Friday Q&A: Satellite Camps, Soso Jamabo’s Punishment, Year 2 of Sark at USC

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You know it’s the offseason when a topic like satellite camps becomes college football’s most hot-button issue. In fact, Nonfanatic on my column regarding Nick Saban’s “ridiculous” statement on satellite camps perfectly summarized the situation:

Coaches around the SEC have been griping about the satellite camps for weeks and nobody paid any attention. Saban says something and it’s front page news. Pretty funny actually.

About the only choice as it stands would be for the SEC to change their rules and allow them to do the same thing unless the NCAA wanted to make an across the board rule.

It is true that, while Penn State’s satellite camp at Georgia State generated some consternation among SEC coaches, the topic hardly garnered as much national attention as this week when Nick Saban spoke up. That’s just the clout that comes with being the most successful and thus most listened-to coach in the game. That’s why I described Saban as a politician: He’s calculated when he publicly broaches an issue, because it will gain national traction.

The above comment is spot-on in its other point, too. The SEC bans satellite camps, but the conference’s coaches aren’t going to publicly attack the league’s policies. Certainly lifting the ban will be an issue discussed at the spring meetings in Destin, but when Nick Saban tells a gathering of boosters that satellite camps are ridiculous, or Hugh Freeze makes an unscheduled call into the Paul Finebaum Show to decry them, they’ll show solidarity against the outsiders.

It’s quite fascinating, really. Here with the SEC coaches, we’re seeing a microcosm of the attitude that prompts some fans from SEC fan bases to throw in with another program in the conference come postseason. It’s an Us vs. The World mentality that has helped fuel the conference’s rise in the last decade.

Ultimately, the NCAA isn’t going to ban Big Ten schools from hosting satellite camps. More than likely, the below tweet has predicted the next phase:

And while we’re on the topic, we appropriately dive into Q&A thusly:

No one can ascertain definitively right now if satellite camps are successful; the true measure of their success will be measurable two, three, four years from now. But Georgia State’s Trent Miles, who opened his camp to Penn State’s James Franklin last summer, is a believer. This is what he told The Patriot-News last June:

It was great. It was a win for Penn State getting into the region to work out guys they wouldn’t have recruited in the region. It’s a win for us because we got guys we usually wouldn’t get. And what about a four or five-star recruit? It got them great exposure.

A program like Georgia State or Old Dominion might snatch up an undiscovered gem who flies below the Big Ten or SEC radar, so there is perhaps that risk with opening a camp to programs such as Michigan and Penn State. However, those odds are unfavorable. An Old Dominion is going to get much more benefit inviting a Power Five program to attract high-level prospects, but also their teammates who aren’t on the Power Five recruiting radar but could make an impact at a Group of Five program.

Steve Sarkisian gets too much crap, in my estimation. Could USC have finished 2014 with a better record than its 9-4 finish, and were some of those losses the result of coaching missteps? Absolutely. But there’s also a first-year feeling-out process most coaches face, and it’s especially difficult with the limitations USC had, sometimes carrying fewer than 50 scholarship players on game day.

Sark’s an excellent recruiter, having proven that Washington before taking over the USC brand name, which almost recruits itself. It’s also worth noting that in 2009, Sark took over an 0-for Washington program. Within four years, the Huskies won nine games, and I genuinely believe could have won 10 or 11 and contended for the North last season without a dramatic change in philosophies.

As for his potential at USC, I do expect his offense to be much less conservative this season. The wide receiving corps has more depth, so I anticipate Cody Kessler having a more diverse playbook at his disposal. Depth is also going to play a big part in what I anticipate will be a dramatic departure in defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox’s philosophy.

Wilcox was arguably the most maligned of the USC staffers last season; it seemed every Saturday when I opened Twitter, the calls for his job were coming in hot-and-heavy. The most frequent complaint was his hesitation to blitz — and indeed, at one point midway through the season, the Trojans blitzed less than any other Power Five team in the nation.

Wilcox was content letting Leonard Williams drive the pressure, and was conservative with the linebackers (save Su’a Cravens) to avoid exposing a very young secondary. The Trojans had true freshman Adoree’ Jackson, John Plattenburg and Jonathan Lockett; redshirt freshman Chris Hawkins; sophomores Leon McQuay and Kevon Seymour manning the secondary.

Had Wilcox been as blitz-happy last season as he was at Washington in 2013, when the Huskies were fourth in the nation in sacks, USC would have been torched with the pass. Adding Iman Marshall, having Lamont Simmons with some redshirt seasoning and the bevy of youngsters gaining experience, the Trojans are better in the secondary. And, with no Leonard Williams up front, Wilcox will have to blitz more to generate pressure.

This situation is somewhat unique from other offseason arrests in that 5-star running back Soso Jamabo isn’t yet at UCLA. This isn’t like Johnny Manziel’s arrest before 2012, when he’d had a year in the program and established some level of rapport with his teammates.

Jamabo’s situation is more comparable to that of Boise State recruit Raymond Sheard, another North Texas product who was arrested this spring. Sheard will not be attending Boise State, which would be the worst-case scenario for Soso Jamabo at UCLA.

Now, the nature of Jamabo’s and Sheard’s arrests are drastically different: Sheard was carrying a gun and drugs, while Jamabo was around booze on his prom night. So long as Jamabo was not driving drunk, his arrest can be chalked up to youthful indiscretion many of us exhibited at one time or another around his age.

Still, that doesn’t mean he should go unpunished. It’s a little absurd to think an incoming freshman who seeks release from his national letter of intent must sit out an entire season and lose a year of eligibility, barring his original school or the NCAA granting him a waiver, while an arrest can net minimal punishment — like Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly.

Jamabo’s fate is likely tied to what the full report reveals, but right now, I see his best-case scenario being a two-game suspension.