In part 1, we looked at recruiting lessons learned by the Florida Gators’ coaching staff and the offense-defense balance of the class to date. Now let’s look at the various dynamics of the recruiting process that sometimes dishes out dyspepsia like a soup kitchen volunteer.
Breaking Down the Dynamics
The year-long recruiting cycle is a fickle pickle indeed. There are many elements of interest and excitement in the recruiting cycle – leans, tweets, visits, camps, rumors, commitments, de-commitments, and ultimately signees – all of which are extremely limited by the fact that each school can only sign on average 25 players each year. This limitation is powerful because there are 365 days in the year, and recruitnicks want and even expect something good to happen for their school on all 365 days. Many of them expect, even demand that something incredible happen on all 365 of those days. So there is essentially no way to avoid it: there will be more disappointments at every step of the way, in every metric, than successes. Far more.
So when we speak of elements of the recruiting cycle like momentum, commitments and rankings, if a fan views the process as a series of sprints, they are always going to lose many times between single wins. The only way to view recruiting is as a marathon. And it isn’t as easy as it sounds when you read that on an inspirational cat poster. Because it is natural and burned into our DNA to perceive victory as having more wins than losses, to score more points than you give up. However, in recruiting, you’ll never come close to that. In recruiting, winning 21 battles and losing over 50 battles does not translate into a losing record. Heck, that 30% winning percentage can make you the mythical recruiting champion. The key is not to win more than you lose: it is to have a losing record that is better than everyone else’s losing record.
Momentum and the Timeline
To that end, let’s look at the Florida Gators’ momentum thus far, as we are about to head into the season. Momentum is about wins and losses, but it’s also about timing. That plays into the sprint vs. marathon nature of recruiting perspectives. Momentum can turn one way, then the other, sometimes several times in the same day, and always on a dime. Where’s the Mo’? Well what time is it? That’s the deal. Much was made about the Gators’ momentum falling to pieces in July. Much was made. Much much. But that’s only because of timing of multiple de-commitments preceding multiple commitments. In a 14-day span in July, the Gator class saw an exodus of four committed players and an influx of four new pledges. With a net loss or gain of zero, it would be considered an overall draw in July, given there are still six months and change to fill out the class. But the general fan perception during this time was that Florida took it on the chin. But that’s only because the 2-week span was front-loaded with de-commitments and back-loaded with new commitments. For 13 of those 14 days, Florida had more de-commits than commits over the 2-week period. It only evened out on Day 14. So those who do not focus on the finish, but concentrate on each day (or minute) of the journey, were sweating and fretting.
It didn’t help the perception that when the Gators had one commitment and four de-commits over this span, Florida also saw two of its uncommitted targets commit to other schools. However, drawing on the sprint/marathon dynamic once again, one of those players is heavily expected to sign with Florida in February if the Gator offense clicks on the field this fall, and the second player could follow him to Gainesville as well.
The Tidal Flow
Most Floridians know about the tides. A wave flows in, and it ebbs out. Each successive wave cycle is essentially equal. But over time, the tide either rises or falls in one continuous direction. So, even as the Gators appeared to come up even with four commitments and four de-commitments within two weeks, there was still overall movement of the tide line. By all accounts from those who are paid to evaluate high school players, the Gators traded up overall over those two weeks. Not that star rankings mean much if anything (certainly in July), but it is a way to very softly measure the heat and pursuit players receive from the top programs. Three of the de-commitments were consensus 3-star prospects (among the top four services), with just one a consensus 4-star, and none of them garnered a 5-star tag from any service. Of the four new commitments, three are consensus 4-star players and one of them received a 5-star rating. When aggregating the star ratings from the top four services, the Gators traded up from an average of 3.2 to 3.5 per player. That’s nearly a 10% increase in rating. Again, this does not mean much, but it’s one indication and it is one of the only quantifiable metrics we have at this juncture.
Another way to gauge the tidal flow here is the offer sheets (which are one of the primary drivers of the star ratings). The four de-committed players have 17 offers from national power programs between them. The four new commitments have 39. That’s an improvement from 4.3 power program offers per de-commit to 9.8 per new commit. So in the eyes of the elite college football staffs across the country, the Gators traded up significantly with this 8-prospect rotation. Then there is the information surrounding the reasons for the de-commitments. Three of the four were what are referred to as “mutual decisions” between the player and school. That rarely means they had a meeting, talked it out and mutually decided to part ways; it means that the school was either an active participant in the de-commitment or they are positive or neutral about the defection. The one de-commitment the staff wishes they still had decided he wanted early playing time and to be closer to home, neither of which UF could offer. It happens, and the upside is that the lack of early playing time availability underscores that it was not a need position, thus mitigating the loss.
And the exchange here was not a one-to-one exchange, so that bears discussion. A linebacker, a couple of two-way linemen and a tight end-receiver hybrid all came in, while a safety, a cornerback, a receiver and a running back exited. It bears noting that all the new commitments were top-of-the-board takes at their positions, while three of the four de-commits are at positions where Florida has better prospects they feel confident in signing. I have made no it secret that I think all four de-commitments are positive indicators for the Gators. Three of them tell me that the coaches feel strongly about their ability to trade up at their positions before February, and the fourth who left because he wanted early playing time, indicates that we are already stacked up at his position so the loss is not significant, even though he is an excellent prospect.
The tidal flow also has influence from prior activity and impacts on future activity by the momentum mentioned earlier. Heading into this 2-week period of fast commitment turnover, the Gators had picked up the pledge of consensus 4-star linebacker Jerome Baker just a week earlier. Then, the party continued coming out of the feverish commitment activity, with news breaking of surprise campus visits from Ray-Ray McCloud III, CeCe Jefferson and Javarius Davis (although the latter did not make it to Gainesville), as well as one of the top targets on the Gator board Byron Cowart tweeting that he may be nearing a decision, which would favor Florida at this early juncture before the season starts. The recruiting tide is certainly flowing the Gators’ way right now. But it will ebb again, and flow again, and keep doing so until signing day. So enjoy the swim and don’t get too caught up in what is happening in the breaking wave because there are always more cresting right behind it.
One possible rip current in the positive waves for Florida right now is the recent rumor that receiver George Campbell has been pressured by a rival school to say “uncle” and give in to their sales pitch over once favored Florida. It has not happened thus far and if he does pull the trigger for another school soon, Florida still stands a very good chance of flipping him if the offense comes alive this year. Regardless of what happens, Campbell is an example of one of the more interesting recruiting phenomena that comes along every few years or so. He is one of the truly elite athletes in the nation, and as such Florida wants and perhaps even needs to secure his services as a matter of a statement signing. But he is one of those unique guys who is an elite player without a position. His measurable are off the charts, but he does not possess Division I hands that a receiver needs to play at a top program. When you see Campbell, think of guys in the past who have been stellar athletes who dominate high school competition by virtue of their speed and athleticism, but are not particularly skilled at one position. They are not a risk per se, but they are not a sure thing and they require a lot of position coaching and usually a few years to develop if it is going to happen. Sometimes you can hit a jackpot and get a great player as a junior or senior, like the Gators did with Bo Carroll; the rare gems become stars right out of the gate, like Joe Haden; sometimes that player finds a special niche and excels there like Brandon James did in the return game; and sometimes you get players who just flash potential for four years but never make the kind of impact their athleticism would suggest, like Taras Ross or John Capel. So in the case of George Campbell, if he drops every pass that is thrown at him this fall, Florida still wants him as a hot board priority. However, wherever he goes, he will arrive with the caveat that comes with all super athletes who lack refined position skills: Like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’ll get.
This wraps up Part 2 in this series. In the third and final installment, I’ll look at the individual commitments to date and highlight a little of why they are so highly prized based on what we know about them heading into their climactic senior seasons.
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