Five questions for the New Year, No. 3: Will sanctions affect the 2011 recruiting class?

Every day until Friday, we’ll tackle one key question facing the USC football team in 2011 and attempt to answer it logically. Feel free to leave your potential answer in the comments section each day.

Tuesday's question involved the future of Monte Kiffin and the Trojan defense. Today, we present the third of our five questions: How will sanctions affect the 2011 recruiting class? With the average prospects' star rating lower than usual so far for USC, is that indicative of anything?

Nine players have signed with USC to enroll in January as a way to circumvent the NCAA's 15-man restriction on the 2011 recruiting class.

Only two of the nine, though, are highly-touted players: quarterbacks Cody Kessler and Max Wittek. Only five -- maybe six -- are players you'd expect USC to recruit in a typical season over the last 10 years.

The rest seem to be reaches of varying extents. USC was the only Pac-10 school to offer a scholarship to linebacker Dallas Kelley and offensive linemen David Garness and Jeremy Galten. Galten isn't rated by some recruiting services; Kelley and Garness appear to be consensus two-star prospects.

USC didn't sign a single two-star player last year. Cornerback Anthony Brown was the only consensus three-star to sign with the school.

What does this all mean?

To put it simply, Lane Kiffin has recognized, we can gather, the need for USC to aim a little lower on the totem pole than it has in past years because of its 17-9 record in 2009 and 2010. That's good news for the Trojans in that it means that the depth issues that plagued the team in 2010 will be lessened some in 2011, but it's also bad news in that the better-athlete advantage USC has long held over Pac-10 opponents is on its way to being a thing of the past.

Critics often said that the only thing former USC coach Pete Carroll excelled at was recruiting, and that his success on the field only came as a direct result of that. In that same vein, if Kiffin goes on to have any sort of significant long-term success at USC, we'll know that it came because of his coaching, not his recruiting.

So, the sanctions. They've obviously had a large effect on the Trojans in the six-plus months since they were announced back in June, with a number of players taking advantage of the free-transfer policy and USC missing out on a likely appearance in the Alamo or Holiday Bowl this bowl season. But, as Kiffin commented immediately after the NCAA announcement, the biggest potential effect of the sanctions is -- and always has been -- the future, with USC set to lose 30 scholarships over the next three years.

The school is appealing to halve that number, to be sure, but with the appeal hearing set for Jan. 22 and signing day just 11 days later, it's not likely the NCAA will have reached an official decision on the appeal -- which will force USC to limit their signees to 15 on Signing Day.

That's really not as big of a problem as it sounds. For example -- on Signing Day last February, USC signed 18 players. Sixteen enrolled, as offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson and linebacker Glen Stanley both later asked for and got releases from their letters of intent.

Considering the Trojans will have those extra nine players entering in January and participating in spring practice, getting one less player to sign in February and join the team in the summer doesn't sound all that bad, does it? All it means is that Kiffin and his staff need to pay extra attention to ensure all 15 players will stick around. Already USC has lost one player from its 2010 recruiting class in receiver Markeith Ambles, who unceremoniously left the team in November after being suspended the previous month.

So, the short answer: Yes, the NCAA sanctions will affect recruiting in the long-term. No, they won't affect the 2011 recruiting class much -- if at all.

That's it for today. Tomorrow's question for the New Year is as follows: "Who will replace the two departed players for the NFL at DT and RT? Will they be able to approach Jurrell Casey and Tyron Smith's effectiveness?"