COLUMBIA -- Steve Spurrier was asked before and after South Carolina's loss to Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl about the state of the program.
Following a nine-win season and the school's first SEC title game appearance, you would think he could come to a conclusion. An answer wasn't immediately available, however.
"I'll let you know after February the second," the Gamecocks head coach said just before the new year began. "It'll either be a super signing class, or a so-so (one). There's a lot of guys out there that we think can help us next year."
Feb. 2 is here. National Signing Day is here. Sort of.
The Gamecocks will officially add 27 players today through letters of intent. But a spot will be held open.
The nation's No. 1 recruit, Rock Hill's Jadeveon Clowney, has said he will wait until Feb. 14, his birthday, before signing.
Clowney, a 6-7 defensive end from South Pointe, has been considered a South Carolina lean for months. He's made repeated visits to USC, including an unofficial stop two weekends ago. But nothing is guaranteed until he makes his decision official. Alabama and Clemson remain hopeful that Clowney will choose them.
The Gamecocks' class has already received a couple of boosts this week with commitments by Scott's Branch tight end Jerell Adams and Manning defensive tackle Phillip Dukes. Like Clowney, both had been leaning toward USC for some time. But Clemson, among other schools, had recently narrowed the gap.
The Gamecocks are not expecting any Signing Day surprises and, beyond Clowney, they'll only be monitoring one decision. Atlanta-area linebacker prospect Cedrick Cooper will decide between Arkansas and South Carolina in the early afternoon hours.
Spurrier is expected to talk about the class, with the exception of Clowney, at 4 p.m.
USC recruiting coordinator Shane Beamer said last week that the class should fill some fundamental needs up front, on both the offensive and defensive lines. He said the team regularly threw in scout-teamers as backups last season.
Fifteen of the current 32 commits, excluding Clowney, are linemen and tight ends.
Spurrier's message to recruits his first five years at USC was similar.
"Come do things for the first time," Spurrier would tell prospects, "things that haven't been done at South Carolina."
The message finally changed in the past few months.
"We used to tell them we had beaten Florida, Georgia and Tennessee, but not in the same year," USC recruiting coordinator Shane Beamer said. "We said the year we do that, we'll get to Atlanta."
South Carolina made good on that in 2010, beating the Gators, Bulldogs and Volunteers -- Clemson and Alabama, too -- in the same season to reach the SEC Championship Game for the first time.
"All that stuff we had been talking to them about was validated," Beamer said. "We did that. We accomplished it. Now it's a matter of taking the next step.
"We've been to Atlanta; now our deal is to win there."
Is this class capable of nudging the Gamecocks around the corner they've started to turn?
"I think so," Beamer said last week, "if we can finish the way we want to finish."
Clowney is clearly key to that close. But Beamer was also referencing Adams and Dukes, who both required a lot of attention late last week from Beamer and Spurrier.
Regardless of Clowney's decision, and including Adams and Dukes, 2011 will mark another year in which USC's top signees are from South Carolina. Goose Creek lineman Brandon Shell also fits into that group. He could compete for a starting job this fall.
Decisions made in the past two years by in-state stars Stephon Gilmore, DeVonte Holloman, Alshon Jeffery and Marcus Lattimore have paved the way for this year's prospects to stay home. Perhaps Clowney will follow suit, as well.
"That showed guys, and especially guys in this state, 'Look, the best players in South Carolina are staying right here and they're going to USC,' " Beamer said. "There's something to be said for that. Look what happened. When the best players stayed at home, we went and played in the championship game in Atlanta.
"This class wants to be a part of that. That's kind of what we started. This year's class would just solidify and put another layer on top of what we've been doing here since coach Spurrier's been here. It shows how important the state is to us and what we're trying to do."