USC Football Recruiting: Talent Is There, but Can Steve Sarkisian Capitalize?

Trenise FerreiraUSC Lead WriterFebruary 5, 2014

USA Today

USC and head coach Steve Sarkisian had a perfect national signing day, and got everything they wanted when it came time for the nation's top athletes to sign on the dotted line.

Now that the hullabaloo is officially behind us, star ratings and rankings don't matter anymore. What matters is how well Sarkisian can get these signees to pay dividends on the gridiron on Saturdays, something USC struggled to do by and large during the Lane Kiffin era.

Talent acquisition has never been hard for USC. With the rich tradition and winning history it touts, the program basically sells itself. But development is another story, and lately, USC's heralded recruiting classes have often left much to be desired. 

To be sure, depth has had a lot to do with that. Because USC doesn't have the numbers, young guys are often baptized by fire, when they really should be learning on the practice field. Some guys, like running back Justin Davis and defensive back Su'a Cravens, can come in as freshmen and make an immediate impact. Others, like defensive back Kevon Seymour, need some time before they are ready to produce at the collegiate level. 

So what's the plan to get USC back to its winning days?

Sarkisian and defensive backs coach Keith Heyward spoke with fans during a live chat and addressed this very issue. 

“Recruiting is just one piece of the puzzle,” Sarkisian said in the live chat. “The development is another important aspect.”

Sarkisian proudly noted how well Washington developed its athletes, many of whom did not receive the acclaim that USC recruits do. He said that he expects that same level of development from USC's crop, which consists mostly of 4- and 5-star players. 

Heyward also spoke about his role as the defensive backs coach and how he plans to make USC's secondary competitive again:

"One of my philosophies is first of all teaching, accountability and attention to detail. At this institution we are gonna recruit great athletes. But to get them to perform at a high level, you gotta play smart. It's gonna come down to execution and playing smart and that’s my job. It's my job to make sure they are playing the right way, paying attention to scheme and to detail."

On that note, Heyward said he plans to emphasize finishing plays, capitalizing on turnovers and more crisp tackling. As much as USC's secondary improved in 2013, it recorded just 12 interceptions on the season. While not a poor number, it certainly is not reflective of the potential USC has in the secondary.

The Trojan offense line is in dire need of a makeover as well, hence Sarkisian's decision to bring in five new O-line athletes. Guys like Viane Talamaivao, Toa Lobendahn and Damien Mama especially will be critical to bolstering strength and skill on the O-line. As Bleacher Report's Brian Leigh points out, USC's running game has steadily declined from 2007 to 2013 and much of that has to do with a weak front line. 

It is critical that Sarkisian starts grooming these guys right out of the gate, as his success at USC will be defined by what comes of his inaugural class. 

At Washington we saw Sarkisian turn a program that was in the dumps into a regular Pac-12 North contender, and he did so with less talented athletes. The ceiling is set high for him at USC, but if he can implement the same kind of program with the Trojans that he did with the Huskies, then his tenure will prove to be more fruitful for USC than previously anticipated. 



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