By halftime of Saturday’s 38-19 win over Furman, most South Carolina fans were looking ahead to this week’s game against Auburn.
Jeremy Crabtree and the people in his line of work have been looking forward to it since Feb. 3. That’s the day Marcus Lattimore and Michael Dyer, whom most recruiting analysts had tabbed as the top high school running backs in the country, made their collegiate choices.
Lattimore chose the Gamecocks, while Dyer, a product of Little Rock, Ark., picked Auburn. That set in motion a matchup Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium, where the No. 17 Tigers (3-0, 1-0 SEC) will host the No. 12 Gamecocks (3-0, 1-0). Because of the SEC’s rotational schedule, the two backs will meet twice during their careers, this year in Auburn and next season in Columbia.
“This is something that as soon as the kids knew where they were going to school, you realized this was going to happen,” said Jeremy Crabtree, the national recruiting editor for Rivals.com. “I think this is an incredible situation for two really dynamic players and really good kids, too. This is going to be fun.”
The two major scouting services, Rivals.com and Scout.com, both ranked Lattimore the No. 1 tailback in the country and Dyer No. 2. ESPN made Dyer its top selection.
“I guess it’s just one of those things where two freshmen are going up against each other and people will make a big deal about it, but we’re not going to,” Dyer said. “We’re going to be focused on our teams and what we need to do to win the game.”
Lattimore and Dyer have been friends since their junior years in high school, Lattimore said, and still talk or text about once a week. As often happens now with elite prospects, the pair struck up a friendship by attending the same camps and all-star outings.
“We talked the whole time during recruiting,” Lattimore said.
Lattimore, 6-foot and 218 pounds, had 6,375 rushing yards and 104 touchdowns during his career at Byrnes High in Duncan; Dyer, 5-9 and 215 pounds, ended his career at Little Rock Christian with 8,097 rushing yards and 84 touchdowns.
Deciding who was No. 1 and who was No. 2 was no easy feat, said Chad Simmons, the Southeastern recruiting manager for Scout.com.
“In trying to determine which one was better long term, it came down to Lattimore having a bigger frame, being more a power runner,” Simmons said. “It came down to the long-term potential and NFL-type body that Lattimore has. You could really flip a coin in high school and, really, in college to say who could be the better back.”
Asked who was the better back, Lattimore smiled and answered, “I don’t know.”
Although Lattimore vs. Dyer makes for an intriguing story line, it hardly is a fair head-to-head comparison because they don’t have comparable roles on their teams.
Lattimore is the Gamecocks’ starting tailback and leads the team in rushing (333 yards on 70 carries), all-purpose yards (370 yards) and touchdowns (five). Dyer is third on the Tigers’ depth chart, at least for now, and is second on the team in rushing with 220 yards on 39 carries. He had 69 yards on 16 carries Saturday against Clemson.
“There have been some ups and downs within the games,” Dyer said, “but overall it’s been good so far.”
Lattimore compared his friend to a “bowling ball.”
“He’s not that tall,” Lattimore said. “He will run you over. He is strong; he is very strong. He’s fast. He’s got a lot of power.”
Lattimore and Dyer were close to becoming teammates rather than rivals, said Lattimore, who chose South Carolina over Auburn.
“We talked about (going to same school), but it just didn’t work out like that,” he said. “It was pretty close. I was really thinking about it. I didn’t know until that Sunday before signing day (where I would go). I was thinking about playing with him. He wanted me to come there real bad, but there was a comfort level here. I loved it here.”
Most recruiting analysts never believed the pair would play together, Crabtree said.
“I think in the end, we really couldn’t believe (Lattimore) was going to end up anywhere but South Carolina,” Crabtree said. “They did a tremendous job of recruiting him.”
Dyer thinks the two could have co-existed.
“One person could go in and do exactly what they needed to get done, and then the next person could go in,” he said. “I don’t think it would have been that big a deal. I think it would have been great for the team.”
Crabtree is not so sure. “It would have been an interesting experiment.”