Which five-stars have been 'five-stars'?

Yes, I know most of the myths about USC football recruiting because I've been recording them for nearly half a century. Many of you know the stories:

Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer, speaking of the Trojans' recruiting advantage: ``John Robinson drives past more Division I prospects on his way to work than we have in the whole state of Oklahoma.''

Tony Mason, while coaching at Arizona: ``I sell cactus; John Robinson sells Heismans.''

Texas assistant Johnny Johnson: ``Recruiting against USC is like trying to fight a tank with a bat.''

Purdue coach Alex Agase, explaining why he didn't recruit in California: ``Any kid who would leave that wonderful weather is too dumb to play for us.''

Oh, the stories go on and on, with some justification. There are probably more major-football prospects within a three-hour drive of Los Angeles than there are in the whole state of Florida, which easterners regard as the breadbasket of college football civilization.

Considering all that has been said about USC's recruiting advantages and the Trojans' unquestioned success in gathering talent during the Pete Carroll era, many of you are puzzled about the 2009 Fall of the Trojan Football Empire.

A 9-4 season, ending in a meaningless Emerald Bowl victory over a terrible Boston College team isn't what was anticipated, especially after an impressive second-game triumph over Ohio State before a record crowd at Ohio Stadium and USC's annual lofty national recruiting rankings.

Perhaps we've become too optimistic because of recruiting results over the Carroll years, and maybe we should review those classes, beginning with 2002, Pete's first full effort at assembling a class of potential champions.

We'll employ Scout.com's annual rankings because we believe this is the most authoritative national recruiting site.

Here, by years, are how the Trojans have ranked nationally, followed by the quality ratings (based on the five-star system):

2002, No. 12, 3.09.

2003, No. 1, 3.50.

2004, No. 1, 4.00.

2005, No. 6, 4.25.

2006, No. 1, 4.17.

2007, No. 2, 4.39.

2008, No. 9, 3.84.

2009, No. 9, 3.94.

Mighty impressive, right? In the eight years surveyed, three No. 1 recruiting finishes and a No. 2. With all that talent, how could you possibly lose? Well, the Trojans rarely lost – in fact, only 13 times in 104 games over Carroll's last eight seasons, 11 to Pacific-10 Conference teams.

Yes, 11 of those losses were to Pac-10 teams, despite the league's meager performance in national recruiting rankings. For instance, UCLA has had only five Top 25 recruiting finishes in the past eight years, none above No. 7; Cal has only four, none above ninth; Oregon two, none above ninth; Washington three, none above 18th; Arizona two, none above 15th; Arizona State two, none above 17th; and Washington State one, that at 21st. Neither Stanford nor Oregon State finished in the Top 25 during those eight years, yet each achieved two victories over the Trojans.

How could this happen? Well, perhaps we should look at some of those USC recruiting classes and determine whether they were as invincible as they first appeared.

Several of those lofty final team rankings were attained by Carroll's ability to sign five-star prep performers, the highest rating offered by recruiting services. Let's look at the five-star players who came to USC under Carroll and let you decide whether team rankings are sometimes misleading.

2002: Defensive lineman Manny Wright, safety Darnell Bing, offensive lineman Winston Justice, all from a whiz-bang Long Beach Poly team.

2003: Quarterback John David Booty, defensive back Will Poole, athlete Whitney Lewis, wide receiver Steve Smith, defensive end Lawrence Jackson. (Ryan Kalil, Fili Moala and Matt Spanos were given three-star ratings, Eric Wright two stars).

2004: Tight end Fred Davis, linebacker Keith Rivers, defensive end Jeff Schweiger, offensive lineman Deuce Lutui, fullback Ryan Powdrell, offensive lineman Jeff Byers, safety Scott Ware.

2005: Linebacker Luthur Brown, linebacker Brian Cushing, wide receiver Patrick Turner, linebacker Rey Maualuga, defensive lineman Averell Spicer, quarterback Mark Sanchez.

2006: Running back Stafon Johnson, running back C.J. Gable, wide receiver David Ausberry, linebacker (later running back) Allen Bradford, wide receiver Vidal Hazelton, linebacker Josh Tatum, safety Antwine Perez, safety Taylor Mays.

2007: Running back Joe McKnight, wide receiver Ron Johnson, defensive lineman Da'John Harris, defensive end Emerson Griffen, offensive lineman Kris O'Dowd, defensive back Marshall Jones, running back Marc Tyler, quarterback Aaron Corp, offensive lineman Martin Coleman, linebacker Chris Galippo.

2008: Tight end Blake Ayles, offensive linemen Tyron Smith and Matt Kalil, fullback D.J. Shoemate.

2009: Defensive end Devon Kennard, defensive lineman Hebron Fangupo, quarterback Matt Barkley, defensive back T.J. McDonald.

Now, go through those lists and see how many legitimate five-star performers you can find. Some of those listed never hit the field for USC – either decided to leave USC or were invited to leave. Some have made it big. Others? Well, in some cases, character is involved, and that's difficult for national analysts and college recruiters to define, given the limited access they are permitted to recruits.

We should also remember that if the Trojans misread the abilities of some of these five-star performers, in most cases, 40 to 50 other schools were prepared to make the same mistake.

So, what have you learned from studying this data?

How about look before you leap -- to conclusions?

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