After a disappointing season for USC, Coach Lane Kiffin has much work to… (Harry How / Getty Images )
USC's Ed Orgeron is regarded as one of the top recruiting coordinators in college football, receivers coach Tee Martin a rising recruiting star. And experts rate Trojans Coach Lane Kiffin in the top 10 when it comes to selling his program.
Those reputations could be burnished — or torched — on Wednesday, the first day that high school seniors can sign national letters of intent.
With seven new players — including quarterback Max Browne, the Gatorade national player of the year — attending classes at USC and preparing for spring practice, the Trojans already have enough marquee talent in house to ensure a top-10 class, despite being limited by NCAA sanctions.
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"We went after some specific needs in this class," Orgeron said. "If it turns out the way we want it to, it could be one of our best."
But this year will measure the staff's closing prowess.
Last summer, with commitments from 18 top prospects, USC's projected class was regarded as No. 1 by several recruiting websites. "It didn't look like anyone would catch them," said Mike Farrell, national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com.
However, in November, not long after USC began spiraling to a 7-6 record, safety Max Redfield decommitted from the Trojans. Since then, five other players who made commitments to the Trojans also announced they would reopen their recruitment.
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Redfield committed to Notre Dame, receiver Eldridge Massington to UCLA and receiver/defensive back Sebastian LaRue to Texas A&M.
"It happens to everybody," Farrell said of programs beset by vacillating recruits. But Farrell added that USC's situation was "more than normal" and heightened because it involved more "big-time guys than anyone else this year."
The uncertainty has caused USC to slide in the rankings. The Trojans are ranked sixth by 247Sports.com, seventh by Rivals.com, eighth by ESPN.com and 11th by Scout.com.
Kiffin, who has a 32-19 record in four seasons as a college head coach, has said repeatedly that the Trojans would sign the nation's No. 1 class. That is unlikely, experts said, but the Trojans could surge into the top five.
"USC has a coaching staff you never can count out," said Barton Simmons, national recruiting analyst for 247sports.com. "They always seem to pull a couple rabbits out of the hat."
As many as six players who made commitments are reportedly on the fence about whether they will sign with USC. Defensive back Jalen Ramsey, a longtime commit from Tennessee, is reportedly weighing offers from Florida and Florida State. Defensive lineman Torrodney Prevot from Texas is being pursued by Texas A&M, and defensive lineman Jason Hatcher from Kentucky has given mixed signals via Twitter about his commitment to USC.
Meantime, offensive lineman Nico Falah of Bellflower St. John Bosco is reportedly being wooed by Washington and Oregon. Defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes of Auburn Placer High, who reopened his recruitment in December, could choose Alabama, Notre Dame or UCLA. Defensive lineman Kylie Fitts of Redlands East Valley, who graduated from high school early and then was told by Trojans coaches that he could not enroll until summer, also is said to be considering UCLA.
"That would be a double whammy," Erik McKinney, West recruiting coordinator for ESPN.com, said of potentially losing Vanderdoes and Fitts to the Bruins.
Orgeron and Kiffin, assistants under former Trojans coach Pete Carroll, demonstrated their recruiting chops at Tennessee in 2009 and in their three most recent seasons with the Trojans. But that has not translated to win-loss records good enough to be considered for the Bowl Championship Series title game, regardless of USC's bowl ban in 2010 and 2011.
Since 2002, all but two of Rivals.com's No. 1-rated recruiting classes played in the BCS title game within three years — Texas in 2002, Louisiana State in 2003, USC in 2004 and 2005, Florida in 2007 and Alabama in 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012. USC's 2006 class fell short, as did the Trojans' class of 2010.
The table was set for USC's top-ranked 2010 class last season when the Trojans opened the season No. 1. But the Trojans lost five of their last six games, including an embarrassing Sun Bowl loss to Georgia Tech.
"The 2010 class just hasn't panned out," Farrell said. "That's part of the problem."
USC's 2010 class produced receiver Robert Woods, USC's all-time receptions leader, and three-year starting cornerback Nickell Robey — who both declared for the 2013 draft. Starting linebackers Hayes Pullard and Dion Bailey and tight ends Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer and defensive tackle George Uko also were part of the class.
But running back Dillon Baxter and receiver Markeith Ambles both were removed from the team before they completed their second seasons, and receiver Kyle Prater transferred to Northwestern.