With the way USC handled national signing day, you would forget the Trojans just went through a season of remarkable instability. You would forget USC hired what many regarded as an unproven, subpar head coach to fix things. You would forget that it is still feeling the brutal impact of scholarship limitations.
And you would really forget that just a year ago, the Trojans finished one of their worst seasons in recent memory.
All that aside, USC still managed to do what USC is known for doing: bringing in top talent and building towards a brighter future.
In 2013, USC brought in the No. 12 class in the nation, and the No. 2 in the Pac-12, per 247Sports.com composite rankings. It was good, but it was considered a disaster thanks to a series of late decommitments that brought the class standing down. This year, USC closed the No. 11 class overall, finishing the recruiting period 15 spots higher than it had started.
This is particularly noteworthy this year as the landscape in Los Angeles has changed a lot. UCLA is no longer just that "other" school in town. After thumping the Trojans in back-to-back seasons, this was the Bruins' year to really cement their status in LA and to prove that they have a hand on the pulse of Los Angeles.
But that didn't happen.
Instead, the Bruins brought in the No. 19 class overall, down 16 spots from their No. 3 ranking in 2013, and down two spots from where they were projected before national signing day. Amongst California's most elite athletes, USC signed seven of the Top 25, while UCLA only signed three. Furthermore, both USC and UCLA were in contention for guys like Adoree' Jackson, JuJu Smith and Damien Mama, and all three chose to take their talents to Troy.
UCLA head coach Jim Mora had a clear advantage on the field over USC this year; his team has dominated their crosstown rivals, and in general is on the rise. It has competed in two of three Pac-12 titles (although one was with former head coach Rick Neuheisel) to USC's zero. It has improved greatly since Mora came to town, while the Trojans have have to deal with a litany of distractions.
The Bruins should not have been the second choice this year, but it would appear that to California's most talented young athletes the pecking order in in Los Angeles hasn't changed one bit.
That's because USC will always be able to sell a winning tradition, and it's that perceived greatness that high school athletes care about.
It doesn't matter that USC is still struggling with crippling depth issues. It doesn't matter that the Trojans haven't competed for anything major since 2008. And it doesn't matter that Sarkisian is "new" to town, and that he doesn't have a fabled pedigree to his name.
USC has a handful of Heisman trophies and numerous Rose Bowl and BCS National Championship wins to still make it an elite destination, even if recently the productivity just hasn't been there. It has produced hundreds of household names, many of who have gone on to excel at the professional level.
That's what high school recruits are looking for in their college destination, and despite the actual facts of a program that is struggling (even if it does so gracefully), the possibility of greatness that USC is perceived to offer continues to work in the Trojans' favor.
There's also the fact that recruits can remember USC competing in national championships. The same cannot be said for UCLA, or any other schools in the Pac-12 for that matter save Oregon.
After committing to USC, Jackson told the media that he grew up admiring Trojan star-turned-outcast Reggie Bush, and that he wants to follow in Bush's footsteps. That sentiment—as well as that of USC being the childhood favorite team—has helped recruits to see past the struggles and to look forward to a future return to prominence.
It seems that USC's reputation alone is enough to buy Sarkisian some time, and enough to get heralded recruits to continue buying into the program. But now they they're here, Sarkisian and the Trojans need to prove that they're a sure bet, something USC hasn't always been over the past four seasons.
All the hype and good feelings aside, USC still has a long way to go to start meeting the lofty expectations it sets for itself. Is USC ready to contend for a national title? Probably not, and it won't be until it isn't debilitated by depth concerns.
But do the Trojans have the pieces there?
Yes they do, and in due time perception and reality will again be one in the same for USC.