USC football recruiting: Thoughts on Trojans' setbacks, strategy after decommitments (2024)

LOS ANGELES — USC found itself in the news quite a bit during June, one of the busiest periods on the recruiting calendar. Let’s get to some thoughts on the Trojans’ 2025 recruiting class, where things stand and what it all means.

Note: All rankings are per the 247Sports Composite.

1. USC’s 2025 class is exiting June in worse shape than it entered the month.

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There’s no argument about that. The Trojans landed commitments from two four-stars: edge rusher Hayden Lowe of Oaks Christian (Westlake Village, Calif.) and corner Shamar Arnoux of Carrollton (Ga.). Those additions shouldn’t be overlooked, but they don’t cancel out what USC’s class has lost of late.

It started last week when four-star Isaiah Gibson and five-star Justus Terry — two top-50 defensive line prospects who are from the state of Georgia — decommitted on back-to-back days. Then on Thursday evening, four-star safety Hylton Stubbs, a top-100 prospect nationally, decommitted as well.

That’s the blueprint for how a class that was top-five nationally to start June falls all the way to 31st in the span of 10 days or so.

The importance of the 2025 cycle for USC is clear with Lincoln Riley entering his third season as Trojans coach and in his third full recruiting cycle. He’s upgraded USC’s roster from what he inherited, but the program still needs an injection of high-end talent to compete for Big Ten titles and College Football Playoff appearances on a consistent basis.

GO DEEPERUSC recruiting: What we know, don't know and should watch for with the 2025 class

The Trojans aren’t recruiting at an elite level and really haven’t since the first few months of Riley’s tenure. Landing commitments from Terry, Gibson and Stubbs in March gave the fan base hope that this was going to be a truly elite class. So when the program suffers these setbacks, it creates only more questions and anxiety about USC’s recruiting, name, image and likeness and everything else that goes into the operation —a subject that has already created plenty of angst among the program’s supporters.

2. The decommitments by Terry and Gibson weren’t all that surprising.

When has USC ever landed multiple high-caliber defensive linemen from the Southeast in the same class? And on top of that, the Trojans were competing with an in-state program — Georgia — that has a tremendous track record of producing NFL defensive linemen, plays defense at an elite level and is a constant presence in the national championship picture.

Gibson committed to Georgia this week, and the Bulldogs and several other programs are heavily pursuing Terry. High-profile programs will be involved with Stubbs, too.

That puts a microscope on USC’s recruiting strategy. Riley wants the Trojans to be a national recruiting outfit, which sounds good in theory, but there’s some question if the juice has been worth the squeeze.

Riley did have a great first season at USC but followed that up with a majorly disappointing sophom*ore campaign that made it clear he’s still trying to rebuild. It’s difficult to win national recruiting battles against some of the sport’s powers when your program isn’t completely established. USC would likely need to blow prospects away with NIL, and though strides have been made, the program has never been super aggressive in using that as a tool for high school prospects. The coaching staff doesn’t have the reputation of being made up of relentless recruiters like Georgia, Oregon, Miami and others.

The Trojans come up short in a lot of these high-profile recruiting battles.

There have been good standalone victories like Kameryn Fountain, who was a four-star defensive lineman and a top-10 prospect in Georgia during the 2024 cycle, but USC usually ends up with the best-of-the-rest prospects from some of the states it devotes a lot of resources to.

The Trojans recruited in Texas a lot during the 2023 recruiting cycle and landed just two of the top 50 prospects from the state (Braylan Shelby and Quinten Joyner). Shelby was the No. 16 overall player in the state and Joyner was No. 33. It’s tough to pull recruits from there when programs like Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma really want them.

USC signed four-star offensive lineman Jason Zandamela, a notable out-of-state recruiting win in Florida, but he spent three months with the program this spring before transferring to Florida.

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The Trojans have had more success landing top prospects from states like Connecticut (four-star LB Elijah Newby) and Minnesota (four-star DL Jide Abasiri) or elsewhere (four-star LB Desman Stephens II from Michigan) — places that aren’t necessarily talent hotbeds and generally don’t produce the same caliber of elite player as Florida, Georgia and Texas.

3. So USC isn’t recruiting at the highest levels nationally, and though it hasn’t completely alienated Southern California, it hasn’t emphasized its backyard like previous coaching staffs.

There were 36 blue-chip recruits in California last cycle, and USC signed just four of them. There are 34 blue-chip prospects in California this cycle, and USC holds commitments from two of them. Meanwhile, Texas A&M might have commitments from three of the state’s top five players by the end of the weekend.

Five-star corner Dijon Lee, the top-rated player in California, is announcing his college decision on Friday, and the Trojans aren’t finalists. Four-star top-100 linebacker Noah Mikhail, another local product, is set to announce his decision on Sunday. USC is a finalist but 247Sports national recruiting editor Brandon Huffman just logged a crystal ball in the Aggies’ favor.

If USC isn’t landing the best players nationally or locally, it leaves one to wonder what the program’s recruiting identity is.

4. Riley wants to follow something similar to the model Michigan used to win the national championship: Recruit and develop with elite coaching.

Recent history hasn’t been kind to the development of Riley’s recruiting classes, though. The Athletic’s Max Olson re-ranks recruiting classes after four years.

Oklahoma’s 2020 class ranked 12th, but itfell out of the top 25 in the re-rank. The Sooners’ 2019 class ranked sixth and fell out of the top 25 in that year’s re-rank. Their 2018 class ranked ninth but also fell out of the top 25 once re-ranked. Those were Riley’s first three recruiting classes at Oklahoma.

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USC’s coach has to reverse the trend. One could point to Riley’s defensive staffs being subpar, which is true, but he also bears the responsibility of making the hires. The Trojans’ current defensive staff is probably the best Riley has had since becoming a head coach in 2017.

If USC is going to improve its recruiting and development, it’s the new defensive staffers who are likely going to play a heavy role. They set the recruiting trail on fire in March, but after this wave of decommitments, they’ll have to demonstrate major improvements this fall to add more credibility to their pitch.

5. USC’s offensive line recruiting needs to improve.

The West Coast doesn’t produce a ton of blue-chip offensive linemen, but there were two in Northern California this cycle in Jackson Lloyd and Champ Taulealea.

Lloyd committed to Alabama last week, and Taulealea committed to Washington earlier in the month. Those were two rough losses.

Offensive line coach Josh Henson can bounce back by landing four-star offensive lineman Carde Smith, of Williamson (Mobile, Ala.), who recently took a visit to USC and decommitted from Auburn this past week.

As much talk as there is about how the Trojans need more talent on the defensive line, they need more high-caliber players on the offensive line as well.

6. It looks like five-star quarterback commit Julian “Juju” Lewis will remain part of the class.

Lewis took visits to Indiana, Auburn and Colorado, but is still pledged to USC. The Trojans’ most recent commitment, Arnoux, is Lewis’ high school teammate at Carrollton (Ga.), so that should help their efforts. But we’ll see if there are any developments on the Lewis front.

7. More commitments coming?

Riley generally tweets a✌️emoji when USC receives a commitment. He tweeted six of said emojis throughout the month of June, but there were only two public commits for the Trojans — Lowe and Arnoux.

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That suggests four potential commitments are unaccounted for, so maybe there are coming additions for this class.

8. USC’s class has seven three-stars to four blue-chip prospects.

We’re not shaming three-star prospects — a lot of them turn out to be good players — but USC needs more blue-chip talent on the roster and in this recruiting class.

The No. 406 player nationally is the last four-star prospect in the Composite rankings. USC has three prospects ranked between Nos. 410-430 nationally, so it’s not inconceivable those commits make a leap and turn into blue-chippers, which would boost the Trojans’ rankings.

But, clearly, more work needs to be done by the staff as well in several different aspects.

(Photo of USC coach Lincoln Riley: Jason Parkhurst / USA Today)

USC football recruiting: Thoughts on Trojans' setbacks, strategy after decommitments (2)USC football recruiting: Thoughts on Trojans' setbacks, strategy after decommitments (3)

Antonio Morales covers USC football for The Athletic. Previously, he spent three years at the Clarion Ledger in Mississippi, where he covered Ole Miss for two seasons and Jackson State for another. He also spent two years covering preps for the Orange County Register and Torrance Daily Breeze. Follow Antonio on Twitter @AntonioCMorales

USC football recruiting: Thoughts on Trojans' setbacks, strategy after decommitments (2024)
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