I've got to hand it to the SEC—their recruiting melodramas sure are fun to watch.
Before he selected South Carolina in a ceremony at his high school, no one knew for certain whether five-star running back Marcus Lattimore would be an Auburn Tiger or a Gamecock at the end of the day.
That's because, in spite of Twitter, Scout, Rivals, and every wannabe Adam Schefter with a friend of a friend, Lattimore played his recruitment extremely close to the vest all offseason. He even went so far as to suggest that Auburn was leading before his camp went dark a week ago.
When he re-emerged earlier today, it was to tout the merits of both schools and say that his decision was a difficult one. Insiders still predicted South Carolina, but none could say for sure.
After all, as Lattimore himself put it, Auburn had the system (a valid insight into exactly how the Tigers have been able to land all these skill position players). Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn's hurry-up, sideline-to-sideline offense is turning heads like Urban Meyer's offense used to.
But in the end, South Carolina had the need. This season, SC's rushing duties were split between three players, none of whom amassed more than 650 yards or 120 carries. Though all three players return, none enrolled at SC with anything close to the hype Lattimore brings, nor the dynamism which he promises.
In fact, in Spurrier's five (soon to be six) years as head coach, the Gamecocks have yet to feature a stellar running back. You'd have to go all the way back to the Ol' Ball Coach's days repping Fred Taylor and the Florida Gators to find a Spurrier running back of note.
Though Spurrier's struggles at developing quarterbacks have been noteworthy, it's in the running game that the OBC really hasn't broken through.
With Lattimore in the bag, South Carolina joins the SEC elite, boasting a five-star RB from Byrnes, S.C., who will enroll as possibly the most highly-touted, well-prepared, and well-rounded player in Spurrier's entire tenure.
Recruitniks praise his completeness, his durability, his speed. He has soft hands, can catch balls out of the backfield, and can pass protect, in addition to his talents in the open (and the tightly-packed) field. Some predict he will be the most accomplished back from this class come draft time.
With those soft hands and versatile cuts, Lattimore makes South Carolina an immediate contender. Heading into one of the most wide-open races for the conference and divisional title in recent memory, the talent is spreading evenly across the SEC.
Though an in-camp battle with fellow five-star RB and Auburn commit Michael Dyer would have thrilled Auburn fans, concentrating talent at one school would harm the competitive spirit the SEC holds dear.
Sustaining that parity is what guarantees the SEC remains the most elite and competitive conference, top-to-bottom, in college football. Though Auburn fans might feel stung, in the end, Lattimore's enrollment at South Carolina serves the SEC's greater good.
We enter 2010 not knowing for certain if there are any conference front-runners, with major changes going on at Florida and Alabama on offense and defense. In a power vacuum such as that one, Lattimore's immediate impact, should he become the lead back, will be felt all across the conference.
As far as rankings go, South Carolina is now another on-the-bubble top-15 team looking for a signing day break. The Gamecocks await the last big announcement, that of LB Justin Parker, whose recruitment is a battle they will probably lose to Clemson.
But no matter; the Gamecocks' recruiting season is all but complete, and it ended on the highest of high notes. The Ol' Ball Coach threw everything he had at his state's best player—and landed him.
South Carolina will pick up the 2010 football season with one of the nation's most dynamic and complete rushers on its roster, as a dark-horse contender to battle for the SEC East title, and now, with players who can back up that hype.
Time will tell whether that dynamism is all that Spurrier's been missing.