The recruiting rivalry between Florida and USC was supposed to only intensify with former Tennessee coach — and Urban Meyer agitator — Lane Kiffin taking over in Southern California. Not only was Florida beginning to tap directly into USC’s backyard, but the Kiffin-Meyer saga figured to add even more spice.
But could one of the most exciting annual recruiting storylines fade after the NCAA slammed its hammer down on USC in June? The Trojans were slapped with a two-year postseason ban and the loss of 30 scholarships over the next three years.
The chore for Kiffin and his coaches will be to sell recruits on a program that no longer has a Hollywood-type head coach in Pete Carroll (now with the Seattle Seahawks), won’t compete for a bowl in the next two years no matter what its records are and won’t be able to put together major, blockbuster classes with fewer scholarships.
So far, USC has only felt the damage with two transfers and the wavering of top 2010 signee Seantrel Henderson (St. Paul, Minn., Cretin-Durham Hall). As for the 2011 class, USC has remained relatively unscathed and even landed a commitment over the weekend from Lauderdale Lakes Boyd Anderson linebacker Kent Turene, who appeared to be favoring Florida earlier this summer.
“The sanctions might have an effect on some players, but not many, and the first sign that it’s not going to be a major headache is that no players have decommitted, yet,” Rivals.com West Coast Recruiting Analyst Adam Gorney said.
“Other coaches haven’t had enough time to get their hooks in players and hype up the sanctions, but there really isn’t a lot of meat to them for 2011 prospects since they’ll only miss one bowl season.
“That no prospects have decommitted speaks to the power of the USC brand and to coach Lane Kiffin and his staff aggressively pursuing top prospects and convincing those already in the class not to stray. It’s a long way to National Signing Day but I don’t expect a mass exodus like maybe some would hope for.”
The Trojans have gotten 11 verbals this year and Gorney said he hasn’t noticed any sort of panic in recruits when talking about USC and the NCAA sanctions. To him, USC is still selling one of the most exciting brand names in college football.
But what of Florida’s recent Cali success? The Gators signed two top California — and national — prospects in defensive end Ronald Powell (arguably the top recruit in the country) and cornerback Joshua Shaw. Both came out of USC’s backyard and both were top guys on the Trojans’ board. Because of Meyer’s well-documented feud with Kiffin, one would have to expect a bit of mudslinging from the Gators’ side with USC recruits, but the Gators can selling winning, bowls and championships over anything else.
“One thing is for sure: USC has been hit by sanctions. Florida has not,” Gorney said. “At the very least, maybe that gives the Gators the slightest of edges with some kids who’d be open to traveling that far.
“More than the sanctions, what can help the Gators is if they are in the national title hunt again this season. That way as National Signing Day nears the coaching staff can sell the idea of playing on the biggest stage for four years instead of three. Winning will have more of an influence than the sanctions.”
Florida won’t be the only team looking to somehow capitalize on USC’s situation, and no matter what USC says, recruiting will be more difficult for the Trojans in these next couple of years. Still, Gorney believes USC will still have the edge in getting the top prospects it wants.
“There’s no way Kiffin and his staff will back down in any way, that hasn’t been their style and it won’t be in the future,” he said. “USC football is a special entity out here, there’s playing for USC and everyone else. Basically, it’s a surprise or there’s a special connection for a major player in southern California to leave and not play for USC if he’s offered.
“Florida will definitely have its chances with guys but the staff will target only a few and not try to go head-to-head with USC. It’s just too difficult to compete when USC is here every day.”