Recruiting is the lifeblood of every college football program.With national signing day coming up Wednesday, prepare to hear the recruiting news spewing across every sports media platform.You’ll hear which team has the best incoming class, which teams missed out, which teams did the best at what positions and so on.Your appetite for arbitrary rankings — a specialty of college football — will be satisfied.You’ll hear who Rivals.com says got the top class and who landed the most of ESPNU’s top 150 players.You’ll be seeing stars, likely three, four and five at a time.My advice: Do not get too excited one way or the other.In fact, you would be better off dismissing the ridiculous rundowns of rankings as soon as you hear them.Everyone will tell you recruiting is inexact, especially in football.In sports like basketball, where one individual can have a much greater impact, the odds are much better. Kids sometimes start getting recruited as early as middle school.If a basketball player has the size and the skill set, chances are he’ll pan out at whichever college he chooses (and then, of course, jump ship to the NBA after one season).Or, at least, there’s a greater chance the basketball player will pan out than a football recruit who seems to have the same level of qualifications; so many factors always weigh in.There is greater competition for playing time, which usually means a longer delay before seeing action. Plus, football is so much more of a physical game that top recruits sometimes either cannot keep up or are derailed by injuries.These recruiting misses are not limited to one sport.But they don’t seem to stick out as much in other sports as in college football, primarily because of the frenzy that accompanies each recruiting cycle.Hindsight will always reveal each year’s booms and busts. ESPN.com just took a rear-view mirror look at the class of 2007 and, not surprisingly, the discrepancy between the rankings then and how the players actually panned out is huge.USC landed 10 of ESPNU’s 150, which gave the Trojans the honor of being named the top recruiting class that year.Then-coach Pete Carroll landed the top three prospects in the nation: running back Joe McKnight (No. 1), linebacker Chris Galippo (No. 2) and running back Marc Tyler (No. 3). The class also included quarterback Aaron Corp (No. 33) and receiver Ronald Johnson (No. 47).In 2007, you would have thought that by grabbing the two top running backs and the top linebacker, the Trojans would be primed for greatness on both sides of the ball by now.But you never know which way the football will bounce.McKnight was a solid presence in USC’s backfield, yet despite his ability, he never emerged as a game-changing player.The New York Jets selected him in the fourth round in last year’s draft, but his USC career ended far below expectations.Galippo struggled with injuries early in his career, then was a Butkus Award semifinalist in 2009 before losing his starting spot for part of 2010 and finishing the season with 29 tackles.Galippo could still redeem himself with a breakout season in 2011.Tyler came into USC with a broken ankle and then battled more injuries, but he is coming off his best and most complete season.As a result, he could be set for a big 2011, when he will almost certainly be the featured running back.Then there’s Corp, formerly known as the fifth-best quarterback recruit in the country.He lost the starting job to then-freshman Matt Barkley, had an awful performance in his only start of the year and then ingloriously transferred to Richmond.Meanwhile, Cam Newton, who began his career at Florida, was ranked No. 58 by ESPNU.Sure, it took him a few transfers and a little fatherly direction to land at Auburn, but you can’t argue with a Heisman trophy and a national title.You get the point by now.No matter what hype a kid brings to his college campus, there is no guarantee he’ll pan out on the field.Forty-yard dash times and high school touchdown totals lead to scholarships, but they don’t necessarily amount to success.That being said, USC’s prospective recruiting class is currently ranked No. 5 in the nation by Rivals.com, No. 6 by Scout.com and No. 4 by ESPN. And the Trojans’ class includes eight ESPNU150 signees.Book me a seat at the 2013 BCS National Championship!“Middle Ground” runs Tuesdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Josh at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are times when sports are amazing, like when a team that hasn’t won a championship in 108 years finally breaks the drought and the viral video of an 81-year-old Cubs fan jumping for joy makes you feel all warm and fuzzy. Then, there are times when sports are sad and unfortunate and make you realize all of life’s cruelties — just ask Max Browne.The redshirt junior quarterback’s time at USC is winding down, and the clock probably couldn’t move faster for him. In a span of 10 weeks, Browne has gone from USC’s next heralded quarterback to an underperforming backup to a frustrated soldier looking to transfer and salvage his final season of eligibility.He had more than paid his dues to earn the starting job. Coming out of Skyline High School in Washington, Browne was one of the top quarterback recruits in the country. Analysts compared him to Peyton Manning. He had 11 other offers from schools ranging from Oklahoma to Alabama, yet he chose USC knowing that he would be competing with then-redshirt sophomores Cody Kessler and Max Wittek for the starting job.“As a quarterback growing up on the West Coast, at least for me personally, there was always the dream of growing up and being the quarterback for the Trojans,” he said to the Seattle Times after committing to USC in December of 2012.He probably didn’t anticipate having to wait four years for that dream to come true. He lost out to Kessler as a true freshman, and was redshirted. The following year, when Steve Sarkisian took over as head coach, Browne still could not beat Kessler for the starting job.He dutifully backed up Kessler last season in No. 6’s final year at USC. So with Kessler out of the picture, 2016 was finally supposed to be the once prized recruit’s time to shine.But then a monster in Alabama popped up on the schedule as the season opener, and Browne and the Trojans looked lost against the defending national champions. And there was Stanford waiting in Palo Alto in Week 3, where the offense looked stale and lackluster. Oh, and there was redshirt freshman Sam Darnold, a springy, dual-threat, dynamic quarterback who does nearly everything that Browne can’t.So staring down at a 1-2 record, an upcoming road game at Utah and his seat getting hotter by the second, head coach Clay Helton played the one asset in his back pocket: the quarterback card, swapping Browne for an unproven redshirt freshman. Darnold, in turn, has responded with incredible stats and crowd-dazzling plays to provide a much-needed spark to the Trojans’ season — and saving Helton’s job while at it. But Helton’s job security and Darnold’s rising star comes at Browne’s expense, and that hurts. Browne was the consummate professional, the loyal team player waiting for his chance. But at the first sign of trouble, he was flung to the side. It is hardly fair to judge what he would’ve done in a full season based on a three-game sample size, especially considering two of those games were against superior talent in Alabama and — at the time — a confident Pac-12 powerhouse in Stanford. “I look back on a few of those routes [against Stanford] and you’re kicking yourself a little bit, because that’s kind of what I’ve made my money on out here,” Browne said, trying to rationalize why he lost the starting job. Nonetheless, even the most ardent Browne supporters will admit Helton made the right call. Darnold is doing incredible things — single-handedly leading USC back into the Pac-12 South race — and the Trojans don’t have to worry about quarterback competitions for the next three years.What’s frustrating is that nobody did anything wrong here. Helton has been rightfully criticized for a number of decisions, but I’m not faulting him for giving the loyal Browne his long-awaited shot at quarterback, trusting that Browne’s talent as a former star recruit and his familiarity with the offense would outweigh the untapped potential in Darnold — despite the redshirt freshman impressing during both spring and fall camps. If my job was on the line, and I knew I had a wild card and potential lifesaver in Darnold, I would play that card 10 times out of 10. Likewise, no one can fault Darnold for seizing the day and putting any quarterback concerns to rest by starting his career 4-1.So now, Browne is left searching for playing time somewhere else — literally anywhere else.“I made sure my headline said ‘all NCAA schools’ for a reason: I’m willing to go anywhere,” Browne said after practice on Wednesday. “That was the case out of high school, and it’s no different, if not more emphasized, now.”It’s sad because the past four years at USC have done nothing to advance Browne’s football aspirations — if anything, they’ve made them worse. He has to play the recruiting game all over again, and if he wants playing time in his final season of eligibility, he probably won’t end up at a marquee program like USC.To be fair, the blame also falls on him. He had several chances to win the starting job, but Kessler was just better. When he finally did, he nearly lost — and eventually did lose — the position to a redshirt freshman. He could’ve made a much better first impression against Alabama, or could’ve hit the receivers he missed against Stanford. Perhaps he just isn’t as good as his recruiting status hyped him to be, or perhaps three years without regular game reps had a negative effect on him.But it all comes back to circumstance: If USC had started the season against three easy opponents, would Browne still be the quarterback? Instead, when Oregon visits the Coliseum on Saturday for Homecoming, fans will be singing the praises of Darnold, while Browne will be hardly noticeable, relegated to the sideline. Just a reminder that for every Cinderella story, there’s a hard-luck loser — ask the Indians, or ask Max Browne.Eric He is a sophomore majoring in journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Grinding Gears,” runs Fridays.