The USC Trojans have made a lot of noise in recruiting their class of 2013, having the No. 2-ranked class despite serving NCAA sanctions that will limit them to 15 scholarships in this class.
The Trojans have received verbal commitments from 18 players this year, although a pair of recent decommits leaves them with 16 at the moment.
The Trojans are able to go above the 15-player sanction limit by counting three scholarships against the class of 2012, as they had three unfilled spots in that class.
It doesn’t mean that USC will take only three players as spring early enrollees. In fact, the Trojans have six players planning to graduate high school a semester early to enroll at USC for the spring semester. Under NCAA rules, only three of those scholarships would count toward 2012, with the other three counting toward 2013.
At this point, the following players are looking to enroll early: safety Su'a Cravens (Murrieta, Calif./Vista Murrieta), quarterback Max Browne (Sammamish, Wash./Skyline), running back Justin Davis (Stockton, Calif./Lincoln), defensive tackle Kenny Bigelow (Elkton, Md./Eastern Christian Academy), cornerback Chris Hawkins (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Rancho Cucamonga) and defensive end Kylie Fitts (Redlands, Calif./Redlands East Valley).
All but Bigelow will be on the USC campus this weekend for official visits. Bigelow has his U.S. Army All-American game jersey presentation Friday, so he will visit USC the following weekend.
Another official visitor this weekend -- safety Leon McQuay III (Seffner, Fla./Armwood) -- has also indicated he plans to enroll early at his school of choice.
It’s not often that such a talented collection of players decide to graduate high school early, but there is a unique situation at USC right now, and it makes sense for these players to get on campus as soon as possible.
In addition to the scholarship limitations imposed by the NCAA, the Trojans are bound to a 75-man roster as part of the sanctions. This means 10 fewer players competing for spots and increased depth issues in spring ball when numbers are lower anyway because the senior class is gone but the freshmen have yet to arrive.
It’s a great advantage for a freshman looking to earn immediate playing time -- and for a team that needs all the depth it can get -- to be on campus for the spring semester to take part in spring ball and make an early impact.
Chances are the Trojans will need a freshman such as Cravens to be in the rotation right away. At safety, USC returns only Demetrius Wright and Gerald Bowman, who had nine tackles apiece in 2012, so having Cravens available in the spring would be a huge step toward having him ready in the fall.
It's a similar situation on the defensive line with Fitts and Bigelow. Fitts is a defensive end, and only one returning end, Morgan Breslin, had more than 16 tackles this season. Bigelow is a tackle who likely will play the three-technique spot behind Leonard Williams, the Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year. By coming in early, Bigelow gives himself a chance to make a quicker adjustment and earn a better slot in the rotation.
Browne will arrive in the spring to make a run at the open job vacated by Matt Barkley. It stands to reason that Max Wittek -- or even Cody Kessler -- will have a huge advantage over Browne since both have been in the USC system for two years, but the extra practice time will be invaluable for Browne, and you never know what can happen at the all-important quarterback spot. Just ask Barkley. He enrolled early in 2009 and took advantage of a fall camp injury to Aaron Corp to nab a starting job he held for four seasons.
So whether it's Cravens, Fitts, Browne or one of the other early enrollees, their ability to take advantage of extra practice time the way Barkley did is going to be critical to help minimize the impact of the sanctions.