USC will not be ranked the preseason No. 1 team this fall and that's probably a good thing—lowered expectations can allow a team to rebuild and develop at its own pace rather than carrying a bull's-eye on its back right out of the gate.
Unlike previous years at USC, the Trojans will be in rebuilding mode, not reloading mode.
There's a defensive coordinator's position that hasn't been filled. There is also an offensive coordinator position that isn't listed as open but most Trojan fans would like to see filled by anyone other than head coach Lane Kiffin. His vanilla play-calling has irked some fans but to be fair to Kiffin, had the defense performed better, the play-calling might not have appeared to be so suspect.
The loss of talent on the team also points to a rebuilding year: QB Matt Barkley, WR Robert Woods, FS T.J. McDonald, C Khaled Holmes, SS Jawanza Starling and P Kyle Negrete will all be gone. Cornerback Nickell Robey will also enter the draft, according to this report.
The good news is that both offensive and defensive lines are fairly intact but as expected, they'll be lacking some depth due to scholarship restrictions.
The bad news is USC received a decommit that came out of nowhere. Defensive end Kylie Fitts opened up his recruitment on Tuesday, per an ESPN report.
"Something happened recently that questioned my trust in USC, so I'm reopening my recruitment," Fitts said. "It literally broke my heart. I broke down and cried. It was so hard for me and my family. It's just what's best for me at this moment. I'm putting in God's hands and trusting that everything will work out."
According to the report, Fitts was set to be an early enrollee this Thursday and start classes the following Thursday.
He had signed and submitted his scholarship paperwork to USC. The four-star prospect was even out shopping for dorm essentials recently with his mother. He was set to enroll Thursday and attend his first class on Jan. 14, but those plans changed.
Fitts didn't specify his reason for decommitting but this certainly won't sit well with Trojan alumni who have been seething since USC's 21-7 loss to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl last month.
To be fair, there are a lot of bright spots but some of them appear to camouflaged. Max Wittek looked to be the easy choice as USC's starting quarterback for the 2013 season but he had a horrific performance in the Sun Bowl—his erratic day was filled with sailing passes one minute and short-armed throws the next. Incoming freshman Max Browne, a 5-star quarterback who was named the National Gatorade Player of the Year, will now compete against Wittek and reserve quarterback Cody Kessler.
If Nickell Robey leaves for the NFL, Jalen Ramsey (6'0", 190 lbs) should be able to start right away at cornerback. Su'a Cravens (6'1", 205 lbs) will also be able to compete at safety to replace either McDonald or Starling.
USC isn't lacking star quality, but it is lacking star quantity. With this latest decommit so late in the recruiting season Trojan fans have to be concerned with the current climate at the program. What they don't have to worry about is high expectations.
Rebuilding years can be a one- or two-year process or they can be ones from which a school has problems recovering—Auburn knows just how that feels.
USC should be competitive for the Pac-12 South but it's no longer a given that the Trojans will be the consensus preseason South champions—UCLA may have something to say about that.
Then again, with expectations so low, the lack of pressure may be just what this team needs to refocus and go from rebuilding mode to reloading mode.