COLUMBIA — It didn’t dominate the national rankings, it didn’t finish in the top half of the SEC, and it didn’t include a player who unveiled a logoed cap to the world on ESPN. But South Carolina’s 2015 National Signing Day class did something almost as important — it filled the Gamecocks’ most pressing need.
No question, any USC fan who watched the defense struggle to pressure opposing quarterbacks in last-minute losses to Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee will welcome the wave of new defensive linemen who will attempt to prevent that from happening again this year. An inability to mount a pass rush was South Carolina’s most glaring weakness a season ago, and it was reflected in a recruiting effort that brought seven new defensive linemen to Columbia.
In that light, it’s difficult to argue with this class. No question, some units are stronger than others, and everything is speculation — J.J. Watt was a two-star, remember? — until these players get on the field. In terms of rankings, the Gamecocks have been slotted around 19th or 20th, which depending on the outlet translates into about eighth or ninth in the SEC.
So from a national perspective, there’s not much to grab your attention. If anything, USC got more press for its de-commitments (looking at you, Arden Key) than for who actually signed. But viewed solely in the context of what the Gamecocks needed — defensive linemen and wide receivers, first and foremost — this class seems to have done the job.
Quarterbacks: Lorenzo Nunez may be the quarterback of the future at USC, but he’s not the quarterback of right now. Steve Spurrier made it pretty clear that Connor Mitch, Perry Orth and Michael Scarnecchia will have a leg up on the incoming freshman by the time he arrives. Watch out in 2016.
Running backs: An area where USC can afford to be patient, given its stable of incumbents led by Brandon Wilds and David Williams. Mon Denson is the 255-pound bruiser, A.J. Turner is the 185-pound speedster, and logic would seem to dictate that one of them might see the field this season to provide some depth, and the other might be redshirted.
Receivers: Yes, USC has an All-American in Pharoh Cooper — but when it comes to receivers, that’s about it. With Shaq Roland, Damiere Byrd, Nick Jones and even K.J. Brent gone, the Gamecocks need some help. They may have it in a trio of four-star wideouts: Jalen Christian, Christian Owens and Dexter Neal.
Linemen: All the attention showered on USC’s defensive signees eclipsed a solid group of offensive linemen. USC’s highest-rated player according to ESPN is Christian Pellage, 6-6 and 305 pounds. Third-ranked is 6-5, 330-pound Zack Bailey of Summerville. Then there’s transfer Cory Helms, a two-year starter at Wake Forest who may have to sit out this season.
Linemen: USC desperately needed help in this area, and got it. Ends Marquavius Lewis and Dante Sawyer should compete for playing time immediately, as should tackle Dexter Wideman. Shameik Blackshear is USC’s second-highest rated player according to ESPN. There’s a lot of talent here, and a lot of it’s been on campus since January.
Linebackers: Sherrod Pittman is a four-star prospect who broke his leg during his senior season in high school. Ideally, he and junior college transfer Ernest Hawkins would add some depth to a unit which performed unevenly at best last season, but does return its two best players in Skai Moore and Jonathan Walton.
Secondary: Octavis Johnson is a four-star recruit rated by Rivals as the 19th-best cornerback in the country. The unit received a boost with the late addition of Rashad Fenton, and also includes Darin Smalls of Summerville, who originally signed with USC in 2014.