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Revisiting USC football’s underwhelming recruiting class of 2016

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /
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With another handful of departures from USC football’s 2016 recruiting class, the ceiling for what was the nation’s No. 10 class has been lowered significantly.

MORE. Which Recruiting Class Produced Most in 2018?

In June of 2018, Reign of Troy published a piece titled, “USC football’s Top 10 recruiting class of 2016 has fallen flat.”

The article included an overview of the contributions of players in the class of 2016, with an emphasis on the number of departures and players who had yet to live up to expectations. And it resulted in quite a bit of push back from both current and former players who took offense to the conclusions drawn.

Despite the criticism, I felt the analysis was fair because it was backed up by evidence. The class of 2016 had not produced at a level the Trojans might have hoped. The numbers bore that out.

The players themselves would have plenty of golden opportunities to prove the verdict wrong. Either way, it was a topic that would certainly warrant revisiting in the future.

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

After the conclusion of the 2018 season, is it time to change that evaluation? Unfortunately, no.

Departed

  • LB Oluwole Betiku (transfer) ★★★★★
  • CB Jack Jones (ineligible) ★★★★★
  • WR Trevon Sidney (transfer) ★★★★
  • WR Josh Imatorbhebhe (transfer) ★★★★
  • OT E.J. Price (transfer) ★★★★
  • DB Jamel Cook (transfer) ★★★★
  • TE Cary Angeline (transfer) ★★★★
  • OT Nathan Smith (medical retirement) ★★★★

By last summer, the class of 2016 had lost five players, three to transfer, one to medical retirement and one to academic ineligibility and legal troubles. Three of USC’s top six players in the class were gone.

Now, three more players are on their way out with five-star linebacker Oluwole Betiku and four-star wide receivers Trevon Sidney and Josh Imatorbhebhe announcing their transfer decisions.

That means six of USC’s top eight players in the class are gone. Those six combined for 13 career starts—all of which belonged to Jack Jones.

CHECK OUT: Five silver linings for the class of 2019

The Trojans brought in 14 players with four or five-star billing. Eight of them are no longer available to suit up. Since the class only had 20 players to begin with, that’s 40 percent of the group gone after three years. And no player from the class has departed early for the NFL, making this year the first time since 2003 USC will have no underclassmen drafted.

As for who has produced, the assessment made before the 2018 season wasn’t far off from what came to pass.

Starters

  • WR Tyler Vaughns ★★★★
  • WR Michael Pittman ★★★★
  • LB Jordan Iosefa ★★★
  • DL Josh Fatu* ★★★

Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman were two of USC’s top players on offense, though neither exploded with the kind of elite production that was hoped. Working out the kinks of an offense run by a new quarterback, as a freshman at that, played as much a role in that as anything. Both are returning for another go around in 2018.

MORE: Five players to target in the transfer portal

At linebacker, Jordan Iosefa did indeed nab a full-time starting job. He showed promise at times, but the expected drop off from Uchenna Nwosu’s All-American level was certainly there. Comparing him to Nwosu in 2017 is unfair to begin with, but Iosefa’s production as a first-year starter was also a step down from Nwosu’s in 2016.

Contributors

  • RB Vavae Malepeai ★★★★
  • WR Velus Jones Jr. ★★★
  • DB C.J. Pollard ★★★★
  • DL Liam Jimmons ★★★

Coming out of 2017, only a couple of players in the class could be described as contributors, but that number doubled in 2018.

Vavae Malepeai and Velus Jones Jr. both expanded their roles on offense and are set up to once again to see their usage rise in 2019.

After playing in just four games in 2017, C.J. Pollard saw action in 11 games, with one start. He was passed over by others for more starts as the position was hit with transfers and injuries, but he will be the veteran in the group competing for a starting job this spring.

Liam Jimmons isn’t likely to win a starting job, though he did make his case to be a more permanent fixture in the defensive line rotation with 1.5 tackles for loss in USC’s last two games of the year.

Jury still out

  • OL Frank Martin ★★★★
  • DL Connor Murphy ★★★★
  • WR Keyshawn “Pie” Young ★★★
  • QB Matt Fink ★★★

Frank Martin ended the season third on the depth chart at right guard. He and Keyshawn “Pie” Young didn’t see any action as redshirt sophomores.

More from Reign of Troy

Connor Murphy made the switch to the defensive line, but took a redshirt while playing sparingly in the limit of four games. The more reinforcements USC adds up front, the harder it is to see where he will break through. The good news for him is a new defensive line coach could open up more opportunities.

As for Matt Fink, he showed a certain playmaking ability in cameo appearances in 2018, but he didn’t win the quarterback battle last year and he won’t be the favorite to win it again this offseason.

The conclusion now will be the same as it was before: Players from the class of 2016 still have the chance to make a big impression. For now, the impression has been underwhelming.

That’s partially on the players themselves, but also on the coaching staff, who either failed to develop or correctly utilize so many players who came out of high school with such high hopes. New blood on the coaching front may prove to be the difference.

However, with so many departures and the clock ticking as players from the 2017, 2018 and 2019 recruiting classes progress, the ceiling for USC’s 2016 recruiting haul has been lowered significantly from when it stood as the 10th-best class in the country.

Next. Evaluating USC's 2017 Recruiting Class

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