Lou Holtz has made USC a very formidable opponent in the recruiting wars each season. It seems that nearly every key player has USC somewhere on his list. That's a testimony to what Coach Holtz has done in Columbia. This season his class is as balanced as any and from a filling their needs standpoint one of the tops in the conference.
South Carolina has some reloading to do, but most of that is for depth as opposed to holes in the starting lineup. They have a few, but with the development of some young talent last year, the Gamecocks don't have a lot of glaring weaknesses.
Derek Watson has finally been released from the team for good. He was merely a distraction last year and never had the impact that was needed. Another Cecil Collins type case. A world of talent, but just couldn't keep his priorities in order. The Cocks need some depth in the backfield, but it's not a huge problem. Daccus Turman from neighboring Georgia, Kenny Irons and Regis Edgerson should provide some youth in the backfield and give some depth for next season. Barring a major catastrophe, one of these kids will redshirt. My money is on Irons to redshirt. He needs to add about 10-15 pounds of muscle. He is a scat back type, but is still a little undersized. Brandon Schweitzer (6-3, 235) appears to be the fullback of the future. He could see action this season.
With Phil Petty lost to graduation, the offense needed some depth at QB. The position should be set with Dodrial Pinkins. Bulldog fans should remember him from last year as the man who stole the 3rd quarter. Bennet Swygert and Aryhel Freeman were both signed as QBs, but expect to see Freeman somewhere else. He is too athletic to be 3rd team QB and too small to play behind center in the SEC.
USC needed to add some WRs and they signed 4 pretty good ones, but the one that really stands out is D'Von Hill. At 6-4, 202, Hill, who has great hands, is the perfect size for the prototype SEC wideout. He had a great high school career.
Holtz signed a complete offensive line. With 5 grunts coming in to add depth, the line should be stable. The biggest addition from a size standpoint would have to be Jabari Levey. At 6-7, 295, he seems destined to play tackle. Look for Chris White to challenge for playing time as a true freshman. He has the ability, but it will take a break or two to see a true freshman in the trenches for Coach Holtz.
USC almost signed a complete defense. That should pay huge dividends in season's to come. The biggest concern for this season is adding some girth to the linebacking corps. Gone is All-SEC performer Kalimba Edwards. Darel Slay and Ricardo Hurley should prosper before they are done, but USC may have to feel Edwards' spot by committee.
Holtz added some much needed depth at nearly every position. In my opinion, that's what great coaches do. He isn't top-heavy anywhere and every coach got some much needed reinforcements. While the Gamecocks must replace Petty, Watson, and Edwards, they have the makings of a team that can compete in the conference at a high level . Lou always finds a way to win a game he shouldn't, but youth seems to lose two or three they shouldn't as well. This season may be a bit painful, but with recruiting classes like this, the long term prognosis is good.
One of the things that really makes me enjoy MSU's recruiting success this season even more is the fact that Ole Miss only signed 17 players. I know that's all they were allowed, but who's fault is that? What's even more rewarding is the fact that they misused the 17 they had! All kidding aside, they did get a couple of really good players, but only signing 10 players from the state of Mississippi, it's hard for one to understand how anyone could say Ole Miss won the recruiting battle for in-state talent.
As funny as this sounds, the Rebs needed to sign a replacement for Eli. Who knows if he stays all four years. Either way the Rebs did take the step to replace him. With David Morris moving on after this coming season, the Rebs needed to sign two QB's. They inked Bryan Brown (5-10, 185) and Ethan Flatt (6-6, 197). I would think that Brown would see action elsewhere and Flatt will be their guy. He desperately needs to put on some weight, so conventional wisdom would suggest that Flatt will redshirt and grow some while Eli has at least a year left. That way, Flatt would have the redshirt season and an understudy year before taking the reigns. If the kid can bulk up, he has a future. Reports are that he has an above average arm and is very accurate. Ole Miss does not have a vertical passing game that requires a real strong arm, so Flatt should be a good fit.
The Rebs continue to rack up the O-linemen. They have used a lot of their scholarships over the last three classes to shore up the front wall. In 2000 it was Buckles, in 2001 Spencer, and in 2002 it's Jay Kirkland. I wish we could have landed this kid. I love the guys we got, but Kirkland should turn out to be better than either of the Madison Central guys the Rebs have now.
The sleeper of the class is Jamal Pittman. Jamal didn't get a lot of national attention despite the fact that he was the focus of the defense for two seasons and he chased some of Walter Payton's high school records at Columbia High School. The one thing about Jamal is, he shows up in big games and gets stronger as the game wears on. His program size of 6-2, 230, is accurate, but he could bulk up a little more. With the influx of Juco talent, Pittman may see the sidelines a lot this season, but don't be surprised if he makes a lot of noise up there this fall.
Ole Miss did attempt to address the lack of size on the defensive line. They signed 4 players of almost identical sizes of 6-5, 275. I don't think this is enough. I know they couldn't waste any scholarships, but they could have signed a Juco All-American or two to shore up a defensive front that was one of the worst in the conference all season. These 4 high school kids aren't the answer this season. Jayme Mitchell out of Jackson has the potential, but he nor his freshman counterparts are ready to step in and get punched in the mouth by the SEC.
As bad as the D-line should be, they'll need depth to give the overworked LBs a break. Obviously Cut saw this too and signed 5 linebackers in this year's class. I like Dedrick Clark from Pontotoc and Jeremy Ruffin from Meridian. Clark at 6-5 could see time at DE if he bulks up.
Syniker Taylor will have to be replaced and the new kid eventually could be Nate Banks from Liberty, MS. I don't know much about the kid, but I know that Ole Miss' secondary hasn't been the same since Ken Lucas left. And signing one DB won't improve things much, at least not this year.
If this article falls into the hands of the enemy they'll ask me what I would have done instead. I'll answer that before-hand. I would have signed 3 OL instead of 5 and signed at least one WR and a true fullback. I would have signed 3 LBs and at least 3 DBs. I would have signed 2 high school DLs and 2 Jucos. That would kill 2 birds with one stone as well as help balance the class of 2004 and 2006. When you only have 17 schollys, you can't just sign the best athlete available. You have to target specific needs and throw players at the problem and give your coaches somebody to coach.
I think Flatt, Kirkland, and Pittman will be the names to remember from this class. Outside of that, it's one of the worst in the conference. I'm not counting stars, but addressing need. UM needs a D-line now, not later. They need running backs now and later. They need to balance their classes, so they can sign a comparable number of players every year like most everybody else in the conference that's not on probation. From a Bulldog's point of view, I like their class....I like it a whole lot.
Until next week,
Steve Robertson is a free-lance correspondent who writes The Robertson Report for the premium site portion of Gene's Page. Steve's email address is email@example.com.