Analysis: Will solid Gamecocks class be good enough in rugged SEC?

jkendall@thestate.comFebruary 5, 2014 

“Closing” was the word of the day for South Carolina on Wednesday.

The Gamecocks finished the college football signing period with the flourish befitting a program riding the wave of momentum created by 33 wins in three years and a program-best No. 4 national ranking to end the recently completed season.

But was it enough to close the gap between South Carolina and the SEC championship Steve Spurrier and thousands of Gamecock fans covet? The recruiting rankings say no.

South Carolina’s 21-man signing class was ranked anywhere from No. 15 to No. 24 in the nation by the major recruiting services.

Tom Lemming, CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst, believes it’s better than that.

“They don’t have a really big class, but they landed a lot of impact players,” Lemming said. “When you look at the impact players, you have to rank them pretty high.”

That’s not the consensus, though. The Gamecocks were the ninth- or 10th-best recruiting team in the SEC, depending on which service you believe.

Kentucky outrecruited the Gamecocks, according to Scout.com. This is a new day in the SEC, but it’s not so new that you’re going to win the conference title by being outrecruited by the Wildcats.

The problem for South Carolina, though, is not the perception that Kentucky finished slightly more middle of the pack than it did. The Gamecocks have proven to be a superior collection in the fall by every conceivable measure than the Wildcats.

The problem for South Carolina is what the top of the rankings looks like. For argument’s sake, let’s look at 247Sports’ Composite rankings. It has the Gamecocks’ class No. 15 What then to make of the fact that 247Sports says No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 LSU, No. 5 Texas A&M, No. 6 Auburn, No. 7 Tennessee, No. 8 Georgia and No. 9 Florida all finished in the nation’s top 10? The Gamecocks play five of those teams next year.

You can find plenty of statistics to “prove” that recruiting rankings don’t matter. For instance, there were far more players on the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks roster who were ranked two stars or lower coming out of high school (24) than were ranked a four- or five-star player, according to NationalHSFootball.com.

There were more two-star players taken in the top 10 of last year’s NFL draft (two) than five stars (one), according to NFL.com’s research. Or how about this: from 2006-2013 the three teams that signed the most players ranked among the nation’s top 300 by ESPN were Florida, Southern Cal and Texas. In 2013, those teams combined to go 22-17.

The fact is, those statistics prove only that recruiting rankings aren’t always right. On the whole, they are a fairly accurate reflector of talent. One of the past 10 BCS national champions has had an average recruiting ranking of lower than 7.25 in the previous four seasons, according to a Bleacher Report analysis. The lone outlier was the 2010 Auburn team that featured Cam Newton and was ranked 15.5 on average during that time period.

With this class, South Carolina’s four-year average is 17.5, according to Rivals.com.

As we know, if you’re competing for the SEC title, you’re competing for the national title, so those numbers give you an idea of the type of challenge South Carolina faces. The good news for South Carolina is it has proven in the past three years (past five if you’re counting the Clemson game) that it consistently can beat teams that outrecruit them every year. The not-so-good news is they are going to have to do it again in 2014.

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