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December 8, 2010

BLOG: Meyer's Decision Strengthens USC's Grip

So, how does Urban Meyer's stunning resignation Wednesday as Florida's head coach affect the SEC Eastern Division?

In the short term, I don't think it will have much of an impact. Like most other media junkies who study this stuff on a daily basis, I have pegged South Carolina as the early favorite to capture the SEC East again in 2011.

And that was with or without Meyer in Gainesville.

Without question, Florida is one of the most pressure-packed jobs anywhere. But considering the seemingly limitless resources available to the football coach - as well as the large dollar amounts in those enormous paychecks - it should be.

But, bottom line, USC and possibly Georgia will be better football teams than the Gators in 2011, especially on offense. Frankly, Florida won't have anything close to the Stephen Garcia-Marcus Lattimore-Alshon Jeffery triumvirate for the Gamecocks next season.

Even if Dan Mullen takes the job, as some people expect, there will be a period of transition in 2011. Remember, nearly the entire UF roster team will be comprised of Meyer's recruits, many of whom signed with Florida because of the coach.

By the way, I'll take this moment to say there's absolutely, positively no way Steve Spurrier is going back to Gainesville. Florida AD Jeremy Foley likes to hire young, aggressive coaches and someone like Mullen or Boise State's Chris Peterson fit the bill perfectly.

Why would Spurrier leave a USC program with Lattimore and Jeffery to go to a program with a shattered program? He won't.

Whatever Meyer's reasons for resigning (I wonder about the impact of the crushing losses to USC and Florida State), there's no question the days of the Gators totally dominating recruiting in the Sunshine State are over. Jimbo Fisher has the Florida State program back on the right path from a recruiting perspective after the damage caused by the final years of the Bobby Bowden regime.

Looking at the Rivals.com rankings, two of the top four prospects in the State of Florida have already committed to Florida State. The top prospect has pledged to Alabama.

In short, no longer are most of the top players finding their way to Gainesville, and that should help the Gamecocks in the near future. The talent gap between USC and UF is closing rapidly.

As for next season, the South Carolina football team is a lot like your second favorite meal. Add a little more seasoning and it could move to the top.

The post-season honors are rolling in, and they confirm what some of us have been saying for a while - South Carolina will have one heckuva team in 2011.

Specifically, the Gamecocks possess some of the most dynamic young talent in the country.

Just look closely at some of the All-SEC teams that have been released in the last couple of days. The Coaches All-SEC team had six Gamecocks on the first and second teams. Four will be back next season - RB Marcus Lattimore, WR Alshon Jeffery, CB Stephon Gilmore and DE Devin Taylor.

Three of those four players earned First Team All-SEC honors from the Associated Press (Lattimore, Jeffery and Taylor).

Lattimore was named SEC Freshman of the Year by the Associated Press and, not surprisingly, the National Freshman of the Year by CBSSports.com.

Frankly, how many other teams in the country will be able to match the production of USC's offensive trio of quarterback Stephen Garcia, Lattimore and Jeffery? Very few, if any.

That's why I've said USC should start next season in the Top 10 of most national polls, meaning the trip to the top won't be nearly as long in 2011.

Think about it - USC will have a fifth year senior QB, a sophomore running back who should start the year on the shirt list of Heisman Trophy contenders and a wide receiver who will be the leading contender for the Biletnikoff Award.

Sure, USC will need to replace multiple starters on the offensive line (Jarriel King, Garrett Chisolm, Hutch Eckerson), though A.J. Cann, Ronald Patrick, Tramell Williams, Cody Gison and Corey Robinson should all be ready to contribute after playing sparingly or not all in 2010. In addition, Terrence Campbell should return to full-time duty after being granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA.

Thus, I have few concerns about the offensive line, possibly the most improved unit on the entire team since 2008. Potentially, USC could have as many as three seniors (Kyle Nunn, Rokevious Watkins and Terrence Campbell) starting on the O-Line in 2011 along with, of course, T.J. Johnson.

Soon after USC's shellacking at the hands of Auburn in the SEC Championship was over, I was reminded of the fact the 1995 Florida team coached by Steve Spurrier was destroyed, 62-24, by Nebraska in the national championship game.

What happened the following year? Florida won the national title behind senior QB Danny Wuerffel and a host of other talented players.

Of course, I'm not going to sit here and predict USC will win the national championship in 2011. There are too many variables involved, too much good fortune needed and too many computer geeks running college football to make that call.

Oh yeah, there's also the land mine known as the SEC schedule in the way, as well. Road trips to Athens, Starkville, Knoxville and Fayetteville are on tap for next season.

But I will make this prediction: 2011 will be the greatest season in USC history.

Unfortunately, Urban Meyer won't be around to see it.

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