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January 31, 2012

Hood: 5 reasons to like USC's 2012 class



Wednesday is National Signing Day. There is plenty to like about South Carolina's 2012 class, the eighth of Steve Spurrier's tenure as USC coach. Five reasons to be pleased with the new class:

1. Lack of Drama: A year ago, most USC fans were on pins and needles waiting for Jadeveon Clowney, the nation's No. 1 prospect, to announce his decision. First, he was going to announce on National Signing Day, then he wasn't. After weeks of speculation and rumors about where he was headed, Clowney finally made his long-awaited announcement in his high school auditorium on Feb. 14 by putting on the Gamecock hat. In addition, heralded defensive tackle Phillip Dukes waited until the day before National Signing Day to announce he would sign with USC.

This year? No such drama. Monday's news that DB/ATH Chris Moody had switched his commitment from Vanderbilt to USC completes the Gamecocks' signing class of 25 (remember, the SEC presidents voted last spring to limit signing classes to 25, effectively banning oversigning). In fact, most of USC's class (20 of the 25) have been committed to USC since October, leaving five prospects to pledge to the Gamecocks in January - K Nick St. Germain (1/4), DB Chaz Elder (1/5), DB/Spur Jordan Diggs (1/7), RB Mike Davis (1/13) and Moody. Unless something totally unforeseen happens over the next 24 to 36 hours, we know who the 25 signees will be on NSD.

2. Impressive Haul in Georgia: The concept of USC going into Georgia and grabbing quality football players is not new. In fact, the leading rusher (George Rogers) and leading receiver (Kenny McKinley) in school history both grew up in the Peach State. But, thanks to the aggressive approach taken by Lorenzo Ward, the last two years have seen USC take their recruiting in Georgia to a higher level. Last year, they signed 10 prospects from Georgia, including tight end Rory Anderson, promising linebacker Cedrick Cooper and talented defensive back Kadetrix Marcus.

This year, USC has 12 commitments from Georgia prospects, nearly half the signing class. However, what's particularly impressive is the quality of the players the Gamecocks are set to sign from Georgia in 2012 - four of the top 25 players in the Peach State have pledged to become Gamecocks, six of the top 53. Overall, 11 of the 12 Georgia prospects about to become Gamecocks are ranked in the top 75 of that state.

Five years ago, the thought USC could ink more top 75 prospects from Georgia than the home state Bulldogs was inconceivable. But it could become reality on Wednesday. Right now, UGA has eight commitments from the Top 75 with a few still uncommitted. Here is where the USC commitments from Georgia rank in that state according to Rivals.com:

Mike Davis (RB) - No. 4
Joe Harris (OL) - No. 20
Chaz Elder (DB) - No. 23
Darius English (DE) - No. 25
Rico McWilliams (DB) - No. 35
Kyle Fleetwood (DB) - No. 48
Carlos Hood (DT) - No. 53
T.J. Holloman (LB) - No. 64
Chris Moody (DB) - No. 67
T.J. Gurley (DB) - No. 72
Jhaustin Thomas (DE) - No. 75
Nick St. Germain (K) - NR

3. Quality Depth: The last two signing classes for USC have each featured one megastar (Marcus Lattimore in 2010; Jadeveon Clowney in 2011) surrounded by an interesting blend of three and four-star prospects. Yet, the 2012 class (No. 15 currently by Rivals.com) is ranked higher nationally than the 2010 (#24) and 2011 (#18) classes for one important reason: almost one-third of the class (8) consists of four-star prospects. Two years ago, six of the 23 signees were four or five star caliber players, a percentage of 26.1 percent. A year ago, the percentage fell to 21.9 percent (7 of 32 signees). However, the four-star percentage rose to 32 percent in 2012 (8 of 25), giving this class a bigger boost up the rankings.

The eight four-star prospects is the most since 2009 when USC signed 14 to letters of intent. However, Gamecocks fans probably hope the four-star signees in the 2012 class have more staying power. Out of the 14 four-star prospects signed in 2009, nine won't be with the Gamecocks in 2012. The group includes Stephon Gilmore and Alshon Jeffery, both of whom enjoyed highly successful careers as Gamecocks before moving on to the NFL. But do you remember these four-star recruits from 2009 - RB Ben Axon, DE Ronald Byrd, DL Duane Chisolm, RB Jarvis Giles and DE Leon Mackey? Most of them never made it to campus, or if they did their stay in Columbia was brief. Here are the eight four-star prospects in the 2012 class:

Jerrell Adams (TE)
Mike Davis (RB)
Jordan Diggs (DB/Spur)
Chaz Elder (DB)
Jody Fuller (WR)
Joe Harris (OL)
Shaq Roland (WR)
Brock Stadnik (OL)

4. The No. 1 Player in the Palmetto State (Again): For the third straight year, USC will sign the No. 1 prospect in the Palmetto State. This year, it's Roland, a great all-around athlete from Lexington, S.C., who is expected to play wide receiver for the Gamecocks. Most recruiting analysts agree Roland is head and shoulders above the other highly regarded prospects from South Carolina, and the national Rivals.com rankings prove it. Roland is rated the No. 66 prospect nationally. Only one other Palmetto State recruit appears in the Rivals 250 - WR Quinshad Davis. The former Gaffney star flirted with USC for a short time a few weeks ago, but will likely sign with Wake Forest or Tennessee.

Moreover, the total of five four-star prospects from South Carolina is the lowest in years. Roland will be the fourth straight Mr. Football winner to sign with the Gamecocks. He should bring instant energy to a wide receiver corps in need of an infusion of new blood following the departure of Alshon Jeffery to the NFL.

5. High National and SEC Ranking: Twice in Spurrier's tenure has USC finished in the Top 15 recruiting - 2009 (No. 12) and 2007 (No. 6). The latter is the highest finish for USC since the rankings started in 2002. This year should mark the third Top 15 finish for the Gamecocks. But, like most coaches, Spurrier isn't caught up with the recruiting rankings. Instead, he is looking to fill areas of need with good players and then bring them onto campus for development and seasoning.

Right now, USC is No. 15 nationally. More importantly, the Gamecocks are sixth in the SEC behind Alabama (No. 1), Florida (4), Texas A&M (9), LSU (12) and Tennessee (13), so USC is doing a good job of keeping up with the competition. Right now, they're rated higher than SEC East rival Georgia (20) or 2010 national champion Auburn (21). Spurrier has always maintained that if USC could finish in the Top 25 nationally and the top half of the SEC on an annual basis, he would have the pieces to build a competitive program. Right now, here is where the SEC stands in the Rivals.com Top 50:

Alabama - No. 1
Florida - 4
Texas A&M - 9
LSU - 12
Tennessee - 13
USC - 15
Georgia - 20
Auburn - 21
Vanderbilt - 23
Arkansas - 30
Miss. State - 35
Ole Miss - 45

Only two of 14 SEC schools (Kentucky and Missouri) fail to appear in the Top 50 of the Rivals.com team recruiting rankings. However, the Tigers could leap into the rankings if they are able to convince the nation's No. 1 prospect - WR Dorial Green-Beckham from Springfield, MO - to stay home and sign with Missouri.

SIGNING DAY is almost here, and GamecockCentral.com will have loads of coverage leading up to and on the big day. Don't miss a thing with our 7-day FREE TRIAL.

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D. McCallum


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