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Monday, September 9, 2013
Recruits turned off by USC's poor showing

By Erik McKinney

In a sport in which turnover is constant and there are very few sure things on the recruiting trail, college football has seen its share of rapid rises and falls -- programs or coaches going from the penthouse to the outhouse, or vice versa, in a short period of time.

Saturday night marked another low point in the precipitous fall of the USC football program. Trojans fans will likely debate whether the 10-7 loss to Washington State -- which featured 54 passing yards by two USC quarterbacks -- ranks above or below last season’s 21-7 loss to Georgia Tech in the Hyundai Sun Bowl, when USC totaled 205 yards of offense.

What is no longer up for debate is where this program sits in comparison to 14 months ago.

Lane Kiffin
The calls from USC fans to fire Lane Kiffin were discomforting to potential recruits.
As July 2012 came to a close, USC held the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class -- one of the more impressive collections of talent in recent memory, featuring 18 terrific high school athletes -- and was a few weeks away from being ranked No. 1 in the country in the preseason Associated Press poll. The disappointing 2012 football season took its toll on that recruiting class, as eight of the 18 verbal commitments wound up signing letters of intent with other programs.

While an offseason filled with coaching questions led to a slow start to the 2014 recruiting class, Saturday’s loss might have put the brakes on it completely. That is, if Saturday’s performance remains the status quo.

USC picked a bad night to have one of its worst offensive games in school history. Several 2014 and 2015 recruits in attendance for USC’s first home game of the season were witnesses to prolonged boos and a chant urging athletic director Pat Haden to fire head coach Lane Kiffin.

ESPN 300 recruits Adoree’ Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra), John Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly), Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco), Dwight Williams (Gardena, Calif./Serra), Malik Dorton (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) and 2015 ESPN 300 prospects Josh Rosen (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) and Iman Marshall (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) were just a few of the recruits in attendance, and the scene did not go over well with many of them and others in attendance. The result on the field puts the Trojans in some immediate peril with some of their top local targets.

“It was kind of a letdown,” said an in-state ESPN 300 recruit who wished to remain anonymous. “It's really thrown me off of them. I think everybody thought the play calling could have been better. That game shouldn't have ended like that. You could hear it in the crowd -- the "Fire Kiffin" chants -- it's that noticeable when the crowd is saying it. Probably people who don't even really understand football are noticing that they're running that bubble screen that many times."

That recruit was not alone in his thoughts. Several prospects in attendance -- both committed and uncommitted -- shared a familiar refrain, saying that there is plenty of work to do for the Trojans and that it starts by settling on a quarterback.

One USC verbal commitment went slightly farther than that, saying that it’s “kind of hard right now” to be a Trojans commitment after going back and watching the team struggle against Hawaii, lose to Washington State and part ways with ESPN 300 defensive tackle Tashon Smallwood (Fresno, Calif./Central). That same commitment said the booing in the stands was “a little turn-off” during the game, but that he would give everything a few weeks to wait and see how the season plays out before making any kind of decision on whether to remain committed.

Junior cornerback Stanley Norman (Culver City, Calif./Culver City) was one of several local 2015 standouts who picked up an offer from USC this past summer. Though Norman could not make it to the game, he did watch it and had a reaction.

“As far as the outcome of the game, I knew Washington State would come out playing hard, but words can’t really explain it right now -- I don’t know what to really think about USC right now. As far as USC football goes, I don’t know. They have a lot to work on. … SC does lose a little bit of style points -- they have to lose some points for that one. But SC football is still going to be SC football. They are always going to be a powerhouse; they just have to establish that powerhouse again.”

That last thought from Norman should give some hope to USC fans hoping to salvage a 2014 recruiting class and begin the 2015 class -- the first full class after three years of NCAA-imposed sanctions -- on a high note. One of college football’s blue bloods, USC is one of a handful of programs never more than a year away from a complete turnaround because of the consistent presence of talent on the roster.

And whether or not the fans in the Coliseum got into the heads of the recruits, the conclusions both groups are drawing are becoming more similar. There is still plenty of time to turn the season around and quiet the vocal detractors, but for at least this week, some local recruits wouldn’t seem to mind talk of a new head coach pacing the sidelines in 2013.

“As of right now, I’d probably think differently [about USC] if there was a new coach,” said an ESPN 300 recruit.

Another took it a step further, providing a harsh reality but also perhaps something of a silver lining.

“Talking to some other recruits about the game and coaches -- honestly, USC recruiting would change a lot with a change. … I don’t have anything against [coach] Kiffin personally, but I’m sure a coaching change would change a lot. If something happened, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the recruits came to USC.”

Recruiting is never black and white, and just as there is no consensus opinion from recruits on how the Washington State loss affected their perception of the Trojans, there is no guarantee that a change in leadership would positively affect the direction of the program.

But 14 months after Lane Kiffin and USC found smooth sailing atop the college football world, Trojans fans didn't need long to make their feelings known about a patch of rough water. And in the immediate aftermath of last weekend's loss, it appears that a wide range of talented recruits aren't far behind.