The loss of Bru McCoy last month marked a major hit for USC’s football recruiting class.
It left the Trojans without their top-rated prospect. McCoy, who starred at wide receiver and outside linebacker for local powerhouse Mater Dei High, was a consensus five-star recruit.
Without McCoy, who transferred to Texas after he was enrolled in classes for less than three weeks, USC does not have a five-star in the fold for its recruiting class for the first time since 2000, when recruiting services began ranking the top high school players.
Over more recent years, the Trojans have faced more difficulty reeling in five-star talent, largely the prospects from outside California, at times leaving them over-reliant on top players from their own backyard.
The Trojans have signed nine five-star recruits from out of the state in this decade, according to the composite ranking of recruiting sites compiled by 247Sports.com, and even fewer during Clay Helton’s coaching tenure. In four seasons, they have brought in only one out-of-state five-star: linebacker Palaie Gaoteote, a Las Vegas native who was a freshman last season.
“I don’t think it’s a thing where they’re not trying to do it,” said Adam Gorney, a national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. “They just have to start convincing really talented players that there’s coaching stability. Because I don’t think a kid wants to travel across the country and then deal with a coaching change after a year or two. Then that they can develop them into first-round talents, where they haven’t been able to do that in recent years.”
A few factors have imperiled USC’s efforts to sign premier talent in this recruiting class, but none more so than the recent on-field performance. The Trojans finished 5-7 last year, their first losing season since 2000, prompting calls from fans for Helton to be fired following his third full season before the embattled coach was retained by Athletic Director Lynn Swann. Helton remains under contract through 2023 after signing a contract extension last year, but his future at the helm is still murky.
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Prior to Helton, the Trojans went through in-season firings of head coaches Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin in a three-year span, as well as NCAA probation that included scholarship reductions of 30 over three years.
But even in the initial seasons under Helton, while the Trojans made consecutive New Year’s Six bowl games, they were unable to pluck five-star recruits from other regions of the country and poach prospects from other blue-blood schools that have had a better recent track record of producing NFL draft picks, especially among offensive linemen.
“It’s very difficult to draw those kids to USC, because they can to go Alabama and become a first-round draft pick,” Gorney said. “They can go to Clemson and Georgia and be first-round draft picks. They’ll go up to Ohio State and Michigan and be first-round draft picks. Let’s start rattling off the linemen USC has put in the NFL draft and they vastly trail.”
The last USC offensive lineman picked in the first round was Matt Kalil in 2012 when he was the fourth overall. Defensive lineman Leonard Williams also went sixth overall in 2015.
The Trojans fared better bringing in five-stars during the heyday of the Pete Carroll era from 2001-09.
In Carroll’s final six seasons, they signed 13 five-star recruits from beyond California. Five of them – wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett (New Jersey), tight end Fred Davis (Ohio), linebacker Brian Cushing (New Jersey), linebacker Keith Rivers (Florida) and safety Taylor Mays (Washington) – became All-American selections. Most were major starters amid a run of seven consecutive Pac-10 titles and BCS bowl appearances. Jarrett and Rivers were also freshmen when the Trojans won their second national championship and sophomores when they played Texas in an effort to win a third straight.
Gorney and other analysts reasoned that the Trojans have had enough talent in recent seasons to contend for Pac-12 championships, and they won the conference crown in their second season under Helton in 2017.
But it was also a time when the Trojans were expected to more seriously vie for one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff.
If they aim to be annual national championship contenders as they were under Carroll, twice appearing in the BCS national championship, they will need to cast a wider net on the recruiting trail and draw top talent from the other coast come the offseason.