Football

USC pulls in 11th-ranked class on early signing day with more decisions looming

The Trojans made crucial additions at positions of need and scored important victories in-state.

signing day graphic 2020

The 2020 USC Trojans have done about as much as one could ask for this season, going 5-0 in regular season play to put themselves in Friday’s Pac-12 Championship Game against Oregon. However, due to a disappointing 2020 recruiting class that landed the team just two four-star players and a dead-last ranking in the Pac-12 per 247Sports, the team has faced persistent questions about its future.

Some of those questions were answered with a solid effort on Wednesday’s Early National Signing Day. The Trojans leave the early deadline with the country’s 11th-ranked recruiting class, which includes plenty of talent at positions of need. With 12 four-star signees and the chance to add a few more high-level recruits, USC is positioning itself well for the next four years. Here are the key takeaways from Early Signing Day.

Top talent at the skill positions — especially quarterback

The Trojans have had a verbal commitment from four-star quarterback Miller Moss — the team’s top recruit who signed his letter of intent Wednesday — since June, which may have pushed fellow four-star Jake Garcia to decommit from the Trojans. However, USC also added four-star Utah signal-caller Jaxson Dart as its second highest-rated recruit, giving the team two of the top 10 quarterbacks in the class of 2021.

Dart was a riser during this high school football season; he had zero Power 5 offers at its onset and ended with a choice between UCLA, Arizona State, BYU and USC after throwing for a state record 67 touchdowns. In his announcement on ESPN 2, Dart said he liked what he has seen from offensive coordinator Graham Harrell and sophomore quarterback Kedon Slovis.

“They are planning for Kedon to leave soon and that should open the opportunity to play early,” he said. “At USC it seems like every starter goes to the league for them and they love to spin the rock, so I just feel like the scheme is a great fit for me.”

Head coach Clay Helton said during Wednesday’s media availability that both signal-callers saw the opportunity to compete for playing time at an early age.

“That’s all you want as a quarterback, is to step in the room, compete and the best guy plays,” Helton said. “That’s what this place has always been and always garnered, is championship-level quarterbacks.”

Apart from the boon for the quarterback depth — which has been dicey recently — the Trojans bolstered their skill positions with one four-star each.

Mater Dei receiver Kyron Ware-Hudson continues the lineage of Monarch pass-catchers at USC, and as an Oregon decommit marks a win in the battle for California. The Trojans went out of state for Florida tight end Michael Trigg and Texas running back Brandon Campbell.

Splitting time between California and out-of-state

Apart from Trigg and Campbell, most of USC’s top signees hail from California. Of these, most are slated to play defensive back: Prophet Brown, Calen Bullock, Anthony Beavers Jr., Xamarion Gordon and Jaylin Smith are all four-stars who will give cornerbacks coach Donte Williams and safeties coach Craig Naivar plenty to work with.

Defensive tackle Jay Toia, from Simi Valley, is another defensive product from California. Overall, USC has to feel better about how it is recruiting in its home state, having snagged six of California’s top 20 players. Oregon, who has encroached on the Trojans’ territory in recent years, is closest with two.

USC also made some other key additions out of state, though. Its third highest-rated signee is Julien Simon, an outside linebacker from Tacoma, Washington. Helton sounded particularly high on Simon, calling him “Captain Intangibles.”

Three-stars tight end Lake McRee, offensive tackle Ty Buchanan and receiver Joseph Manjack join Campbell as Texas products. The Trojans also signed three-stars Michael Jackson, a receiver out of Nevada, and Colin Mobley, a defensive end out of Maryland, while waiting for three-star offensive tackle Saia Mapakaitolo from Arizona, who verbally committed in May.

“The one thing that I’ve learned about this brand is you can take it anywhere and be successful,” Helton said, indicating the SC logo on his chest.

USC continued to bolster its offensive line depth with tackle Mason Murphy and guard Maximus Gibbs, both three-stars from California powerhouses JSerra Catholic in San Juan Capistrano and St. John Bosco, respectively.

Filling the gaps

Although the NCAA granted all fall athletes the option of an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19′s effect on the season, there are still questions about what USC’s depth chart will look like next year. The Trojans added a ton of defensive backs, which isn’t necessarily a thin position, but virtually every other recruit provides answers at a position that could be in flux. It was a big part of why Helton said he was happy with the class.

Trigg and Campbell enter tight end and running back rooms that could lose multiple seniors, including their starters. Toia will be part of an interior defensive line group that could lose redshirt junior Marlon Tuipulotu depending on his draft outlook — remember, however, that the Trojans will also add Alabama transfer defensive tackle Ishmael Sopsher, a top 50 player in the class of 2019.

With Palaie Gaoteote IV entering the transfer portal, Simon is a much-needed talent influx at linebacker. The Trojans will likely lose at least one starter on the offensive line with redshirt junior Alijah Vera-Tucker a possible first-round pick, so someone among the cavalcade of lower-ranked but high-potential linemen signed in the last few classes will have to separate themselves.

With the option for redshirt senior Matt Fink to return for another season, Moss and Dart may not be battling for top backup duties in 2021. They are, however, the two contenders to be USC’s quarterback of the future.

Who’s left?

The apple of everyone’s eye is five-star defensive end Korey Foreman, the No. 1 player in the country per 247Sports’ composite ranking. Foreman is a product of Centennial in Corona and would mark a major victory not only as the centerpiece of USC’s class, but as the best player in California.

Foreman tweeted on Monday that he would sign Wednesday but not announce his decision until the All-American Bowl on Jan. 2. Currently, 247 gives USC a 58% chance of landing the former Clemson commit, with LSU second at 32%. Pairing Foreman with sophomore outside linebacker Drake Jackson, even if only for one season, would give the Trojans one of the most talented edge rusher combinations in the country.

The All-American Bowl will be a huge day for USC as four-star cornerback Ceyair Wright will also announce his decision. He seems to be a surer bet than Foreman as he is currently 100% to the Trojans on 247′s Crystal Ball predictor, but Oregon, Michigan and Notre Dame are threats to steal him away. If the Loyola High School product stays in L.A., he would be the highest-rated of any of USC’s current signees.

There are a few other remaining decisions that could improve USC’s class. Quaydarius Davis, a wide receiver out of Texas, and Devin Kirkwood, an athlete from Junipero Serra in Gardena projected to play defensive back, are both four-stars heavily favored to pick the Trojans.

Finally, J.T. Tuimoloau — the five-star defensive end who has battled with Foreman for top billing in this class — listed USC in his final five. Ohio State is the leader for his services right now, with Alabama, Oregon and Washington as his other finalists.

“We’re right in a great spot right now,” Helton said. “Obviously there are some big fish that are yet out there that when you’re at USC you’ve got to compete for, compete over the next couple days or if it goes all the way to February.”

USC has a solid foundation with its early signees. But there are still players out there who could determine whether this cycle is seen as a resounding success or another disappointment.

Rundown by star and position (as of now)

- 5-star: None
- 4-star: 2 QB, 1 RB, 1 WR, 1 TE, 1 DT, 1 OLB, 1 CB, 3 ATH (all playing DB), 1 S
- 3-star: 2 WR, 1 TE, 2 OG, 2 OT (one still verbal), 1 DE