Originally, back when USC was hit with the most heavy-handed NCAA sanctions in 20 years in 2010, this was supposed to be the year the Trojans really felt the bite: The appeals have been exhausted, the scholarship penalties are in full effect and two years as a nonentity in the Pac-12 and BC races taken a bite out of the formidable brand forged by former coach Pete Carroll. At least, that's how it was supposed to work.
In reality, the Trojans will begin the 2012 season as frontrunners for the conference and national championships and are on the verge of inking another impressive — albeit abbreviated — recruiting class that will likely go down as the highest-ranked haul in the Pac-12 for the tenth consecutive season, in spite of the paltry numbers. Which brings us to another question: After bringing in a full, 30-man class in 2011, just how are those numbers going to work, exactly?
USC already has eight verbal commitments for 2012, not counting the four early enrollees who are considered part of the 2011 class. Kiffin has said he wants to sign a full class of 15 recruits.
Here's where the math gets tricky. As it stands now, a full 15-man recruiting class would give USC roughly 80 scholarship players. USC, as part of its probation, cannot have more than 75 scholarship players.
How will they get to that number? Kiffin isn't saying.
"We've had a stance here on numbers going back to a year-and-a-half ago when this happened, that we don't discuss really how we're managing the situation here with numbers and stuff for competitive reasons," Kiffin said.
It's not really as mysterious as all that. One reason the numbers are in such (relatively) good shape: If you didn't know any better, you might think the Trojans have been operating under scholarship restrictions for years. From 2008 to 2010, USC signed three consecutive classes consisting of just 18 players apiece (54 players in all), well below the 25-man maximum. Another reason: Attrition since the end of the 2011 season — including former blue chips Kyle Prater, Dillon Baxter, Patrick Hall, T.J. Bryant, Amir Carlisle and Brice Butler — has freed up enough room to max out the number of signees under the sanctions.
In fact, with four early enrollees in the incoming class (who count against last year's scholarship caps) already on campus, a full 15-man haul would give the Trojans one more signee than they had in any of Carroll's final three classes from 2008-10.
Of course, what Kiffin can't say outright is that a roster with "roughly 80" scholarship players will have to find a way to shed a handful of them between now and August to fall in line with the sanctions, which means the exodus from the bottom of the depth chart isn't over by a long shot. (Nick Saban may be available to offer his expert advice on this subject, for a small consulting fee.) But it also means, barring a catastrophic rash of injuries, that we're going to be hearing a lot less about those missing schollies than anyone would have guessed two years ago.