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Trojans' class is 'quality over quantity'

The SportsXchange

A lousy 2012 season was capped by a lousy few days before Signing Day.

But nobody wants to hear USC complain too loudly about having multiple de-commits late in the game, or having whiffed on some guys at the last moment. After all, coach Lane Kiffin still pulled in five five-star recruits.

Most teams should be so lucky. Most conferences should be so lucky. The entire ACC recruited only five five-star recruits, as ranked by Rivals.com.

It was only a 13-player class as USC is still feeling the effects of NCAA sanctions.

"This is certainly a class of quality over quantity," Kiffin said.

"We could only sign a limited number of players because of our sanctions, so we went after the best of the best. The talent in this class is second to none and so is their character."

USC could have signed more recruits and wouldn't have minded doing so, but cornerback Jalen Ramsey and a trio of defensive ends -- Kylie Fitts, Torrodney Prevot and Jason Hatcher -- de-committed in the final days. Fitts went to UCLA (double ouch) and Prevot landed at Oregon.

Kiffin will pocket those extra scholarships and will have 20 to dole out next season (five early enrollees and 15 in the spring).

It wasn't all bad news late, as USC grabbed a small-but-quick linebacker Quinton Powell from Deltona, Fla., and retained four-star offensive lineman Nico Falah, who was still considering Washington.

USC was on top of, or very near the top of, the recruiting rankings for a while, but fell to 13th on Rivals.com and 18th at Scout.com.

TOP OF THE CLASS

QB Max Browne (Sammamish, Wash., Skyline High) -- He was the Gatorade National Player of the Year, the USA Today All-USA Offensive Player of the Year and the nation's No. 1 pro-style quarterback, according to Rivals.com. He's 6-5 with a big arm, and already enrolled. Well-suited to USC's offense, he will compete in the spring for the quarterback job vacated by four-year starter Matt Barkley. As a senior, he completed 277 of 377 passes for 4,526 yards with 49 touchdowns and five interceptions.

DB Su'a Cravens (Murrieta, Calif., Vista Murrieta High) -- He earned USA Today All-USA Defensive Player of the Year honors after a senior season as a playmaking safety. He had 97 tackles, including eight sacks, with three interceptions, four forced fumbles and three punt blocks. He enrolled early.

DT Kenny Bigelow (Elkton, Md., Eastern Christian Academy) -- As a senior, his team played only three games, but he recorded 20 sacks as a junior at Red Lion Christian Academy in Delaware. The five-star recruit is a physical specimen and could be slated at various spots along the line at an athletic 295 pounds.

SPRING SNAPSHOT

Practice priorities: It all starts at with quarterback. Four-year starter Matt Barkley is gone, and redshirt freshman Max Wittek -- who started the final two games because of Barkley's shoulder injury -- didn't prove he was the long-term answer. The spring competition among Wittek, classmate Cody Kessler and true freshman Max Browne will be one of the most watched position battles in college football.

At receiver, USC needs to be able to fill the spot of departed Robert Woods and take defensive pressure off star Marqise Lee. Perhaps it will be Nelson Agholor. Often-injured George Farmer and De'Von Flournoy are other options at wideout.

In terms of philosophy, look for USC to return to more physical practices. Coach Lane Kiffin, in an effort to protect a team with depth problems, often dialed back the contact in practice in recent years. No more. "If we lose a couple guys doing that, then we lose a couple guys," Kiffin said of hard contact. "But we'll get back to playing physical football."

PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2013:

--WR Marqise Lee will be going for back-to-back Biletnikoff awards as a junior, but he will have to do it with a new starting quarterback and without tag-team receiving partner Robert Woods. Lee finished last season with 118 receptions for 1,721 yards, both Pac-12 records. He had 14 receiving touchdowns. With speed and open-field running ability, no receiver was more dangerous after the catch. He also did good work on kick returns, averaging 28.6 yards per attempt.

--DE Morgan Breslin shined as a junior college transfer, finishing last season with 19.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks. He earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors.

--RB Silas Redd, a Penn State transfer, ran for 905 yards on 167 carries, bothered late in the season by injury. With Curtis McNeal gone, Redd will have more of a chance to be a workhorse and be the 1,000-yard rusher he was with the Nittany Lions.

--LBs Hayes Pullard/Dion Bailey are back as third-year starters as juniors. Pullard had 107 tackles and Bailey 80 in an all-sophomore starting linebacker group that included Lamar Dawson. Pullard and Bailey each had eight tackles for loss and earned honorable mention all-league honors.

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