Recruiting was USC football’s last foothold, then Bru McCoy left

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

Bru McCoy’s transfer proves USC football has lost the edge in the one strength the program could always rely on: Recruiting.

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USC football used to be good at a lot of things.

Once upon a time, the Trojans were national title contenders. They were the class of the Pac-12. They were big-game winners.

Those specialties of the Pete Carroll era have fallen away one by one for one reason or another.

Going into 2018, USC was still good at some things though.

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The Trojans were really good at winning games at home. Clay Helton was perfect at the Coliseum, in fact.

They were also refreshingly capable against teams they were supposed to beat. Helton’s record against underdogs was reliable and comforting.

The 2018 season took that comfort away. The Trojans stopped being good at home and they stopped beating teams they should, losing to ASU and Cal in the Coliseum and UCLA at the Rose Bowl.

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But USC retained one bright shining ray of hope: Recruiting.

“USC recruits itself.”

That’s been the mantra for years and it seemed to follow regardless of coaching staff or record. as USC pulled in five consecutive Top 10 recruiting classes from 2014 through 2018.

Despite a slow start for the class of 2019, things were looking up with the Trojans thanks to commitments from highly-touted recruits Kyle Ford and Bru McCoy at the start of January.

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A five-star athlete out of Mater Dei, McCoy was the crown jewel of USC’s 2019 recruiting class. Landing his commitment was a huge victory, one which seemed to put the Trojans back into national recruiting relevancy. They were boosted to No. 13 in the 247Sports team rankings coming out of the All-American Bowl and seemed destined for yet another strong finish.

Then, Thursday happened.

McCoy entered his name into the NCAA transfer portal, two weeks after enrolling in classes as a Trojan.

Take McCoy out of USC’s class of 2019 and the Trojans drop to No. 19 in the national team rankings and third in the Pac-12.

Take him out and the Trojans will fail to sign a five-star prospect for the first time since 2012. (That class still ranked eighth nationally.)

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More importantly, take McCoy out and USC’s impervious recruiting prowess looks remarkably dimmed.

It feels like the Trojans last stronghold has finally fallen.

McCoy’s departure could have have a ripple effect, and it’s not the only sign of trouble on the recruiting front.

The Trojans lost out on the commitment of four-star St. John Bosco cornerback Chris Steele in a cycle when defensive back recruiting needed to be a priority. Then fall back option, Noa Pola-Gates, committed to Nebraska at the Polynesian Bowl.

Four-star offensive guard Enokk Vimahi could help salvage the final recruiting stretch, but he delayed his commitment from a Polynesian Bowl slot to Signing Day with increased interest from the likes of Ohio State and Oklahoma.

With most recruits locking in during the Early Signing Period, there are few big names left to target.

And, as McCoy proved, the players in the fold aren’t guaranteed either.

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The Trojans have two other highly-rated commits who haven’t signed, both of whom appear to be considering their options.

Four-star wide receiver Puka Nacua lit up the All-American and Polynesian Bowls, but declined to sign an LOI in December with Utah lurking.

Ford, a fellow four-star wide out, announced his commitment on the same day as McCoy and the departure of offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury may also have him reconsidering his decision.

Losing Kingsbury was one thing. While the Trojans certainly could have handled that drama better, becoming the bad guys by reportedly blocking Kingsbury’s ability to interview, losing the OC was mostly out of their control. Few could have imagined an NFL team would actually tap the 35-40 Texas Tech head coach run their franchise and Kingsbury had every reason to take the promotion.

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McCoy, while likely influenced by Kingsbury’s absence, was under USC’s control.

The Trojans appear to have rested on their laurels, failing to secure a new offensive coordinator quickly enough to assuage McCoy’s concerns about his future in cardinal and gold. That’s after they promoted an unproven wide receivers coach in Keary Colbert, who apparently didn’t have the clout to keep McCoy in place.

They put themselves in this position to begin with by keeping a head coach who was too stubborn to recognize the deficiencies in ‘culture, discipline, schemes, personnel and staff” which would lead to a 5-7 season before it happened.

Going 5-7 was going to make USC’s recruiting efforts hard enough without a seemingly-endless stream of mismanaged situations which have plagued the program.

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If USC can’t hold onto stud prospects from a school with as strong a pipeline as Mater Dei, especially ones who have already enrolled, then the problem is more serious than it seemed.

If USC doesn’t have recruiting, then there’s just nothing left to cling to.