Mailbag: Raging over commitments & USC

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Brian from Salem, Ore., writes: Hey Ted,I was just wondering why recruits bother making verbal commitments to schools? It seems that a larger number of recruits are going back on their words and committing to other schools, some even multiple times. It doesn't seem right that fans have to sit here the week before National Signing Day and worry about whether their verbal commitments will actually sign (specifically the Ducks with Dontre Wilson and the Robinsons potentially going elsewhere).

Ted Miller: Recruiting is an ugly business. Some might go even further and say college football is an ugly business. I'd counter that just about every big operation -- government, business, etc. -- has its ugly side because humans are inherently crappy.


The recruiting phase also is the only time the athletes -- at least the elite ones -- have real power. Coaches are putting on song-and-dance numbers for them during those months, but once he signs the player loses his autonomy due to NCAA rules. The coach can leave for another job whenever he wants. The player has transfer rules he must follow.

Coaches and fans are frustrated by how often athletes break commitments. The term itself has almost become ironic. Perhaps we should change it to "maybe." As in: USC just received a maybe from Eddie Vanderdoes! It certainly would be more accurate.

While I understand the frustration, my response is, "Tough toenails. Cry me a freaking river."

Understand that "maybe" cuts both ways. Some kids get their offer yanked when more appealing options become available for a team. All a maybe does is allow everyone involved to get a rough idea of where things stand at this moment, with each principal in the bargain knowing things could change at any moment.

Understand: Athletes need to play this game -- hard -- particularly ones who don't have a bag full of offers. Say you're from Orlando and dream of going to Florida, but you only have an offer from South Florida in August. You should commit to South Florida so you at least know you have a scholarship to fall back on. Play the season. Do well. Raise SEC eyebrows.

Then say you get an offer from Tennessee. Decommit from South Florida and commit the Volunteers. Disloyal? Please. It's a business decision.

And here comes Florida coach Will Muschamp! G'bye Knoxville, hello Gainesville!

Fans and coaches mad? They can suck on a lemon. This decision belongs to the young man and his family. No one else. Why? Because he will have to live with the consequences of that decision every day for the next four or five years.

Dave from San Diego writes: [USC] historic depths in 2012? Last season was viewed as bad because of the expectations that were driven in no small part by 'experts' such as yourself. To now say it reached "historic depths" sounds like sour grapes on your part. Yes for us USC fans the season was a disappointing but NOT historically bad, not even close.

Ted Miller: Umm... yes, it was historically bad. I'd wager that most USC fans would call it the most disappointing season in their lifetime. I've, in fact, heard that exact phrase, "Ted, This is the most disappointing season I've been through as a Trojans fan."

You are correct, though, in one respect: The "historical depths" were based largely on the vast distance between preseason expectations and the actual results. Yet even that was historical in a measurable way, because no preseason No. 1 in the AP poll had ever lost six games before.

Sour grapes? Well, I'm not a big fan of being wrong. I'm particularly unhappy being so wrong I look foolish (you can imagine that article -- It was assigned! It was assigned! -- gets a lot of play from my friends over in the SEC). But I can honestly tell you that Kevin and I really don't have a dog in this race. I lost no sleep over USC's collapse.

USC was a preseason No. 1 for a multitude of good reasons. The reasoning for high expectations was sound. That's what makes the horrid reality even more difficult for USC fans. It's difficult to figure out what exactly went wrong. Other than just about everything.

Dave from Tumwater, Wash., writes: In 2011 UW had a great offense and lousy defense. New DC led to much improved defense. But OC moved to Alabama and contributed to national championship, while UW was a major disappointment offensively. I haven't heard much about how the change in OC might have contributed to the Huskies' problems.

Ted Miller: Boy, Doug Nussmeier did a great job at Alabama this season. He's certainly on my list of hot head coaching candidates.

Still, Nussmeier didn't call the plays in 2011. Steve Sarkisian did. But I don't think play-calling was the problem this fall.

The problem was quarterback Keith Price losing his confidence when things didn't go well early in the season. His offensive line was struggling, he and the Huskies got humbled at LSU, and the offense failed to find any consistency thereafter. Price also was banged up much of the season, which took away the effectiveness of his scrambling.

Sarkisian repeatedly said that Price need to trust the offense. I don't think that happens, though, until Price regains his mojo.

The good news is Sarkisian hired Marques Tuiasosopo in the offseason and made him quarterbacks coach. I'm sure Tuiasosopo, a Huskies quarterback legend who won the program's last Rose Bowl, and Sarkisian will be double-teaming Price this spring, aiming to rebuild his confidence and restore him to the previously unflappable guy from 2011.

If that happens, the Huskies are going to be a top-25 team.

Ryan from New York, N.Y., writes: You missed the point about USC's sanctions. Because they're limited, they had to "swing for the fenses" on all their recruits, and hence couldn't focus on the 3 star guys who are lower hanging fruit. They can't afford "projects" or potential misses. Sure they signed a smaller class, but part of the problem was the sanctions. With 20 scholies next year, that should be less on an issue. As Kiffin said, his Top 13 guys are better than anybody in the country, something you again fail to mention. And Scout and Rivals put an emphasis on class size, not on the rating per man. You're brutal sometimes, just brutal. Come on man, get a clue.

Ted Miller: Ryan writes me a lot of notes like this. I have figured out that he doesn't like UCLA.

Humbly, Ryan, I'd offer that the point is USC had five players decommit and sign elsewhere. That's losing 28 percent of the previously touted class. The Trojans lost three top guys on signing day. Those decommitments caused the Trojans to tumble from No. 1 in the recruiting rankings to No. 14.

Most would see that has a bad thing. To use your term, "brutal."

As for my evaluations, on Thursday I wrote this: "The story of this class, as good as it is, is the handful of decommitments." And on Friday I wrote this: "USC still signed an outstanding recruiting class, with 12 of the 13 members earning four stars and nine ranking among the nation's top 150 players."

As for your analysis: 1. USC never targets three-star prospects who are projects; 2. The sanctions had nothing to do with the decommitments.

Finally, I will try to get a clue.

EddieX from San Francisco writes: Matt Barkley the No. 14 player in the Pac-12? That's just stupid. Your list loses credibility with that.

Ted Miller: Golly, this is a USC-heavy mailbag.

To understand Barkley's ranking, you have to look at what Barkley did on the field and not base an evaluation entirely on preseason expectations. Our rationale goes like this:

  • Barkley plays quarterback, the most important position on the field.

  • Barkley ranked 12th in the nation in passing efficiency (third in the Pac-12 behind Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Arizona State's Taylor Kelly).

  • Barkley threw 36 touchdown passes. That's four more than anyone else, and seven more than the third-best total.

  • Barkley passed for 297.5 yards per game, which ranked second in the Pac-12, four yards behind Arizona's Matt Scott, and 30 yards ahead of UCLA's Brett Hundley.

  • Barkley set a new Pac-12 record with 116 career TD passes, 17 more than former Trojans quarterback Matt Leinart. That means he's accounted for 102 more points through the air than any previous conference quarterback. Yes, career achievement -- a monumental one at that -- matters.

  • Barkley turned in the most efficient passing performance in conference history when he completed 19 of 20 passes for 298 yards and six touchdowns and no interceptions (319.16 rating) in a 50-6 win against Colorado. Yes, Colorado was bad. But there have been worse teams in conference history, and they never had a guy do to them what Barkley did to the Buffs.

  • He produced two of the top-three passing performances in the Pac-12 this season (493 yards against Arizona and 484 yards against Oregon).

Further, I put more blame for the inconsistency of USC's offense this year on coach Lane Kiffin, who calls the Trojans' plays, than on Barkley.

Finally, there's this: If we held a Pac-12 draft right now for 2013 from all the 2012 players, with every coach still knowing what happened this season, Barkley would be selected well before the 14th spot. Trust me on that. He's still going to be an early round NFL draft choice.

Put that all together, and I think Barkley is a solid choice for No. 14.

Or maybe I just need to get a clue.