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Pac-12 Football Recruiting Profiles: USC Trojans

The Pac-12 Recruiting Series Turns to the Conference Bully in USC

NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl-Ohio State vs Southern California Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to a series in which I am profiling the recruiting trends and habits of each team in the Pac-12 conference over the past 5 seasons. That includes the 2014-2018 classes ending with the incoming freshmen for this upcoming season.

The data I used does not include every single offer and commit for every program but it does include the vast majority. The cuts I made were deliberate. To see more information about what specifically is in the data set and an explanation of any metrics I used, please check out this article here which has all of the information you could want and more.

You can also look at the previous editions profiling: Arizona, Arizona State, California, Stanford, Colorado, Utah, Oregon, Oregon State, and UCLA. With that out of the way, let’s go in-depth with the USC Trojans.

Program Overview

It has been a pretty tumultuous last 5 seasons for USC. They started off the period by hiring away Steve Sarkisian from the Washington Huskies after canning Lane Kiffin. That move may get its own 30 for 30 one day given the careers both Steve and his replacement in Chris Petersen have had since then. He started things off with a disappointing 9-4 season in 2014 but things still got much worse.

A slow start to the 2015 season plus a revelation about Sarkisian’s battles with alcoholism led to USC making another move just 5 games into the season. Clay Helton took over as interim coach on the way to a 8-6 record and then was retained at the end of the year. 2016 was a better year as USC won 10 games including a rose bowl thriller over Penn State after Sam Darnold emerged at QB. The Trojans won 11 games and the Pac-12 in 2017 but missed the playoff and then had a disappointing outing against Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl. Now in 2018 Helton will have to find a new QB and hope this choice goes better than starting with Max Browne did in 2016.

General Recruiting Statistics

Average Offer: 3.89 stars, 0.929 composite rating (1st in conference)

Average Commit: 3.82 stars, 0.925 composite rating (1st in conference)

Average # of Offers: 152.6 (6th in conference)

Recruiting Style: Offers- Middle of the Road, Quality- High Roller

Perhaps the most stunning thing about those statistics are the fact that the average offer and average commit are almost identical. Every other program in the conference has a pretty decent sized gap in between. USC goes after the elite of the elite and they consistently get them.

USC has been generally in the middle of the Pac-12 in terms of offers although Helton has extended more than Sarkisian did during his time. There was a significant drop (198 down to 140) in offers between 2017 and 2018 so we’ll see if this is a new strategy for USC or a blip on the radar.

Best Recruiting Win: Class of 2014, CB Adoree Jackson, 5 stars, 0.996 composite rating.

The Trojans have had their fair share of 5-star players but Jackson was the 2nd most highly rated of any of them. He picked USC over Florida, UCLA, and LSU and no one knew which way he was leaning until he made his announcement on signing day. Jackson went on to be one of the better corners and return men in the country before becoming a 1st round NFL draft pick.

Worst Recruiting Loss: Class of 2016, OLB Mique Juarez, 5 stars, 0.9924 composite rating.

The 5-star OLB committed to USC in January of 2016 and appeared solid until the Trojans decided to move on from head coach Steve Sarkisian. That prompted Juarez to open things up where he ultimately decided to head across town to Westwood for his college ball.

Recruiting Map Profile

USC Offers 2014-2018

The Trojans are capable of pulling a recruit from anywhere but they really don’t have to go outside the most fertile of recruiting grounds very often. Two-thirds of their offers go out to the combination of California, Florida, Texas, and Georgia. They’ll reach out for the cream of the crop everywhere else but no other state gets more than 3.5% of their attention.

Highest Success States

California: +38.05%, Hawaii: +2.4%, Oregon: +2.1%

The 38% for USC and California is the highest success rate of any Pac-12 program for any state. California is a big state but USC is still king there and God have mercy on your soul if you try to pull a 5-star player out of Los Angeles and expect to get away with it. Here’s the list of where 5-stars from California have gone since 2014: USC- 10, UCLA- 5, Alabama- 3, Oklahoma- 2, Ohio State- 1, Tennessee- 1. That doesn’t provide much hope for anyone else in the conference.

Lowest Success States

Florida: -14.81%, Texas: -6.21%, Georgia: -5.69%

No other Pac-12 program gives out a higher percentage of their offers in the state of Florida than USC and they don’t really get their money’s worth. The Trojans have reeled in just 4 total commitments from Florida and only one of those was a 4-star or above. They missed on the 44 most highly rated players in that time. They’ve been a little more successful in Georgia and Texas but not by much. USC has basically picked up one elite recruit in those states in 5-star OG Chuma Edoga (Georgia) and almost 5-star RB Ronald Jones II (Texas). Overall that’s 11 of the 252 players they’ve offered from those 3 states. USC’s reach is mighty but it still struggles to bring anyone to L.A from SEC country.

Out of Conference Profile

Non-Conference Rival- Alabama Crimson Tide, 50.0%.

Perhaps nothing speaks to USC’s success on the recruiting tale as being in a dead heat with Alabama after 72 battles. That number is the highest between any Pac-12 school and a non-conference opponent. If a player is a 5-star recruit then the odds are they will have an offer from both Alabama and USC and will often go to one of them. The tiebreaker has probably won by Bama since they hold a narrow 16-13 lead on 5-star players.

Non-Conference Big Brother- Texas Longhorns, 27.27%.

As noted above, even USC has trouble going into Texas and pulling recruits out. However, while the Longhorns have a 24-9 overall advantage they have lost out on 4 of the 5 most highly rated recruits. The aforementioned Ronald Jones II is the only one of those though that USC stole away from the state of Texas. The count is 18-2 in Texas’s favor for home state kids.

Non-Conference Little Brother- Nebraska Cornhuskers, 84.48%.

Nebraska likes to think that they still have pull on the West Coast but that’s not really true anymore. USC holds a stunning 49-9 edge on the Huskers including the 19 most highly rated prospects. The big victory for Nebraska was getting high 4-star WR Tyjon Lindsey out of Nevada but other than that it has been slim pickings.

USC Pac-12 Recruiting Win % (2014-2018)

Year Conf H2H % Conf. Rank
Year Conf H2H % Conf. Rank
2014 16.00% 3
2015 25.00% 1
2016 18.09% 2
2017 14.38% 3
2018 13.28% 3
Overall 16.67% 2

USC’s results look surprisingly underwhelming when you don’t factor in degree of difficulty. 2015 is the only year that they finished above 20%. Although it’s pretty astonishing to get to that level giving out 50+ more offers than Stanford or Wasington did in the seasons they reached that peak.

USC Weighted Pac-12 Recruiting Win % (2014-2018)

Year Conf H2H % Conf. Rank
Year Conf H2H % Conf. Rank
2014 89.41% 1
2015 145.83% 1
2016 69.63% 2
2017 86.25% 1
2018 76.74% 2
Overall 93.57% 1

However, once the degree of difficulty is factored in you get to see what a behemoth the Trojans have been. And that 2015 class looks even more absurd. It included 13 players who had 8+ Pac-12 offers and 6 who had 10+. Say what you want about Steve Sarkisian but his one full offseason as the coach at USC he was almost untouchable on the recruiting trail. USC has still been very good to dominant under Helton but it’s a notch below what Sark did in his short stint. They have been just as good getting 5-star players in the boat but the bottom end of the classes have been weaker under Helton.

Early Outlook for 2019 and Beyond

It has been a little bit of a perplexing start to 2019 recruiting for USC. Right now the Trojans have 7 commitments but only 1 of them is a composite 4-star player and the other 6 are all 3-star players. On top of that, the bottom two would (as of right now) be the lowest rated player that USC has signed in years and their QB has a 0.87 composite rating rather than the typical 0.97. Their average offer is at the same level it always is but the average commit is far below. It wouldn’t shock anyone if these guys get dropped in December and replaced with flashy names but it’s also possible that Helton is focusing on culture fit over star rating for some of them.

I said on Tuesday that it’s basically impossible to screw up recruiting at UCLA but that’s doubly true at USC. If Clay Helton goes into any living room on the West Coast to talk to a player then there’s a good shot he’s walking out the favorite. And that statement has literally nothing to do with Clay Helton. USC just concluded its best 2-year stretch in several years but it feels like a very large chunk of the credit should go to Sam Darnold rather than the coaching staff. You can’t be outright bad with all of USC’s 5-star talent but this year Helton will have to prove that he can consistently win the Pac-12 without a slam dunk option at QB.


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