USC football nailed down a top-notch recruiting class on National Signing Day on Wednesday, an impressive feat, but par for the course at a program that historically excels at adding prized commits.
The Trojans finished with a consensus top-five recruiting class — according to rankings from several media outlets — bringing in two five-star commits, 12 four-star commits, 10 three-star commits and one two-star commit. They capped it off with a bang on Wednesday when they added six prized recruits who were previously uncommitted.
The developments surpassed expectations for USC, though it is no stranger to hauling in stellar recruiting classes. In every year but one since 2002, the Trojans have ranked in the top 10 in recruitment. Eleven of those years, they finished in the top five.
"Skill-wise, I love USC," head coach Clay Helton said at a press conference. "It attracts the best skill in the country."
While recruitment ultimately comes down to how well coaches connect with players, it definitely helps to have a brand that resonates across the country. This recruiting class included players from different parts of the United States — Utah, Arizona, Oregon, Utah, Alaska and even American Samoa.
Look back at previous years and one can find a similar theme: a diverse set of commits who are among the best prospects in America, filling holes up and down USC's roster.
None was better, though, than the 2003 class. Widely considered the best in program history, the group included star running backs Reggie Bush and Lendale White, future NFL wide receiver Steve Smith, offensive tackle Sam Baker, defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis and defensive end Lawrence Jackson. Four of them were drafted in the first round of the NFL draft. At the collegiate level, the core went 48-4 and claimed two national championships.
The 2005 class also produced a plethora of NFL veterans. Quarterback Mark Sanchez was a five-star recruit, as were linebackers Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga.
The next class to make a defining impact was 2011, the final one before NCAA sanctions were imposed that limited the amount of scholarships that USC could give out. Leading the way were wide receiver Marqise Lee and quarterback Cody Kessler, who are both currently in the NFL. Other noteworthy contributors were running back Javorius Allen and Antwaun Woods.
Despite undergoing sanctions, the Trojans still managed to snag a quality recruiting class in 2012 that included wide receiver Nelson Agholor, defensive tackle Leonard Williams, offensive linemen Max Tuerk, Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler.
The final quality recruiting class led into the current era of USC football. In 2014, the Trojans added wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and jack-of-all-trades Adoree' Jackson to the roster; the two would thrill crowds for three seasons before they both declared for the draft this year. And the class of 2015 is off to a flying start, with Sam Darnold, Cameron Smith, Ronald Jones II, Iman Marshall and Deontay Burnett playing key roles on the current team.
Despite the hype, how the 2016 class plays out remains to be seen. There have been past top-notch USC recruiting groups that have not panned out, such as in 2006 and 2008.
But there's no denying the Trojans' ability to bring in prized prospects. In fact, it is the only school to sign five or more players in the ESPN Top 100 in the last 12 seasons.
That's something that Helton relishes and loves about USC, along with the drive that recruits have to compete for playing time.
"It's always been that way," he said. "It's been guys who come up here and never shy away from the competition. They know it's about competing, and it makes it easy for our coach. They know from day one that the best player's going to play. It doesn't matter if you're a freshman or a senior … You know that you're going to come to USC and compete in a hurry."