The Gamecocks currently have 84 players on scholarship. The NCAA-mandated maximum is 85. With it looking like exactly 25 high school and prep players will sign letters of intent to play for South Carolina next year*, Coach Spurrier will need to free up 24 slots in order to retain all of the current scholarship players and fulfill promises to the recruits who sign with the Gamecocks in February. In most years that wouldn't be much of a problem, but when you consider that South Carolina only has 12 seniors currently on scholarship, it becomes difficult to see where the extra 12 spots will come from.
When the clock reaches zero in the fourth quarter of this year's bowl game, we know for certain that 11 of our current scholarship players will have exhausted their eligibility (Melvin Ingram, Jason Barnes, Rokevious Watkins, Terrence Campbell, Travian Robertson, Byron McKnight, Rodney Paulk, Antonio Allen, C.C. Whitlock, Marty Markett, and Jay Wooten). That number could grow to 12 if Kyle Nunn is unable to obtain a medical hardship waiver that would grant him a fifth year of eligibility.
Of the 20 juniors on the roster, as many as seven could leave the team before the start of the 2012 season.
After much note was made of redshirt juniors Kenny Miles and Eric Baker being recognized on senior day, it seems pretty clear now that both of those young men will be taking their last snaps as Gamecocks this January (unless of course they transfer to Jacksonville State).
I have assumed all along that the 2011 season would be Devin Taylor's last as a Gamecock, but Lorenzo Ward said on the radio earlier this week that he thinks Taylor will probably come back. (And supposedly Taylor said as much on his Facebook page, but I haven't seen it.) While I don't doubt that Ward believes Devin will return, I think Taylor is going to get very good news from the draft committee and will end up leaving.
There seems to be a surge of sentiment among fans that Gilmore will come back in recent days, but I don't really buy it.
As you all know, the Gamecocks have a surprising number of players who leave after their third year in the program despite not having a realistic shot of getting drafted. /COUGH Emmanuel Cook, Clifton Geathers, and Tori Gurley /COUGH. D.J. Swearinger and DeVonte Holloman seem like the most likely candidates, but Holloman has apparently expressed to Coach Ward that he intends to return. I'm still a little nervous about Swearinger.
Handicapping the Expected Departures
Below is a listing of each potential departure and my guess as to their chances of leaving.
Alshon Jeffery: 100%
Stephon Gilmore: 75%
Kyle Nunn: 50%
Devin Taylor: 50%
Eric Baker: 100%
Kenny Miles: 100%
DeVonte Holloman: 25%
D.J. Swearinger: 40%
So by these rough estimates (I can't emphasize those two words strongly enough), we'll have 5.4 juniors leaving the program. Since there's no such thing as 40% of a player, let's just assume our bad luck continues and round up to 6. That leaves us with 17 freed up scholarships (6 + the 11 who will definitely have exhausted their eligibility), still seven short of what we need.
I know that each recruiting class has players that both expectedly and unexpectedly fail to qualify academically and that there are creative ways for the coaches to avoid roster restrictions, but the current numbers situation suggests that we would need a combination of seven players to leave the team or fail to qualify, which seems like an extremely high number for a program that is being run by neither Will Muschamp nor Darrin Horn.
I also realize that the coaches know the rules better than anyone else and that they have a unique level of access to what is going on with the current players and recruits, but if Spurrier is already at the point of strongly suggesting to Kenny Miles that he maybe find something else to do in 2012, you have to wonder how the Ol' Ball Coach intends to manage this situation.
EDIT: I forgot to mention Bruce Ellington's potential defection to the basketball team under potential surprises. So that could be an extra scholarship. I have a hunch that Spurrier might not put up a huge fight if he wants to go back to basketball, given the numbers situation and that Connor Shaw is essentially running the wildcat on his own. Ideally, I'd love to keep Bruce on the football team if we can make that work (honestly, I think he's a better WR than PG), but receiver is an area where we have a lot of depth.
*Coach Spurrier's staff has already secured verbal commitments from 20 prospects, and the Gamecocks appear to be in very good position with Chaz Elder, Jordan Diggs, Elijah Shumate, Tyriq McCord and possibly kicker Nick St. Germain if they're unable to convince Jonathan Bullard that playing time shouldn't be a problem for a five star prospect.