When it comes to the black art of roster management, there is no equal to USC’s Lane Kiffin. Recruiting under the cloud of the harshest NCAA sanctions handed down since the SMU “death penalty” case, Darth Kiffin is crafting a roster so stocked with talent and youth that it may be hard to see the effects of the penalties handed down in June 2010 and upheld on appeal in May 2011. Reggie who?
The sanctions were intended to severely punish the Trojan football program. It was supposed to wander in the darkness for the better part of a decade. They were supposed to be the ideal homecoming opponent for Colorado. They were not supposed to emerge from probation stocked with talent and ready for runs at PAC-12 and national titles, but they may well do just that.
How could this happen?
The answer lies in looking back in time and reviewing recruiting and roster figures from the years preceding Kiffin’s arrival before the 2010 season. Dr. Saturday has a keen analysis of how USC recruited lightly in Pete Carroll’s final years, leaving Kiffin with fewer scholarship players than the sanctions called for going forward. Once the severity of the sanctions were known (and the chances of successful appeal rated), Kiffin loaded up the magazine. He signed 30 players in the 2011 class, back counted several to the 2010 class and promptly redshirted half of them.
Add those 15 redshirts to the 2012 class of 17 new scholarship players and the freshman class that shows up for fall camp will be more than doubled. These aren’t two- and three-star projects, either. Half of recruits in the 2011 class were either four- or five-star players, so the talent pool on the field next September will be very young, but very rich.
In fact, the 2012 Trojans are one of the most popular picks to win the PAC-12 and play for the national championship.
The NCAA intended the sanctions to hurt and they may still make their impacts felt in the next few years. When recruiting under such harsh limits, you have to have a lot of luck avoiding injuries. Off the field issues have to be kept to a minimum. There is no such animal as a project recruit—every player you sign has to be a bona fide “can’t miss” and has to be ready to contribute immediately. And once you’ve gotten those can’t miss prospects in the corral, you have to convince them to hold the rope and resist the temptation to transfer or jump early to the NFL draft.
If Kiffin can do that, he will not only rule as the Sith Lord of Roster Management, he will also have shown programs like North Carolina how to practice the dark art of beating harsh NCAA sanctions.
Padawan Fedora, are you paying attention?