Commentary

Plenty at stake for Vols-Gamecocks

Saturday's Tennessee-South Carolina game is bigger than just wins and losses

Originally Published: October 30, 2009
By TheBigSpur.com | ESPN Team Site Affiliate

South Carolina and Tennessee have had many close battles this decade on the field and the Gamecocks and Vols battle it out annually on the recruiting trail as well. After Tennessee signed many of the Palmetto State's top players in the 1990s, the tide turned somewhat.

It's not like the Vols have been shut completely out of South Carolina. Robert Ayers signed with Tennessee out of Marlboro County in the 2004 class and played his way into a first round pick of the Denver Broncos. Jonathan Hefney signed with UT out of Rock Hill in that same class and had a nice career. Eric Young of Union broke the hearts of Gamecock and Clemson fans in the 2002 class when he picked Tennessee and had several good years as a starter. All of those were signed by former Vols coach Phillip Fulmer against former USC coach Lou Holtz.

But the players that were the level of Albert Haynesworth, Shaun Ellis, Dominique Stevenson and others that Tennessee raided the Palmetto State for in previous years. Haynesworth was part of the first recruiting cycle of the Holtz era, when the Gamecocks won an intense battle with the Vols for running back Derek Watson (Palmetto).

Since Steve Spurrier's arrival at USC, there have been very few times that the Vols topped the Gamecocks for players. Tennessee signed then-defensive tackle William Brimfield (Brimfield is a backup offensive lineman) in the Class of 2007 out of Hunter-Kinard-Tyler. In the current recruiting cycle, the Vols have defensive linemen Corey Miller and Brandon Willis of Byrnes committed. The Gamecocks did offer both, but only recruited Miller with any sort of aggressiveness.

"Top kids from South Carolina used to go to Tennessee, Georgia and so forth," Spurrier said. "Now, we are getting a lot of them, if not most of them."

Of course in last year's class, USC freshman cornerback D.J. Swearinger originally committed to Tennessee, but switched to the Gamecocks after finding out that Fulmer was resigning on television.

"I had committed up there and then I found out coach Fulmer was leaving, so I decided to come here and be a Gamecock," Swearinger said.

South Carolina also signed Under Armour All-American defensive backs Stephon Gilmore and Devonte Holloman (South Pointe), Damario Jeffery (Columbia), defensive lineman Aldrick Fordham (Timberland) and of course wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who made national news after Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin told him that he would "pump gas for the rest of his life like the other kids in South Carolina that stayed home to play football" if he signed with the Gamecocks. Kiffin later denied the report.

Vols assistant coach David Reaves, who was an assistant at Carolina from 2004-08 before joining his brother-in-law (Kiffin) in Knoxville a couple of days after the Clemson game in 2008, attempted to recruit every major prospect in South Carolina that the Gamecocks had committed, but was unable to turn any. There was talk from recruits that Reaves was telling them Spurrier would not be the head coach at USC for much longer, but Reaves has publicly denied making those statements.

This year, Reaves has Willis and Miller, along with Sumter offensive lineman Marquis Pair (who does not hold an offer from the Gamecocks) committed out of the Palmetto State. Five-star running back Marcus Lattimore (Duncan, S.C./James F. Byrnes), Under Armour All-American cornerback John Fulton (Manning, S.C./Manning), four-star defensive lineman Kelcy Quarles (Greenwood, S.C./Greenwood), Under Armour All-American offensive lineman A.J. Cann (Bamberg, S.C./Bamberg-Erhardt), three-star defensive end Dexter Morant (Manning, S.C./Manning), three-star cornerback Victor Hampton (Darlington, S.C./Darlington), four-star athlete DeAndre Hopkins (Central, S.C./Daniel) and three-star defensive back Bashaud Breeland (Allendale, S.C./Allendale-Fairfax) all received offers from Tennessee. Lattimore and Fulton have eliminated the Vols. Cann committed to South Carolina. Morant committed to Georgia. Breeland and Hopkins committed to Clemson.

Quarles, a South Carolina commit, was receptive to some advances during the summer, but is actively recruiting other prospects to Carolina and is the son of former Gamecock Buddy Quarles, so despite the rumor mill churning on him, he's solid. Hampton was supposed to officially visit Tennessee this weekend, but that visit has been cancelled as of right now.

"They want to recruit the state of South Carolina heavily and we need to make sure that we keep the best players in our state at home," Gamecocks recruiting coordinator Shane Beamer said.

After the Vols blew out Georgia, 45-19, on Oct. 10 in Knoxville, Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin pointed to the win as important because Tennessee recruits heavily in the Peach State (some of the Vols' best players over the years, like running back Jamal Lewis and current standout Eric Berry, have been from the Atlanta area). The next week, when Tennessee was off, Kiffin and recruiting coordinator/defensive line coach Ed Orgeron were on a helicopter buzzing around Atlanta to check out recruits.

Beamer feels that for Carolina, this Saturday's Tennessee game (ESPN, 7:45 p.m. ET) in Knoxville is important in terms of recruiting.

"I know the importance they put on their Georgia game and the talk on their end about how important is was for recruiting. We feel like it's important also. Not so much who wins and who loses, but that we are able to say hey, here is where South Carolina is headed," Beamer said. "We recruit against them a lot more than we do against, say Arkansas or a Vanderbilt, but it's important because it's Tennessee, but it's also important because of the battles that we go up against them in."

While USC is able to turn back Tennessee's advances in South Carolina, it's still a tough battle for the Gamecocks to beat the Vols in other key states like Georgia (particularly in Atlanta where Carolina has four coaches actively recruiting), North Carolina and Florida.

Defeating the Vols for the third time in five years would go a long way toward giving Carolina more ammo when those intense offseason battles occur. The game would give Spurrier a 3-2 record against Tennessee as the Gamecocks' head coach and would give the Vols five losses this year with road games against Ole Miss and Kentucky (though they haven't lost to the Wildcats since Ronald Reagan was president) to go. That would mean there is a possibility that Tennessee would suffer its third losing season in five years. Carolina has not had a losing season since 2003, when the Gamecocks finished 5-7 under Holtz (Spurrier has never had a losing season in Columbia) and unless USC loses out, goes to a bowl, and loses the bowl, it won't have one this year either.

Such comparisons can convince prospects which program is heading in the right direction.


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