As the South Carolina Gamecocks headed to the locker room after their victory over Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl, you could see disappointment in their faces. An 11-2 season would please most programs, but not South Carolina in 2013. Connor Shaw and Jadeveon Clowney gave every Carolina fan reason to hope for a championship season. Too many pieces of the puzzle were fitting for Orlando to be the final destination, but alas, it was.
Shaw and Clowney are gone but their legacy is going to live on. Shaw is the winningest quarterback in school history and Clowney is arguably the best player to ever don a Carolina uniform. Three straight 11-2 seasons, an SEC Championship game appearance and three bowl wins have definitely put the program on the map, especially in terms of recruiting for 2015.
Steve Spurrier has plenty to hang his hat — ahem — visor on and the success of the past three years is paying dividends. The Gamecocks have seven commitments on board so far and in the last two weeks, three players decided that Williams-Brice Stadium will be their home after their high school careers are over.
Michael Bowman, a wide receiver from Havelock, N.C., lead the way on March 20. Bowman (6-foot, 190 pounds) will be a great fit in the spread and his physical style of play could translate into early playing time once he arrives on campus. Two days later, defensive back Mark Fields joined the fold. Another North Carolina product, Fields (5-foot-10, 186 pounds, 4.50 40-yard dash) looks to be a hybrid player who can play a number of positions in the secondary.
The third commitment of the group would be the first guy off the bus on any team. Paris Palmer is a 6-foot-9, 305-pound offensive tackle from Lackawanna Community College in Pennsylvania. He is reminiscent of another Lackawanna product, long-time NFL offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie. Along with incredible size, Palmer has the quick feet and long arms needed to withstand the toughest defensive ends in the SEC. The North Carolina native will have two years to make his mark in Columbia.
Prior to March, the Gamecocks had a very strong run on both sides of the ball. Dexter Neal (Stone Mountain, Ga.) and Jerad Washington (Jacksonville, Fla.) are two wide receivers who will fill two very different needs in the spread. Neal (6-foot-2, 197 pounds) will be downfield making plays with his size and great hands while Washington (5-foot-8, 165 pounds, 4.50 40-yard dash) likely will be making defenders miss in the open field on short routes.
Defense is where Carolina hit the mother-lode. Sherrod Pittman (6-foot-1, 225 pounds) is a highly-rated linebacker who can cover from sideline-to-sideline and has the flexibility and speed to stay with quick running backs. Pittman is one of those players with a nose for the ball that can have double-digit tackles weekly. The Florida native may take other visits, but he has been firm to the Gamecocks since last July.
The headliner is Shameik Blackshear, arguably the No.1 defensive end in the nation. Blackshear (6-foot-4, 245 pounds, 4.60 40-yard dash) could be “Clowney Lite” by the time he arrives on campus. He has the size, speed and determination to play immediately. Blackshear brings the fight to the line of scrimmage and his aggression coupled with a huge frame wreaks havoc on his opponents. After he packs on a few pounds in the weight room, the Bluffton, S.C. native will be terrorizing quarterbacks on Saturdays for years to come.
Spurrier has to be thrilled with this talented group of players heading his way in 2015. The Ol’ Ball Coach has a knack for getting the most out of his players on offense and has hired some of the best defensive coaches in the game to put Carolina in position to win championships. If the current commitments stick and the Gamecocks can secure a few more top targets, a top-10 class will be a certainty.
The Gamecocks have been on the cusp of true greatness for three years — maybe the class of 2015 can make the difference.