USC football has lost the equivalent of an entire recruiting class due to attrition during the Clay Helton era. Post-sanctions depth is not what it should be.
On Tuesday, USC football announced that sophomore linebacker Levi Jones had been removed from the roster after a violation of team rules.
Jones became the 12th scholarship player to depart the program this calendar year, joining recent losses like Ykili Ross, Bubba Bolden, Je’Quari Godfrey and Jack Jones, among others.
This recent exodus is nothing particularly new either. The Trojans have seen what feels like an inordinate number of players depart in recent years.
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The best way to put USC’s roster attrition into perspective is to consider this: The players who have left the Trojans in the Clay Helton era could just about fill a starting lineup on both sides of the ball.
In fact, on defense it would be an easy ask. Not only could you put 11 players on the field, you would have flexibility to run a base defense or a nickel. With room for rotation.
Departing defensive 11
DT Kenny Bigelow (transfer)NT Kevin Scott (transfer)DE Noah Jefferson (transfer)OLB Jabari Ruffin (conduct) OR Don Hill (conduct)WLB Levi Jones (conduct)MLB Osa Masina (legal)SLB Olajuwon Tucker (transfer)CB Jay Godfrey (transfer)CB Jack Jones (academic/conduct)NK Jamel Cook (transfer)SS Bubba Bolden (conduct)FS Ykili Ross (transfer) OR John Plattenburg (medical)
There have been less offensive departures in the Helton era, but not by much. Running back is the only hole to plug, which is still saying something. The Trojans have seen two running back coaches leave in that time though.
Departing offensive 11
QB Max Browne (transfer)RB N/AWR Jalen Greene (transfer)WR Joseph Lewis (conduct)TE Cary Angeline (transfer)TE Caleb Wilson (transfer)OT EJ Price (transfer)OG Roy Hemsley (transfer)C Cole Smith (medical)OG Khaliel Rodgers (transfer)OT Nathan Smith (medical)
And of course, this hypothetical team would have a kicker available.
K Matt Boermeester (conduct)
To sum up, that’s 25 players from the Clay Helton era who left the team via transfer, conduct issues or medical retirements (though it is worth noting both Nathan and Cole Smith remain with the team as student coaches in 2018).
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Put it another way: USC could fill a recruiting class with the players they have lost since Helton took over ahead of the 2016 season.
What if that hypothetical class existed? It would tally 510.57 points in the 247Sports team rankings. Georgia’s No. 1 class in 2018 totaled 323.31 points. USC’s No. 4 haul was worth 291.20 points.
No doubt that has had an affect on the Trojan roster in 2018.
Granted, a handful of the players included in this discussion would be out of eligibility by now, but that number isn’t significant. Of the 25, only Max Browne, Khaliel Rodgers and Jabari Ruffin would be unable to play in 2018. Another handful would have been encouraged to leave to make room for incoming recruits on the 85-man roster.
Real life is obviously more complex than just inserting all those lost players and improving USC’s depth by 22 bodies. But depth, and quality of depth, has been impacted.
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Take defensive back as an example. The Trojan scout team is populated by nearly all walk ons, with linebacker Raymond Scott filling in as a safety. USC has had receivers Trevon Sidney and Michael Pittman fill in for a handful of snaps at times this season.
If Ross, Bolden and Plattenburg were available, the scout team might be populated by scholarship players, the types of athletes who are good enough to play on Saturdays for USC, but simply have to wait their turn. Scott could be learning in his natural position instead of being thrown in at safety and nickel corner.
Then, the Trojan offense would face a greater challenge in practice, simulating the actual challenge they might face in a game, or better.
The roster losses affect the entire roster in that way. It’s a domino effect.
Some of the attrition is bad luck, as is the case for many of the medical retirements. Some of it lands solely at the feet of players who made bad decisions. Some of it lands at the feet of coaches who should have managed their players better. A lot of it is just what happens in football.
However it has come about, USC’s depth should be far greater than it is.