It’s safe to say that of every major program in college football, no team has dealt with more off the field drama than USC over the past several months. The Trojans entered the season ranked No. 1 in the country in most polls, before losing five of their last six games and limping to a 7-6 record overall. Entering 2013 there is little doubt in anyone’s mind that Lane Kiffin is clearly on the hot seat.
And unfortunately for ‘SC fans, bad has gone worse in recent months as much of the negative publicity of the regular season has trickled into the school’s recruiting efforts. USC was once widely considered to have the most talented group of high school commitments anywhere in the country, but in recent weeks several top players have decommitted and others remain committed but are still looking around to other schools.
Still, is the situation as bad as most make it out to be? We went ahead and asked Trenise Ferreira, a USC insider who covers the Trojans for the website ReignofTroy.com. Trenise is in constant contact with both current and future Trojans, as well as others around the program.
Here is her take on the 2013 recruiting class and the state of USC as a whole:
1. No program has been in the headlines lately more for bad recruiting news than USC. A number of players have publicly decommitted, and the worst blow came Tuesday when word broke that Lane Kiffin pulled the scholarship of a player named Kylie Fitts just days before he was set to enroll for the winter semester. To be fair, Fitts still had a scholarship offer to enroll in the summer (just not for the winter), but overall it paints Kiffin in a bad light.
Anyway, that's a long-winded way of me asking: Are things as bad at USC as most everyone perceives them to be?
Yes and No.
Obviously the 2012 campaign was a debacle that only got worse as things went on, and it would be foolish to think the 7-6 record, as well as the off the field antics that went down on Kiffin's watch, hold no bearings with the incoming recruits. That said, recruits don't follow college football like fans do. They see adversity in a program as a means to get in, prove themselves, and start ahead of their competition. USC has been able to hold on to coveted recruits in spite of the drama because those athletes see an opportunity to make a name for themselves early in a program that has a rich NFL tradition. Social media has a way of preventing things from dying, and for turning everything into hyperbole, and USC is experiencing that firsthand. So no, I would say that things are not as bad as they seem, though things could obviously be better.
On the note of Kylie Fitts, his situation is tricky. First, let it be known that what happened to him is not unique to USC or Lane Kiffin; the phenomenon of over-signing guys or asking players to come in the fall instead of the spring goes on in the SEC all the time. But, as has been the case his entire career, everything Lane Kiffin does is shady because that is what the media has decided. USC could only have a certain number of early enrollees, not to be mean, and not to leave anyone out, but because of the crippling sanctions they were dealt in 2009. As a result of them, USC has been playing musical scholarships all season and it is a tough thing to deal with.
With that, Leon McQuay, a five-star safety commit, was interested in coming to USC as an early enrollee, though his ability to do so had not been determined as early as the other EEs had been. He committed to USC just a few weeks ago, while Fitts had been committed since summer. Kiffin found himself stuck between a rock and a hard place. He could do the "right" thing and ask none of the EEs to enroll in the fall, which would mean losing out on a significant impact player in a position of need, one that could come in and get to work immediately. If he could not have been an EE, McQuay would have elected to stay at school closer to his native Florida. Or, he could as an EE that is not a position of need but one that USC still obviously wants to have in the ranks, to enroll in the fall. That is what happened with Fitts. It is clearly unfortunate, as he was out shopping for college stuff when he heard the news, and he has already graduated high school. But college football is a business, and a business decision was made. Unfortunate, yes. But shady? Hardly.
If anyone is to blame, it's the NCAA for so viciously handling USC's situation. Scholarship drama like this is going to be the norm for the next two years, until the scholarship ban is over.
2. In an era where star high school players want immediate playing time, how many of these guys are simply looking around at the rest of the recruiting class and realizing that maybe with so many elite players, there will be too much competition to get on the field? Any of them? Is that something some guys are worried about?
The recruits I have spoken to firmly attest that playing time at USC has not been a factor in their de-commitment, however it would be reasonable to thing that it actually could have an impact. As much as they say competition is not something they shy away from–and with the success they have had in high school, it can't really be disputed–but the ability to play or start sooner for another program has got to be appealing.
3. How much is USC's disappointing 7-6 regular season weighing on these recruits? I'm not sure if you've talked to any (and please, no need to name names), but are any afraid that either Lane Kiffin isn't a very good coach, or that Kiffin simply might not be around their entire careers?
As previously stated, the incoming recruits see USC's 7-6 record as an indication that there is room for improvement, and they consider themselves that improvement. Lane Kiffin and his staff have been heralded for their recruiting, and despite his handling of the season, the recruits still have faith in him to get the job done. And if they can come in and replace a veteran who is not getting the job done, that opportunity is relished. No recruits have voiced to me any concern about Kiffin or his tenure, though that is not to say that concern doesn't exist.
4. Thankfully for 'SC a number of their top signees are already enrolled for the winter semester, including the top high school QB in the nation, Max Browne. How important are the guys already on campus to holding this class together?
The early enrollees, specifically guys like Max Browne, Su'a Cravens and now Leon McQuay, are huge for USC maintaining a stellar Class od 2013. Cravens, the top-ranked athlete in CA and Gatorade Player of the Year, especially is one of the defensive pillars of the class; had he de-committed, USC would have been in all kinds of trouble. But beyond just their importance to the recruiting class, they are critical to USC's success next season. All of the early enrollees play positions that the Trojans need to immediately fill. USC's entire secondary, for example, is depleted of reliable talent with the graduations of S T.J. McDonald and S Jawanza Starling, and CB Nickell Robey electing to go pro. Having Cravens, McQuay and CB Chris Hawkins in the ranks in the spring means they can be ready to suit up in the fall and make an immediate impact.
5. In the end, how much of this class do you expect to remain intact? Guys like Max Redfield have already committed elsewhere (in his case Notre Dame) and in some others, guys like Eddie Vanderdoes are looking around but still have 'SC on their radar.
Where do you expect this class to rank when all is said and done.
At this point, I have no indication that any other players are on the fence with USC. Max Redfield's de-commitment wasn't a surprise, as he had been gushing about ND after is official visit. Eddie Vanderdoes' decision will be interestion to follow, as he could still choose USC in the end. There is still about three weeks until National Signing Day, when all the cards will be on the table. I do however expect at least one surprise commit to the Trojans, one that could easily give USC a Top 5 recruiting class once the ink is dried and all the LOIs are faxed in.
Be sure to follow Trenise on Twitter @TreniseF_RoT.