The Kentucky Wildcats now have their first football win of the season — a 62-42 victory over New Mexico State last weekend — and stay home Saturday for a possible make-or-break game against South Carolina.
The Gamecocks come to Lexington as a slight underdog, but they’ve had quite a bit of success on the recruiting trail in recent years. Their roster boasts nearly twice as many four-star recruits as Kentucky’s, and 10 of those players started for South Carolina in last week’s victory over East Carolina.
The Gamecocks managed top-20 national recruiting classes, according to Rivals.com, in 2012 (19th), 2013 (16th), 2014 (17th) and 2015 (19th) before signing the 27th-best class nationally in 2016. That last group was undoubtedly affected by the surprise resignation of coach Steve Spurrier midway through the recruiting cycle.
Will Muschamp, who had recruiting success at Florida, is the new coach of the Gamecocks, and the program has the No. 7 class nationally so far for 2017.
Here’s a breakdown of where South Carolina’s players were ranked as recruits, with some comparisons to how they stack up — recruiting-wise — to UK’s roster (all rankings from Rivals.com):
South Carolina has zero five-star players, 28 four-star players, 40 three-star players and six two-star players on its roster.
By comparison: UK has one five-star recruit (freshman offensive lineman Landon Young), 15 four-star recruits, 49 three-star recruits and 10 two-star recruits on its roster this season.
South Carolina has not updated its official depth chart since the start of the season. Based on last week’s starters, the Gamecocks have 10 four-star starters (seven on offense), nine three-star starters, one two-star starter and two starters who were not ranked by Rivals.com coming out of high school.
By comparison: UK lists 25 players as starters on the offensive and defensive units this week. Six of those players were four-star recruits in high school: Wide receiver Dorian Baker, quarterback Drew Barker (whose status is in question for this game), running back Boom Williams, tight end C.J. Conrad, and safeties Mike Edwards and Marcus McWilson. Another 15 starters were three-star recruits, two were two-star recruits, and two others were unranked in high school (left tackle Cole Mosier and fullback Will Tom Collins).
Star of the show
Senior defensive end Marquavius Lewis is the highest-rated recruit on the South Carolina roster, signing with the Gamecocks out of Hutchinson Community College (Kan.) in the class of 2015. Lewis had reported scholarship offers from Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Southern Cal and several others when he picked the Gamecocks, and he is the team’s only returning player who started every game last season. Lewis — a 6-foot-3, 270-pound native of Greenwood, S.C. — has 13 tackles and zero sacks so far this fall.
No stars, no problem
Both of South Carolina’s “zero-star” starters last week have interesting backgrounds.
Sophomore tight end Hayden Hurst was actually a four-star recruit in the high school class of 2012 … as a baseball player. Hurst signed to play baseball at Florida State, but he was selected in the 17th round of the 2012 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates and opted for a pro career. He played 16 games of rookie ball as a pitcher and first baseman before deciding to switch to football. Hurst is the team’s second-leading receiver with 12 catches for 128 yards this season.
Sophomore safety Steven Montac was lightly recruited as a high school player and ended up at Coffeyville Community College (Kan.). He would have been one of the top prospects in the junior-college ranks this season, but he elected to leave Coffeyville early and sign with South Carolina, where he has three seasons of eligibility. Montac — a late arrival this summer — missed the first two games of the season, then started and made six tackles in his debut against East Carolina last week.
True freshman QB
Four-star quarterback Brandon McIlwain — a native of Newtown, Pa. — made his first start for the Gamecocks last week, and the job appears to be his moving forward. McIlwain was ranked as the nation’s No. 13 dual-threat quarterback in the class of 2016, choosing South Carolina over reported offers from Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Ohio State, Tennessee and several other major programs. Before the season started, Rivals.com named McIlwain as the Gamecocks’ newcomer who would have the biggest impact as a true freshman. He was 16-for-28 for 195 yards, adding 34 rushing yards and two touchdowns, against East Carolina in his first start.
Almost a Wildcat
Freshman defensive lineman Kobe Smith was actually committed to the University of Kentucky for several months last year before backing off of that pledge in December and then committing to the Gamecocks a couple of weeks later. Smith — from Lawrenceville, Ga. — was ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 31 defensive tackle in the class of 2016. He enrolled at South Carolina in January so he could participate in spring practice. Smith has played in all three games this season, recording one tackle so far.