LOS ANGELES (AP) — Although Southern California signed another loaded recruiting class Wednesday, the Trojans were left lamenting the talent that got away.
USC formally added 13 players on national signing day, including seven elite prospects who already enrolled last month as freshmen. The recruiting class is even smaller than the limits imposed by NCAA sanctions, which are still hampering the Trojans’ recruiting efforts through next season.
“If you’re only going to sign 13, our top 13 are better than anybody else’s top 13, and I don’t think anybody can argue that,” coach Lane Kiffin said.
Yet even while lauding another class stacked with five-star recruits, Kiffin acknowledged he didn’t get everybody he wanted, losing players to a combination of the Trojans’ NCAA problems, their awful 2012 season, Kiffin’s own job uncertainty and the usual caprices of teenagers choosing colleges.
“When you go big-game fishing, you’re not going to get a lot of them, but you’re going to get some really good guys,” Kiffin said. “They’re the cream of the crop — impact players.”
Kiffin and star recruiter Ed Orgeron led the effort to ink several high schoolers ranked among the nation’s best at their positions, including quarterback Max Browne, defensive lineman Kenny Bigelow and safeties Su’a Cravens and Leon McQuay III. They’re already enrolled at USC along with defensive back Chris Hawkins, tailback Justin Davis and receiver Darreus Rogers, a signee from last February who needed a year to get eligible.
USC added six incoming freshmen Wednesday, headlined by elite offensive lineman Nico Falah from nearby Bellflower, Calif. The group also includes tailback Ty Isaac, receiver Steven Mitchell, offensive lineman Khaliel Rodgers and linebackers Michael Hutchings and Quinton Powell.
“We think that these players can come in right away and help us,” Kiffin said. “Probably a couple of them will start. We obviously have some holes to fill. We’ve been on them for a long time. It’s not a ton of guys, but I don’t feel like we reached, either. We took players that are able to perform at this level.”
Falah’s commitment to the Trojans apparently wavered late in the process, but he stuck with USC — unlike cornerback Jalen Ramsey, defensive end Jason Hatcher, defensive end Torrodney Prevot, safety Max Redfield and defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes, who all committed to USC earlier in the recruiting process before heading elsewhere.
“As you look at college football recruiting, commitment means less and less,” said Kiffin, who left Tennessee for USC three years ago after 14 months in charge of the Volunteers. “It’s kind of not cool anymore to be an early commit.”
Kiffin cited several reasons for the Trojans’ recruiting losses, including their “really bad season” featuring USC’s fall from the preseason No. 1 ranking to a 7-6 record and an ignominious loss to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. Kiffin realizes his own job uncertainty put doubt in recruits’ minds, given the criticism he received from fans and alumni for the performance of a team featuring Matt Barkley, Robert Woods, Marqise Lee and a talent-laden defense.
“We didn’t help. You go 7-6 and finish the way we did, it’s not going to help our energy,” Kiffin said. “It gave other schools more time to catch up to us and pass us in some cases.”
Although the Trojans cited their scholarship restrictions as a factor in many of last season’s woes, cutting into the depth that was exposed during their late-season fade, Kiffin elected not to sign less-heralded players to fill out the USC roster after those big names decommitted. Kiffin won’t stop looking for late recruits, but USC apparently won’t fill its five available scholarships.
The Trojans’ small class has an added benefit, however: USC can sign 20 players in 2014, five over its NCAA-mandated limit in the final year of severe scholarship restrictions.
“We just made a decision that we’d rather have those spots for next year and sign 20 next year,” Kiffin said.