to compete for playing time, if not a starting position.
With Su’a Cravens likely retaining his hybrid linebacker position on the strongside, there is room for newcomers to fight for a place at middle linebacker, weakside linebacker and rush end.
Smith will need to overcome Hutchings in the middle, but the possibility is there for him to make waves in spring ball. Gustin is also a candidate to slot into the middle.
The presence of Ruffin and Felix at rush end complicates matters for Masina, who could also take up the strongside linebacker position if Cravens is moved back to safety. Alternatively, if Ruffin nabs the SLB position in Craven’s absence, the door would be open for Masina to battle it out with Felix at RE.
Of the returning starters, Sarao seems most likely to be ousted by an overachieving freshman. Houston would be a strong candidate for doing the ousting, though Dawson’s return clouds matters as well.
Ultimately, there is a strong possibility that at least one of the freshman could work their way into the starting line up by the first month of the season.
Beyond 2015, this linebacking class is strong enough to provide the foundation of the defense for the next four years.