Monday was fraught with setbacks for South Carolina's 2014 recruiting class. The news that four-star running back Derrell Scott had passed over South Carolina in favor of Tennessee was the biggest long-term blow (if not the most immediately felt), and it was followed closely by two additional bits of bad news. Five-star offensive tackle Damian Prince of District Heights (Md.) Bishop McNamara eliminated the Gamecocks from consideration and word began to get out that four-star JUCO defensive end commitment Darrius Caldwell appears to be facing an uphill battle to meet SEC requirements for transferring players.
Prince's decision to drop Carolina wasn't a big surprise. The 6'5, 295 lineman had been cooling on the Gamecocks in the wake of his Jan. 17 official visit to Columbia while Maryland and Florida held steady at the top. Before emerging late as a factor with Prince, USC was on track to stand pat with four-star guard Donell Stanley and three-star guard Malik Young. Unless a prospect comes out of nowhere to show interest in the Gamecocks, they are likely done at offensive line for 2014.
While South Carolina should be set at offensive tackle in 2014, the Gamecocks could find themselves in a sticky situation in 2015 should right tackle Brandon Shell elect to forgo his final season of collegiate eligibility. Though USC is well-stocked with offensive line talent, the vast majority of it seems best suited for the interior. Though Na'Ty Rodgers, Mason Zandi, and Mike Matulis could all potentially play tackle, each of them have some degree of uncertainty about which position they will ultimately be best-suited for.
While Prince's cooling on the Gamecocks could be read in the tea leaves for a while, the situation with Darrius Caldwell came as much more of a shock. After committing to South Carolina last week, Caldwell's transfer application was flagged by the SEC when it was discovered that he was allowed to stay on scholarship with Illinois despite being ruled a non-qualifier by the NCAA. Because he was a non-qualifier out of high school, SEC rules required that Caldwell spend at least three semesters at Pearl River Community College, his current school, before transferring in.
Caldwell's absence from the 2014 signing class would be a significant blow. With Jadeveon Clowney and Chaz Sutton bound for the NFL, the Gamecocks need to replace both of their starting defensive ends. While South Carolina has a decent amount of talent already on hand, none of its returning players seem like obvious candidates to plug right in and become difference-makers at the SEC level. Darius English has shown flashes and has been compared favorably to former Gamecock Devin Taylor, but his continued inability to sustain muscle mass is keeping him from being anything more than a nice tool to have on third-and-long. (Ugh. It just now hit me that South Carolina's starting defensive ends could have been Darius and Darrius.)
Four-star high school prospect Dante Sawyer and three-star JUCO transfer Jhaustin Thomas both have a chance to contribute as first-year players should the prove capable of overcoming academic hurdles of their own. The rest of the group is comprises a trio of redshirt freshman -- one of which, Devin Washington, is fresh off of a season-long battle with post-concussion syndrome -- and cast-offs from linebacker corps of years gone by.
South Carolina can still finish strong with expected additions of four-star prospects Wesley Green, Chris Lammons, and Dexter Wideman, the combination of which will put them in good shape to finish with a top 15 class nationally. But Gamecock fans may come to lament the failed passes at Prince and Caldwell in the near future.