For college football fans who don't follow Southern Cal and the Pac-10, you better get used to seeing the Trojans near the top of the college football polls. Head coach Pete Carroll, now in his third season with USC, has wakened a sleeping giant. They made a big run last year and finished the season as one of the nation's hottest teams with an 11-2 record. Their quarterback won the Heisman Trophy and they finished No. 4 in both polls.
At this time last year, I said USC would be one of the big surprises in recruiting. The Trojans more than surprised the college football recruiting world, finishing with the nation's No. 3 recruiting class on Signing Day, missing only a big-time quarterback prospect. But they filled that need in the spring with the nation's top junior quarterback, John David Booty. He enrolled this fall and is now waiting his turn at Southern Cal. (USC finished No. 1 when TheInsiders.com revised the Signing Day rankings this fall.)
The bottom line is this: Pete Carroll is pulling all the strings to bring back the monster that we remember as great Trojan football under John McKay and John Robinson. Back then, USC was one of the few, elite powers, year in and year out. The Trojans were consistently very good. Carroll and company quickly have returned the program back to glory the days. And this is only the beginning.
The key to sustaining the run will be recruiting. And if last season is any indication, the college football world better take notice.
"First of all, we emphasize winning and the opportunity to come here and compete at the highest level of college football -- to be able to win championships," said Ed Orgeron, USC's recruiting coordinator. "Second of all, the education that we offer here. It's a private institution with great educational opportunities. Third, and probably the most important, is the Trojan family. Once you're a Trojan, you're a Trojan for life. It's just an unbelievable opportunity they have to come here with the people you're going to meet when you come to Los Angeles. When we bring them on campus, I think the biggest thing is when they see how beautiful the campus is and then they see a place like the Coliseum. It's a great atmosphere for a young man."
In his first recruiting season, Carroll and his staff struggled, but they more than made up for it in 2002. This year, they are off to another good start. If you look into the crystal ball, National Signing Day should once again be a bonanza for the Trojans. In fact, they have a chance to surpass what they did this past February with an even better crop of prospects.
So far, the Trojans have a half-dozen commitments from six quality players. Scott Ware is one of the nation's top junior college free safety prospects and Sekeli Faaeteete is the top fullback prospect on the West Coast. They have both pledged to USC. Tight ends Michael Stuart and Jimmy Miller, offensive tackle Chilo Rachal and safety Lamar Herron also have committed to Southern Cal. All five of the high school commitments are members of TheInsiders.com West Hot 100.
As we get closer and closer to National Signing Day, look for the Trojans to establish a torrid recruiting pace. They are recruiting a Who's Who of the best high school talent, from their backyard in California to New Jersey, down to Florida and everything in between. The bottom line is that these Trojans are doing a great job in working the recruits and the recruits are responding.
With six commitments now, USC is looking to sign another 15 recruits or so. Along the way, they may have some tough decisions to make because of the sheer number of quality kids who may want to become Trojans come February.
Heading the list is the nation's top prospect, center Jeff Byers from Ft. Collins, Colo. He recently took an official visit to USC and was more than impressed. Byers has visited Southern Cal, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Iowa. Others are involved as well, but there is a great chance he will choose USC in the end. A decision with Byers could come at any time.
The top safety in America is Randy Estes from Los Alamitos, Calif., and he will likely to pick USC. Estes is showing interest in the Florida schools and some other powers in the Midwest but look for him to stay home. UCLA, Oregon and others will fight USC hard for this super, five-star prospect.
The nation's top cover corner is Ted Ginn Jr. from Cleveland. Ginn is also one of the nation's top track athletes and he has aspirations for the Olympics. He would love to come and play for Southern Cal but has strong Ohio State ties. A big advantage for the Trojans with Ginn is their track program. This one could be close between the two archrivals.
In Florida, Southern Cal leads for two outstanding linebacker prospects from the Orlando area. Keith Rivers is ranked No. 5 in the nation and, right now, USC appears to be the team to beat with Oklahoma and Florida trailing. Fellow central Florida linebacker Brandon Siler says he is leaning to the Trojans as well.
New Brunswick, N.J., is the home of Dwayne Jarrett, one of the country's top wide receivers. At this time, like some of the others mentioned above, he is leaning to Southern Cal. The Trojans also have a great shot at landing defensive ends Jeff Schweiger, Eugene Germany, and Lawrence Miles, offensive linemen Thomas Herring and Leo Talavou, tight end Dale Thompson, wide receivers Cameron Colvin and Michael Bumpus, and cornerback Terrail Lambert. These are some of the nation's best football players at their respective positions and, as it stands right now, USC could land the bulk of them.
What are the reasons for Southern Cal's turnaround in recruiting? After all, the Trojans have not been known as a recruiting juggernaut until this past season. Some reasons are obvious. They play in one of college football's top conferences, they have a wonderful football tradition, they're in Los Angeles and their academics are very good.
"They do a lot of things very well," said Greg Biggins, TheInsiders.com West Coast Recruiting Analyst. "The staff works incredibly hard and has a true passion for recruiting. They're doing great on the field, the school is in L.A. and USC has incredible tradition to sell."
That said, coaching staffs still have to work hard at recruiting. It starts with the head coach and Pete Carroll has worked hard to recruit. Then, the staff has to be very active and tireless in their effort. And third, the players have to get involved. Who better to sell your school in recruiting than the players themselves, especially when they believe in the coaching staff? USC has done all three of these things very well.
Success in recruiting usually breeds success on the football field. For Southern Cal, they are doing both very well right now. If this is a sign of things to come, then the real USC is back and back to stay.
Jamie Newberg is a national recruiting analyst for TheInsiders.com.