For all the hype surrounding Steve Sarkisian's return to the University of Southern California, the rubber will finally hit the road once the team begins Fall Camp practices on August 4th. But what fans, coaches, players and media members alike are gawking over at the moment is the overall improvement this program is expected to make over the next few years.
Led by ESPN College Football analyst Travis Haney, along with Brad Edwards, Brock Huard, Tom Luginbill and Mark Schlabach, experts provided 1-10 ratings in five different categories that they found to be comprehensive in determining current positioning, as well as a projection for the upcoming 2015 and 2016 football seasons.
Measuring Coaching, Current Talent, Recruiting, Title Path, Program Power on a weighted scale, these experts finally crafted their list of the top-25 college football programs suited with the most staying power over the next three seasons. After only scoring 59.15 in last periods future rankings, the Trojans skyrocketed to an impressive 81.7 overall mark as the sixth best team in the nation, trailing only Alabama (1), Florida State (2), Ohio State (3), LSU (4) and Auburn (5).
USC's most fierce football rival, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, finished 9th overall in the future rankings while Pac-12 foes Oregon (13th), Stanford (15th) and UCLA (16th) all cracked the top-25. While the SEC led all of College Football with seven programs in the list, the ACC (5), Big 10 (4), Big 12 (4) and Pac-12 (4) made impressive showings.
EXPLAINING USC'S RANKING
It all starts with great leadership at the top, and the Trojans made the largest leap (25th to sixth) once Lane Kiffin was fired and Steve Sarkisian took over the coaching reigns. That coaching move combined with the stable and player-friendly leadership from Athletic Director Pat Haden earned USC a 7.4 out of 10 in this vital department.
"Pat Haden is a pretty smart guy, a Rhodes Scholar," Brock Huard said. "Arguably the greatest attribute that Steve was going to bring was familiarity with Southern California and the [high school] staffs in that area. I don't think there was a higher attribute on Haden's radar than infusing talent, and I think they're going to do that with the high school and junior college familiarity. You weren't going to find anybody better than Steve for that."
In terms of the current talent on the field, the Trojans are led by experienced contributors at many of the most important positions. Defensively, the panel was impressed with the trio of superstars in Leonard Williams, Hayes Pullard and Su'a Cravens anchoring every level, along with talented contributors Josh Shaw and J.R. Tavai earning the Trojans an 8.2 score out of 10 for this category.
What should bring fans the most confidence moving forward however, was on the offensive side of the ball with quarterbacks Cody Kessler, Max Browne and five-star commit Ricky Town providing great depth at the most important position in football.
The experts firmly believe USC could still be a few pieces away from winning championships this season, especially at WR and TE where Randall Telfer and Nelson Agholor are some of the lone battle-tested contributors on the roster, but the talent overall certainly keeps them firmly in the top-25 rankings for the foreseeable future.
Given that USC's 25-man scholarship numbers have returned, the next two or three recruiting classes could say a great deal about the Trojans ability to acquire an unheralded bevy of athletically transcendent offensive talent.
POWER RANKINGS METHODOLOGY
Despite an improved recruiting pitch from UCLA, the Trojans still hands down control the top talent in Southern California and can even have their pick of the litter on talented Northern California prospects. USC may have wiped the records away with Reggie Bush, but his legacy continues to impact recruits that grew up watching him dominate the game.
One of the underrated, but highly important parts of these future rankings surrounds a teams path to the championship. The Pac-12 has improved significantly since the last time USC won the National Championship, and that upswing has helped but also hurt the Trojans chances in these rankings.
While a team like Ohio State for example has an 8.8 out of 10 in the Big-10 conference, USC's 7.4 score reflects the top-to-bottom talent that exists in the conference. Just for arguments sake, the SEC West which houses the likes of LSU, Texas A&M, Auburn and Alabama makes the Title Path to the College Football Playoff much more difficult.
The final predictor for success in the College Football Future Rankings takes into account the luxuries of playing football at an individual school that don't necessarily impact the outcome, but are rather noticeable. Program Power accounts for fan and institutional support, facilities, resources/history, in addition to intangibles. USC scored very well here with an 8.8 score, which tied for the third highest in the nation.
Combine USC's ownership of the Los Angeles Coliseum with the incredible John McKay Center and other practice facilities and the Trojans will continue to do well appealing to athletes both on and off the field. Once the program wins 10-plus games on a consistent basis, the Trojans will ultimately be able to live up to these lofty future rankings.