Delay of game could result in wins for Kiffin

Despite its unsuccessful appeal, merely delaying penalties might be enough for USC to survive NCAA sanctions.

Mounting an appeal that had zero chance of success might be the best thing USC ever did for coach Lane Kiffin.

It's clear based on the recent history, where just one of 11 appeals actually resulted in reduced penalties, or in the 22-page response handed down by the Appeals Committee that the Trojans were never going to get their bowl ban cut in half or relief from significant scholarship reductions.

But by simply delaying the inevitable, it gave Kiffin, Public Enemy No. 1 to most of college football, a chance to restock the roster by signing not only 23 players who will arrive in the summer, but eight mid-year enrollees as well.

Those 31 newcomers signed as the penalties were stayed represent a lifeline through the heart of scholarship reductions in 2012, 2013 and 2014, when the Trojans will be limited to signing 15 recruits and 75 players on scholarship, 10 under the allowed limits on both counts.

It allowed the staff to boost its numbers across the board, beefing up at linebacker and on the offensive line, the two most dire areas of need. It offers more depth on game day, more competition on the practice field.

With as many as 38 potential seniors when the 2014 season is actually played, USC will have a reservoir of experience even its best teams of the past decade couldn't draw upon. That total includes many of the best performers this past spring, such as powerhouse defensive tackle George Uko and electric running back D.J. Morgan, along with a host of recruits regarded among the best in the nation.

Given the prowess of Kiffin and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron to identify talent, it's not unreasonable to think that half of that total could develop into starters or significant contributors, as predecessor Pete Carroll's best hauls did, scouted by the same duo.

It's also worth noting that most of Carroll's teams were well under the 85-man limit, usually in the neighborhood of seven or eight scholarships, and they seemed to do fine.

Immediate contributions from even one player on par with Robert Woods or Nickell Robey could be enough to push this year's team back to double-digit wins.

The biggest issue is the reduced margin for error going forward. No more gambling on a gifted but troubled or academically limited athlete on the chance he washes out. No more taking that extra wide receiver or running back just because.

Kiffin and Orgeron will have to be especially careful in balancing out the roster to address positions of need. Even with the likelihood of transfers, early entrants to the NFL and other attrition, USC could end up with as few as seven recruits.

They will probably only take a dozen players, give or take, in its next recruiting class, but of the eight current non-binding verbal commitments, five are running backs and wide receivers.

Continuing to address the offensive line and linebacker are crucial, but doing so without compromising standards might be hard to do. Do they gamble on a more talented player at another position of relative strength and hope to address need next year or take a lesser prospect?

Those are the decisions that could end up bringing Kiffin's tenure to an early end.

Also worth noting is how the NCAA's ruling opens up the talent pool for other Pac-12 schools, if ever so slightly.

Kiffin has placed an increased emphasis on retaining the best players in Los Angeles again, pointing to the impact the likes of DeSean Jackson, Vontaze Burfict and Chris Polk have made elsewhere. The new limitations leave 10 of their ilk available to other schools.

USC will be incredibly young in 2015 and 2016, but it's so far down the road to consider, let alone worry.

By then it could well be another coach's dilemma.

If it is Kiffin's, he will have had enough success to justify keeping his job. If that's the case, he can thank that doomed appeal and the chance to reload it offered. Top Stories