Thursday, February 2, 2012
Signing day observations
By Pedro Moura
Here are five more USC-centric observations from National Signing Day, focusing on what they will mean for the future of the Trojans. Later, we'll have a post on some news and notes Lane Kiffin revealed in his signing day press conference.
1. The star(s)
Most recruiting classes have one or two players who are recognizable names, often top-recruited quarterbacks or skill-position players from the area.
But the two most exciting players -- defensive end Leonard Williams and receiver Nelson Agholor, both from Florida -- in the Trojans' 2012 class don't fit either of those bills.
Williams' decision to choose USC didn't attract a ton of national attention, but it's clear the Trojans were both surprised and delighted at his choice. Kiffin credited defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron for sealing Williams' signature from out-of-state.
The 6-5, 270-pounder spent high school on the East coast of Florida, but he hails from L.A. and attended a camp at USC last summer. That's where USC's interest stemmed from.
Agholor is an interesting combination as an elite athletic prospect and a superb character guy. His high-school highlight film is prodigious; his press-conference performance Wednesday morning when he picked the Trojans earned him some positive attention.
Kiffin said Agholor will primarily play receiver at USC but could occasionally log some time at running back.
2. Depth issues at two spots
We wrote about the offensive line on signing day and how USC wanted to get one more lineman in the fold, but the truth is there were two other positions where the Trojans needed players more desperately than they did on the O-line.
Those spots? Defensive tackle and running back. The Trojans have only four scholarship tackles on the roster, and two of them have never played in a college game. The other two, J.R. Tavai and George Uko, have played but started a combined one game.
At running back, USC has three scholarship players and only two with any experience in Curtis McNeal and D.J. Morgan.
Kiffin didn't shy away from saying Wednesday that the Trojans were worried about their depth in the backfield. But, he emphasized, they chose being worried about depth over taking a prospect of questionable character or talent.
Kiffin has made so many references in his now-25-month tenure at USC to the last time he coached with the Trojans, or what he often calls the "old days." It usually involves him lamenting how things were easier.
Well, he made a couple of more call-backs Wednesday, with one particularly sticking out -- the way he referred to linebacker signees Scott Starr and Jabari Ruffin.
Kiffin said both players' size and speed combinations reminded him of the last great linebacker class at USC, tacitly naming Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews. Starr, already in the program as an early enrollee, resembles Cushing physically and could end up being a similar player.
Then there's running back/fullback Jahleel Pinner, who is a similar prospect at this point as former Trojan back Stanley Havili was when he came out of a Utah high school in 2006. When Havili signed with USC, he weighed about 210 pounds. Pinner's already at 225 and could get smaller or bigger, so both backfield positions are legitimate possibilities.
That's three of 12 signees with specific resemblances to players of the past.
4. Stanford and Washington, not Oregon and UCLA
In recent years, USC has battled with the Ducks and Bruins on signing day and the weeks leading up to it. This time was totally different -- the Trojans barely went against either of those schools for any prospects.
But Stanford and UW? They went head-to-head with USC on a ton of prospects Wednesday, from defensive end Pio Vatuvei (who chose UW over USC) to offensive tackle Zach Banner and corner Devian Shelton, who both chose USC over UW. Then the Cardinal had offensive tackles Andrus Peat and Kyle Murphy and defensive tackle Aziz Shittu all pick them over the Trojans.
That doesn't necessarily bode well or poorly for USC -- it's more interesting than anything else. And it's easy to see why the Huskies and Cardinal competed with the Trojans this year, with UW and Steve Sarkisian hiring recruiting coordinator extraordinaire Tosh Lupoi away from Cal last month and the Cardinal making a BCS bowl each of the last two years and sending two O-linemen to the draft this year as probable first-rounders.
It's not that Oregon didn't put together a good class, either. The Ducks did fine, but the prospects they're interested in are often a lot different than the players USC is interested in. But Washington and Stanford's systems are more similar to USC's, which creates more opportunities for clashing.
The Pac-12 recruiting landscape could be changing.
5. Next year's early enrollees
On the topic of the future, USC only took 12 players on signing day, which clearly allows the school to more easily manage the scholarship restrictions this year.
But it also -- and probably more importantly -- gives the Trojans the chance to take three more players next January, which is more beneficial to the program in the long term.
What kind of players could they be taking? A running back is a virtual guarantee, and a quarterback is likely too. Signal-callers are usually the players most likely to enroll early, and USC will be presenting an elite 2013 quarterback with a clear opportunity to start for two seasons after sitting out a couple of years.
Whereas this year the Trojans used the early-enrollee season to take on fringe prospects like Chad Wheeler, next year they appear likely to use it to attract big-time prospects.
It'll be interesting to see.