USC signs star-studded class, also loses a few

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.