USC Football Mailbag: Is Pat Haden Vindicated?

Is Pat Haden vindicated with hires paying off? How do star rankings work? Could USC go undefeated? RoT’s weekly USC football mailbag seeks answers.

Clay Helton and Andy Enfield have put USC football and basketball on upward trajectories. The Reign of Troy mailbag this week looks at whether or not those successes vindicate former athletic director Pat Haden, plus projections for the coming season and an explanation of star rankings.

If you have a question for the mailbag, send it in to @ReignOfTroy on Twitter or via email to reignoftroy@fansided.com.

Let’s get started:

QUESTION: If you could only go to one USC game next year which would it be and why? — Toptrojanfan

ANSWER: While there are several that immediately come to mind, I would say the Stanford game, which is the second game of the season.

Stanford has consistently been a thorn in the side of USC, having a current three-game winning streak against the Trojans.

If the Trojans want to get to the Pac-12 Championship and the playoff, they must win convincingly against the Cardinal.

Stanford is known to be the most physical team in the Pac-12, a win against them early on will do well for the Trojans confidence and see if they are contenders or pretenders early on.

QUESTION: Can you explain the rating system for college football recruiting (5 star vs 4 star?) Is there a formula? — Kiko

Jan 2, 2017; Pasadena, CA, USA; USC Trojans wide receiver Deontay Burnett (80) makes a catch for a touchdown against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the first half of the 2017 Rose Bowl game at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 2, 2017; Pasadena, CA, USA; USC Trojans wide receiver Deontay Burnett (80) makes a catch for a touchdown against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the first half of the 2017 Rose Bowl game at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

ANSWER: There is no universal rating system when it comes to recruiting, but something that scouts will take into account is level of competition in high school, consistency, skill set, size, and overall demeanor as well. Also, it is important for recruits to go to and get invitations to national camps, such as the Opening, where they will square off against other top recruits to see where they really rank nationally.

While the recruiting system generally projects very well, it is not always completely accurate. Some recruits do not get a four or five-star rating because of things out of their control, such as competition or visibility.

Also, when rankings come out, they are not based on every player in the country, they are in comparison to other top players. So even a three-star is a very highly ranked player overall, and should not be thought of as someone who cannot contribute at the next level.

SEE ALSO: Grading USC’s 2017 Recruiting Class

Take Deontay Burnett for example. He was not as noticed by scouts because there were so many other players at Serra that shined. But he was still sought after by other Pac-12 programs, so there was no reason to think he could not play at a high level. The Rose Bowl, of course, removed all doubt.

QUESTION: What are the odds that USC can go undefeated with their doable schedule? — Josh Arena

ANSWER: As Alabama proved, even with an extremely loaded roster, it is very difficult to run the table from end to end.

Keep in mind last year, after a 1-3 start, most people counted the Trojans out and they were not taken very seriously. This year will be different, with everyone wanting to beat them and making it a season goal.

It is true that while the schedule does not have a bye week, many of the tough games are home games. However, USC must replace three multi-year offensive line starters, and will be without playmakers such as Juju Smith-Schuster and Adoree’ Jackson. That will be felt, particularly early on in the season when players who have not played much are asked to be starters or key contributors.

SEE MORE: How Will USC Replace 11 Starters in 2017?

Having Sam Darnold will help any team, but it is likely that youth and inexperience will cost USC at least one game.

I would give  USC a 40 percent chance of running the table in the regular season before seeing what happens in spring camp and fall camp. Depending on what happens then, the percentage may go up or down.

QUESTION: Is Pat Haden totally vindicated? I think everyone had a happy ending: Kif, Sark, Clay, O, Enfield…SC. — Andrew Gabelic

Nov 12, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; USC Trojans head coach Clay Helton hugs USC Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold (14) following a 26-13 victory against the Washington Huskies at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 12, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; USC Trojans head coach Clay Helton hugs USC Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold (14) following a 26-13 victory against the Washington Huskies at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

I am not sure if Lane Kiffin would call being fired on a LAX tarmac a happy ending. Nor would Steve Sarkisian call being fired in mid-air a happy ending. True, both coaches landed on their feet, as one would expect considering both are good offensive minds. But the only way this is a happy ending for them is if both get high profile jobs again.

If Kiffin does well at Florida Atlantic, there may be a chance. Sarkisian is more of a longshot, but with Nick Saban all things are possible.

Ed Orgeron certainly had a happy ending, although that has more to do with Les Miles demise than anything else. And he will have to win 10 games every year and beat Alabama every so often or he will meet the same fate. So, that one is too close to call, but it looks better now than, say at the end of 2013 when Orgeron left USC after Sarkisian was hired.

The same is true with Clay Helton. It’s too soon to make a definitive statement on him. He has had two very good recruiting classes, and had a 10-win inaugural season capped off with one of the greatest Rose Bowl victories of all time.

But one season is not enough. Lane Kiffin won 10 games in 2011 and was called the next great head coach in college football. We know how that ended.

CHECK OUT: Ranking USC’s All-Time Head Coaches

This season is going to be a defining one for Helton. Anything less than a Pac-12 Championship will be deemed a failure, and he has admitted that, as recently as last week at his recruiting press conference.

Andy Enfield has made USC basketball, which has generally been non-relevant, relevant and exciting, so Haden certainly has been vindicated with that hire.

QUESTION: Which freshmen do you expect to make an immediate impact in 2017? — Joe Goldman

ANSWER: Many, if not all, could make an impact if given a chance, but most will need the redshirt year, and there is no problem with that.

Joseph Lewis, the five-star receiver from Hawkins High, looks like a guy who can play immediately. He is faster and more polished a receiver than Juju Smith-Schuster was coming out of high school, and USC has two wide receiver spots open. Even if he is not the starter week one, he will likely play significant minutes.

The other two to keep an eye on are middle linebacker Taylor Katoa and nose tackle Marlon Tuipulotu. Both are early enrolles, so they are on campus now and will participate in spring practice.

RELATED: 5 Freshmen Who Could Start Early

Tuipulotu already looks the part of a nose tackle, and Katoa is athletic enough to compete. Both are also playing for vacated spots with no clear front runner, and USC has a history of playing freshmen if they prove to be worthy.

Others I could see contributing would be offensive tackle Austin Jackson, defensive tackle Jay Tufele, and safeties Bubba Bolden and Isaiah Pola-Mao. I feel confident in saying that while all four will not be starters without injury issues, all four will play.

QUESTION: Why is the failure to get the commitment from Elijah Blades not considered a miss? — amurray09

ANSWER: You cannot always get every recruit you want. In the case of Elijah Blades, if USC wanted to take him, but there was no room for him. The Trojans already lost commit Terrance Lang because of a full class.

Had there been a scholarship available, Blades might have been a Trojan. But he was a casualty of lack of numbers, so USC didn’t exactly miss.

Luckily he ended up outside the Pac-12 so USC will likely not have to be reminded yearly that they did not take a very good player.

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