Commentary

USC fights on despite sanctions

Players sticking with USC despite penalties; coaches confident about recruiting

Updated: June 10, 2010, 6:35 PM ET
By Jamie Newberg | ESPN Recruiting

"Fight On" is a long standing motto for the USC Trojans.

Southern Cal will fall back on its battle cry often in the months and years ahead. After learning its NCAA fate earlier on Thursday, Trojans coach Lane Kiffin and his staff certainly have their work cut out them, especially in the upcoming recruiting wars.

USC has a two-year bowl ban and, even worse, the loss of 30 scholarships over the next three years. While USC has dominated on the recruiting front both out West and nationally and annually posts top 10 classes, this is an enormous hurdle to overcome.

"The reason we are here is that we have the best staff in America," said Ed Orgeron, USC assistant head coach and one of the nation's top recruiters. "We are equipped to go out and get the best players in the nation for the best university. We will come out of this strong. Everything stays the same and we won't change anything. The numbers may change, but it won't change the fact that we are going after the best in recruiting."

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comQB Cody Kessler says the sanctions won't affect his decision to play for Lane Kiffin and USC.
When Kiffin took over for Pete Carroll in January, no one expected a drop-off when it came to recruiting. Certainly USC closed with a flurry with its 2010 edition, finishing with the nation's seventh-ranked class despite the short recruiting window. The NCAA said it is not releasing any players from their letters of intent despite the sanctions. Then again, it doesn't sound like any of newest class of Trojans want to leave.

"We talked with all the kids today, and they are all fine," Orgeron said.

One of USC's highest-profile recruits of 2010 was wide receiver Markeith Ambles. While Ambles is not happy about Thursday's outcome, he's excited about his future at USC.

"It really doesn't matter because USC is a great school for academics and a great place for football to learn to be a great player one day," Ambles said. "That is why I chose the school in the first place. Plus, [not going to a bowl is] only going to affect me for two years. I love the school and that's why I will stick with my decision to stay with USC. Why would I want to leave a place with great coaches and great tradition?"

So far, the Trojans are off to a quick start for the Class of 2011. They have secured commitments from seven prospects, including three ESPNU150 prospects in defensive tackle Antwaun Woods (Woodland Hills, Calif./Woodland Hills-Taft), wide receiver Victor Blackwell (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei) and athlete DeAnthony Thomas (Los Angeles/Crenshaw).

"I heard about it last night," Woods said. "I've been thinking about it all day. But it will only affect me for one year, and I still have my redshirt year. I'm still a strong commit though. I know we still have a chance and it's not over. But I'm real passionate about USC and we're not going to let anything get in our way."

Also headed to USC are a pair of quarterbacks -- Max Wittek (Corona Del Mar, Calif./Mater Dei) and Cody Kessler (Bakersfield, Calif./Centennial). Both signal callers say they are fine with Southern Cal.

"It's not going to affect my commitment," Wittek said. "I'm going to stick by it and still feel very much at home with USC."

When Kessler was asked if the ruling affected his commitment to the Trojans, he simply texted, "No it doesn't!"

Blackwell and linebacker Tre Madden (Mission Viejo, Calif./Mission Viejo) said they are sticking with their USC commitments.

So on the surface, things appear to be in good standing for the Trojans with their commitments.

As for those still considering USC, it might be too early to tell.

Two players high on USC's wish list are defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (Rock Hill, S.C./South Pointe), the No. 1 player in the ESPNU 150, and five-star wide receiver George Farmer (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra).

"I know Coach O [Ed Orgeron] visited here this spring," said Bobby Carroll, Clowney's high school coach. "Clowney said USC would likely be one of his five visits and I don't think that has changed."

Meanwhile, there has been much speculation that the Trojans are the team to beat for Farmer, but his coach insists he is not close to naming a front runner at this time.

"I just talked with him," said Scott Altenberg, Farmer's high school coach. "He hasn't really started with recruiting and he just doesn't know. People say USC is the leader, but this kid just finished finals. He will take everything and go from there. George has said to me consistently that he has no leader. He doesn't even have a list. He knows the information [with USC] and we'll see what happens and go to work on it."

Momentum could be the key word here. If Kiffin and his staff can keep their already committed players and reel in top prospects at their need areas of offensive lineman, linebacker and defensive back, then everything should be OK for the Trojans.

But don't let this positive reaction fool you, because recruiting is a cutthroat game. Negative recruiting is a reality, and when push comes to shove and things get dicey, USC will get slammed by its opposition for these upper echelon kids.

"Hey, we will face it head on," Orgeron said. "Closure will help us and we will deal with it. We have a saying here at USC -- 'Fight on!' We will remain strong and positive and in the end this will turn into a great story for us."

Jamie Newberg has been covering recruiting both in the Southeast and nationally for 19 years. He can be reached at jamienewbergbw@yahoo.com.