Nick Selbe: A much larger impact than I think most people realize. The ASU game was the epitome of the effect of the scholarship losses, with USC having only 2 scholarship WRs on the roster. Losing 10 scholarship players for three straight seasons puts the Trojans at an incredible disadvantage each week, with one or two injuries decimating the team's depth chart. When the NCAA announced the sanctions in 2010, people said that it was the scholarship losses, not the bowl ban, that would really hinder the program. They were right.
Will Robinson: They've played a moderate role. They've allowed a smaller margin of error in recruiting and developing guys. In addition, since Kiffin was concerned about depth (55 guys dressed for ASU), the soft practices last season killed the team's physicality. However, as has been pointed out across the interwebs, USC has signed more players since 2010 than Stanford, and Georgia had as many scholarship players last year when it came within a play of beating Alabama in the SEC Championship game.
Evan Budrovich: The slew of scholarship reductions has affected performance by cracking down in two distinct ways. First and foremost limited numbers means players must be utilized more effectively and more often on the field, slightly hindering the specialization of scholarship roster spots for unique roles. Also sometimes it appeared that under Lane Kiffin, the crutch of scholarship reductions became the biggest hindrance for success of any around the program.
Not to undermine the importance of losing players, but plenty of talented contributors still line the sideline. It's just up to the heads in charge to transform the mid-level players in good ones and create opportunities for his best to shine brightest on Saturday's. The major position where the change takes fold is the offensive line, one in which even USC AD Pat Haden admitted was vastly under recruited. We have already seen that Coach Orgeron embraces the 11-best guys will play mentality, so one would hope this regime would find better ways to manage numbers instead of hiding behind them.
Shotgun Spratling: Sanctions will hurt any team and any coach. Don't believe me? Ask Nick Saban. Guess who has a worse record than Lane Kiffin when his team has been under sanctions? At Michigan State, Saban had to endure four years of probation, including two years of scholarship reductions. Saban was 28-19 during the probation period (Kiffin's final tally was 28-15), but even more telling, when MSU lost scholarships in 1996 and 1997, the Spartans went 6-6 and 7-5, followed by a 6-6 season in 1998. It wasn't until he was a year removed from the scholarship losses that Michigan State went 10-2 with Saban departing for LSU before the Spartans' bowl game.
It gets forgotten that USC also had to deal with free agency transfers that saw the departure of players such as Malik Jackson, Uona Kaveinga, Travon Patterson and Brice Butler, who have all been on NFL rosters. Those are valuable players that could have helped with the grooming of younger players and provided more talented depth in the early years, allowing the Trojans to have more competitive practices. Speaking of practices, it's more difficult to be continually improving in practice when the coaching staff constantly has to be worried about depth issues and have the physical practices they would prefer to run.
And to counter Will, Georgia has a long history of preferred walk-ons that are able to go to Georgia as walk-ons because of the HOPE Scholarship program that provides any Georgia high school student that carries a certain GPA (was B average while I was in high school, not sure if that has changed or not) a free education to any public college or university. Those players may not get all the amenities provided to scholarship athletes like training table meals, but they still are able to attend for free and join the football team. The preferred walk-ons UGA is able to bring in give the team much more depth than it might appear on first glance at their number of scholarship players.