College football recruiting has emerged as an extremely popular sport in its own right. Rivals.com web traffic on National Letter of Intent Day continually dwarfs all other events on the network.
From Tallahassee to Los Angeles, Baton Rouge to Ann Arbor and everywhere in between, a five-star tailback signing with Ohio State or a four-star safety committing to play for Texas is now national news.
When the ink dries, coaches like Pete Carroll and Urban Meyer hit the banquet circuit to flaunt their newest crop of can't-miss prospects.
But sometimes can't-miss prospects do miss and stars in recruiting rankings don't always translate into starts on the gridiron.
Back in 2005 Pete Carroll and the Trojans won the Rivals.com Recruiting National Championship, signing just 19 players, including 12 on the defensive side of the ball.
Four years later, the class of 2005 is still largely intact and poised for a huge senior season.
"You talk to a lot of college coaches and they say if they can hit on 25 to 30 percent of their kids in a class then it is a successful group," Rivals.com National Recruiting Editor Jeremy Crabtree said. "Or in a group of 25 kids, if you can get 10 or more starters or 10 or more guys on your two-deep then you have a successful class."
Eleven of the 12 defensive players either have already experienced significant playing time or will in 2008. Ten of the players are currently on the two-deep roster and a ridiculous 8 out of 12 from the class are listed as first teamers.
Of the six offensive players signed, five are currently on the two-deep including quarterback Mark Sanchez and receiver Patrick Turner.
"A hit rate like that is unheard of," Crabtree said. "It is something that very rarely happens. Kids get injured, wash out for one reason or another or don't take care of academics.
"To have that type of success and to have impact guys in the class like Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing is just kind of scary."
According to Crabtree, Carroll has been able to bring in top classes without signing the maximum number of players or extending too many scholarship offers.
"To be able to go out there and hand pick and choose the guys that they want and have them qualify is just amazing," Crabtree said. "USC is in the position to be selective with their scholarship offers. To the kids, they are the program of all programs out West, so they can get the guys that they want. And they know that they are not going to have any issues with them."
Four years after this heralded class arrived on campus, it continues to share a special bond.
"I am still close to everyone," says safety Will Harris. "I live with two of the guys and we all stay close. We play Monopoly on weekends, do footwork together and dinners and stuff.
"We just talked about it three days ago, about how all of us are still so close. When we came in, we knew we would be friends forever."
Many in the class have the potential to go pro, but despite the opportunities, none of them left school early to pursue a career in the NFL.
"We've got everybody here and nobody left early," linebacker Rey Maualuga said. "I'm really proud that everyone stuck around. Guys jumped from being third and fourth team to now starting. So I think the group did a great job of working together to get better."
The relationship that has developed, especially among the defenders from the class of '05, is truly remarkable.
"We all came at the same time, and now, it almost seems like we're three-quarters of the defense. That's special," linebacker Brian Cushing said. "There's almost silent communication where one person knows what the other is thinking. Playing with each other for so many years, having that experience should make this great."
With the brotherhood this group has formed, the defense certainly has the potential to be something special.
"We all stick together, work hard for one another and encourage each other," Harris said.
How far can they go?
The class of 2005 has already produced legitimate superstars like Cushing and Maualuga, but the ultimate success of this group will not be determined until after the season.
"I just knew it was going to be all of us starting sooner or later," defensive end Kyle Moore said. "It is all happening now so we just have to come together as seniors and do it."
Their talent is undeniable, but skills on the gridiron can only take them so far. To reach their ultimate goals of a national championship, they have to put individual accolades aside and come together as a cohesive unit.
"It's been amazing to see all those guys grow and mature and to see the football players we've developed into," Cushing said. "We came in to an unbelievable situation, and we couldn't have gotten better guys to show us what 'SC football is and what it takes. You have to compete every day to be the best player or the best team - no matter how much talent you have."
The top four linebackers on the USC roster are all from the class of 2005. With Cushing on the strong side and Maualuga in the middle, Kaluka Maiava and Luthur Brown will both be splitting time at the weakside linebacker spot.
"Me, Kaluka, Brian, Luthur, we came in at the same time and now we're all starting," Maualuga said. "We've been talking about that since the Hawaii game our freshman year. We've known it needs to be us that start together.
"Now we're here. It adds to the comfort level. I know that Cushing has got my back if I make a mistake on the field, or if I make the wrong call Kaluka will help me out with that. It's just being here, together, for four years, we've got this bond and knowledge that helps us know where everyone should be."
USC linebacker coach Ken Norton Jr. has been the beneficiary of this recruiting coup, and may explain why he is such a relentless recruiter now.
"Our staff had no doubt about how special this class was," Norton said. "They had a glow when they arrived on campus."
Winning 6-straight Pac-10 championships obviously didn't happen by accident. If Pete Carroll continues to recruit with the same enthusiasm, this historic run of success should have legs for years to come.
"If you look at the 19 kids in that class, the numbers speak for themselves, especially on the defensive side of the ball," Crabtree said. "That is just unheard of."
"To see the amazing job that USC did in evaluation speaks volumes to the type of coaches and the eye for talent that they have."