Mailbag: USC's murky recruiting

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Kevin from Vancouver, Wash., writes: I am still confused about USC's recruiting class.. they have 9 early enrollees which leaves 15 spots.. yet they have 26 commits and are looking to get more. What is the deal here?.. Are they not going with the 15 limit while in the appeal process?

Ted Miller: You're confused about USC's recruiting class? Join the crowd. You should be confused because it's confusing.

USC beat writer Michael Lev told me Thursday that the situation was "murky." I thought that was good term for it. Lev does a good job of explaining that murk here under the heading "Scholarship Situation."

First, when you see that USC has 26 commitments, that's a bit misleading. Nine players already have signed, are in enrolled in school and will count toward the 2010 class. So USC has 17 commitments.

But aren't the Trojans only supposed to have 15 spots, per NCAA sanctions (a typical 25-man class reduced by 10 over each of the next three years for a total reduction of 30 scholarships)?

Yes. But USC's appeal of NCAA sanctions will be heard Saturday and a final decision is certain to be rendered only after national signing day on Feb. 2. This is the source of the murk.

As Lev points out, USC could go ahead and sign a full class of 25, which would give it a full roster of 85 scholarship players, which certainly makes the program healthier in the short term (it was well below that number this year). But that would merely delay scholarship reductions a year -- whatever they end up being -- so the 2012, 2013 and 2014 classes would be hit.

But USC also could be shooting for 20 signees, which is the number it hopes to end up getting from the NCAA after its appeal (a reduction of 15 total scholarships over three years). If the NCAA plays ball, that means the Trojans would end up with a very strong class and would be one third of the way through their scholarship punishment.

But if the Trojans sign 20 and end up still having to give up 30 scholarships over the next three years? Again the murk. Bryan Fischer provides this scenario:

If USC wins the appeal, they would play in a bowl game after the 2011 season and be able to sign 20 recruits to letters of intent as part of the 2012 class. If they lose? Although details are sketchy, a source close to the situation but unable to speak publicly about the matter, said that the scholarships USC uses above the original limit of 15 will be taken away in the class of 2014. If they go over by five for the class of 2011 for example, they’ll have five less scholarships in 2014.

So USC would still have to give those scholarships back. Probably.

In other words, it's unlikely we'll have clarity after signing day when the Trojans sign however-many guys they sign. We'll have to wait until the Appeals Committee provides its final ruling in four to six weeks, and even then there might be a few issues to flesh out between USC and the NCAA.

Jeff from Eugene writes: One of the biggest reasons, if not THE biggest reason, for the Ducks making it to the BCS title game was the play of Darron Thomas. I've always been a big believer that a first year quarterback has little to no chance of leading his team to an undefeated season, despite less talented QB's (Matt Flynn cough) proving otherwise. How impressed are you that a first year starter (albeit one who's been in the system a couple years) was able to lead his team to the championship game, and what kind of message does that send to future Oregon quarterbacks Bryan Bennett and Jerrard Randall about playing time and possibly not being able to start until your junior or senior season?

Ted Miller: The basic message is that Chip Kelly and his coaching staff can get a guy with talent ready to play. And that Thomas was mentally tough enough to handle a big stage that kept getting bigger and bigger. Did anyone expect Thomas to rank 17th in the nation in passing efficiency as a first-year sophomore starter with 30 touchdown passes and just nine interceptions.

No. Not even Kelly and his coaching staff.

But young quarterbacks seem to be playing better than ever these days. If you look here, you'll see that four sophomores and two freshman ranked among the top-25 in passing efficiency this year, though some like Stanford's Andrew Luck and Oklahoma's Landry Jones had extensive starting experience.

As for Bennett and Randall: Are you asking if they should be concerned that Thomas is only a junior and therefore could make them sit for two more seasons? Well, that's just the reality of college football. Nothing you can do about that. If those guys want to be Oregon quarterback, they'll wait. If immediate playing time is the only priority, they might leave.

But my guess is sticking around might yield more rewards.

Jacob from Prescott, Ariz., writes: I was curious as to who you thought would be the best candidate to start for ASU this coming year?

Ted Miller: Based on how things finished up last year, you'd think Brock Osweiler has a slight lead over Steven Threet heading into the offseason. While their efficiency numbers were almost identical, Threet threw too many interceptions -- 16 in 11 games. And Osweiler beat Arizona, which gets a quarterback lots of mileage in Tempe.

Still, you'd expect there to be a legitimate, hotly contested competition (again) this spring. Considering the Sun Devils are the Pac-12 South favorites and likely top-25 team, you'd expect it to be one of the redletter position battles in the conference.

Ty from Seattle writes: With the news that Texas Tech is dropping TCU from there schedule next year (wussies) do you see any chance of a Pac-12 (still getting used to 12!) team adding the frogs to their resume? I see Cal and Oregon still have openings on 9/17... thoughts?

Ted Miller: Oregon already has LSU and Nevada. To me, that says the Ducks need a patsy, not TCU.

The Cal possibility is intriguing. It seems like a good time to play TCU -- the roster takes a bunch of hits after consecutive elite seasons -- but the Horned Frogs would bring credibility to the Bears' nonconference schedule, which already includes always worrisome Fresno State.

My guess is Cal will fill one of its schedule voids with a solid opponent, and TCU would fit the bill. The third spot should go to a directional or FCS school.

Eric from New York writes: How would you rate John Embree's newly finalized coaching staff at Colorado? It's just been reported that the final piece, Rip Scherer (QB Coach for the Carolina Panthers) has come on board.Full Staff: OC - Eric Bienemy DC - Greg Brown OL - Steve Marshall QB - Rip Scherer WR - Bobby Kennedy TE/ST - JD BrookhartI LB - Brian Cabral DT - Mike Tuiasosopo OLB/DE - Kanavis McGhee S&C - Malcolm Blacken (Washington Redskins).

Ted Miller: On paper, it looks like a good staff. Lots of Pac-10 and NFL experience. Plenty of proven guys.

I've always thought that one of the first questions athletic directors interviewing coaching candidates should ask is: "Tell me about your coaching staff." My guess is one of Embree's selling points was his ability to put together this staff.

Now lets see how they work together with the talent they've inherited. And how they recruit.

Justin from Butte, Mont., writes: it's fairly obvious that you caught the CU-Cal game last year. It was an ugly game that started really bad and only got worse. Keep in mind that Colorado outperformed UCLA and Washington State (a team that's given credit for being on the rise) in a year where the head coach was fired mid-season. They were one game away from being bowl eligible in the very same season. There were definitely bad games, but CU also beat Georgia and Kansas State. You can think poorly of them now and focus squarely on the Cal game, but I think you'll be surprised this coming season. The new coaching staff can only improve what the team was under Hawkins. Throw in the small class of recruits with the vast majority of the team coming back and CU is going to be a contender.

Ted Miller: Loving the Colorado questions. Welcome!

Yes, that 52-7 loss at California damaged my perception of Colorado, perhaps more than it should have. And you make a good point about the rest of the Buffaloes season. They finished 5-7 with two losses by less than a TD, as well as that epic meltdown against Kansas.

I think Colorado will be competitive immediately, but I don't know if the Buffaloes will contend in the top-half of the South in 2011. They have a new coach, new staff, a questionable defense and a bit of uncertainty at quarterback.

But the move to the Pac-12 will help the Buffaloes get back into the mix nationally. The bump in Southern California recruiting will be a huge benefit.

Mike from New Orleans writes: You missed one - Jordan Gross of Utah made the pro-bowl, so the Pac-12 has 13 players.

Ted Miller: Correct. And if we go Pac-12, I also left out former Colorado star offensive lineman Andre Gurode. So that's 14.

Scott from Rochester, Minn., writes: Never ceases to amaze me how quickly you sell out the conference you are supposed to cover. Why don't you just go back to AL? You might have said some positive things but as usual you use the first negative to [expletive deleted] on the conference. You know when the discussion about SEC being #1 really ends? When there is a tournament, when in a time warp 03,06,07,08 they play USC for the title. You really are an [expletive deleted], I cant believe they let you write for this blog.

Ted Miller: My job, as you write, is to cover the conference. Not to shill for it.

Credibility is important. I have taken on the "SEC rules" orthodoxy a number of times for one reason: I honestly thought it was legitimate to challenge it; not because I was trying to spin a position in support of the Pac-10 that wasn't valid. I get plenty of SEC folks accusing me of being a Pac-10 homer. The fact that I receive angry missives on a regular basis from both ends is probably a good thing. I'm not pandering to anyone.

After the SEC champ beat the Pac-10 champ for the national championship, and the SEC ended up with six ranked teams versus two for the Pac-10, my perception of the credible position was the SEC ruled 2010.

That's a position held by just about everyone else, by the way, not just SEC adherents.

As for saying "positive things" about the conference, well, Scott, you just didn't read the article.

Of course, it was zero degrees in Rochester, Minn., on Friday. Perhaps your frustration is due to your missing the fair weather of the West Coast?