With August finally here, the SEC Network about to premier and the Florida Gator football season priming to crank up, the recruiting game will be taking a back seat for a while. As the Gators unveil their new offense and attack the new season, rabidly anxious to get back to building on the eye-opening success of 2012 – and forget about the eyesore of 2013 – the recruiting trail will begin to grow over with the kudzu of the season on the field. Right? Puhlease. Recruiting never stops, never rests and for this season in particular, never drops an octave below a fever pitch for Gator fans. The season on the field will be more instrumental in the building of the recruiting class than any season past – in fact far more than numerous seasons past, combined – and will be the laser focus of every recruit on the Florida radar, just as it will for the people already fortunate enough to be on the good side of the Gator Nation theater rope. However, the season on the Big Board will actually rival the season on the scoreboard in terms of anticipation and scrutiny. The fan interest in the action in the rows of The Swamp where the visiting prospects sit will nearly match the fascination for the action out on Florida Field. And as such, the progress of this class will be tightly monitored every step of the way. So before the season kicks off, let’s pull the dipstick (no quips about the author, please) and check the pulse of the Florida class of 2015 and see where it stands in relation to expectations and necessity. Lessons Learned Before getting into an assessment, I want to touch on an area of improvement for Muschamp and the Gator staff in their evaluation and recruiting process. Something I discussed in my last column is the essential head coaching quality that Muschamp has displayed through his ability to recognize mistakes and learn from them, and most of all to quickly correct them in action. One of his recruiting errors his first few years has been getting in late on some key prospects – too late to steer them to Florida. Whether it was oversight by assistants with their recruiting responsibilities, or whether it was Muschamp’s misses alone, the head coach is accountable for ensuring that the top targets are identified as priorities early enough to give Florida a chance. Some prospects are not overly sensitive to being overlooked early, but some take it as an offense, and regardless coming late to the party simply allows far less time to develop relationships with the player, his family and his high school coaches, while rival schools who set their alarms are busy making tracks. The players that got away because of this tardiness of a full court press by Florida have been chronicled on Gator Country the last couple of years and Champ has taken the collar for them. It hasn’t been a large number, but the quality of the players involved has been stout enough to make those significant blunders. It is a recruiting mistake that had to be corrected. Enter the recruitment of Michael Horton. Horton is a guy who is not one of the highest rated or ranked players out there yet (and I stress *yet*), but he has an eye-catching offer list that includes Alabama, LSU, Ohio State, Georgia, Tennessee, Auburn, Miami, Penn State and Louisville. You would think that a kid with committable offers from that many elite programs would warrant better than a 3-star rating (only one major service rates him a 4-star). The key to his current rating and ranking, however is that the pursuit from the major programs have mostly come more recently than the players ranked ahead of him. Alabama didn’t offer him until June. Ohio State and LSU made their offers in May; Auburn, Tennessee and Georgia offered in April. Miami (March), Penn State and Louisville (both in February) got in their offers pretty early, but those three are not on the same level of program as those that proffered Horton’s late-spring and summer offers. However, Muschamp and Florida identified Mike as a top priority and have had their 4-year scholarship offer in his hands since November of last year. The meteoric rise of the Mike Horton heat (no relation to the Reverend Horton Heat) was apparent in his recruitment by Alabama. While other elite schools were catching on and sending their offers, Alabama was still not sold. Then they brought Mike in to camp and worked him out for their staff in person on June 1. Before the sun set on that day, he had an offer from the Tide in his back pocket. When Florida made their offer, Horton had only been offered by Duke, Vanderbilt and Virginia. You would think that the Atlanta native would have been on the high priority list of the Georgia schools very early, but hometown Georgia Tech did not offer until mid-January and the Bulldogs staff didn’t get with the program until late April. Florida was also in early on another Atlanta area blue chipper, recent commitment Adonis Thomas who received his UF offer in November last year. While Thomas was on the elite program radars much earlier than Horton, Florida still beat everyone but Tennessee, South Carolina and Louisville to the punch. If anyone wonders why the Gators have beaten Georgia’s flagship program for two prospects in their own backyard, consider that Florida offered both in November last year while UGA didn’t offer them until February and April of this year. There is more to it, of course, however there is no substitute for building long-term relationships with these players. Breaking Down the Positions One of the biggest criticisms of the Muschamp era in terms of recruiting is that he has loaded up on defense and not matched that success on the offensive side of the ball. In terms of production on the field, that’s very difficult to dispute. However on the respective national signing days, that’s far from consensus, and the failure of the offensive weapons to measure up on the field is that the Gators have no run a serviceable offense for much of the last three years in which to feature them. I think the only thing that makes the argument of offense-defense imbalance worthy of consideration is the fact that Florida missed out on some key offensive weapons on signing day in Champ’s first recruiting cycle (the class of 2012), and did not have any quality players ready to fill their spots when they went elsewhere. This left Muschamp light at offensive line and without a quality receiver that year, which I addressed in my last column. However, the rest of the class of 2012 was very stout on the offensive side. Although they signed Skyler Mornhinweg as a favor to his father, Florida did not pursue a top flight quarterback because they had signed two of the top ten signal callers in the nation the year before. However the Gators signed the top two tight ends in the nation, two elite offensive linemen and a top-11 national running back who led his team to the state title and the #2 final ranking in the nation in the POWERADE FAB 50, and a #3 rank in the final USA Today high school rankings. And the staff later added transfer Max Garcia to fill the one offensive line hole in the recruiting class. Though 2012 was a rocky start due to the late defections, the following two years were smashing successes on the offensive side of the ball. Florida brought in three quarterbacks, two of which were elite signal callers in the nation, including the Parade All American Player of the Year; three top shelf running backs; eight wide receivers, at least four of which were elite high school players; two highly regarded tight ends; and eleven offensive linemen, ranging from solid to elite on signing day reviews. If the defensive signees the last two years eclipsed the offensive signees, by my estimation it was because of the amazing quality of the defensive players taken, not because of any lack of quality or quantity on the offense. But as sometimes happens, the perception remains despite ample evidence to at least suggest another hypothesis. And much has been made in the early stages of recruiting this year of the need for (and absence from the commitment list of) many elite play makers on offense. Folks certainly cannot complain about the balance, as seven of Florida’s ten committed players will start out on offense. The balance within the offense ranks is also pleasing, with one quarterback, one wide receiver, one specialty tight end/receiver, one traditional tight end, a tackle, a guard and a center (although the offensive line positions are always subject to change once they hit campus). And while many of the Gators’ most eye-catching targets as far as explosive national elite play makers remain uncommitted or committed elsewhere, the quality of the committed players is very strong. Only one of the seven commitments does not have a 4-star rating from one of the major services, and all but one of them have multiple offers from other elite national programs. And the one 3-star commitment is the quasi-tight end-receiver, so it is not surprising that he lacks the recognition of the rest of the class, although he does have multiple offers from traditional power programs as well. And the fall season has not even started, which is when the prospects should have the most significant and telling seasons of their careers. And the truth is that this class is probably ahead of expectations without a play having been called yet in the 2014 season. Since before the signing class of 2014 even signed, the word was out that most of the elite 2015 targets of the Florida Gators would need to wait and see what the 2014 season brought before they gave their pledge to the men in Gainesville wearing coaching pants. This is particularly true for the offense, where players not only want to be reassured of the staff’s longevity at Florida, but also want to see what the new Florida version of the Kurt Roper offense will look like. This includes players who are already committed to other programs. If you haven’t yet heard, there is no such thing as a binding commitment in recruiting (especially with Flipper Muschamp circling the waters), and the class of 2015 has turned that knob to eleven. Running backs like Ray Ray McCloud, Dexter Williams and Nyheim Hines are players falling squarely into this category, as are a handful of elite wide receivers who have long favored Florida, as well as a number of highly rated offensive linemen. Some of our most coveted defensive targets are also heavy Florida leans who are waiting to see how the season progresses to reach a comfort level with the future of the staff. It’s the worst-kept secret in Gator recruiting this year, a line that will continue to repeat until ample games are in the books in the 2014 season: this year’s class is playing wait-and-see. Win and they’re in; lose and we hit the booze. But we will continue to examine the players who have elected not to wait to give their commitment to Will Muschamp, and that will continue with Part 2 of this series, when I will look momentum and timelines and break down what we know about the individual players. Until then, remember that every day is a gift; that’s why they call it the present. Gator Country continues to cover Florida football recruiting like no one else. Join now!