USC recruiting 2014: Trojans moving up under Steve Sarkisian

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

USC's recruiting class took a bit of a hit during the coaching change, but it appears the Trojans are on their way toward the top 25 under new coach Steve Sarkisian.

Recruiting is an interesting beast. While teams have to bring in new talent every fall if they hope to stay competitive, developing said talent is a completely different issue.

Under Lane Kiffin, USC had no trouble bringing in elite talent when National Signing Day rolled around. It was developing that raw talent that ultimately cost Kiffin his job. Now with Steve Sarkisian as the head coach in SoCal, he and his staff have some real work to do on the recruiting trail if they want to get off on the right foot in 2014 before spring practices begin.

The Trojans' current class ranks 32nd nationally, according to 247 Sports' composite team rankings. That's good for fifth in the Pac-12 behind Arizona State (17th), Stanford (21st), Arizona (22nd) and Oregon (27th). But there is plenty of room for improvement, even with limited spots.

On Dec. 18, junior college players were eligible to sign early. Claudeson Pelon, a four-star defensive end out of Mesa Community College in Arizona, signed on the dotted line. Pelon is regarded by 247 Sports as the 15th-best JUCO player in the nation, and given his size (6'4, 275) and experience, he could see some early playing time next season.

Three players have committed to USC since Sarkisian was announced as the new head coach. Jonathan Lockett, a four-star cornerback from right down the road at Mater Dei High School, was the first new commit on Dec. 11. The Trojans' pass defense was exploited at times in 2013, and Lockett could certainly see early playing time if he's able to pick things up during summer practices. The next commitment came from Don Hill, a three-star defensive end out of Boise, Idaho. Hill is ranked by 247 Sports as the No. 1 prospect from the state of Idaho. Then on Dec. 16, Chris Brown, a three-star guard out of Loyola High School in Los Angeles, committed to Sarkisian. Already at 6'4 and 290 pounds, Brown possesses the size to take up a lot of space in the middle of the line.

The highest-rated player currently committed to USC is four-star guard Viane Talamaivao out of Corona, Calif. Most view him as a top-100 prospect who will play early given his size and strength. Toa Lobendahn is another four-star guard who will head to L.A. next fall. A top-150 prospect, it'll be interesting to see how the new coaching staff handles so many freshmen next year along the O-line. On the other side of the line, Malik Dorton is another four-star prospect out of California. He projects to play defensive end in college at 6'3 and 230 pounds, though he'll need to bulk up a bit before he's able to see regular playing time.

Three five-stars high on the Trojans -- Bud Elliott, National Recruiting Analyst

There are three elite players who are very high on USC. In fact, all three rate as better players than any the Trojans currently have committed. Let's take a look:

  1. Adoree' Jackson, Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra, cornerback: Jackson is simply a playmaker. An electric athlete who could also excel as a receiver, he is one of the finest athletes in the class. He is undersized, but teams must know where he is on the field at all times. Florida seems like the other real contender for Jackson, but the smart money is that he stays home.
  2. John "JuJu" Smith, Long Beach (Calif.) Poly, safety: Smith is a tremendous athlete with excellent size at 6'1 and 200 pounds. USC is loaded at safety, but Smith has the ability to compete for playing time from Day 1. The Trojans' rivalry with Notre Dame extends to the recruiting trail as well, as the main competition for Smith's signature is the Fighting Irish.
  3. Damien Mama, Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco, guard: It's not often that you see a five-star guard. But that is Mama. I saw him at The Opening over the summer, and while he was quite overweight at 370 pounds, his ability to quickly move his massive frame was exceptional. This combination of size and short-area quickness is rare, and if he gets in better shape, Mama might even be able to play right tackle in college.

It is important for Steve Sarkisian to lock down California recruiting, and he is doing just that. 12 of the current 14 players committed to USC are from California, and the Trojans look good for the three profiled above, and several more as well.

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