A ranking to repeat
With a top-10 recruiting class in the books, USC will try to match that success on the field
By JOSEPH PERSON
South Carolina pulled off no signing day surprises Wednesday, except the biggest one of all:
In his third year at USC, Steve Spurrier — who disputes his reputation as an indifferent recruiter while at Florida — reeled in a nationally ranked recruiting class that is unmatched in school history.
The Gamecocks signed 29 players, nearly half of whom are four-star prospects on Rivals.com’s ratings scale. USC expects to announce two additional signees today when Jacksonville (Fla.) First Coast defensive backs Arkee Smith and Jamire Williams complete their paperwork.
As of Wednesday evening, USC was ranked in the top 10 by every major recruiting service, holding the No. 6 spot in the Rivals.com rankings and the seventh position in the Scout.com rankings.
The Gamecocks' previous best was a No. 8 ranking by Rivals in 2003.
"It is sort of neat to see our name in there with Texas and Southern Cal and Florida and Notre Dame," Spurrier said. "A friend of mine said, 'I didn't think I'd ever see South Carolina's name with that group when it came to recruiting.' But that's where we are."
The Gamecocks landed five players ranked among Rivals' 100 national prospects: five-star receiver Chris Culliver (No. 19) of Garner, N.C.; Cheraw defensive end Cliff Matthews (32); Tampa, Fla., quarterback Stephen Garcia (90); defensive lineman Travian Robertson (96) of Laurinburg, N.C.; and Spring Valley offensive lineman Quintin Richardson (99).
USC is five players over the maximum number of scholarship newcomers the NCAA allows. But Spurrier said a few players have not qualified academically, while others might be asked to greyshirt and enroll next January.
While USC had early commitments from players such as Richardson, Matthews and Anderson running back Brian Maddox, Spurrier said the Gamecocks' recruiting gained momentum following their 31-38 win at Clemson.
"Since that game, good things have happened to us," he said. "I hope we can look back and say that was the breakthrough game that changed Carolina football, maybe forever."
Spurrier cited other reasons for the recruiting success:
• the atmosphere at Williams-Brice Stadium atmosphere during nationally televised games — all losses — against Auburn, Tennessee and Arkansas;
• the strong USC turnout at the Liberty Bowl;
• the ability to show prospects drawings of USC's $195 million facilities plan.
While saying little about specific players, Spurrier said the receivers, defensive line and defensive backs were the strengths of the class. Culliver and four-star recruits Joseph Hills and Jason Barnes highlight a receiving group that Rivals.com rated the nation's best.
The Gamecocks missed on a pair of the top recruits in the state when Richland Northeast cornerback Gary Gray and Fort Dorchester defensive end Carlos Dunlap chose Notre Dame and Florida, respectively.
But USC also picked up a pair of defensive linemen it missed last year when Clifton Geathers and Olufemi "Ladi" Ajiboye picked the Gamecocks after going to Hargrave (Va.) Military while trying to qualify.
David Reaves, USC's first-year recruiting coordinator, even put a positive spin on the about-face by Gray, who defected to Notre Dame following a highly publicized commitment to the Gamecocks.
"He was, at that time, the top corner in the state of South Carolina. And he gave us a lot of good publicity right off the bat," Reaves said. "We were able to get our name out there quickly, and then some guys started committing to us. Now we're filled with some defensive backs that can really play."
Spurrier said the six players who enrolled last month — a group that includes Garcia, Robertson, Ajiboye and Geathers — would have a good chance of contributing this fall when the Gamecocks go for Spurrier's goal of an SEC title.
"When your recruiting class is ranked this highly, it gives you hope that you can finish that highly," said Spurrier, who brought up another conversation with a friend about recruiting.
"Gosh, if you guys are ranked in the top 10 a couple years in a row, everybody's going to think you're supposed to finish in the top 10," Spurrier recalled his friend saying. "And I said, 'Yeah, that's the idea. We want those expectations.'"