Steve Sarkisian landed the Pac-12's highest-rated recruiting class of the 2014 cycle, but the Trojans' first-year head coach's job is just beginning. The next phase is preparing a crop of teenagers who were playing high school competition just a few short months ago for the rigors of pursuing a Pac-12 Championship.
Sarkisian has a very short honeymoon period in his new role. Few programs are as accustomed to winning as USC and the Trojans enter 2014 on a five-year conference championship drought.
A sixth straight season without at least a share of the league crown would match the program's longest since 1953 through 1958, an era when the Pac-12 was called the Pacific Coast Conference.
The quality of this year's No. 11-ranked class is only a temporary distraction from the lingering issue challenging Sarkisian in his return to USC—depth. The Trojans spent much of the past 10-4 campaign suiting up about 50 players and using even fewer.
A late-season victory over conference champion Stanford was remarkable, but the 13-man defensive rotation used against the Cardinal is not a sustainable, long-term game plan.
Of the three teams USC beat in its final 7-2 stretch that finished the regular season with winning records—Arizona, Fresno State and Stanford—the Trojans faced two on at least 12 days' rest. That's not a luxury USC will have most weeks in the coming season.
For the weekly grind of a title run, Sarkisian needs bodies. Fortunately for his team, and this represents the most commendable aspect of his 2014 signing class, the incoming group offers support in needed areas.
"We need skilled athletes...That who can provide more than instant impact, but depth into our program," Sarkisian told Spreecast on national signing day. "We were able to do it."
Each of the big three USC landed on national signing day—cornerback Adoree' Jackson, safety John "JuJu" Smith and offensive guard Damien Mama—can and probably will play prominent roles in the 2014 season.
Jackson and Smith in particular offer skill sets that address some of the Trojans' depth concerns, as both are capable of playing on both sides of the ball at wide receiver and in the secondary—both areas especially in need of depth in the coming season.
However, the impact of this class needs to go beyond the three most celebrated prospects. Each is a piece to a bigger puzzle—critical pieces to be sure, but not the entire picture.
Mama heads a crop of five offensive line signees, three of whom are 247Sports composite 4-star recruits. With the depth issues the Trojans had on the front five in 2013, compounded by the early departure of Marcus Martin to the NFL draft, reinforcements cannot come fast enough.
Two of the new offensive linemen, Toa Lobendahn and Jordan Austin, get started with the program during spring practices. They are among a group of five early enrollees from an allotment of at least five mid-year scholarships USC had to fill or have stripped by the NCAA.
Lobendahn's arrival gives USC another interior presence to use in Martin's absence. As Sarkisian stated, early departures like Martin's opened other spots for 2014 prospects.
"With Xavier Grimble leaving early for the draft, we felt the tight end position was critical. Getting Bryce Dixon there was huge," he said.
Huge. That describes the role the incoming freshmen will have on USC's championship pursuit in 2014.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. Recruiting rankings culled from 247Sports.com.