Closing with a flourish, Clay Helton and his staff at USC had plenty to celebrate this past signing day, as the Trojans landed a recruiting haul that had them sitting atop the Pac-12 and No. 11 overall in the ESPN RecruitingNation class rankings.
And while the ink on those Class of 2016 national letters of intent has barely had time to dry, you can be sure the Trojans coaches have already firmly switched their focus to the Class of 2017.
Here are five storylines to keep in mind as USC dives into the next recruiting cycle.
1. Can Helton and Co. build off their strong 2016 finish?
With seven scholarships still completely up for grabs, the situation didn’t look promising for USC the night before this past signing day. But the way the Trojans filled each of those slots with talented prospect after talented prospect was nothing short of impressive, particularly when you take into account the assistant coaching turnover Helton had to deal with. The big question now is: With a set staff in place, and almost a whole year to go before the next crop of recruits put pen to paper, can Helton and his staff take the next step and put together an even better run in 2017?
2. More out-of-state prospects on the way?
The trend to place more of an emphasis on out-of-state recruiting really started under former Trojans head coach Pete Carroll, and judging by USC’s most recent class, it would appear as though Helton has taken that philosophy and run with it. When you factor in USC’s seven early enrollees with the 2016 signing day haul, eight members of the 20-player class come from high schools located outside the California border. With Helton citing the success that players like Leonard Williams and Nelson Agholor have had at USC as a contributing factor in helping to pull in those national prospects, the Trojans have already extended a number of out-of-state offers for the Class of 2017, with Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman safety Bubba Bolden and Mobile (Ala.) McGill-Toolen wide receiver Marlon Williams having already jumped on board with pledges.
3. All in on Tagovailoa?
It became apparent last summer that former USC head coach Steve Sarkisian’s No. 1 target at the quarterback spot from the Class of 2017 was Honolulu (Hawaii) St. Louis’ Tua Tagovailoa, and for good reason. After all, not only has the ESPN Junior 300 passer put on a show throughout his high school career, he also shined at USC’s Rising Stars Camp last June. And while the Trojans’ chances with Tagovailoa figure to have been bolstered with the recent addition of his Class of 2016 high school teammate, linebacker Jordan Iosefa, as well as another fellow Hawaiian in tailback Vavae Malepeai (Mililani, Hawaii/Mililani), Tagovailoa is still completely up for grabs at this point. And so, with Helton in charge now, do the Trojans go after some other quarterbacks, rather than putting all of their eggs in one basket as Sarkisian appeared content to do? If so, some potential targets could include Tate Martell, a current Texas A&M commit whom the Trojans were once heavily involved with, as well as local prospects Tristan Gebbia, Jack Sears, Tyler Lytle and Arizona commit Braxton Burmeister, among others.
4. Can the Trojans land Carr and Harris?
There is a pair of California tailbacks in the Class of 2017 who are arguably two of the most talented prospects at the position to emerge from the state in years. The Trojans already have a verbal pledge from one of them in Fontana (Calif.) Summit’s Stephen Carr, and the staff is still actively courting the other, Antioch’s Najee Harris. Could USC possibly land both of them? While it seems unlikely, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Carr has recently opened up his recruitment, but he still considers himself a Trojans commit and it would be a surprise if he doesn’t wind up with USC when it is all said and done. Although Harris is currently committed to Alabama and receiving attention from virtually every big-time program out there, there has been reciprocal interest between himself and the Trojans, and he participated in the Rising Stars Camp on campus last summer.
5. Plenty of cornerbacks for the taking
While the Trojans did add two cornerbacks in the most recent class, depth at the position still isn’t quite ideal at this point. And with the potential early departure of Adoree' Jackson following the 2016 campaign, coupled with the pass-happy offenses in the Pac-12 that USC commonly faces, you can be sure Clancy Pendergast will want to shore up the position further. Fortunately for the new Trojans defensive coordinator, there are a number of quality cornerback prospects to pick from in the Class of 2017, and they already have one committed in Thomas Graham Jr. Greg Johnson, Deommodore Lenoir, William Poole III, Jaylon Redd and Stanford Samuels are just some of the other names to keep an eye on.