Nothing brings out boo birds more than a loss.
Add a player, perhaps the best in the SEC, saying he was really interested in South Carolina but never met the coach, and that player is about to face the Gamecocks while starring for the other team, and it’s a maelstrom of contempt.
The Gamecocks’ loss to Kentucky and the revelation that Georgia’s Nick Chubb twice visited USC and never met Steve Spurrier has the Gamecock faithful in a tizzy. They’re questioning the direction of the program and poking holes in the foundation – recruiting – while wondering what happened in the 16 games since USC was wrapping a 33-6 three-year run.
Chubb’s story was another fuse to another stick of dynamite. It’s not definite that Chubb would have picked USC if he had met Spurrier; he and Spurrier each said that Chubb probably would have been a Bulldog anyway.
But that Spurrier never met with Chubb – “I was out of town. Sometimes I’m in town. Sometimes I’m out,” Spurrier said – certainly didn’t help the Gamecocks’ chances of landing him. That, the defection of several recruits after Spurrier’s ill-timed “2-3 more” years comment and that several walk-ons – or former walk-ons – are beating out scholarship players for minutes have cast a lot of shade on USC’s recruiting tactics.
“It means we’ve got some good walk-ons here,” recruiting coordinator Steve Spurrier Jr. said. “There’s a lot of great walk-ons that get passed up and just don’t get the opportunities they deserve.”
While it’s a great story if they succeed, the question is why USC has to rely on walk-ons. What happened?
“The scholarship guys have not been quite the hit that maybe we thought they were going to be,” Steve Spurrier said. “But again, yeah, we give everybody a chance and sometimes those walk-on players, I don’t know if they work a little harder or are out to prove more, but it’s turned out that over the years I’ve had a lot of good walk-on players.”
It was only two seasons ago that a No. 1 NFL draft pick, also the No. 1 player in the country out of high school, was starting on the defensive line. The Gamecocks’ depth chart for Georgia lists 17 true or redshirt freshmen and seven current or former walk-ons. Former walk-on Perry Orth will make his first career start at quarterback.
The recruiting classes from 2010-2014 had 38 players rated four stars or higher by Rivals.com. Eleven (A.J. Cann, Marcus Lattimore, Jadeveon Clowney, Mike Davis, Pharoh Cooper and Skai Moore among them) lived up to the ranking. While the jury is still out on the Class of 2015 – and 11 four-star recruits in it – the Class of 2014 thus far hasn’t delivered.
There were 10 four-stars in that class, the group that watched the Gamecocks complete three consecutive 11-2 seasons. Wesley Green left this year, Dante Sawyer and Dexter Wideman didn’t qualify and came to USC in 2015 and the others have played but haven’t made an impact.
Players need time to develop, and some of the Gamecocks’ recent recruits might live up to the billing. The only way to do that is to play and overcome any rough spots, and that’s what USC knew about this crop.
What’s hurting is not having experienced stars to fill the gaps. Obviously, the Gamecocks were not going to find a Lattimore or Clowney in their backyard in back-to-back years. But could they have tried harder to grab other top talent from other states when they secured those commitments?
A chart by USA Today in February ranked the recruiting spending totals by FBS schools during the 2012-13 school year. USC’s total ($302,249) was last among 13 SEC schools (Vanderbilt, a private school, wasn’t listed) and nearly $100,000 behind the No. 12 school (Texas A&M). Auburn and Tennessee each spent more than $1 million in recruiting that year.
USC had strong talent in the Class of 2015 but Spurrier’s “2-3 more” years comment began a cycle of defections. Four-star recruits Mark Fields (Clemson), Arden Key (LSU) and Paris Palmer (Penn State) went elsewhere, with Key and Palmer already playing and Fields expected to play this season.
The Gamecocks nabbed strong talent anyway, such as Qua Lewis, who was a starter as soon as he stepped on campus. Sawyer and Wideman came in as well. Zack Bailey is a top backup as a freshman and Lorenzo Nunez stands to play a lot this year. All were four-star recruits, which, at least in term of rankings, replaced the ones who flipped.
They simply need time to get better. That’s not going to change, wins or losses aside.
“Well, obviously, we think a lot of them can still be very good players, but yeah, we’ve missed on some guys,” Spurrier said. “There’s no question about it. Some guys we had thought were going to be really good, just did not work out.”
Star rankings aren’t always accurate. USC has proved that. Its all-time winningest quarterback (Connor Shaw) was a three-star recruit; its single-season passing leader (Dylan Thompson) held two stars. Nobody ranked Bruce Ellington as a football recruit because he was going to play basketball. He’s in the NFL.
The Gamecocks are waiting for current recruits to blossom and join lower-ranked recruits from past classes who are now playing vital roles. Shon Carson, Mike Matulis, Brandon Wilds, Mason Zandi, Alan Knott and Jonathan Walton are integral pieces and not one was a four-star pledge.
The hope is the freshmen and redshirt freshmen this year show what they can be before it’s too late. The Gamecocks can’t afford many more four-star busts.
“Then there’s a lot of guys who are overrated,” Spurrier Jr. said. “We’ve stumbled into some good (walk-ons) and they’ve done well for us.”
These aren’t pleasant times. Yet there are 10 games, perhaps 11, to play. The questions on recruiting and how long Spurrier will stay are numerous.
All of the issues share a trait, though.
Win Saturday, and they’re forgotten.
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What SEC schools spent on football recruiting during the 2012-13 school year. (Note: Vanderbilt is a private school and did not disclose its recruiting expenses.)
11. Miss. State
12. Texas A&M
Source: USA Today
Gamecocks at Bulldogs
Who: USC (1-1) at Georgia (2-0)
When: 6 p.m., Saturday
Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga,
Line: Georgia by 16.5