Steve Sarkisian can be forgiven for a poor first class in Los Angeles. He did, after all, inherit the job after 90 percent of the cycle was completed. It's not fair to judge him on a "halfie."
Still, the current state of USC's class leaves much to be desired, checking in at No. 26 in the country and No. 5 in the Pac-12, according to the 247Sports team rankings. That is not where this program is used to being.
With signing day approaching, however, the Trojans have some seedlings of hope. Adoree' Jackson and John Smith, each 5-star prospects, are both favored to end up at USC, and both would be a massive signing for the class.
But neither would be the most important.
That distinction goes to Damien Mama—a prospect whose size does not belie his impact. Standing 6'4'' and weighing 370 pounds (no, that's not a typo), he projects as one of the best run blockers in college football for the foreseeable future.
For USC, that would be just what the doctor ordered. Its rushing attack has slowly been getting worse each year, climaxing in 2013:
|Year||Yards per Rush||National Rank|
The offensive line has struggled a bit in pass blocking too, which helps explain how an offense as talented as USC's could struggle in 2013. Cody Kessler has a pretty nice arm, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a receiving corps more deep and talented than Marqise Lee, Nelson Agholor and Xavier Grimble.
Kessler just didn't have time.
The best way to fix that problem is with sound, powerful blocking, and that is precisely what Mama would provide. He's the No. 1 overall guard and a top-40 player on the 247Sports composite rankings, which is rare acclaim for a player at his position.
Unlike Jackson and Smith—who, don't get me wrong, would both be great additions—Mama would stand a very good chance of starting quickly in Los Angeles.
Assuming Smith gets moved to safety, which is my prediction but far from a sure thing, it would simply become a matter of need. Su'a Cravens looks like a future first-round pick, and Leon McQuay was a 5-star recruit in 2013. A safety like Smith would need to bide his time.
Jackson would (obviously) be a good bet to see the field in 2014, and his playmaking would make him an important contributor. Still, he would be yet another drop in the ocean for a defense that finished seventh in the country in yards-per-attempt allowed.
Mama would fill a need with talent, which is ultimately the best of both worlds in recruiting. He's heavily favored to end up in Los Angeles and visited on Jan. 17, but he's also visiting BYU on Jan. 31, per 247Sports.
Sarkisian cannot focus all of his attention on Jackson and Smith—or worse, sit tight and assume that Mama is a lock. He should be a Trojan, and he could very well be a great one.
Coming down the home stretch, securing his commitment is the most important thing Sarkisian and his staff can do. If they feel confident, which certain indications like the 247Sports' "Crystal Ball" say they should, then it becomes time to throw all hands on deck for Jackson and Smith.
Until then, Mama is the most important player on the board.
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT