The recruiting battle over the states of North Carolina and South Carolina has been an intense one in recent years with in-state programs Clemson, South Carolina, North Carolina, NC State, Duke, Wake Forest and East Carolina all battling for the top players in their home territory. Throw in out-of-state programs from the SEC, ACC and other major conferences and you quickly understand why the two states have become fertile recruiting ground.
But which one has the most talent in the 2011 class?
The annual Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas attempts to offer this answer each December, but with politics, gadget offenses and only a week of practice, it's still hard to get a feel. On paper, does the nation's No. 1 prospect, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, push the Palmetto State over the edge?
Clowney, the 6-foot-6, 247-pounder from Rock Hill South Pointe, is the nation's best player and arguably the best defensive line prospect to come out of high school in more than a decade. He leads a very strong defensive unit for a South Carolina group that would terrorize North Carolina with its front seven.
In addition to Clowney, who is virtually unblockable on film and runs everything down from behind, South Carolina boasts Manning defensive tackle Phillip Dukes, D.W. Daniel defensive tackle DeShaun Williams and Union defensive end Desmond Floyd. Dukes, a four-star prospect, checks in at No. 5 in the state and No. 214 overall and would be a great compliment to Clowney. And S.C. would also boast great depth along the defensive line when you add in Rock Hill Northwestern defensive end Roderick Byers, Simpsonville Hillcrest rush end Mike Rose and Clowney's teammate, defensive end Gerald Dixon.
At linebacker, South Carolina features Bennettsville Marlboro County hitter Lateek Townsend and Williston Elko 'backer Dexter Staley, both of whom would run virtually unblocked behind such a formidable line. And hard-hitting safety Pat Martin from Greenville J.L. Mann could also line up at linebacker for the S.C. side.
In the defensive backfield in addition to the versatile Martin, S.C. has Dorchester Woodland athlete Robert Smith who can play cornerback or safety, Spartanburg cornerback Ronnie Martin and Bamberg-Ehrhardt corner Zeph Grimes. From top to bottom, the South Carolina defense is absolutely loaded.
North Carolina would certainly struggle against such a formidable defense, but there is plenty of talent from the Tar Heel State to counter. It begins with the passing game led by Matthews Butler quarterback Christian Lemay who would have a bevy of choices to throw to. In addition to Oak Ridge Military wideout Nigel King, Greensboro Northern Guilford receiver Maurice Harris and Waxhaw Marvin Ridge pass-catcher K.J. Brent, Lemay would also have three of the best tight ends in the county to choose from.
Rivals100 tight end Eric MacLain from Fayetteville Jack Britt can block and catch while Greensboro Ben L. Smith star Eric Ebron can slot out or be a threat outside and Charlotte Ardrey Kell big man Drew Owens is a nice combination of the two.
In addition to Lemay, Charlotte Mallard Creek signal-caller Marquise Williams has tremendous upside and Durham Hillside's Vad Lee can sling it as well or play wide receiver.
When trying to run against that S.C. defensive line, a thunder and lightning combination of Salisbury speedster Romar Morris and Kannapolis Brown bruiser Travis Riley would be utilized. However, the offensive line for the North Carolina team is lacking in a big way with only Pikeville Aycock guard Jarrod James the only lineman ranked in the state's top 30. Prospects like Wake Forest-Rolesville tackle Ryan Doyle, Raleigh Millbrook guard Caleb High and Oak Ridge Military guard William Foxx would be in charge of keeping Lemay and company clean and opening holes for the running game, something unlikely considering the talent they oppose.
While the North Carolina offense has a glaring weakness, the defense is loaded in similar fashion to South Carolina's D. The state's top three players anchor a super athletic front seven. Wadesboro Anson 'backer Stephone Anthony would team with Matthews Butler athlete Kris Frost as a 1-2 punch behind a defensive line led by end/tackle Jeoffrey Pagan.
Joining the trio are two other four-stars in Gastonia Ashbrook end/linebacker Norkeithus Otis and Fayetteville Jack Britt defensive tackle Devonte Brown as well as Raeford Hoke hard-hitting linebacker Christian Russell, Jacksonville White Oak 'backer Tremayne McNair and Asheville A.C. Reynolds end Ben Councell. Fuquay-Varina tackle Shawn Underwood would anchor the middle of the line.
In the defensive backfield, North Carolina is loaded as well. Durham Jordan athlete T.J. Thorpe would lock things down at one corner while huge corner Dominique Noble from Mount Ulla West Rowan would match up well with big receivers on the boundary side. High Point Southwest Guilford athlete Airyn Willis, Southern Durham athlete Sherman Ragland and Charlotte Christian standout Matthias Farley could all play numerous positions in the defensive backfield.
The South Carolina offense would counter with balance but lacks big-play flair. Roebuck Dorman wideout Charone Peake has good size and speed and would be an attractive target for either Myrtle Beach dual-threat Everett Golson or Chester gunslinger Tony McNeal, but beyond that there isn't much as far as the passing game. Summerton Scotts Branch athlete Jerell Adams could be a nice target at tight end, St. Matthews Calhoun County athlete Shamier Jeffery can catch and throw and Greenville Wade Hampton receiver Hakeem Flowers has talent, but this wouldn't be a pass-happy offense.
The running game would be one of the strengths of the S.C. team led by Lake City back Shon Carson and Chester speedster Julius Pendergrass. And the big key is the offensive line for S.C., a huge advantage over N.C.'s group led by Charleston Goose Creek tackle Brandon Shell, Piedmont Wren star Shaq Anthony and Mauldin center Ryan Norton, all of whom check in amongst the top 15 players in state. The matchup between the S.C. offensive line and the N.C. defensive front seven would be a battle to watch.
By the numbers, North Carolina has the edge with eight players in the Rivals250 as opposed to seven for South Carolina, but this goes beyond simple numbers. Even though the Tar Heel State has six players in the Rivals100 including three in the top 27, the glaring weakness along the offensive line is too much to overlook.
This would clearly be a defensive struggle between the two teams with Clowney and company harassing Lemay and the quarterbacks and the Anthony-Pagan-Frost trio all over Carson and the running game. However, the strength of the N.C. offense is clearly the passing game and there's no way to picture Lemay or Williams having enough time to find their multiple targets. With S.C.'s balanced offensive attack and the presence of Clowney on defense, the edge goes to South Carolina in what would be a low-scoring affair for sure.
TEAM SOUTH CAROLINA
TEAM NORTH CAROLINA
Christian LeMay, 6-2/200, Matthews Butler
Romar Morris, 5-10/175, Salisbury
Travis Riley, 6-0/210, Kannapolis Brown
Nigel King, 6-3/199, Oak Ridge Military Academy
Maurice Harris, 6-2/194, Greensboro Northern Guilford
K.J. Brent, 6-4/180, Waxhaw Marvin Ridge
Eric MacLain, 6-5/245, Fayetteville Jack Britt
Jarrod James, 6-4/276, Pikeville Charles B. Aycock
Ryan Doyle, 6-6/265, Wake Forest-Rolesville
Caleb High, 6-3/265, Raleigh Millbrook
William Foxx, 6-1/279, Oak Ridge Military Academy
Dylan Intemann, 6-5/295, Wake Forest-Rolesville
Jeoffrey Pagan, 6-4/250, Asheville
Norkeithus Otis, 6-3/200, Gastonia Ashbrook
Devonte Brown, 6-4/280, Fayetteville Jack Britt
Shawn Underwood, 6-3/315, Fuquay-Varina
Stephone Anthony, 6-3/220, Wadesboro Anson
Kris Frost, 6-3/210, Matthews Butler
Christian Russell, 6-0/221, Raeford Hoke
T.J. Thorpe, 6-0/180, Durham Jordan
Dominique Noble, 6-2/187, Mount Ulla West Rowan
Sherman Ragland, 6-1/184, Durham Southern Durham
Matthias Farley, 6-2/197, Charlotte Christian
Airyn Willis, 6-2/175, High Point Southwest Guilford