Florida’s history shows the pitfalls of not signing top quarterbacks consistently

Florida lost the battle for high 4-star quarterback recruit Jaden Rashada over the weekend. Setting aside all of the circus around how that went down, the upshot is this: UF’s quarterback board doesn’t look great.

If you look at the top quarterbacks in the country according to the 247 Sports Composite, all of the blue chip prospects (4 or 5-stars) are either committed or have 100% so-called crystal ball predictions to other schools. The first guy who doesn’t fall into either of those buckets is the No. 35 overall quarterback who is the No. 678 overall prospect nationally.

In other words, Florida is going to have to either directly flip a quarterback or pray for a decommitment somewhere in order to sign a blue chip guy this cycle. I’m not a recruiting analyst, so I don’t have a list of potential targets for you. It’s not hard to find one if you’re curious.

Should the Gators not sign a blue chip quarterback this year, it’ll be two years in a row that they haven’t done so. Last year they only signed 3-star Max Brown, a flip from Jim McElwain’s Central Michigan. Dan Mullen had lined up a 4-star in Nick Evers, but he decommitted after the staff change.

It has happened before that Florida has gone multiple years in a row without a blue chip quarterback signee. There is both good and bad news on that front as we’ll see.

UF arguably failed to sign a blue chip QB in consecutive cycles twice in the past 15 years. I say “arguably” because there’s a technicality involved in the first instance.

That instance came with no less a recruiter than Urban Meyer at the helm. After signing 5-star Tim Tebow in 2006 and fellow 5-stars Cam Newton and John Brantley in 2007, Florida didn’t take a quarterback in 2008. That’s quite understandable.

Then in 2009, they signed 4-star quarterback prospect Jordan Reed. Here is where the “arguably” comes in. UF listed Reed as a QB in 2009, though he never played. By 2010 he had switched to tight end, albeit with some time moonlighting behind center from time to time as Meyer flailed about following the unexpected struggles of Brantley as starter. Then in 2010, the last time the Gators sat atop the national recruiting rankings, Meyer signed a pair of 3-stars in Trey Burton and Tyler Murphy.

I don’t think the plan was ever to have Reed stay a quarterback indefinitely, so I’m counting it. That’s three straight seasons with no true blue chip quarterbacks.

The result was that UF had no plan once Brantley showed he wouldn’t live up to his 5-star billing. It could’ve been ameliorated, too. Newton’s transfer came very late in the 2009 cycle. However with the upcoming Brantley-or-bust reality evident during Tebow’s senior year, Meyer signed effectively a Wildcat guy in Burton and a longterm project in Murphy. There was no blue chip signee from the 2010 class to turn to when things soured, precipitating a tragicomic rotation of Brantley, Burton, and Reed down the stretch.

Will Muschamp kept Jeff Driskel’s commitment and Charlie Weis pushed for Jacoby Brissett, so Florida broke the streak with a pair of blue chip guys in 2011. That, however, led to the next blue chip dry spell: 3-star Skyler Mornhinweg in 2012 and 3-star Max Staver in 2013.

Only one quarterback can play at a time, so Brissett predictably transferred following the 2012 season after losing the job to Driskel. The quarterback position became Driskel-or-bust in 2013 because of those 3-star signings, quite like how it was Brantley-or-bust in 2010.

Unfortunately, it again busted. With no blue chip guy coming in the ’13 class, there were only Murphy and Mornhinweg to turn to after Driskel went down in 2013. You remember how that worked out.

Muschamp at least managed to sign a pair of blue chippers in 2014 with Will Grier and Treon Harris, the latter being a 4-star athlete in the ratings of the day. He needed both of them too, as Grier ended up missing the ’14 season with a back injury.

McElwain didn’t sign a quarterback in 2015, but it’s understandable since it was hard to get a good one a year after signing two blue chips (see also: 2008, 2012). He did bring in Luke Del Rio, though he had to sit out 2015 due to transfer rules.

Mac needed Del Rio more than he knew at the time, as Grier’s transfer following a PED suspension and Harris’s off-field problems leading to his transfer in summer 2016 left a hole behind center (plus Harris was slated to move to receiver after 2015 anyway due to his poor skill fit with the new offense). McElwain at least was able to find Austin Appleby from Purdue to be a one-year fill-in while ’16 blue chip signee Feleipe Franks took a much needed redshirt year.

UF didn’t sign a blue chip quarterback in 2017, only landing 3-star depth piece Jake Allen. Once Mullen arrived, Florida got back on the horse of signing a blue chip signal caller each year: Emory Jones in 2018, Jalon Jones in 2019, Anthony Richardson in 2020, and Carlos Del Rio-Wilson in 2021. Evers would’ve extended the streak had Mullen kept his job.

The bad news is that not signing blue chip quarterbacks in multiple years straight takes away margin for error. Both times it happened, the Gators ended up finding themselves all-in on a single guy with either Brantley or Driskel. In both situations, it didn’t work out well.

The good news is that even in the pre-portal era, transfers have helped out. You might not think much of Del Rio and Appleby’s performances in 2016, but imagine if the newly signed Franks and Kyle Trask were the only options besides walk ons that year. Franks wasn’t ready for prime time the following season in 2017, and Trask famously didn’t even start in high school.

It’s never been easier to find potentially good quarterbacks in the portal. There has been a trend in recent years for good quarterback recruits to sign at schools that already had good quarterbacks on the roster, and inevitably one or both of them ends up leaving.

I wouldn’t expect to see anyone have transfer quarterback success like what Oklahoma used to have going from Baker Mayfield to Kyler Murray to Jalen Hurts. However, it’s not unreasonable to think Billy Napier will be able to find quality options if he needs them.

He already has done so, picking up Jack Miller as a backup for Richardson. I don’t think Miller has what it takes to lead UF to a conference title or anything, but based on the spring game, I think he can ably fill in for stretches. Given that the other quarterbacks on the roster who stayed past the spring are a project signee from 2020 and another project signee from 2021, that is a win. I don’t know what the internal deliberations were, but I doubt they were looking for another potential QB1 because they wouldn’t have wanted to do anything that would chase Richardson to the portal.

Don’t get me wrong: I would feel much better about the near term future of the program if they sign a blue chip quarterback in this cycle. I would wager with 100% certainty that the coaching staff is not going to give up on that possibility easily, and I’m sure they’re working on strategies for flipping someone good right now.

After all, having the three most recent coaching staffs be fired after three or four years has resulted in some cycles of weakness at different positions that are hard to end. Mullen at least broke the cycle at quarterback (while perpetuating or starting new cycles elsewhere), but his dismissal and its aftermath have thrown that position back into choppy waters.

This historical rundown shows how hard it is to maintain a consistent pipeline there with all the unforeseen tribulations that can happen. Recent changes with transfer rules make it easier to find experienced help, but the top strategy should always be to cultivate an in-house succession plan at quarterback.

David Wunderlich
David Wunderlich is a born-and-raised Gator and a proud Florida alum. He has been writing about Florida and SEC football since 2006. He currently lives in Naples Italy, at least until the Navy stations his wife elsewhere. You can follow him on Twitter @Year2