Lincoln Riley and Co. have had their hands full in the final week before Christmas at USC.
For starters, prized transfer additions jumped back into the portal. Then on Early National Signing Day 2023, Riley and the Trojans had to watch Ryan Pellum go viral for flipping from USC to future Big Ten rival Oregon.
Is the sky falling near downtown L.A. for USC? Or is Riley’s 2024 class stout enough to compete in the conference?
National Ranking USC Was Rewarded on Signing Day
Good news for Trojan fans who follow recruiting: USC reeled in a top 20 class.
The bad news? The Trojans came in at No. 20 per 247Sports.
Among Big Ten teams, USC settled for having the fifth-best class in the conference. However, the Trojans ended up watching Oregon not only siphon Pellum on Wednesday from USC’s backyard, but witnessed the Ducks earn the best recruiting class in the Big Ten. Oregon even out-recruited traditional conference blue bloods Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State for the best class.
Riley once was lauded for his recruiting prowess at Oklahoma. His first two USC classes showed early promise of the Trojans recapturing their recruiting strength in landing the five-star talents. Domani Jackson, Malachi Nelson and last season’s breakout true freshman Zachariah Branch were three of his signings.
Branch, however, is all who remains from the five-star trio with the cornerback Jackson and quarterback Nelson in the portal. Did Riley and USC manage to make up for it?
Any Five-Star Talents Coming to USC?
The short answer is zero five-stars signed with the Trojans.
The state of California has three 2024 prospects rated as five-star, but all three are heading out of state. Two of those five-stars in Aydin Brelund and Brandon Baker starred for a traditional pipeline for USC: Mater Dei High.
However, the Santa Ana stars and state champions are heading to Oregon and Texas, respectively, to bolster its defensive and offensive line. Meanwhile, the state’s No. 2 prospect in quarterback Julian Sayin from Carlsbad signed with Alabama.
All three were even offered by USC. It officially marks the first time in the Riley era that USC failed to nab a five-star prospect.
Examining How USC Fared Locally and in Portal
To the Trojans’ credit, most of their prospects are Californians. Six, to be exact.
It starts with top 10 Golden State cornerback prospect Marcelles Williams, who dominated for nearby St. John Bosco. USC, though, ended up with multiple prospects from another powerhouse in close proximity to the campus: Sierra Canyon.
The school that produced USC basketball commit Bronny James and future NBA first-rounder Marvin Bagley III has created a strong football factory, too. This time, USC has state No. 7 wide receiver Xavier Jordan and fellow four-star safety Marquis Gallegos going from Trailblazers to Trojans.
Four-star Isaiah Rubin topped off what became a strong group of secondary commits for USC. And he’s the fourth and final L.A. County representative after starring for Los Alamitos.
Three-star interior offensive lineman Justin Tauanuu of Huntington Beach represents the last Southern California newcomer. Offensive tackle Kalolo Ta’aga of Archbishop Riordan of San Francisco is the lone signee from outside of Southern California as a 6’7″ potential blindside protector.
But in the end, USC only swooped up two top 20 California prospects straight from the high school ranks. Did they make up for it in the portal?
USC did call home two Mission Viejo talents in safety Akili Arnold and Easton Mascarenas-Arnold, both from former Pac-12 rival Oregon State. But USC’s top portal addition became four-star defensive lineman Nate Clifton — who is bringing his towering 6’5″, 280-pound frame via Vanderbilt.
Clifton delivered 12.5 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks at Vandy, including 5.5 in his final campaign with the Commodores last season.
Questions Surface If USC Can Compete in Big Ten After Tumultuous Week
USC’s early days as a Big Ten representative are off to a rough start.
Jackson and Nelson are out of the picture. Worse is Raleek Brown, a prized four-star RB from Mater Dei, entered the portal and is now an Arizona State Sun Devil. And EDGE Korey Foreman, a past star recruiting get for USC out of another state power in Centennial High of Corona, cited wanting “a more consistent role” by leaving the Trojans defense via the OC Register.
The Trojans had an opportunity to compensate for their losses by getting aggressive and ensuring Pellum stayed. Or even go the Oregon route and flip some talents.
However, USC found itself in a staunch predicament after its 7-5 debacle. USC didn’t just fall out of the top 10 in the national rankings. But now in the recruiting rankings after the season.
The 2024 USC recruiting class ranks as the lowest ever in the Riley era. And this Trojans class now faces the most pressure to win over fans again as they head to a more loaded conference.
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