Then there's the USC Trojans.
While other schools seem to have a down year every once in a while as talent levels fluctuate because of graduation and recruiting, Pete Carroll's teams are the exception to the rule. As the third-ranked Trojans come to town for Saturday night's clash with No. 8 Ohio State, it's hard to argue that the USC brings the most talented team in the country to the game.
USC is the only team to be ranked among the top 10 of Scout.com's team rankings in each of the last five seasons. In four of those campaigns, including the recently inked class of 2009, the Trojans boasted the highest ranking in the nation when it comes to average stars per player.
While some members of the Buckeyes wouldn't go quite far enough to name USC the most talented team on the docket over the past few years – perhaps to not ruffle any feathers among future Big Ten opponents – a few seemed to concede that point.
"They're definitely at the top of the pack," senior cornerback Andre Amos said. "Every year they reload, like all good teams do. They're going to always be talented. That's just the kind of team they are."
If recruiting rankings exist to measure, at the very least, the physical talent possessed by a player, then USC boasts what has to be the deepest assemblage of talent in the nation. The numbers are hard to argue with, and they paint a fairly scary picture for Ohio State fans who still remember the wounds of last year's 35-3 beating the Buckeyes suffered in Los Angeles.
Nine of the 22 USC players slated to start against the Buckeyes on Saturday were five-star recruits coming out of high school according to Scout, and that number will jump to 10 if defensive tackle Averell Spicer starts after spending last week as a reserve because of injury.
Eleven of the 22 starters – 12 if Spicer can play – were ranked among the top five players at their position coming out of high school, while nine players (10 including Spicer) were in the top 50 in their class regardless of position. Six were among the top 10 players in the country, including 2007 overall No. 1 Everson Griffen (a defensive end) and 2004 overall No. 1 Jeff Byers, an offensive lineman.
The numbers are particularly eye-popping on offense. Of the 11 players slated to start against Ohio State, six were five-star players and the rest were four stars. Five players – Byers, quarterback Matt Barkley, running back Joe McKnight, center Kristofer O'Dowd and right tackle Tyron Smith – were the No. 1 player at their position in their recruiting class.
"I feel that they're the best talented team that we'll face this year, just with everything they have – the offensive line and the depth that they have at wide receiver and running back," said Ohio State defensive lineman Doug Worthington, himself a five-star talent in 2005. "They can do anything. It's a great team we're going against."
|Stars Per Off. Starter||Stars per Def. Starter|
In addition, USC boasts an embarrassment of riches at perhaps the two most glitzy spots on the field, quarterback and running back. All three signal callers that were in a camp battle to become the starter and all members of USC's five-deep running back crew were five-star prospects coming out of high school and ranked among the top 30 players overall in their class.
The above numbers don't include wideout Ronald Johnson, who is injured and will not play, and tight end Blake Ayles, who is listed as a third-stringer in his sophomore year. Both of those players were five-star prospects and among the top 25 players in the nation.
Put another way: USC's backup fullback, D.J. Shoemate, was once a five-star wide receiver prospect who was ranked among the top 50 players in the country.
On the defensive side of the ball, there is a bit of a dropoff in the star department. After losing eight starters to the NFL draft, Carroll's rebuilt defense features four three-star players among the 11 probable starters in defensive end Wes Horton, tackles Christian Tupou and Jurrell Casey and cornerback Josh Pinkard.
Last year's defense allowed just 9.0 points per game, USC's lowest mark since 1967 and the stingiest total in the nation since Michigan in 1997. Things didn't look too much different in USC's opener against San Jose State, which gained just 121 yards and ran for 0.3 yards per carry.
"Just because they lost a lot of good players, they have good players coming back," tight end Jake Ballard said. "They're still good, they're still fast and they're still strong. They're good at what they do. There's not much that's changed from last year to this year except the names."
Those loads of talent have helped the Trojans, the 2004 BCS champions, become the preeminent dynasty of the decade. For seven straight years, USC has won at least 11 games, captured the Pac-10 title and finished among the top four teams in the country.
Of course, Ohio State doesn't have chopped liver, either. The Buckeyes have won four straight Big Ten titles and have continued to pull in some of the best classes in the nation, including the No. 1 overall class last year. The Buckeyes should start a quintet of five-star players on Saturday, including the class of 2008's No. 1 player overall in quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
"They're a talented team, but we have a lot of talent here," OSU defensive lineman Cameron Heyward said. "We just have to go out there and play."