USC football’s Top 10 recruiting class of 2016 has fallen flat

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

Hopes were high when USC football secured a Top 10 recruiting class in 2016, but that haul has fallen undeniably flat with disappointments and transfers.

USC football’s recruiting class of 2016 ranked 10th nationally, featuring six Top 100 players and loads of potential. Entering Year 3, that class should be the driving force behind the Trojans’ push for a repeat Pac-12 title.

But it’s not.

Three of those six Top 100 players are no longer with the program: five-star cornerback Jack Jones, four-star offensive tackle E.J. Price and four-star safety Jamel Cook.

Along with those three, USC has seen two other prized players depart. Four-star tight end Cary Angeline transferred while four-star offensive lineman Nathan Smith medically retired this spring.

Of the remaining players in the class, there simply aren’t enough starters making their mark to profess the group a success, or anything resembling it.


  • Tyler Vaughns ★★★★
  • Michael Pittman ★★★★
  • Jordan Iosefa ★★★
  • Josh Fatu* ★★★


  • Vavae Malepeai ★★★★
  • Velus Jones Jr. ★★★

Jury still out

  • Oluwole Betiku ★★★★★
  • Trevon Sidney ★★★★
  • Josh Imatorbhebhe ★★★★
  • Frank Martin ★★★★
  • Connor Murphy ★★★★
  • C.J. Pollard ★★★★
  • Keyshawn “Pie” Young ★★★
  • Matt Fink ★★★
  • Liam Jimmons ★★★


  • Jack Jones (ineligible) ★★★★★
  • E.J. Price (transfer) ★★★★
  • Jamel Cook (transfer) ★★★★
  • Cary Angeline (transfer) ★★★★
  • Nathan Smith (retirement) ★★★★

Four-star wide receivers Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman, the only players from that premiere six to even begin to live up to expectations, are on the verge of stardom at least.

Vaughns posted 809 yards as a redshirt freshman with bigger and brighter things clearly on the horizon.

Pittman will need to get past the nagging injury issues which limited him to 404 yards in 2017, but he has flashed just as much ability as Vaughns and should serve as a worthy partner in the passing game.

CHECK OUT: Predicting USC’s 2018 Depth Chart

Beyond Vaughns and Pittman, there are only a few success stories.

Three-star linebacker Jordan Iosefa is arguably the most accomplished player in the class. He’s played regularly since his freshman year, starting seven times. A full-time starting job is waiting for him this coming season as one of Clancy Pendergast’s favored defenders.

Three-star defensive lineman Josh Fatu, a junior college transfer, became a key starter on the defensive line, but his eligibility is used up.

Slot receiver Velus Jones Jr., a three-star prospect out of high school, performed well as USC’s kick returner last year and could nail down a starting job on offensive this year.

Finally, four-star Signing Day flip Vavae Malepeai served in the running back rotation as a redshirt freshman and should see his contributing role increase in 2018.

SEE MORE: Five recruiting needs to fill in 2019

The rest of USC’s 20-man recruiting class has ranged from outright disappointment to wait-and-see status.

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Chief among the former category is five-star linebacker Oluwole Betiku, the top-rated player in the class for the Trojans. His career has been anticlimactic to say the least, with two tackles to his name. When Porter Gustin and Christian Rector suffered injuries in 2017, he was passed over to start by Iosefa making a position change.

Fellow outside linebacker Connor Murphy moved to the defensive line in a bid to revive his career, but he too failed to grasp opportunities when injury struck last year.

Wide receivers Trevon Sidney, Josh Imatorbhebhe and Keyshawn “Pie” Young have plenty to prove, but the door isn’t yet closed on their ability to contribute.

MORE: Five redshirt freshmen who could be key in 2018

Offensive lineman Frank Martin is in danger of being leapfrogged by more recent recruits. The same goes for safety C.J. Pollard and defensive lineman Liam Jimmons.

This fall’s quarterback battle will determine Matt Fink’s fate.

That’s half of the group whose influence has yet to be felt.  More troubling, that influence can’t necessarily be relied upon going forward. Predicting even half of that number becoming contributors, let alone starters, feels bold.

There is time for the class of 2016 to live up to their billing. Late bloomers in past classes have redeemed their slow starts. As it stands though, one word sums up the class: underwhelming.