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Can USC save its 2020 recruiting class?

We’re just a few days away from the start of the early signing period, which kids off on Wednesday, December 18, and USC’s 2020 recruiting class currently sits at No. 11 in the Pac-12 and No. 80 nationally. Last year was a bit of an anomaly, as the Trojans finished with the No. 3 class in the Pac-12, which was the first time since the 2001 class that USC was neither first or second in the Pac-12. Finishing 11th (or 12th, or even in the bottom six) in the conference would be unheard of, even with limited scholarship numbers.

USC’s 2013 class had just a dozen signees and still finished No. 2 in the Pac-12 and among the top 15 nationally.

USC has just 10 commitments in this 2020 class, and without a doubt, several of those are going to develop into impact players for the Trojans. Four-star offensive lineman Jonah Monheim (Moorpark, Calif./Moorpark) was one of the most sought-after linemen in the region and his commitment to USC was a major win for the Trojans. Joshua Jackson (Harbor City, Calif./Narbonne) is a very talented receiver, the defensive tackle duo of Jamar Sekona (Greenbrae, Calif./Marin Catholic) and Kobe Pepe (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) will be responsible for plenty of defensive plays during their careers. Kicker Parker Lewis (Scottsdale, Ariz./Saguaro) might force himself into the lineup immediately in some capacity. And the depth at offensive line in this class will be a much-needed addition to the roster.

But of all those prospects, none are among the top 25 recruits in California, and only Monheim and Jackson are among the top 40. It’s true that programs receive rankings boosts for having more players committed, but even looking at the average ranking of commitments, USC would still rank just sixth in the Pac-12, behind Arizona State and UCLA, and just ahead of Cal and Colorado.

But for all the negativity surrounding this class and USC’s recruiting cycle, there’s still a way for the Trojans to save it and stand tall on Wednesday. And it starts with linebacker Justin Flowe (Upland, Calif./Upland). Flowe isn’t just the best defensive player in California, he’s the best linebacker in the country, a top-three defensive player in the country, and arguably the best defensive prospect to come out of this region in years. Getting Flowe is getting an instant-impact prospect — one who will see the field immediately, and one who will change the narrative of this USC recruiting class, as every mention of it will have to include a mention of Flowe — and the kind of recruit who will lead other players to USC.

Now, getting Flowe about as far from a given as it’s been with any elite local prospect at this point in the recruiting process over the past decade. He’s looking hard at Clemson, Oregon and Miami, and all signs for much of the past few months have pointed toward the Tigers. But USC was able to get an in-home visit with Flowe on Thursday night, and an official visit from the five-star prospect this weekend. He is slated to commit on Wednesday, and it’s never a bad thing to be the final visit — especially if playing close to home is starting to become a bigger issue in his recruitment. Miss on Flowe (especially if he winds up at Oregon) and this class will be heavily scrutinized.

But a solid finish doesn’t just center around Flowe. Wide receiver Gary Bryant (Corona, Calif./Centennial) is a dynamic playmaker and someone who could fit quickly and easily into this offense, regardless of how many receivers return for the Trojans next year. USC has looked to be in solid position for Bryant — the nation’s No. 57 overall prospect — though Oklahoma, as well as several Pac-12 programs, including Arizona State, Oregon and Washington are involved. Bryant took official visits to all five schools, with the Sun Devils as the most recent.

The Trojans have also brought in a couple of out-of-state standouts in recent weeks, as running back Mike Drennen II (Dublin, Ohio/Dublin Coffman) and cornerback Dwight McGlothern (Spring, Texas/Klein Oak) were on campus last weekend and this weekend, respectively. Kentucky is seen as a strong leader for Drennen, while Arkansas, Georgia, Texas A&M and other programs are involved with McGlothern. But either, and especially both, would be big boosts to USC’s class. Drennen might wait until after the early signing period to announce and McGlothern plans to announce in early January, at the All-American Bowl.

Quarterback CJ Stroud (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Rancho Cucamonga) holds a USC offer, but has taken recent visits to Michigan and Ohio State, with the Buckeyes looking like the favorites. Cornerback Darion Green-Warren (Harbor City, Calif./Narbonne) looked like a big USC lean after he decommitted from Oklahoma, but Michigan looks to be trending with him now. And wide receiver LV Bunkley-Shelton (Gardena, Calif./Serra) is another prospect who looked headed for USC until recently, as Arizona State has made a push.

We’ll see how things play out during the early signing period, and then what USC has in mind for February’s signing period. With another huge batch of players all over the country entering the transfer portal, and the Trojans potentially unable to land elite prospects on Wednesday or early February, it will be interesting to see how active USC is with transfers — especially grad transfers who could help the Trojans to a successful 2020 season and then make way for Clay Helton and his staff to build on what is already a really strong 2021 recruiting class.

Like the 2019 recruiting class, which featured immediate impact players such as Kedon Slovis, Drake Jackson, Kenan Christon, Drake London and Max Williams, this 2020 class is not going to be overly celebrated by USC fans on signing day. Flipping the script on Flowe and somehow bringing him in will give everybody a boost, but the Trojans will still have plenty of work to do in the late period. USC has made a habit of finishing classes strong. Helton and staff will need to find a way to do it again with this 2020 group.

Erik McKinney

Erik McKinney began writing for WeAreSC in 2004, during his junior year at USC, covering the Trojans football team and recruiting. He then moved on to ESPN.com in 2011, where he served as the West Region recruiting reporter and then the Pac-12 recruiting reporter. He took over as publisher of WeAreSC in January, 2019.

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