———COLUMBIA, S.C. — After three consecutive seasons of 11-2 at South Carolina, including a final national ranking of No. 4 in 2013, it's easy to believe the Gamecocks are within sniffing distance of competing for a national championship.
Maybe, but the correlation between recruiting rankings and recent national champions would suggest there's a considerable distance between smelling it and actually tasting it.
|*USC based on three-year average.|
Nine of the last 10 national champions have one critical ingredient in common—the four recruiting classes prior to the national championship year averaged no lower than a national ranking of 7.25.
The lone exception was Auburn in 2010, whose classes ranked sixth, 22nd, 25th and ninth averaged 15.5.
It's worth noting that the incoming class in the championship year of 2010 at Auburn included Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton and tailback Mike Dyer, who was ranked no worse than the second-best tailback prospect in the nation by most recruiting services.
Dyer played to his rating by rushing for more than 1,000 yards that season and earning MVP honors in the Tigers' BCS championship game victory over Oregon.
Meanwhile, South Carolina has had only one top 10 recruiting class in nine years (seventh in 2007) under coach Steve Spurrier.
South Carolina's last four classes have been ranked 20th, 18th, 16th and 30th for an average of 21st.
The year's class is currently ranked No. 23, but the Gamecocks are in hot pursuit of a few recruits who could significantly improve that ranking.
Even so, it's clear the Gamecocks have out kicked their coverage when it comes to the correlation between recruiting rankings and national rankings.
There are reasons for it.
Perhaps the biggest reason is that South Carolina has done an excellent job of filling need areas in recruiting, and this year's class is a prime example.
The Gamecocks need help at cornerback and on the defensive line. South Carolina looks like it will finish with four cornerback signees, with three of them rated as 4-star players.
South Carolina will sign four to five defensive linemen with three to four of them earning 4-star ratings.
Ratings aside, perhaps the Gamecock coaching staff has done a better job of assessing talent than the recruiting rankings suggest and a better job coaching 'em up once they arrive on campus.
The coaching intangible can't be overemphasized, and Spurrier's got it.
As Bum Phillips supposedly once said of Bear Bryant: "He can beat your'n with his'n and beat his'n with your'n."
So, the question remains. Does South Carolina's recent success mean the Gamecocks are close to competing for a national championship, or do the recruiting numbers dictate it's all an illusion?
Just something to contemplate between now and Spurrier's remaining seasons to come when the question will ultimately answer itself.
Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.