USC Football is currently in an interesting state right now. It’s currently on its way to the Holiday Bowl. However, things at USC aren’t quite all up to par with the backlash of Clay Helton staying on as the head coach and the Trojans results on the field not matching the talent that they have on paper. That isn’t the only thing that’s interesting. Recruiting at USC has also been in a weird place and not for the good.
The Trojans recruiting process has been down for the past couple of season and is at a historic low. Last season, the USC 2019 recruiting class finished No. 20 in the 247 sports team rankings and No. 3 in the Pac-12 recruiting rankings. Although two players who decommitted or transferred out of the program in Chris Steele and Bru McCoy, eventually made their way to USC, it wasn’t enough to elevate them in the rankings.
The 2020 recruiting class for USC is currently dead last in the Pac-12 and sits at No. 81 in the national rankings, which is the lowest ever for the program since it started keeping track of team rankings in the early 2000’s. With early signing period just days away, it’s pretty concerning to see USC in this state. The question fans want to know is why? Why is USC recruiting down? What’s the cause?
Some may point out the uncertainty with the head coaching situation at USC was hurting recruiting. This is a big reason why key in-state blue chip recruits were flocking out of state. USC athletic director Mike Bohn made the decision to retain Helton as the head football coach, however that has not made matters any better. USC has had de-commitments from recruits such as five-star quarterback Bryce Young and tight end Jack Yary, while other blue chip instate recruits pass up USC and leave the state. While the chatter is indeed down at the moment, it is safe to say that Helton could be right back on the hot seat if the Trojans underperform against Alabama next season. Recruits don’t want to come to an unstable situation where they don’t know if their current coach will be there or not.
With the de-commits and in-state recruits passing up USC, it’s a clear indication that the program is lacking something that other elite programs such as Ohio State, Clemson, Alabama and even Oregon have. Recruits feel that they can leave California to be better prepared for the next level and compete on the big stage for a national championship. The last two seasons have shown that USC is indeed far from that. The decision making around the program has shown that the Trojans have a long way to go.
In an article written by Shotgun Spratling of the LA Times back in September, multiple recruits have voiced those exact sentiments. It wasn’t just players who voiced that. Some parents of blue chip players have expressed similar issues with USC, when it comes to winning and preparing for the next level. Kendall Milton’s dad Chris Milton, took to twitter to share how USC’s decision making is turning some top recruits in California away from the program.
It's no wonder why people don't believe in USC... Wow.... I think now, more than ever, kids are not hesitant to leave the state of California.... ♂️— Chris Milton (@fatherofballers) December 5, 2019
USC has also struggled the last couple of years on the field. While the Trojans are indeed going to a bowl game, they’re not competing at a high level or putting themselves in a position to do that. With the talent the program has at the moment, it has finished 5-7 in 2018 and 8-4 this season. All of it boils down to coaching not taking advantage of the talent. Recruits may see that and will think, “Do I really want to stay home and go to USC?” Not to mention there are other programs who as of late, have had players go in the first round of the NFL Draft, numerous All-Americans, and playing in the College Football Playoff or are at least in the discussion. USC only been in the discussion once and that came in 2017.
Clay Helton and the program can indeed fix this problem. As the term says, “winning fixes everything.” Helton and his staff are indeed capable of turning this around. How you might ask? Well let’s look at what is currently there. The Trojans have offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, who’s offense ranked in the top 20 nationally, running an explosive Air Raid offense. Also, the success of current freshmen in Drake Jackson, Drake London, Kedon Slovis and Chris Steele could play a factor. All are players who stayed local and found success with the Trojans so far.
What about that needs to be fixed? Going away from winning, USC need to pour its resources into improving recruiting and player development. Grow its recruiting staff, do what it can to compete with Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oregon. USC Football is a blue blood program of College Football. Helton should take this time to show those around the nation and in California, that USC is serious about competing at a national scale. The issue right now is that people believe that the Trojans aren't serious about their football program because they’re doing nothing to improve it. Bohn has mentioned keeping top recruits in California and Helton said they now have the tools and resources to build a championship program. They need to show that.
Yes, USC recruits itself and there’s plenty of positives surrounding the football program, however it’s also safe to say the luster around the program has worn off with it not competing at a national level. Whether you want to point out coaching being part of that problem, the administration failing to look at the obvious, or USC just falling behind other elite programs, something has to be fixed with recruiting.
It’s obvious that the 2020 recruiting class won’t stay at 12th in the conference. USC can still swing a few blue chip recruits its way between the early signing period and national signing day. The 2021 and 2022 classes on the other hand, will be something to keep an eye on. No changes were made at the head coaching position, which didn't make very many people happy. USC said changes were coming. Now it’s time for it to put its money where its mouth is and turn the recruiting problem around.