USC recruiting should return to power under Steve Sarkisian

Stephen Dunn

The new Trojans coach knows Los Angeles and has already shown a commitment to building a good coaching staff. But it won't be easy ... the Pac-12 is tougher than it was during Pete Carroll's reign.

While Steve Sarkisian isn't excellent at everything (his player development and game decisions are often criticized), he is a very good recruiter. He did not win big at Washington, but he did a very good job of bringing the talent level back to an acceptable level. And that was no easy task after what Tyrone Willingham left Sarkisian.

There is every reason to believe that Sarkisian will be a top recruiter at USC. That is true of every coach USC could have reasonably hired, but Sarkisian might recruit a bit better there than most.

He is personable and connects well with young people and high school coaches. Sarkisian also knows the California recruiting scene very well. And while no USC coach would be unwelcome at high schools in the state, his familiarity with the landscape can help him to get off to a fast start.

USC also uses its NFL history as a major selling point for recruits. Sarkisian did use more spread concepts in 2013 at Washington, but he can still sell his offense as a pro-style attack, which is important to some recruits.

The most important recruiting job

But before Sarkisian even gets into recruiting high schoolers, he must first recruit his own players to stay and not transfer or leave early for the NFL. Players were reportedly angry that Ed Orgeron was not retained as head coach, and Sarkisian must make sure their anger at the administration does not become refocused on him.

Already, it seems to be working. Sarkisian convinced quarterback Max Wittek to stay at USC Tuesday.

He can't do it alone

Of course, a head coach only has so much to do with recruiting. New NCAA rules have reduced the amount of permissible contact between the head coach and prospects, so the other nine members of the coaching staff are more important than ever for recruiting.

Already, Sarkisian has retained receivers coach Tee Martin, a tremendous recruiter and former national champion quarterback during his days at Tennessee. And he brought Peter Sirmon along with him from Washington. Sirmon is another capable recruiter.

Two other members of Sarkisian's Washington staff are already coming to town with him. SB Nation's Conquest Chronicles has more on that. If he can convince Washington coaches Justin Wilcox and Tosh Lupoi to come along too, USC will have a ridiculously good recruiting staff.

Talent is clearly a focus for Sarkisian, who reportedly tried to hire UCLA's offensive line coach, Adrian Klemm, a tremendous recruiter.

Current class and future prospects

USC currently has 10 commitments for the class of 2014, and three of those are rated four-stars or better. That's a fairly pathetic haul by USC's standards. However, the Trojans seem poised to potentially land three five-stars in Adoree' Jackson (cornerback/receiver), John Smith (safety) and Damien Mama (offensive line), all of California.

The Trojans are one of the few programs that can consistently sign more four- and five-star prospects than two- and three-star prospects -- the ratio common among almost all national title-winning programs in the BCS era, and one accomplished by USC for most of the BCS era as well.

Not Pete Carroll's Pac-12

One major issue that Sarkisian will face this time around that he did not face as offensive coordinator under Pete Carroll: a very competent UCLA program. Jim Mora is recruiting quite well at UCLA and is rebuilding the Bruins into a force that must be reckoned with. USC won't be the automatic choice for every player in Southern California.

But the USC brand still carries a lot more weight than the UCLA brand, and USC should be able to get a slightly better quality of player than UCLA. If Sarkisian pairs that with winning, then USC could perhaps again have a significantly better quality of player then the Bruins.

UCLA isn't the only issue, however. When Pet Carroll was at USC, he did not have to contend with the level of program that exists at Stanford, Oregon, and other major programs. When Carroll was at USC, there was no other program in the conference that had a real shot at playing for the national title year in and year out. Now, in great years, the Pac-12 has an argument for the best league in the country.

Pac-12 programs have now made significant investments in coaches and facilities upgrades, and it is much tougher to run roughshod over the entire conference. Everyone has to fight tooth-and-nail for a somewhat limited talent pool West of the Rockies.

Ultimately, Sarkisian's success at USC will have more to do with his coaching and player development than it does with his recruiting. Sarkisian is a good enough recruiter to maximize USC's recruiting at the level that the on-field success will permit. If he does well on the field early, he can again return USC to a level where it clearly has the best talent in the conference.

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