Let's take a closer look at USC's talent

We've all heard it -- over and over and over -- from those talking heads on television. Those ``in the know'' guys such as insufferable Brent Musburger, declaring that ``when the Trojans lose a player, they just plug in another Parade All-American in his place.''

Thus we have the perpetuation of the myth that USC always has the best football players in the land, so there's no reason it should ever lose a game.

Oh, if if were only true that USC is the one and only. The truth is, some years the case can be made that they have dominant talent, but most seasons it can't.

First, let's examine how the Trojans finished in national recruiting rankings by Scout.com since 2002, the first year in which Pete Carroll had charge of the talent derby from beginning to end.

2002: Twelfth, with a 3.09 quality ranking, tied for 14th in the nation.

2003: First, with a 3.50 quality ranking, sixth in the nation.

2004: First, with a 4.00 quality ranking, best in the nation.

2005: Sixth, with a 4.25 quality ranking, best in the nation and the highest achieved to that tim.

2006: First, with a 4.17 quality ranking, best in the nation.

2007: Second, with a 4.39 quality ranking, highest ever by any school. No. 1 Florida, 4.22.

2008: Ninth, with a 3.84 quality ranking, third in the nation.

2009: Ninth, with a 3.94 quality ranking, best in the nation.

Pretty impressive string of recruiting years, right? Who could argue? Except --

Except that factors beyond anyone's expectation, or even imagination, have intervened to make these recruiting classes much less appealing than at first glance.

We begin with the 2002 class. The total number of points a team accumulates by the ``star'' system -- one through five -- determines where a school finishes in the final team rankings. Well, to begin, one of the players whose points were counted, lineman Chris Doyle, never made it into school. Defensive lineman Manny Wright was a guy who often didn't play, for one reason or another, and his Long Beach Poly teammate, Winston Justice, was forced to sit out one year for disciplinry reasons and left for the NFL draft a year early. JC transfer Van Brown seldom played and safety Mike Ross was placed on medical scholarship after sustaining multiple concussions. Offensive lineman Fred Matua left for the NFL a year early, as did All-America receiver Mike Williams. Linebacker Dan Urquhart -- was he really there? So, you wouldn't write home and brag about this class.

Now, 2003, with a No. 1 over-all ranking and sixth in quality. Ashton White, counted toward the class being No. 1, never made it into school. Whitney Lewis was the all-time bust and offensive lineman Ryan Watson didn't like life away from Louisiana and went home after a year. Defensive back Eric Wright was invited to leave school after two seasons and Jonathan Turner never attended USC. Defensive lineman Chris Barrett was placed on medical scholarship with injiuries, Sal Faraimo had his scholarship withdrawn and, in a tragedy that still haunts the program, linebacker Drean Rucker drowned in a beach accident. Still look like a No. 1 class?

2004: No. 1 team ranking in points and quality. But -- wide receiver Derrick Jones never attended USC and instead wound up at Oregon, quarterback Rocky Hinds transferred to UNLV after two seasons, Eugene Germany couldn't get into school and ended up at Michigan, Thomas Herring wound up on medical scholarship, defensive end Jeff Schweiger was a bust and transferred to San Jose State, Ryan Powdrell had knee problems and tight end Michael Stuart flunked out. Uh, still No. 1?

2005: Sixth in team rank, first in quality at 4.25. Kicker Troy Van Blarcom flunked out, JC defensive back Mozique McCurtis gave up the winning touchdown pass in a loss to 41-point underdog Stanford two years ago, linebacker Luthur Brown was perpetually injured, running back Michael Coleman left school and defensive lineman Averell Spicer, believed to be the ninth wonder of the world, seldom played.

2006: First in team rank, first in quality. Wide receiver Jamere Holland, once the state's 100-meter champion, transferred to Oregon, where he caught a TD pass against the Trojans this past season. Linebacker Alfrefd Rowe -- who knows? Defensive back Vincent Joseph was around for two seasons and running back Emmanual Moody transferred to Florida. DB Shareece Wright was ineligible this past season, wide receiver Vidal Hazelton transferred to Cincinnati after three seasons, Josh Tatum was asked to leave scool and Antwine Perez, a safety hailed as the next Ronnie Lott, left after a year. JC transfer Gerald Washington seldom appeared in a game. Remember, all these guys were counted as points in determining USC's No. 1 team ranking.

2007: No. 2 team rank, first in quality. Running back Broderick Green transferred to Arkansas this past year, defensive end Troy Henderson left after two seasons, running back Marc Tyler has been too brittle to play much, everyone is still waiting for five-star offensive lineman Martin Coleman to produce and linebacker Chris Galippo's two back surgeries have slowed him.

2008: Ninth in team rank and third in quality. Tight end Blake Ayles, a huge disappointment. Has the ability to be a wonder dog. Offensive lineman Daniel Campbell of Houston, Tex., never made it into school. A fine offensive line prospecft, Matt Meyer, is on medical scholarsip and will never play football again.

2009: Ninth in team ranking and first in quality. Linebacker Frankie Telfort found to have a defective heart and was placed on medical scholarship. Great prospect. JC transfer Hebron Fangupo, who was moving into a starting position, sustained a broken ankle early in the season. Another great prospect, defensive back Patrick Hall, sustained a knee injury that required surgery before the season began.

So, what has often looked like a mountain has sometimes turned into a mole hill. What you see on letter-of-intent day isn't what you believe you will see in the fall. Misevaluations, grades, misconduct, transfers -- all can take their toll.

Despite what Brent and those other experts proclaim, you can't always plug in another Parade All-American.

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