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WeAreSC Mailbag

In this week’s WeAreSC Mailbag, readers had questions about the viability of the 2020 football season, recruiting, JT Daniels entering the transfer portal and more recruiting. And admittedly, I answer back with just as many questions.


Q: Erik, please dust off your crystal ball – when will there be football??

A: Oh good, starting off with an easy one.

Honestly, right now the crystal balls says, “Ask again later.” I’m not even going to pretend that I have an answer at this time. I’m obviously hopeful that it can be started on time and proceed as normal, but I wouldn’t bet on that right now. The good news is that while sports and football can sometimes be cast aside as less important when there are major national and global issues taking place, it’s clear how important football specifically is to every college and university, as it provides a potential respite from plummeting revenue numbers. That gives me hope that there will be plenty of work done to come up with a solution.

The issue is that there are so many questions that need to be answered before you can even start to put together a timeline. Just to start: How much time would facilities need to get ready to host a game? I’ve seen the idea of playing games without fans, but would players and coaches have any worries that if it isn’t safe enough for fans, it isn’t safe enough for them? With the way this virus is passed between people, it would seem that football would be the absolute worst sport to play.

Then the answer would seem to come depending on what kind of testing is available down the road. What happens if, hypothetically, USC is scheduled to go play at Oregon on Saturday, and a member of the Ducks training staff tests positive on Thursday? Would USC feel comfortable sending its team up there for a game if they don’t know how widespread it could be? And those are questions that are even beyond simply whether campuses are open in the fall.

I don’t think these questions are unanswerable, it’s just tough to start forming solid working answers when you don’t even know if those questions will still be questions when it comes time to answer them. I think the hope is that we can keep things under control for now, while the right people work to get the right answers. Trying to definitively say what will or won’t happen months from now seems counterproductive, when decision makers should probably be open to exploring a number of contingency plans that get weeded out as we progress forward.


Q: Who’s the top local uncommitted recruit on the board for the staff?

A: This is probably cheating because I believe this question was asked before defensive end Korey Foreman (Corona, Calif./Centennial) decommitted from Clemson. So, I’m going to cheat and say Foreman, the state’s top recruit and a top-3 national prospect by every ranking service.

Outside of Foreman, and because I can’t answer Raesjon Davis (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei) because he’s committed to LSU, I’ll cheat again and list linebacker Ethan Calvert (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian), cornerback Jaylin Davies (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei) and safety Jaylin Smith (Mission Hills, Calif./Alemany).


Q: Will SC allow Seniors to return next spring? Some schools have said no

A: I haven’t seen an official statement from USC on this, but I would anticipate seniors being allowed back at USC. This was the statement from Athletic Director Mike Bohn after the eligibility relief was announced:

“The last several weeks have been difficult for our student-athletes, especially the more than 50 spring sport student-athletes confronted by expiring competition eligibility,” the statement read. “I’m pleased that within three weeks of the decision to cancel spring sport championships the NCAA Division I Council voted to create the possibility for our spring sport student-athletes to compete with their teammates for an additional year. I want to thank President [Carol] Folt for partnering with me to advocate for student-athlete eligibility relief.”


Q: Erik, sounds like college football in California will have few if any fans in a stadium this fall. With precautions that the governor proposes, will there be games played in empty stadiums? How will teams practice while observing social distancing? Can football players be on campus when the rest of the student body is at home?

A: I mentioned a few of these questions above as questions that I have as well. I can’t see any way to practice football while observing social distancing. So there might need to be some kind of way to quarantine the entire football team together. I don’t think that’s out of the question. USC (and likely other program) would just have to find a way to do it.

As for the last question, yes, football players can be on campus while the rest of the student body isn’t. UCLA regularly plays a quarter of their schedule before students report to campus.

The issue would likely be one of public relations. If USC says that certain students can be on campus while others can’t, how would that play out with the students and the families of the students who aren’t able to be on campus. I’m not saying that it couldn’t happen. But it’s again something with more than a few questions.

And Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott doesn’t see a situation playing out where football players exclusively are brought back to campus. He told The Athletic, “I think the best way to say it is until our campuses start to open up, I don’t see student-athletes being invited back. I certainly don’t envision student-athletes being brought back exclusively.”

Washington State president Kirk Schulz said today that they are “planning on in-person instruction for the Fall 2020 Semester.”


Q: Erik,
How far in the future do the coaches speculate on players leaving early for the nfl draft, transfers and players not panning out to secure adequate talent and plug roster holes?

Also, in your opinion, who are the best talent evaluators on staff not necessarily the best recruiters?

A: Coaches like to have a rough idea of recruiting numbers at least a couple years out, but there’s just no way to know for sure, so there’s always a little wiggle room with numbers. Most times they have a pretty good idea if they’re signing a three-year guy or a five-year guy and how that roster is going to shape up that year and the next.

I honestly don’t know enough yet to rank the coaches as evaluators. We haven’t seen them identify guys way off the radar who have become stars. I think Mike Jinks and Vic So’oto are likely strong evaluators, just because they’ve had to recruit at places where you have to maybe turn lower-ranked guys into big producers.


Q: Erik… with JT Daniel’s decision to enter the Transfer Portal, does this make it a bit easier for the Trojans to get a second QB commit for the 2021 class?

A: I think it does help in a pursuit of a second quarterback. There is definitely a chance that Daniels could return to the roster at some point, but if a quarterback is looking at the depth chart at all, there’s a huge difference between battling another true freshman for the No. 2 spot with a chance to start your second year, and fighting for the No. 3 spot and potentially sitting for two years.


Q: What do you think the chances are of Daniels returning if we have a 2020 season? I would think a lot of schools would like to have him.

A: If the NCAA approves a one-time transfer, I think it’s very likely that he winds up elsewhere in order to play this fall. If that waiver isn’t granted and he’d have to sit out somewhere else this fall, then it makes more sense for him to stay, see what kind of playing time he can get at USC, and then potentially move on later as a grad transfer. Entering his name in the portal now allows him to be recruited by other programs and would give him a head start on making a decision later on, even if he does elect to come back.

Q: What do you think SC’s chances are to get Foreman?

A:Right now I think USC eventually lands Korey Foreman, so I’d put USC’s chances above 50%, which is a pretty big number when you factor in the number of programs still involved and that there could be a long way to go in his recruiting process. I think these defensive coaches, the allure of staying home and the relationship he has with Drake Jackson will ultimately give the Trojans the edge.


Q: If we play at all this year should I stock up on more Xanax or Prozac?

A: I wouldn’t suggest either this year. I don’t think USC is a Final 4 caliber team, but I don’t think it’s out of the question to suggest they could win the Pac-12. But ask me again when we know how the Alabama game turns out, and maybe save something for that November run of @Oregon, Washington and Notre Dame in a span of four weeks to close out the regular season.

Q: Let us know our chances for all recruits signed elsewhere. Forman is just one and in only ONE circumstance.
A different circumstance is who can we swing back before fall practice? or actually more differently who can we swing back if there is no fall practice? no 2020 season?
Who can we steal or waiver if there is no season? Will the NCAA hold all these guys who signed somewhere committed and signed for the following year if there is no THIS year?

A: Linebacker Raesjon Davis is the big committed prospect USC will look to flip, and Clemson wide receiver commit Beaux Collins (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) is on that list as well. With Foreman’s decommitment, the issue of California prospects flocking out of state looks to be settling down for the moment. It becomes an issue again if Foreman winds up somewhere else, but USC now has a real shot with most of the top-10 in-state prospects, considering quarterback Tyler Buchner (La Mesa, Calif./Helix) is headed to Notre Dame, but USC has two quarterback targets ranks right behind him.

As for the rest of it, it’s just too early to tell what the NCAA will do and what rules they could enact. We’ve seen that the NCAA has moved quite quickly by their standards to allow schools to let spring sport seniors return for another year, along with the requisite roster expansion. That would likely need to happen for football if there is no season, but is that financially manageable for all schools if there is no football season? At this point, it’d be interesting to see where the NCAA would land on an increased football roster. Would they allow teams to sign 25 players in the 2021 class when most wouldn’t be able to take that many based on 85 available scholarships?


Q: Given the recent success of recruiting, what do you attribute this to? How many recruit openings do we have left for 2021?

A: I wrote a story last week that details the steps USC has taken to improve its recruiting. It’s pretty simple. USC is recruiting better because they’re choosing to recruit better. They are recruiting with more people and more energy and they are simply spending more time recruiting. The Trojans have won zero football games during this recruiting turnaround. It’s all about the effort these new coaches and staff members are putting in, and making recruiting a 24/7 project.

By my count, the Trojans are using all 85 scholarships right now, with the return of linebacker Tayler Katoa. USC has 17 seniors and redshirt seniors on the roster. It’s likely that they’ll lose at least two and likely more underclassmen to the NFL Draft. It’s also likely that another few could transfer out, which almost always happens after a new staff comes in on either side of the ball. That means the number could be conservatively around 20 (leaving 11 spots left) or as high as 25 or more (leaving around 16 spots).

Trojan Forever

Q: How do the coaches have any idea how many recruits they can take, when we don’t know if there will be a season and what the NCAA would rule about seniors being given another year of eligibility in that case?

A: When nobody has a real answer right now, the coaches have to recruit. It’s easier to over-recruit right now and have to make adjustments based on new rules than it is to under-recruit and have to catch up late in the game. So they’re recruiting based on there being a season and things progressing as normal. As things change, they’ll change. But right now they’re continuing to build relationships and remaining honest with recruits.


Q: If the season is canceled and the ncaa grants another year for all players, how will that affect our current commits? There might be room. Also will this slow down our recruiting efforts?

A: The past few questions have hit on this. The straight answer is that nobody knows at this point because there are no rules about it. Recruiting has become a year-round institution, so there really is nothing that will slow down recruiting.

The NCAA likely won’t grant another year for all players, as they’ve only given an extra year to spring sports athletes who otherwise would have exhausted their eligibility. That means if that carried over to football, there would be a one-year logjam where the NCAA would have to figure out roster sizes and incoming scholarship allowances. That’s a tough thing to figure out fairly, because without a football season, it might be impossible for a lot of schools to immediately support an extra 25 (or whatever the number is) scholarship football players next season.


Q: I heard Mark Twain said “The rumors of the death of Trojan Recruiting have been greatly exaggerated.”

Do you agree?

A: Yes. This is going to be a great class. These coaches can recruit. I agree with the thought that USC needs to win games, but for this year, this staff will be able to recruit past just wins and losses as they settle in and are able to push playing time and completing a turnaround.

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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