When it comes to the variables that coaches deal with in the complex world of recruiting these days, it would be difficult to find two that are better equipped to deal with challenges that USC faces than Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron.
Orgeron has reached legendary status at USC for his prowess as a recruiter, dating back to when he landed Shaun Cody, and helped Pete Carroll build one of the most dominant programs in recent memory.
Now as Kiffin’s right hand man, the duo have dealt with a two-year bowl ban, which most observers felt would sink morale and create a team that lacked motivation or the will to win. Not to mention the negative effect it would have on recruiting.
USC responded with a Top 5 recruiting class and an impressive 10-2 season in 2011.
There was the NCAA ruling that allowed the upperclassmen impacted by the bowl ban an opportunity to transfer without sitting out a year, which created a form of free agency and the eventual departures of players like Malik Jackson, D.J. Shoemate and Travon Patterson.
Of that group, Malik Jackson had the most success, developing into one of Tennessee’s top defensive players and becoming a solid NFL prospect.
But besides causing some depth issues, the effect of the transfers has been minimal.
“Being able to keep the core of the team together and more importantly signing the talent they were able to bring in in 2010 and 2011 was nothing short of remarkable,” Scout’s Director of Scouting Scott Kennedy said. “Most teams facing NCAA sanctions aren't bringing in talent the caliber of Robert Woods and Marquise Lee among others, and some teams could lose some of their leaders like Matt Barkley.
“Getting or keeping those guys on campus while trimming the roster of non producers will help lessen the impact of the scholarship reductions that are coming the next three years.”
Now, because of the NCAA sanctions the Trojans are restricted to signing just 15 players in the 2012 class. But by bringing in a solid group of mid-year enrollees, who count toward the previous year’s total, the roster will remain stocked with talented young players.
“USC has been creative, and crafty, with how they’ve been able to function with the limited scholarships- mainly using early enrollees, and allowing them a cushion for the following seasons’ class,” Scout National Recruiting Analyst Brandon Huffman said.
Norco linebacker Scott Starr is the headliner of the early enrollees. The four-star recruit has impressed the veteran players with his work ethic during his short time on campus.
Starr has good size, speed and will be a great addition to USC’s young linebacker corps that already includes: Dion Bailey, Hayes Pullard, Lamar Dawson, Tre Madden and Anthony Sarao. Add in Jabari Ruffin from Downey High School and the days of Linebacker U. could soon be returning to Southern California.
The Trojans were also able to add Santa Monica two-way standout Chad Wheeler, who was recruited as an offensive tackle, but could add depth on either side of the ball down the line. As well as a pair of older players that could have an immediate impact in 2012 in JUCO transfer Morgan Breslin and Florida defensive back transfer Joshua Shaw.
Breslin was regarded as one of the top JUCO defensive linemen in California last year and could see playing time this coming season with the departures of Christian Tupou, DaJohn Harris, Nick Perry and Armond Armstead, who plans to transfer at the conclusion of the current semester.
Shaw was recruited by USC in 2010 but opted to sign with the Gators. He was a productive player in his time at Florida but decided to move back home (Palmdale) because of an illness in his family.
Normally, transfers have to sit out a season, but Shaw has applied for a hardship waiver from the NCAA, and if granted, would be immediately eligible to play at USC.
The addition of Shaw, along with Pierce College safety Gerald Bowman and Muir High School cornerback Kevon Seymour, would give USC an experienced, and fairly deep secondary for the first time in the Kiffin era.
“When you consider how few scholarships they have to give, and look at the talent they’re bringing in, Kiffin and his staff have done a remarkable job,” Huffman said. “The USC offer is still the gold standard for a kid from the West coast, but USC had to be more deliberate and judicious this year.”
In the always-evolving world of college recruiting you either adapt or risk becoming irrelevant, so while the bowl ban and scholarship reductions have certainly changed the game, Kiffin and Orgeron have done a solid job of keeping the Trojans at the top of the Pac.
Lane Kiffin has done a good job of dealing with the NCAA sanctions at USC.