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The ones that hurt the most

WeAreSC staffers Garry Paskwietz, Erik McKinney and Greg Katz recall the recruiting targets that got away or were overlooked by the Trojans.

Three biggest all-time USC recruiting misses

Garry Paskwietz

1. RB Adrian Peterson (Palestine, Tex./Palestine) -- Can you imagine if LenDale White and Reggie Bush had been subbed for off the bench by Adrian Peterson? It almost happened. Peterson took a recruiting visit to USC when the Trojans were at their peak under Pete Carroll. Peterson was shown the Hollywood night life on the trip and it made a big impression on the young man from Texas. Peterson came very close to committing, but in the end he decided to stay closer to home for family reasons and it worked out just fine for him at Oklahoma.

2. QB Dan Fouts (San Francisco/St. Ignatius) -- Fouts came along at a time when John McKay basically got any recruit he wanted on the West Coast. The Trojans began recruiting Fouts, but the assistant coach in charge of the Bay Area came back with his scouting report and he said Fouts wasn't good enough to play for USC. By the time Fouts was done launching his passing arsenal against the Trojans while playing for the Oregon Ducks, McKay turned to USC quarterback coach Craig Fertig and said "The next time there's a quarterback in the Bay Area, you're going to go evaluate him."

3. LB Casey Matthews (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian) and LB Ryan Nece (San Bernardino, Calif./Pacific) -- The shame about the recruiting misses for these players is the fact that not only were both of them pretty good players, but they were also the sons of USC football royalty. Matthews is the son of Clay Jr. -- a former USC star linebacker and 19 year NFL veteran -- and the brother of Clay III, who was making his mark for the Trojans at the time Casey was being recruited. USC never offered Casey, who went to Oregon and helped lead the Ducks to a national title game appearance. Nece is the son of Ronnie Lott, the one-time USC safety who played for John Robinson. But it was Robinson and his staff who missed by not offering Nece and letting him go across town to UCLA. Matthews just finished his rookie year with the Philadelphia Eagles while Nece spent seven years in the NFL, primarily with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Greg Katz

1. RB Freeman McNeil (Wilmington, Calif./Banning): In a major recruiting battle with UCLA, McNeil selected the Bruins and went on to be a two-time All-Pac-10 selection. Selected third overall in the first round of the 1981 NFL draft, McNeil caught a deflected pass from quarterback Jay Schroeder that was tipped by USC defensive back Jeff Fisher and went 57 yards for the winning touchdown in the Bruins' 20-17 win in his final game against the Trojans. McNeil played in 12 NFL seasons for the New York Jets and has been inducted into the Jets' Hall of Fame.

2. RB Gaston Green (Gardena, Calif./Gardena): Another huge loss in recruiting to UCLA, Green rushed for a school-record 3,731 yards from 1984-87. As a freshman, Green rushed for 134 yards against the Trojans. As a sophomore, he rushed for 145. Then as a junior, he rushed for 224, which was the most ever gained at the time by a running back against USC. In 1987, he was named an All-American and was UCLA's most valuable player in 1986 and 1987. He played six seasons in the NFL.

3. RB Napoleon Kaufman (Lompoc, Calif./Lompoc): A stinging recruiting loss to Washington. During his time with the Huskies (1991-1994), Kaufman became Washington's all-time rusher leader, a three-time All-Pac-10 pick, and a second-team All-American as a senior. He was selected by the Oakland Raiders as the 17th pick in the 1995 draft. His six-year NFL career was spent in Oakland, where he rushed for 4,792 yards. He is a member of the Husky Hall of Fame.

Erik McKinney

1. RB DeAnthony Thomas (Los Angeles/Crenshaw): Only half of the ramifications of this recruiting loss have been felt to this point. USC was on its way to completely locking up Los Angeles with its 2010 class, only to watch Thomas head to Oregon in the 11th hour. He has already shown local players that they can succeed in other Pac-12 markets, and beyond the perception issue, he's going to help keep Oregon in the conference and national spotlight for the next two or three seasons.

2. DT Gerald McCoy (Oklahoma City/Southeast) - This one is just for fun. McCoy visited the Trojans and was impressed with what he saw, but elected to stay home with the Sooners. But it sure would have been entertaining to throw a dominant defensive tackle like McCoy -- as a third-year player -- along the line of that 2008 USC defense, which featured Clay Matthews III, Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga.

3. WR DeSean Jackson (Long Beach, Calif./Long Beach Poly) - USC fans love to throw around the fact that Jackson went 0-3 against the Trojans during his career at California. But during Jackson's career as a Golden Bear, USC went 0-3 in its quest for a national championship after winning two consecutively. Jackson would have given USC a spark on the outside and in the return game that could have possibly accounted for scores against UCLA in 2006 and Stanford in 2007 -- losses that spoiled USC's chances for BCS title game berths. Jackson was headed for USC until a signing day switch.