National Signing Day has come and gone and while there are still a few odds and ends to be sorted out, this much is clear: Steve Sarkisian and the USC Trojans are back. In the school's first year out from under harsh NCAA sanctions, USC showed it is still a recruiting force to be reckoned with by putting together a college football recruiting class for the ages.
According to both Scout.com and Rivals.com, USC hauled in the top recruiting class in the nation. The 26-member group has depth and incredible talent across the board as the Trojans locked down most of the top talent in California (seven of the top 11 players in California according to Scout) while cherry picking a few out-of-state studs as well. Sarkisian and his staff did an unbelievable job of restocking a roster rocked by years of recruiting restrictions.
Rivals has USC with four five-star commits, a whopping 17 four-star commitments and five pledges from three-stars. Most of the incoming recruits are expected to get playing time in 2014, as the Trojans attempt to get closer to a full roster of 85 players. Thanks to brutal, largely unfair NCAA sanctions (according to most neutral observers), USC entered several games this year with around 50 scholarship players in uniform.
Sarkisian's staff is loaded with ace recruiters. Wide receivers coach Tee Martin is one of the nation's best at locking down talent, while defensive line coach Chris Wilson, tight ends coach Marques Tuiasosopo, linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator Peter Sirmon and defensive backs coach Keith Heyward all have great reputations for securing recruits. They flexed their muscles this year and got USC back to the top of the recruiting world.
The depth of the class is impressive but what is even more important is how it addressed serious areas of need for the Trojans. They grabbed five defensive linemen, four linebackers, four offensive linemen, four defensive backs, two quarterbacks, three running backs, three wide receivers and a tight end. Another tight end, Caleb Wilson (the son of defensive line coach Chris Wilson) had other scholarship offers, but will walk on at USC.
Since the end of the 2011 cycle, USC has been limited to having just 15 scholarships available per recruiting cycle instead of a normal 25. At the same time, the program has only been allowed 75 total scholarship players. While those restrictions were essentially imposed to bury USC's football program, the Trojans appear to have emerged largely unscathed. While facing those sanctions, USC went 36-16, had two 10-win seasons and finished either first or second in the Pac-12 South every year. There are few college football programs that could have done as well under those circumstances.
Sarkisian may not be the perfect coach, and he'll never be Pete Carroll, but he certainly has USC rolling again. The Trojans went 9-4 in 2014, were 6-3 in the Pac-12 and beat a very good Nebraska team in the Holiday Bowl. That came while dealing with a crippling lack of depth, especially on defense. In all honesty, it's incredible that the program has stayed afloat during the past few seasons and even more amazing that USC's staff has so many elite players buying in to what it is selling.
USC's class is headlined by cornerbackIman Marshall, who announced his commitment with a slick video produced by Bleacher Report. Marshall is a big, physical, athletic corner who will undoubtedly play immediately and could start as soon as this fall. Watch these highlights if you want to know why Rivals ranked him as the No. 3 prospect in the country.
I could reel off all the big-time players in USC's class but that would be overkill. That said, guys like linebackers Porter Gustin, Osa Masina and John Houston will be on the field next year, while defensive linemen Rasheem Green, Jacob Daniel and Noah Jefferson will likely see playing time. On offense, two stud running backs out of Texas – home run hitter Ronald Jones and workhorse Aca'Cedric Ware – will almost surely both see action too.
Sarkisian and his staff not only needed talent and depth, but also get guys who could contribute right away. They got that with this class.
We all know recruiting success doesn't necessarily translate into wins on the field. But the first job of any college football coach is to get talent on campus. Once the kids are there, the hard part of molding them into successful college football players starts. With a senior quarterback and a ton of returning starters on both sides of the ball next season, much is expected of the Trojans. These recruits will certainly help.
Despite many questioning his hire a little more than a year ago, it's clear that Sarkisian knows what it takes to win at USC. He watched his mentor Pete Carroll do it for years and now it's his time to turn talent into wins. That is easier said than done.
The bottom line is that the USC Trojans are now past their NCAA troubles and, if signing day was any indication, the program's brand has not been damaged at all. This class could be the one that leads USC back to its glory days.
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