Every football program must deal with the roster attrition after the season ends. Players can leave for a number of reasons; some will transfer, be academically ineligible, retire because of health, leave because of disciplinary reasons, graduate, or leave early for the draft. Recruiting offsets these losses. Recruiting— something USC Football is severely limited on.
The third and final year of scholarship sanctions is upon USC now. Like the past two years, their total scholarship roster size is limited to 75, the normal being 85. As limiting as that is, the coaching staff probably won’t have to worry about it because the loss of 10 initial scholarships. They can only recruit 15 players (and four more for early entrants because Kiffin left four scholarships unused from the previous season), as opposed to the normal 25, to replace their losses. And the losses are significant for this Trojan team.
It started with the transfers. In the initial months of the sanctions, USC already lost more than few players. Transfers did not stop after that, with the Trojans losing big names like Kyle Prater, Blake Ayles, Brice Butler and Dillon Baxter.
Then there are academically ineligible players like Isiah Wiley— some of them end up transferring too. Although rare, players like Frankie Telfort, or as was suspected about Christian Thomas, are no longer able to play with the team because of health issues.
The way most players end up leaving is through graduation and leaving early for the draft. In USC’s case, they will lose 16 of the 69 they ended the season with— nearly 25 percent of the current roster.
USC will lose, at least, 12 seniors and four underclassmen. Those four underclassmen— Dion Bailey, Marcus Martin, George Uko, and Marqise Lee— are only a fraction of the 15 total who can declare for the draft. Not all of the last 12 will declare, but there is still time for more of them to make that decision.
Players like Hayes Pullard and Aundrey Walker can declare within the next week. Even Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer can change their minds in the coming days.
Best case scenario: no more underclassmen declare and the Trojans sign four early enrollee and 15 fall entrants for 2014. With the Texas Tech transfer Delvon Simmons becoming eligible to play, the scholarship total will sit at 73.
Even if that were to happen, Steve Sarkisian has a lot to deal with. All but five of the 16 players leaving were starters at some point during their college careers. A huge portion of the 2014 roster will have little to no college game experience. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Sarkisian will have to continue recruiting hard. That includes the rest of the draft-eligible juniors. The first thing to do is lock down the early entrants.
Recently, it looked as if the Trojans were all set for the spring semester, but offensive line commit Jordan Poland decided to change to Arizona early in January. With classes starting at USC on January 13th, Sarkisian must make proper arrangements or risk an even smaller roster for the coming year. They would also lose out on one more freshman being afforded extra practices before fall camp. This is vital in getting freshmen to be able to contribute right away.
After that is dealt with, the fall recruits have to be kept on board. The Trojans have much needed commits at defensive back and offensive line that are important for now and the next few years.
If and when USC has all 19 of these recruits signed and on the practice field by fall of 2014, the coaching staff must develop them as quickly as possible.
The entire 2014 campaign for the Trojans stands upon the edge of a knife, and it all begins and ends with the roster. Hope for no academically ineligible players and transfers. Dream of a season devoid of big, season-ending injuries. Just don’t put money on it.