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Will Muschamp is digging out of the recruiting hole Steve Spurrier left him at South Carolina

Muschamp has made progress in cleaning up a mess.

NCAA Football: Massachusetts at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

South Carolina isn’t an easy place to recruit. The transcendent in-state talents of Jadeveon Clowney and Marcus Lattimore aren’t walking through that door most years, and the Gamecocks have to compete with national champion Clemson for the top local talent.

Transitional recruiting classes are already a unique beast that are tough enough to navigate in their own right. With all that being considered, Will Muschamp’s first class wasn’t all that bad in 2016. It finished ranked No. 25 in the 247Sports Composite, and that’s about par for the course for South Carolina recruiting classes. But keeping up with the Joneses is going to get tougher for Muschamp and the Gamecocks.

Clemson is elite and at the height of its powers, so have fun catching the Tigers in a race in which South Carolina is already running from behind.

The Tigers did just win a national title. It’s generally believed, however, that teams get more of a recruiting bump from the class that signs 13 months after winning, than they do with the class signing a month after a team takes home the trophy. This is because coaches only have a month to sell the national title to the current class, but a full year to do it to the next class.

Georgia is recruiting at a very high level as well, and we’ll get to that later. So a relatively tough recruiting job got immediately harder for Muschamp this cycle and beyond, and there’s also the factor of the elephant in the locker room.

That elephant is that Steve Spurrier’s exit at midseason in 2015 left the roster more or less in shambles, with a wide talent gap between the Gamecocks and the contenders in the SEC.

Attrition was stark and swift. South Carolina still boasts plenty of former four-star recruits but almost no proven entities. The Gamecocks' only proven runner is a quarterback who might play receiver. The leading returning receiver had 12 catches in 2015. An underachieving line has to replace three two-year starters. And a defense that was only decent at big-play prevention must replace its top two safeties and four of its top six tacklers on the line.

Muschamp got a roster with precious little NFL talent.

With that in consideration, the Gamecocks were able to get to 6-6 in the regular season and earn a bowl bid in Muschamp’s first year. Now, this isn’t Florida, and Muschamp’s expectations may not be much higher than that, if we’re being realistic. That goes double if the SEC East powers return to prominence. Three consecutive 11-win seasons in Columbia probably aren’t going to happen again.

Speaking of Florida, this isn’t the first time Muschamp’s been involved in roster status discussions.

It didn’t end well at Florida, but a theme of Muschamp’s early tenure at UF was reminding everyone that he walked into a roster situation in Gainesville that was pretty solid. Muschamp credited Urban Meyer with leaving him a stacked deck.

“At the end of the day, they’re Florida’s players. They’re not my players, either. I really think Urban and them did a great job recruiting. We have really talented players here.”

Muschamp would build on that with two top-five recruiting classes, so on its face it would appear that Muschamp left the roster stacked when he was fired from Florida. At least that’s what he wanted you to think in his farewell press conference.

"They've got a deep and talented roster, so don't let that new guy tell you he ain't got any players. I can tell you that right now," Muschamp said. "There are some good football players in that locker room."

When Jim McElwain took over, however, he sung a different tune about the roster.

“You’ve got to play the hand you’re dealt,” McElwain said on the team’s lack of depth. “And right now, quite honestly, the hand we’re dealt is really insufficient at some of the areas.”

One of those positions of frustration for the Gators is still QB, a spot Muschamp never got right. But at least Muschamp appears to have that in place in Columbia.

Muschamp has the offensive coordinator, Kurt Roper, he claims he wanted at the start while he was at Florida. It also seems like Muschamp has his quarterback, too, in Jake Bentley.

So if you’ve got the QB, now it’s time to build the roster around him.

With all the issues working against South Carolina, the Gamecocks did recruit just a smidgen better than average, relative to the rest of the conference. Muschamp pieced this recruiting class together with an interesting mix of JUCO guys like CBs Kaleb Chalmers and Keisean Nixon, as well as DE Javon Kinlaw, who are each in the top 10 at their respective positions.

At the high school level, Jamyest Williams is undoubtedly the crown jewel of this class, as the No. 8 cornerback in the nation:

This is a big deal. South Carolina beat out most of the major schools in the Southeast to land Williams’ pledge. He is widely considered one of the best cornerbacks in the country, and I’ve said before that if he wasn’t 5’9, 173, but rather 6’1, 180, he might be the No. 1 defender nationally. Williams has good speed to pair with great instincts and aggressiveness. He is not afraid to be physical and make a tackle or attempt to jam bigger receivers.

OrTre Smith ranks as the No. 19 WR in the country, and the nation’s No. 9 ATH, Shi Smith, will likely join him as a wideout. Recruiting is as much about appearances as anything else, and Muschamp looks good heading into Year 2:

[T]he optics of signing a top-20 class is a good look for Muschamp’s first full cycle. It’s sending a message to other recruits that Muschamp can recruit with the other big programs in the country and that top level guys like Jamyest Williams want to spend their better years in Columbia.

Now, it’s on to 2018.

We’ll get to see if Muschamp can build on this in one of the most interesting recruiting landscapes in the country, the SEC East.

The Gamecocks have some good recruiters on staff, but where do you slot them in the division’s recruiting ecosystem? If Georgia keeps up this pace (which is absolutely lapping the division, by the way) and Florida recruits to its elite potential, there’s no hope to catch either of those teams consistently in recruiting.

Tennessee is an interesting benchmark for South Carolina to shoot for on the division’s second recruiting tier. The Vols shocked us all with two top-10 recruiting classes in Butch Jones’ first two full cycles. But now they’ve come back down to earth with the No. 14 class in 2016 and No. 17 class in 2017. South Carolina ranked No. 21 in 2016 and No. 25 in 2017. If the Vols are sliding, the Gamecocks could catch them.

The Gamecocks actually signed more four-stars in this recruiting cycle than Tennessee did, but the Vols had three more commitments and landed five-star tackle Trey Smith, boosting their class just a touch above South Carolina’s No. 21 class. The Gamecocks had an player star rating of 87.02, while the Vols edged them out at 87.14, according to the 247Sports Composite. That’s a negligible difference.

The schools have similar geographic challenges, given the fact that they don’t have lots of talent in state and have to fight with just about everyone in the conference and outside of it to get the best players.

But on the flip side, because of that location, it’ll be a bit easier for South Carolina to get prospects than the bottom-tier recruiting teams in the division, Kentucky and Missouri. The Wildcats traffic consistently in the low 20s and 30s. Mizzou’s 50th-ranked class follows up a No. 43 ranking in 2016, and the days of Gary Pinkel seem far gone.

Both those teams fight battles on different fronts in different regions though: Missouri in the Midwest and Kentucky in the Ohio River Valley. Vanderbilt remains a bit of a recruiting outlier unto itself because of the academic standards of the program and how much the administration cares about sports. The key for South Carolina is figuring out where it best fits, then executing.