Recent USC classes could mean less players in 2020
Poor recruiting can come back to bite you twice. In fact, issues in that area might be as hurtful as NCAA sanctions.
Because of poor recruiting, after the conclusion of the 2019 football season, USC may have to take a limited class that reminds fans of the Lane Kiffin years.
2014 was the last class of NCAA mandated purgatory. It was a class started by Kiffin and saved by Steve Sarkisian. “Saved” might be too kind of a word. That class was basically doomed because of its size and never produced any star players outside of Adoree’ Jackson and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Even with its size issue, 2014’s class of 20 might be larger than USC’s 2020 class. The Trojans are only on track to graduate eight players this year. The Trojans ended up with 26 signees in 2019, 8 more players than they graduated. Borrowing those numbers, it seems USC is looking at a class of roughly 16 for 2020.
And unless the Men of Troy have a very strong football season, or fire the head coach, 2014’s class will not only be bigger but also almost undoubtably a more talented class.
The issue with that is obvious. A small 2020 class means concern for depth issues in the near future. It also can lead to a never ending cycle of unbalanced classes.
How did this happen?
Because Clay Helton and the coaches he had on his staff in late 2015 and early 2016 weren’t good recruiters.
Some will laugh at this statement and point to USC’s top five classes in 2017 and 2018. Let’s ignore the fact that the Trojans missed on very important targets those two years. There’s a simple explanation for USC’s recruiting in that span. A Rose Bowl championship season followed by a Pac-12 championship season. While many still weren’t convinced Helton had the Trojans back on top, there was a strong argument for his side. With the 2019 class, we saw what happened when there’s a strong argument for the football team being down and Helton being on the hot seat. The result was just more evidence that Helton isn’t good at recruiting.
In the 2016 class, a class that came after Sarkisian was fired and Helton was appointed as a surprise hire, USC didn’t have the benefit of the doubt either. Helton also just did a poor job putting things together.
Of his 20 enrollees, nine are currently redshirts and won’t graduate off the roster this year. USC also lost eight players in that class to transfers, legal issues, or medical retirement. Most of those issues can be attributed to poor character and talent evaluations on the recruiting trail.
Just look at what’s left from the 2016 class on this current roster. Outside of Michael Pittman, Tyler Vaughns and maybe Vavae Malepai, does it even matter that anyone else from that class is on the roster? The answer is absolutely not. Not one other player from that class has made any sort of impact at USC at all.
Besides that, it’s worth mentioning Helton’s lack of understanding on fundamentally important positions to recruit. For example, he signed six wide receivers that year alone.
Mistakes like that led to the issues with numbers USC has now. There are two players from the 2016 class set to leave the roster this year and eight players set to leave total. Compare that to last year when USC graduated 18 players total, eight of whom came from the 2014 class.
So what does it all mean for the future?
It means this 2019 class needs to be better than advertised and full of instant impact players. Otherwise it would seem Helton panic-offered prospects to fill up his roster for one last shot at keeping his job. That’s against the best interest of USC’s immediate future. Especially if that future doesn’t include Helton.
If the 2019 class isn’t full of instant impact stars, it means that class is as much a part of USC’s problem as 2016. The coaches may need to pray for transfers and for early entries to the NFL from the more talented 2017 and 2018 classes. Thats because of the math that sits in front of them. Again, the Trojans ended up with 26 signees in 2019, 8 more players than they graduated. Borrowing those numbers, it seems USC is looking at a class of roughly 16 for 2020.
The only class USC has had smaller than that in recent memory was way back in 2013. In fact, the other two NCAA sanctioned classes were larger.
If USC has back-to-back bad seasons, it would be wise to add more than 16 players and hope for more success a few years down the line.
A new coach would likely do just that by chasing off as many players as possible. It might just start with the most recent signing class as 2016’s players creep closer and closer to graduation.
So this season we’ll likely either see success or big changes at USC. And that’s not just about the coaching staff. It’s about the 2016 and 2019 classes, fitting since USC’s success likely comes down to the play of players from those classes.
And if USC does end up with a 16 man class this year, welcome back to sanctions USC fans. The only difference is this time, they’ll be imposed by Clay Helton and not the NCAA.