When Lane Kiffin arrived at USC 18 months ago, he learned he had been bequeathed a barely stocked cupboard by his mentor, Pete Carroll. The Trojans paid a price last season for having no more than 58 scholarship players in any one week, depending on injuries. USC played a Pac-10 schedule with a FCS-sized roster.
That may explain the late-game losses to Washington and Stanford, among others. This season, Kiffin said Wednesday in Bristol, his roster will be up around 80 scholarship players. A lot of them still will be freshmen and sophomores, of course, but the Trojans will benefit nonetheless.
“One of our problems last year [was] we could barely practice,” Kiffin said. “We went to Stanford with 51 scholarship players. Those weeks in practice, we were just trying to find people in school to come out and practice with us. That doesn’t help you very much when you’re trying to prepare for these great teams in our conference, on our schedule, and we’re playing with some kids from English class who haven’t played since ninth grade.”
Kiffin resisted the temptation to take the redshirt off most of his freshman class a year ago, aware of the NCAA penalties ahead (15 signees, 75 total scholarships).
“We’ll do the same this year because we’ve got a long-term plan,” Kiffin said. “The last thing we want to do is sign a bunch of junior-college players or play guys when we can save a year for them. ... We’ve got to have a very good plan to get through this.”
Coaches don’t have the luxury of thinking only about this season. They have to think long-term, especially with the bumpy road ahead for USC.