6 Biggest Questions USC Needs to Answer Before 2014 National Signing Day

Rick McMahan@@RickMcMahanSenior Writer IDecember 15, 2013

6 Biggest Questions USC Needs to Answer Before 2014 National Signing Day

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    As USC embarks on the "era of Sark," the Trojans find themselves with a lot of loose ends that need tying and not much time to do it.

    New head coach Steve Sarkisian will attempt to be in many places all at once as he hits the recruiting trail to secure future Trojans while trying to keep a finger on the pulse of his recently inherited team.

    As if that is not enough, Sarkisian must also complete the finishing touches on a staff is only about one-third complete.

    With high school recruiting set to enter into its "dead period," the Trojans' staff—such as it is—will have to find a way to convince prospects to come west without having position coaches established in many cases.

    Because the clock is ticking on the approach of the Feb. 5 date when recruits can formally pledge to a university, Sark will have to look at the program in its entirety in order to assess where he needs it to be before spring camp opens.

    When he does, here are some of the questions he will face.

What Will the Final Edition of the Coaching Staff Look Like?

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    Justin Wilcox
    Justin WilcoxSteve Dykes/Getty Images

    Might as well get that big 'ol gorilla out of the way right off of the top.

    Putting together an effective staff is Sarkisian's first priority and for the sake of efficiency, the sooner the better.

    Sark still needs to formalize several assistant vacancies including making a decision on who his defensive coordinator will be. The guy he would like to get—Justin Wilcox—is entertaining his own career choices while he interviews for head coaching jobs (Boise State) and mulls a return to his old job at Washington.

    To complicate matters further, unless USC "waits out" a resolution to the Wilcox situation, they will have to make a decision to spend a million dollars on a buyout clause included in his Washington contract.

    But time is not a commodity that Sark possesses in abundance and with many of the guys he would like to accompany him from the Huskies to USC preparing for the Washington bowl game, his hands may be tied for the foreseeable future.

    Make no mistake about it, crafting a coaching staff is first on this list of questions to be answered.

Will USC Honor All Offers Made Prior to Sarkisian's Hiring?

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    The ugly side of recruiting often results in hurt feelings and disappointment for both the recruit and the university and in the class of 2013, that reality might rear its head once again.

    Part of that equation this year will also require Steve Sarkisian to evaluate the recruiting class left for him by the prior Kiffin-Orgeron regime and whether or not those players fit into his system.

    For the most part, those decisions will be easy for Sark as he pursued the USC verbals while he was the head man at Washington.

    However, there may be others not quite so highly regarded that may have to either suffer through a secondary evaluation by the new staff or worse yet, lose that offer—an unfortunate circumstance that has been avoided so far.

    The good news for those who have given USC a verbal pledge is that there has been little talk of rescinding offers already made and accepted by recruits.

    On the other hand, should a ton of highly regarded prospects express a desire to don the Cardinal and Gold, things could change quickly for those 3-star recruits that are more lightly regarded.

    It doesn't seem fair but as stated before, recruiting does have its dark side.

What About the Outstanding Offers That Have Yet to Be Accepted?

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Another area of recruiting that will have be examined closely by Sarkisian and his staff is auditing the list of outstanding offers made by the prior regime.

    For the most part, those who have been extended a Trojan offer are exactly the same players that Sark himself offered while head coach of the Huskies but this is not always the case.

    Inevitably, there will be players that USC has offered that Sark won't hold in high regard and vice versa.

    For those few players, a phone call either informing them that USC is no longer interested or in the case of cornerback Jonathan Lockett—a recent Trojan verbal pledge—the welcome news that he was wanted by the men of Troy will be forthcoming.

    Acting on the list of outstanding offers is yet another line item on a long list of things that Sark will have to address.


What Are the Units in Need?

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    Marqise Lee
    Marqise LeeHarry How/Getty Images

    After reviewing the verbal commitments he has in hand, Sark will have to scrutinize the roster and see which units need replenishing.

    To be certain, some units—such as offensive line and cornerback—are in desperate need of help and from there, Sark will focus his attention on those and other units that lack players and depth.

    Further examination will reveal that the defensive line—particularly the interior positions—will also need some assistance sooner rather than later and that also goes for the receivers.

    As Sark ponders his roster, he will find more units that need help and those will be the focus of his attention.

Speaking of Which, Who Are the Verbals?

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    Claude Pelon
    Claude Pelonphoto from 247sports.com

    When Sark reviews the players who have given USC their verbal pledges, he will find that they represent the following units:

    Units:Number of Verbals:
    Offensive Line4
    Defensive Line3

    When broken down by position, the list—including Scout.com "star" ratings—looks like this:

    Name:Scout.com Stars:Position:
    Olajuwon Tucker4Outside Linebacker
    Austin Maloata3Defensive End
    Malik Dorton4Defensive End
    Claude Pelon4Defensive Tackle
    Jonathan Lockett4Cornerback
    Viane Talamaivao4Offensive Guard
    Ajene Harris3Receiver
    Shay Fields3Receiver
    Uchenna Nwosu3Outside Linebacker
    Jordan Austin3Offensive Line
    Toa Lobendahn4Offensive Line
    Jordan Poland3Offensive Line

What Is USC's "Fall Back" Position If They Miss on Prime Targets?

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    Damien Mama
    Damien Mamaphoto from 247sports.com

    Sometimes recruiting can be a fickle mistress and Trojan fans need look no further than to recall the disappointment of when DeAnthony Thomas left them at the alter on National Signing Day in 2011 or last year when a migration of verbals fled in the week preceding the day letter of intents were signed.

    As such, the Trojans recruiting department requires a backup plan should that also occur this year.

    USC hopes to land such premier recruits as offensive tackle Damien Mama, safety JuJu Smith and cornerback Adoree Jackson but if they don't, Sark and staff will have to identify talented recruits to take their place at the last minute.

    Who those players are will be a question that needs to be answered long before the day pen hits the paper on signed letters of intent.


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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Through no fault of his own, Steve Sarkisian has been placed in a position where he needs to win over both a segment of USC's fanbase that would have preferred interim coach Ed Orgeron to be offered the permanent job and another that would have liked a more glamorous head man lead the program.

    For that portion of folks who follow the Trojans, Sark is either a villain or perhaps worse, a connection to Lane Kiffin who is a friend of Sarkisian but nothing like him in terms of personality or offensive philosophy.

    As such, Sarkisian is in the unfortunate position of having to deliver good news for the program sooner rather than later and that means he will have to come up with a good—if not great—recruiting class for the Trojans in 2014.

    In order to do so, Sark will have to answer the questions posed in this slideshow and hope that the fickle minds of 18-year-old kids find a soft spot for a legendary program in need of an infusion of young gridiron talent.

    If he is successful, USC can make some noise on letter of intent signing day and Sark can buy some goodwill before he even coaches a game for the Cardinal and Gold.

    But if the Trojans stumble on that all-important day, it could be a long and uncomfortable off-season for both Sark and his new team.