Jan. 27, 2017
By Brad Muller | More Features
Doubling the win total from the previous season and getting to a bowl game doesn't automatically make South Carolina a front-runner for the SEC East in 2017. However, with Head Coach Will Muschamp's reputation as a relentless recruiter, and the acumen his staff showed in developing young talent last year, college football analysts have taken notice, and so have recruits. Even with the success of last year's first recruiting class, experts agree that the expectation should be for successive classes to be even better for the Gamecocks.
"One of the reflections upon this past fall is the strength of the class right now for 2017," said Tom Luginbill, National Recruiting Director at ESPN. "What you hope is that next season turns into more wins, and of course, creates an even more positive perception of the program for the 2018 class. Ultimately it snowballs on you from there."
"The first year, you don't even have a full calendar year to put a recruiting class together," said Tony Barnhart, college football analyst for the SEC Network and Gridiron Now. "One of the things you will find with Coach Muschamp is that he puts a lot of detail into recruiting. I would certainly expect that the February recruiting class will be better than the one before, and the next one will be better than that one."
Last year South Carolina's recruiting class was ranked 27th by Rivals.com. The 2017 class is currently ranked 12th nationally.
"You have to show improvement in order to get the higher level kids," added Todd Ellis, South Carolina's radio play-by-play announcer. "With doubling the wins last year, I think some kids will see that and say `Coach Muschamp was right.' People want to play with stars, and I think seeing guys like Jake Bentley was one of the reasons they got commitments from some of the best receivers in the southeast. You need all of those things, so that's why you have to build it over a period of time. You don't get a Marcus Lattimore or Jadeveon Clowney until you've proven that you're on the cusp of something better. That's why it takes time, and South Carolina made a significant jump last year."
When I saw the staff that Will had put together, my immediate thought was that from top to bottom, this group of coaches will bring in more talent to Columbia, South Carolina, than has ever been there.
While winning a few more games turns heads, it's still up to the coaches to sell prospects on the University of South Carolina, which plays into what is perceived as one of the strengths of the staff.
"This staff is going to recruit," Barnhart said. "I've known a lot of guys on this staff for a long time, and Coach Muschamp is very clear that they are going to recruit hard. I think it's a credit to them that they could go out and bring in first-year players that can have an impact on the program.
"I think they've addressed their needs from the word `go,'" Luginbill said. "They need offensive linemen, defensive linemen and corners. So much of Will Muschamp's defensive philosophy and his success on that side of the ball has been predicated on having an outstanding front four and corners that can lock up on the perimeter.
"There also needs to be an increased movement offensively to get more explosive playmakers on the perimeter. I think that has been addressed as well."
While the Gamecocks are not where they want to be yet as a program, the 2016 class proved it can make an impact, and with 16 starters returning, expectations will rise in 2017.
"When I saw the staff that Will had put together, my immediate thought was that from top to bottom, this group of coaches will bring in more talent to Columbia, South Carolina, than has ever been there," said SEC Network/ESPN college football analyst and former Auburn offensive lineman Cole Cubelic. "That doesn't mean they are going to bring in Clowneys, Lattimores, Jefferys and guys like that right away, but you will absolutely see a talent upgrade. These guys are elite recruiters.
"This class will be a little more position specific, but I still believe that this staff is out hunting down the most talented athletes they can find, regardless of position. I wouldn't be surprised to see double digit guys from this class contribute in some form or fashion."
"Coach Muschamp is relentless in a lot of different ways," Ellis said. "One of them is building relationships and recruiting. His emphasis is on player evaluation, and he has a strict system in how he looks at guys before they even make an offer (scholarship)."
After playing in the SEC Championship in 2010 and enjoying three consecutive 11-win seasons after that under Steve Spurrier, experts agree that there is no reason that South Carolina cannot compete at the highest level.
"Nobody grinds as hard as Will Muschamp," said ESPN.com senior writer Chris Low. "South Carolina was a top ten team for several years under Coach Spurrier, so he showed what was possible. He got the best players in the state with Clowney, Gilmore, Lattimore and Jeffery. When you can get the marquee kids and then supplement on top of them from Georgia and Florida, that's what it takes."
"It's absolutely possible," Barnhart said. "There's not a huge mystery here. It's about signing really good players and coaching them hard. I think South Carolina can do that. You look at the facilities that they are building there at South Carolina. When Coach Spurrier got there, I think it's fair to say that South Carolina was behind in the facilities race. They've done a tremendous job with that, and I think that's very important."
"Why not have high expectations," Cubelic said. "I absolutely believe that with some upgrades athletically on defense and with T-Rob (Defensive Coordinator Travaris Robinson) running the show there, they could definitely be in the mix coming down to those last three games of the season. The SEC East is as wide open as it has ever been going into 2017."
If you missed part one of this feature, click here.
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