My apologies to ginger kids everywhere as UCLA has historically played the role of the red-headed stepchild to USC when the two Los Angeles-based Pac-10 arch rivals are compared.
While USC more closely resembles Johnny Lawrence of the Cobra Kai, (i.e. a cocky, arrogant son-of-a-bitch who backs up his smack talk), UCLA can be compared to Daniel-san, the working-class underdog that’s one crane kick away from stealing the spotlight.
But I digress with my far-fetched Karate Kid comparisons.
Although Bruin fans have enjoyed the occasional string of consecutive matchup victories (1991-1998), as well as the random monumental upset (a 13-9 shocker in 2006 that ended Southern Cal’s BCS Championship run), one would have a difficult time mounting a case for UCLA hegemony in recent years—having lost to USC ten of the past 11 times they faced off.
Overall, USC is 44-28-7 in the storied series since 1929, when the schools first played each other.
A changing of the guard at Heritage Hall rekindled a rivalry that had become about as exciting as Puppy Bowl VI .
New Trojan head coach Lane Kiffin made a splash when he abruptly resigned from his year-old head coaching gig at the University of Tennessee to fill the vacancy created by Pete Carroll, who left SC to coach the Seattle Seahawks.
Much to the chagrin of Volunteer Nation, Kiffin’s recruiting efforts proved to be USC’s gain. While UT still fielded a solid class of incoming freshmen, Lane’s exit couldn’t come at a less opportune time given many top prep athletes were still undecided where they would sign.
Bruins head coach Rick Neuheisel has made his plans for ending the so-called “football monopoly” in Los Angeles widely known, and one could attest that he is making mostly, if not all, the right moves.
Below is a recap of the 2010 recruiting efforts of both USC and UCLA. As you will see, the classifications will be broken down into the good, the bad, and the ugly for each school.
Barrage of Playmakers
Having signed both impressive quality and quantity of top-tier talent such as WRs Robert Woods, Kyle Prater, and Markeith Ambles; RBs Dillon Baxter and DJ Morgan; TEs Xavier Grimble, Randall Telfer, and Christian Thomas, and QB Jesse Scroggins; the Trojans’ recruiting staff looks like it stocked enough offensive firepower to invade a small country.
Even if half the team were to somehow get suspended by the NCAA, one gets the feeling that Southern Cal could still put 30 on the scoreboard.
Kiffin keeps Carroll’s recruits, adds a few more
Regardless of how kosher his recruiting practices may or may not be, one has to tip his/her cap to Kiffin for not only keeping Carroll’s core of USC recruits intact, but for also adding a few more elite young men to the Trojan mix on National Signing Day in Ambles, Thomas, and the highly-touted Seantrel Henderson.
Josh Shirley, Dietrich Riley spurn USC for UCLA.
Even the most optimistic USC fan had to anticipate some recruiting fallout from Pete Carroll’s predictable but still sudden flight for the NFL. Shirley and Riley will undoubtedly bolster the Bruin defense, but the fact that UCLA is luring top talent from USC on National Signing Day may signify that the Southern California college football landscape has changed.
Seantrel Henderson’s reluctance to sign on the dotted line
Although Henderson’s mother maintained that Seantrel would suit up in cardinal and gold come September, the pending NCAA investigation could finally begin to prove problematic for the football program if Henderson somehow bails on Southern Cal in light of sanctions handed down around Feb. 21.
Lane left Tennessee in a state of upheaval. Should USC expect something similar down the road?
Brandon Willis, who signed with North Carolina, is one example of a student-athlete who withdrew his verbal commitment to Tennessee upon learning of Kiffin’s departure for USC.
Not that Trojan Nation need shed a tear for the still-enraged Vol fans, but Tennessee’s incoming 2010 freshman class took a hit with several key recruits recanting their verbal commitments upon learning of the late coaching change in Knoxville.
If Lane quits on SC during recruiting season like he did on Tennessee, Southern Cal faithful can also expect a certain level of pandemonium whenever that day may come.
Robust class of playmaking RBs and defensive gems, secure a reliable kicker for 2011 and beyond.
RBs Malcolm Jones and Jordon James can supply the Bruin offense with at least one home run threat from the backfield, and both are sure-handed enough to play a role in the passing game as well.
Neuheisel took extra measures to assuage concerns about defensive attrition by replacing key down linemen that left the program with athletic, sought-after recruits in Aramide Olanyian, Owamagbe “Owa” Odighizuwa, Jordan Zumwalt, Sealii Epenesa, and Cassius Marsh.
Finally, Kip Smith could be a key offensive contributor once the Kai Forbath era concludes. Keep an eye on Smith, also a specimen of a kicker like Forbath, as he may serve as the difference between a seven-win and a nine-win season for UCLA in a couple years.
Trojans flex recruiting muscle as Hayes Pullard, George Uko, Giovani Di Poalo opt for USC over UCLA
While Pullard, Uko, and Di Poalo are all impressive individual talents, the collection of the three rejecting Westwood for Heritage Hall serves as a sign to UCLA that even in a tumultuous year of Trojan turmoil at the top, USC will still find a way to lure coveted Bruin recruits east of the 310 area code.
No offense, but…
Considering UCLA ranked 88 (out of 120 FBS teams) in total offense while also placing a dismal eighth in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency, one might have expected the Bruins to supply Kevin Prince with a few more downfield threats to enhance his maturation process.
Although Bruin apologists will maintain that UCLA stocked up on receiving talent in the previous recruiting class with players like Randall Carroll and transfer Josh Smith, there were too many impressive wideouts and tight ends coming out of California in 2010 for the Neuheisel machine to not sign at least a couple more local offensive prep stars.
Eighth place in the conference may feel like a distant memory a year from now if Jones and Jordan can help to significantly improve the 97th-ranked FBS rushing offense in 2009. Based on the gradual improvement of Neuheisel’s Bruins since he took over in 2008, the future looks a bit brighter in Westwood, and Bruin Nation has sufficient reason for optimism.
In short, UCLA exceeded all expectations in their recruiting endeavors, but USC was just a bit better.
The Bruins receive points for quantity with their 24 recruits, while Southern Cal only signed 20. However, out of those Trojan recruits, 11 are listed in ESPNU’s Top 150 (UCLA has an impressive six listed in the same group). USC signed five Maxprep All-Americans (Baxter, Gribmle, Woods, Prater, and Henderson) to UCLA’s one (Malcolm Jones).
However, football games and championships are not won on National Signing Day in February.
While Southern Cal may have the upper hand for the moment, their efforts may be hamstrung if the NCAA Committee on Infractions rules against SC for the alleged past violations of Reggie Bush , Joe McKnight , et al. sometime around Feb. 21.
If you’re the spiritual type that believes “what goes around, comes around,” it may be too early to speculate on karmic retribution, but Kiffin will be under heavy scrutiny in his inaugural season as the man running the Trojan Horse.
Not only did he leave Knoxville high and dry without a coach at a critical time in the recruiting season, but Ed Orgeron, Kiffin’s recruiting coordinator who followed him to Heritage Hall, reportedly told multiple mid-term enrollees at Tennessee not to go to class if, by some chance, they wanted to transfer to USC without sacrificing a year of athletic eligibility.
While it is difficult to compare amateur with professional athletics, these actions are not unlike tampering in the NFL—a punishable offense.
(Alleged) Lane-anigans aside, Kiffin has proven time and again that he can deliver the goods as a recruiter, but when Monte’s son experiences a successful season as a head football coach (12-21 career record), the next time will be the first time.
If USC’s 2010 season, blessed with a not too daunting non-conference schedule (at Hawaii and Minnesota and home against Notre Dame and Virginia), results in anything less than a Rose Bowl berth, bitter Tennessee fans will have reason to smile.
Conversely, UCLA will need all the help it can get to trudge through its non-conference schedule, consisting of trips to Kansas State and, gulp, Texas and a home game against Houston.
I’d give UCLA a chance against the Longhorns on Sept. 25 if their fall quarter wasn’t scheduled to begin that same week. Perhaps because Bruin student-athletes have a rather studious reputation, the football team historically performs worse once classes start.
Perhaps that trend, like UCLA’s mindset and underdog reputation, will begin to change this season.