CLEMSON -- When Jadeveon Clowney selected a garnet baseball cap two weeks ago, it marked the third straight year the state's top-rated prospect chose to play college football at South Carolina.
It appears Clemson and the Atlantic Coast Conference are battling a perception problem in South Carolina. Clowney said a major factor in his decision was being able to play in the Southeastern Conference, and of the 16 South Carolinians rated in ESPN's top 50 rankings since 2007, only four chose an ACC school: Da'Quan Bowers, Andre Ellington, Charone Peake and Martavis Bryant, while 10 have gone to the SEC, another to Notre Dame (Gary Gray) and another to the Big Ten (Junior Hemingway).
Lost in the praise of Clemson's top-rated 2011 recruiting class is how it was formed -- through Florida imports. While Clemson can feel good about a class containing several five-star talents, the reliance on out-of-state prospects raises questions about long-term sustainability.
ESPN analyst Tom Luginbill told The Post and Courier that Clemson has the power to end any in-state perception problem.
"When you go into Florida and get Tony Steward and Mike Bellamy, you are relevant," Luginbill said of the 2011 recruiting classes. "When Clemson gets off the bus, opposing coaches are like 'Wow' … they shake their heads (impressed with Clemson's talent) ... Their front four whipped Auburn up front.
"The perception problem Clemson has is performing up to its talent."
While winning cures many issues, Sports Illustrated national football writer Stewart Mandel does see a divide between the conferences.
"I think the SEC is where kids in that region most want to play," Mandel said. "SEC teams dominate the recruiting rankings, but at the same time Florida State had the No. 1 class by a lot of rankings this year … ACC teams are still doing fairly well."
While rich in talent on a per capita basis, South Carolina has a small population and many question whether it can produce enough talent to allow both Clemson and South Carolina to win simultaneously.
After struggling to net the state's elite talent in recent years, Clemson is coming off its first losing season in 12 years, while South Carolina is coming off an SEC title game appearance fueled by home-state stars like Stephon Gilmore, Marcus Lattimore, and Alshon Jeffery.
"I don't know what the tipping point was but since the Gilmore class, all of a sudden, South Carolina is able to start locking down the top in-state kids," Mandel said. "Going back years, the very elite (South Carolina prospects) Carlos Dunlap, A.J. Green had gone out of state. But South Carolina the last few years has been able to lock down elite kids in the (state).
"(South Carolina) finally made the SEC title game last year and they did it with Lattimore and Jeffery and Gilmore; they were all in-state kids."
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