Sure the decisions of Stephon Gilmore, Marcus Lattimore and Jadeveon Clowney were huge, but South Carolina’s recruiting efforts began to turn around years earlier.
It was the Class of 2007, which included eight of USC’s 16 seniors on the 2011 roster, that ultimately turned the tide. After signing classes that ranked 23rd and 24th nationally by Rivals in 2005 and 2006, the Gamecocks’ 31-member haul was rated sixth overall in 2007.
Some familiar names, including Stephen Garcia, Melvin Ingram, Kyle Nunn and Travian Robertson, were part of that 2007 class. Here is a look at how this season’s seniors, which also included members of the 2006 and 2008 signing classes, have fared in their careers based on their prep ratings:
Spur Antonio Allen
Prospect ranking: 42nd-ranked safety by Rivals, 77th-ranked safety by Scout, 56th-ranked safety by ESPN
Career statistics: Played in 28 games, including 19 starts, with 110 total tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and one interception
Analysis: As a three-star prospect coming out of Trinity Catholic (Fla.) – he spent one season at Fork Union Military Academy – Allen has played up to his ranking. He’s had a solid career, and it’s hard to find the stars at USC’s spur position due to the mix of athleticism and size it demands.
Corner Akeem Auguste
Prospect ranking: 14th-ranked corner by Rivals, 31st-ranked corner by Scout, 57th-ranked corner by ESPN
Career statistics: Played in 35 games, including 19 starts, with 114 total tackles, six tackles for loss, nine pass breakups and four forced fumbles
Analysis: Position changes have kept Auguste from making a huge impact, though he’s been a solid starter at times throughout his career. Auguste, who also spent a year at Fork Union, could have a career-defining campaign as a senior.
Receiver Jason Barnes
Prospect ranking: 32nd-ranked receiver by Rivals, 68th-ranked receiver by Scout, 60th-ranked receiver by ESPN
Career statistics: Played in 43 games, including 17 starts, with 60 catches for 730 yards and two touchdowns
Analysis: Barnes was never expected to be more than a possession receiver for the Gamecocks. He’s had a solid career and could have a bigger impact this season if he’s able to hold off several youngsters for a starting spot.
Offensive guard Terrence Campbell
Prospect ranking: 51st-ranked strongside defensive end by Rivals, Unranked by Scout and ESPN
Career statistics: Played in 23 games, including 13 starts
Analysis: Considering how lightly rated Campbell was coming out of South Cobb (Ga.), he’s certainly overachieved based on the rankings. The sixth-year senior will battle for significant playing time this season.
Quarterback Stephen Garcia
Prospect ranking: Fourth-ranked dual-threat quarterback by Rivals, 18th-ranked quarterback by Scout, Sixth-ranked quarterback by ESPN
Career statistics: Played in 35 games, including 30 starts, with 6,753 passing yards and 606 rushing yards; has completed 58.5 percent of his passes for 43 touchdowns and 32 interceptions; 17-13 as a starter
Analysis: Though his off-field issues have certainly clouded his legacy, Garcia has lived up to the hype on the field. Considering the talent around him, he’s played up to his billing as a blue-chip prospect. USC fans may have expected more, but star quarterbacks don’t grow on trees.
Defensive end Melvin Ingram
Prospect ranking: 21st-ranked outside linebacker by Rivals, 20th-ranked middle linebacker by Scout, 12th-ranked inside linebacker by ESPN
Career statistics: Played in 39 games, including two starts, with 61 total tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks
Analysis: Injuries and a position change slowed Ingram early in his career. He’s become a solid contributor for Ellis Johnson’s defense and will be counted on to provide leadership and production in 2011. With a big senior campaign, he could justify some lofty prep rankings.
Defensive lineman Byron McKnight
Prospect ranking: Unranked by Rivals, Scout and ESPN
Career statistics: Played in 36 games with nine total tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks
Analysis: Recruiting analysts didn’t expect much from McKnight when he signed and he’s been little more than a backup during his career. He’ll provide defensive end depth in 2011.
Offensive tackle Kyle Nunn
Prospect ranking: 62nd-ranked offensive tackle by Rivals, 62nd-ranked offensive tackle by Scout, 35th-ranked offensive tackle by ESPN
Career statistics: Played in 30 games, including 16 starts
Analysis: Nunn wasn’t highly rated coming out of Sumter and has overachieved based on the rankings. He’s been a solid contributor at both tackle spots for the Gamecocks, and anytime a team can turn a three-star prospect into a starting tackle, that’s good recruiting.
Linebacker Rodney Paulk
Prospect ranking: 19th-ranked inside linebacker by Rivals, 81st-ranked linebacker by Scout, 18th-ranked outside linebacker by ESPN
Career statistics: Played in 44 games, including 23 starts, with 143 total tackles, 13 tackles for loss and four sacks
Analysis: Paulk’s career has been derailed by injuries, which earned him a rare sixth season from the NCAA. After a Freshman All-American season to open his career, he’s been a solid contributor (when healthy) but never spectacular. He’s another player with the opportunity to write his final legacy in 2011.
Defensive tackle Travian Robertson
Prospect ranking: Eighth-ranked strongside defensive end by Rivals, 18th-ranked defensive end by Scout, 17th-ranked defensive end by ESPN
Career statistics: Played in 43 games, including 18 starts, with 74 total tackles, 13 tackles for loss and four sacks
Analysis: Robertson returned from a season-ending knee injury in 2009 to become an interior force for USC in 2011. As a tackle, it’s tough to put up big numbers or make enough big plays to justify one’s ranking as a blue-chip prospect. However, Robertson has done his job.
Corner C.C. Whitlock
Prospect ranking: 10th-ranked corner by Rivals, 10th-ranked corner by Scout, Sixth-ranked corner by ESPN
Career statistics: Played in 35 games, including 10 starts, with 38 total tackles, eight pass breakups and two interceptions
Analysis: Whitlock’s career hasn’t lived up to the hype. In fact, if it ended today, it would likely be remembered by USC’s fans for its multiple suspensions. If he’s able to stay out of trouble, Whitlock’s form could be pivotal in 2011.
Note: Tailback Josh Hinch, corner Marty Markett, specialist Joey Scribner-Howard, offensive tackle Rockevius Watkins and specialist Jay Wooten were excluded from this list because they were either walk-ons or transferred to USC from a two-year or four-year institution.