USC stresses quality over quantity in football signings
Immediately after USC finished its embarrassing season, embattled Coach Lane Kiffin proclaimed that he would sign the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class.
But Wednesday, the first day that high school players could sign national letters of intent, USC didn’t even finish No. 1 in Los Angeles.
According to Mike Farrell of Rivals.com, UCLA finished ahead of USC in its rankings for the first time since 2002. The Bruins also outpaced USC on other websites that track recruiting.
“They had a great season,” Kiffin said of UCLA. “Obviously, we had a really bad season and so we felt that competitiveness in recruiting.”
What USC did not feel was signing-day momentum. Not after a 48-hour period that saw numerous players once committed to the Trojans change course and sign with other schools.
Nevertheless, Kiffin boasted of the Trojans’ 13-player class, which features quarterback Max Browne, the Gatorade national player of the year, and several players ranked among the best at their positions nationally. Kiffin said all would all have a chance to play and some to start.
“Our top 13 are better than anybody else’s top 13,” Kiffin said, “and I don’t think anybody can argue that.”
On Wednesday, USC signed six players: offensive lineman Nico Falah of Bellflower St. John Bosco High; offensive lineman Khaliel Rodgers of Eastern Christian Academy in Elkton, Md.; linebacker Michael Hutchings of Concord De La Salle; linebacker Quinton Powell of Mainland High in Daytona Beach, Fla.; receiver Steven Mitchell of Mission Hills Alemany and running back Ty Isaac of Joliet (Ill.) Catholic High.
Those players joined a highly regarded group that includes Browne, running back Justin Davis, defensive lineman Kenny Bigelow and defensive backs Su’a Cravens, Chris Hawkins and Leon McQuay III — all of whom are enrolled and will participate in spring practice, as will receiver Darreus Rogers, who signed with USC in 2012 but was not cleared until after the season.
“Sometimes when you go big-game fishing, you’re not going to get a lot of them but you get some really big prizes,” Kiffin said.
Still, a USC class once projected as the nation’s best finished ranked 13th by Rivals.com, 14th by ESPN, 18th by Scout.com and 25th by 247sports.com.
UCLA was ranked fifth by Scout.com, 11th by Rivals.com and 247sports.com and 12th by ESPN.
“Usually, USC is finishing with a bang,” said Greg Biggins, national recruiting analyst for FOXsports/Scout.com. “That didn’t happen, but the guys they got are all elite players.”
Kiffin has lamented NCAA sanctions that limit the Trojans’ roster to 75 players and recruiting classes to 15. But the Trojans did not use all of their slots, and Kiffin said they would have 20 in 2014 for midyear enrollees and players who sign in February.
As Kiffin addressed reporters, he sounded positive but looked drained in the aftermath of defections from a projected class that last summer included 18 players who had made commitments.
Several recruits decommited from USC during the season and after the Trojans’ loss to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. But USC went into crisis mode Tuesday after three out-of-state recruits — defensive back Jalen Ramsey of Tennessee and defensive linemen Jason Hatcher of Kentucky and Torrodney Prevot of Texas — decommitted. Later that night, Redlands East Valley High defensive end Kylie Fitts, who decommited last month after USC coaches told him he could not enroll in January as planned, announced he would attend UCLA.
The bad news spilled over to Wednesday when Matthew Thomas, a linebacker from Florida whom the Trojans pursued, announced he would attend Florida State. Ramsey then signed with Florida State, Prevot with Oregon and Hatcher with Kentucky.
USC finally got some good news from Powell, who attended the same Daytona Beach high school that produced freshman All-American defensive lineman Leonard Williams.
Kiffin acknowledged that the Trojans’ 7-6 season and questions about his job status became a major issue, especially with national recruits.
“When you have a season like we had, job security is going to come up,” he said, adding, “When there’s questions about that, it’s a lot harder for a kid from a long ways away or a family to say, ‘OK, we’re going to let our kid go there with the uncertainties.’”
Kiffin has often spoken of building a barrier around Southern California to keep top recruits from signing with other schools. But only five of the Trojans’ signees are from the Southland.
“You can’t put a fence around Southern California if you don’t have enough numbers — if you don’t have enough nails to build that fence,” he said. “So there’s going to be some holes in it.”
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