Josh Kendall

Will Muschamp has passionate opinion about recruiting rankings. Is he right?

South Carolina will sign up to four more players in February as college football wraps up the Class of 2019. It will not be enough players to significantly affect the Gamecocks’ national recruiting ranking, which currently stands at No. 21, and USC head coach Will Muschamp will continue not to care the least bit about that fact.

“I never in my life looked at a recruiting ranking, nor will I ever because I know a lot more than they do,” Muschamp said.

Muschamp came to South Carolina with a reputation as a strong recruiter, and it became clear quickly upon his arrival that his opinion of the evaluation of players made by people outside the sport was low. The Gamecocks’ class is considered the nation’s 21st-best at the moment by the 247Sports Composite rankings, which compiles the rankings of the various recruiting services that have grown around the sport in the last two decades. Those rankings are made by analysts who watch film, attend games and arrange camps for high school athletes but in most cases have no coaching experience.

Players are ranked into star groupings from two-star to five-star with five stars being the most rare and most elite of the group. Defensive lineman Zacch Pickens, who signed with the Gamecocks last month, is the first five-star signee of the Muschamp era in Columbia. Not that Muschamp is paying any attention to that.

“What’s the difference between a three-star and a four-star (player)?” he asked. “I don’t understand the difference. I have coached a lot of guys who were really good football players who didn’t have any stars. They weren’t even ranked.”

Muschamp believes star rankings are often based on which schools offer a certain prospect and how many recruiting “combines” that player attends.

“When I was at Texas, we had guys who weren’t even being recruited and when they committed to us, suddenly they were five stars. That happened 100 percent,” he said. “What I’m saying is, it’s not about the ranking, it’s about who’s recruiting you. That, in my opinion, is a huge indictment on the ranking system.”

Muschamp is passionate when he pokes holes in the rankings system despite the fact there is a correlation over time between the teams that recruit among the nation’s elite and the teams that compete for the sport’s national title. Muschamp is quick to point out that his team did not offer some players who were ranked higher than players they signed.

“We had a bunch of guys who were ranked four stars who we didn’t even offer, that wanted to come to South Carolina,” he said. “Then all of a sudden this team’s ranking is 11th in the country or whatever and we turned down guys they signed. That’s frustrating to me. If I was worried about rankings, I would have taken that guy because he’s got more stars than this guy, but this guy, in our opinion, was the better player.”

South Carolina’s class is ranked 10th in the SEC and the nation’s top four recruiting class this season — Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M and LSU — all belong to conference teams. That illustrates the difficulty Muschamp and his staff face in rebuilding the Gamecocks program, or it would if a person believed in the validity of recruiting rankings.

“We are significantly improved. Are we where we want to be? No, but we never will be. We always are going go to strive to improve and get better,” Muschamp said. “Have we closed the (talent) gap? Sure. Where do we rank? I can’t sit there and put a number on that, but we’re much better now than where we were day one, I can tell you that. That’s night and day different.”

The Gamecocks finished Muschamp’s third year 7-6 overall and 4-4 in the SEC. They are 22-17 overall and 12-12 in the SEC in his three seasons. Muschamp believes South Carolina can build an Alabama-style program in Columbia, he said. The Gamecocks were ranked No. 21 in the nation in 2018 in 247Sports’ college team talent composite rankings. They ranked eighth in the SEC.

“Does it happen overnight? No,” he said. “The most impatient person in the world is me. We are working every single day to create that. Again, we play in the toughest division in the toughest conference in the country. We know that and we embrace that.”

The key to building the program Muschamp envisions is recruiting, he said.

“The next step is to get to Atlanta (for the SEC Championship Game),” he said. “There are a lot of little things involved in that, but it all goes back to recruiting and continuing to put together classes that can win in our league.”

Muschamp believes the Gamecocks are doing that despite what any recruiting rankings say.