When Steve Spurrier announced his retirement in the middle of last season, South Carolina’s 2016 recruiting class was thrust into potential disarray.
One top commit backed off his pledge, while others waited to see where the program would turn. Will Muschamp arrived from Auburn with a couple of noted strong recruiters on his staff, including former South Carolina high school coaching legend Bobby Bentley, and hit the ground running.
Muschamp attacked the recruiting trail with energy unmatched by Spurrier during his tenure in Columbia, and salvaged what turned out to be a solid class. Sandwiched between TCU and Nebraska, South Carolina finished with No. 24 ranked signing class in the country, according to 247Sports composites. Though it was the Gamecocks’ lowest-rated class since 2010, Muschamp avoided a disastrous 2016 signing day.
The class finished as high as it did thanks to Muschamp’s tireless approach. It also created some much-needed momentum for the upcoming cycles.
STARS OF THE CLASS
Ranked as the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in the country, four-star Brandon McIlwain is the highest-ranked prospect in South Carolina’s class (No. 170 overall). Penn State landed him for an unofficial visit, but McIlwain reaffirmed his pledge and signed financial aid agreement paperwork a few days before Christmas. After enrolling in January, McIlwain exited spring practice listed as the co-starter with Perry Orth.
JaMarcus King first committed to Muschamp when he was the defensive coordinator at Auburn, but that relationship lasted only a few months. King weighed his options at a number of other schools through the fall, including Baylor and Arkansas. South Carolina found itself in great position for his signature after Muschamp was hired. King is the top-rated junior college cornerback prospect in the country and the No. 13 player from the JUCO ranks.
After McIlwain enrolled, Muschamp hinted that South Carolina may not be done at quarterback. When Jake Bentley, Bobby’s son, committed in late March, he did so as a Class of 2017 prospect. He graduated from high school a year early and became a surprise addition to the Class of 2016. Bentley is now ranked as the No. 10 pro-style quarterback in this class. And now that he’s on campus, he’ll join McIlwain, Orth and Lorenzo Nunez in the battle for the starting job.
THREE WHO COULD PLAY RIGHT AWAY
Bryan Edwards de-committed from South Carolina after Spurrier retired. One of the top prospects in the state, Edwards decided to re-commit to the Gamecocks despite receiving some late interest from Clemson. The Tigers, once thought to be the odds-on favorite, wanted him to play safety. Since the Gamecocks wanted him to play wide receiver, Edwards decided to call Columbia home. Not only is wide receiver his preferred position, there’s ample opportunity for playing time. Before his first college practice, Edwards was already listed as a starter.
King enters a defensive backfield that’s about as thin as the returning group of wide receivers. Because of his length and skill set, King could move right into a starting job, just like Edwards. The familiarity with Muschamp certainly helps his case, too.
It’s anybody’s guess as to what’s going to happen with the starting quarterback job. The smart money would be on Orth to be the first guy trotted out against Vanderbilt. But at least one of the two freshmen will likely play. McIlwain has an advantage from being on campus since January, though Bentley’s familiarity with the system might help his case.
TWO BIGGEST SURPRISES
One of the biggest signing day surprises was Stephon Taylor, who was heavily recruited by Texas and Florida State. Taylor’s long-standing relationship with Muschamp, which dated back to his days at Florida, helped South Carolina land the four-star defensive tackle from New Orleans.
After Bentley committed to South Carolina, the chatter around the state transitioned to his immediate future. Where was he going to play his final season of high school ball? Behind the scenes, Bentley was working to graduate and reclassify as a Class of 2016 prospect. In April, about two weeks after he committed, Bentley made the announcement.
DOWN TO THE WIRE
Muschamp told reporters Tuesday night that he didn’t expect there to be any academic casualties in the class. That was avoided before signing day when lineman Javon Kinlaw and wide receiver Diondre Champaigne decided to attend Jones County Junior College in Mississippi.
There was growing concern about the recruiting effort from the previous coaching staff during its final few years in Columbia. Interim coach Shawn Elliott managed to scoop up commitments from defensive linemen Griffin Gentry and Darius Whitfield and helped keep the class from falling apart.
Muschamp’s first order of business was a stop at nearby Richland Northeast High School to see linebacker TJ Brunson, who was committed to Louisville. Flipping Brunson, regaining Edwards’ pledge and grabbing wide receiver Chavis Dawkins provided Muschamp with some in-state stability.
One of the priority positions for Muschamp was wide receiver, so he wasn’t ready to call it a day once Dawkins and Edwards were committed. Kiel Pollard, a former Arkansas commitment, hopped on board in late January. Korey Banks, a one-time North Carolina pledge, declared on signing day, along with Randrecous Davis, who was once bound for Georgia.
Cornerback Chris Smith, defensive tackle Kobe Smith, running back CJ Freeman and defensive end Keir Thomas, joined Edwards and McIlwain as mid-year enrollees. A majority of the rest of the class reported in the days leading up to Memorial Day.
Here are the contributions each player made:
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