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Signing Day is over the Gamecocks. We're ranked 25th at Rivals.com, 34th at Scout.com, and 18th at ESPN. We landed our first five-star recruit since 2007. We filled some key needs on the offensive and defensive lines. We lost out on some guys that we thought we had a good shot at, particularly Eric Mack, John Fulton, Justin Parker, and Sean Tapley. At the end of the day, Steve Spurrier and Shane Beamer seem pleased with their work.
So, how did we do?
As usual, it's difficult to rate a recruiting class until you've seen the guys on the field. Plenty of three-star talent--which we picked up quite a bit of this year--turns out to be better than four-star talent. Eric Norwood and Sidney Rice are witnesses to this fact. Moreover, the services are notoriously unreliable, often jacking up the rankings of unsigned players to build hype and tending to award higher rankings to the players that are signed with name-brand schools.
At the same time, outside a few programs that seem to be perennially good despite not recruiting many blue-chippers, there's a pretty strong correlation between having great recruiting classes every year and competing for titles. The teams that have won SEC titles this decade are the Alabama Crimson Tide, the Auburn Tigers, the Florida Gators, the Georgia Bulldogs, and the LSU Tigers. The latter three--each of which has multiple titles--are in the top 10 in recruiting every year, and the former two had been when they won their titles. The Arkansas Razorbacks are the only team that has played in the title game lately who don't always recruit extremely well, and even they had a slate of mega-talents when they went. All this suggests that you have to do well very consistently on signing day to get to the highest peaks of the college football world.
With that in mind, I'm a little ambivalent about this class. I like the players we got and share Spurrier and Beamer's optimism. However, if our goal is to win SEC titles, we didn't reel in the kind of class that you need to make it happen. Sure, we got plenty of great players, many of whom could have played anywhere they wanted to. We didn't get as many of them, though, as the Gators, Tigers (both LSU and Auburn), Tide, Dawgs, and Vols did. That's not good. It doesn't matter if we continued to widen the gap between outselves and Vandy and UK. We're past the point of needing to establish our superiority to those programs and at the point of needing to place ourselves more consistently with the heavyweights. I'm not sure we did that this time around.
If you look at our recruiting rankings over the years, an obvious pattern begins to reveal itself. Let's go back to 2007. According to Rivals.com, we raked in the sixth best class in the country that year. Then, in 2008, we fell off a bit, finishing 22nd. In 2009, we turned in a very nice class, finishing 12th. Then, this year we finish 25th. See what's happening? We're not stacking monster classes, but rather getting them every other year. That's not the case for the conference's powers, and we shouldn't be too surprised when we see the results on the field, particularly late in the season when depth becomes an issue.
What are we to do? Well, Spurrier seemed to have the idea in his press conference when he pointed out that we need to finish better. To get the big recruits, you have to prove that when they come here, they're going to be winners. Now, I think it's a little unreasonable at this point to expect our team to dominate the conference. We need to get the right players in here to do that. However, the Florida and Alabama games haven't been the only losses over the last few years. We've had inexcusable perfromances against teams like Vandy, Arkansas, UConn, and, yes, Clemson that we should have won. Win more of those, and we finish ranked the last three years. That would perhaps give us the argument we need to bring in the players in that we need to get to the very top.
If it sounds like I'm a little unhappy with this class, I should say that I'm not. We got some great players, filled some needs, and should be in position to compete over the next few years. We're not, though, quite where we want to be yet.