How many recruits can Florida sign in the 2021 class?

How many recruits can Florida sign in the 2021 class? Great question.

A tremendous amount of coronavirus-related uncertainty surrounds college football at this point. If COVID-19 cancels the season, all of the scholarship accounting trouble that sports like baseball have been going through will only ramp up to 11 with football.

But supposing a season does happen and we end up with the normal rules applying—a big if, but let’s go with it for now—here is how we’d go about answering the headlining question.

The 85 cap

Florida has 84 recruited scholarship players right now, including all transfers and signees who haven’t announced JUCO plans. Leonard Manuel, a 2020 wide receiver prospect who still hasn’t signed, is technically still a verbal commit. I don’t think anyone expects him to sign or enroll at UF at this point, though.

Former walk on Tanner Rowell got a scholarship last year, and he figures to be the top candidate to snag the 85th scholarship if no one else takes it by fall. Rowell’s uncertain status doesn’t affect the numbers looking ahead to next year because he’ll be a redshirt senior.

Sticking with the 84 number for now, Florida has 17 seniors. I say this assuming Elijah Conliffe will get a redshirt after missing all of 2019 to injury; he is a redshirt junior and not a senior in my accounting. The graduations will leave Florida with 67 scholarships still in use at season’s end.

That said, there will be some early NFL entrants. Kyle Pitts is as good as gone, and I think Marco Wilson is also very likely to turn pro. There is a second tier of players who could easily turn into draft declarers if they have big seasons that fulfill their obvious potential. I put Brenton Cox, Zach Carter, and Lorenzo Lingard into that group.

It’s also not hard to imagine a transfer or two out. As an unsourced hypothetical, suppose Dameon Pierce and Lingard are the two workhorse backs this year and both return for 2021. In that circumstance, it’s not hard to imagine Malik Davis transferring elsewhere for playing time for his fifth and final year of eligibility.

The seniors graduating plus Pitts and Wilson going pro brings the returning scholarship count down to 65. The math becomes easy there, as the team is then 20 under the 85 cap for 2021. How far over 20 they can sign will depend on how many more guys go pro or transfer after the 2020 season.

The initial counters cap

I covered the basics of initial counters last year, but here’s the quick gist.

A football program can bring in 25 new players of any kind each academic year. As scholarship players are called “counters” in NCAA-speak, people entering a program are “initial counters”. All signees whether they end up in school or don’t qualify and go to JUCO are initial counters; if someone signs but is released from the LOI and enrolls at a different four-year institution, then he is not an initial counter. All transfers, whether from JUCO or a four-year college, are initial counters.

The academic year starts in the fall, so Florida’s fall term begins the 2020-21 academic year. Anyone who enrolls in the summer leading up to the start of an academic year must count to the upcoming one, so all 2020 summer enrollees are 2020-21 initial counters. Anyone who enrolls for the beginning of the fall term must also be an initial counter for that year.

Mid-year enrollees in January can count to either the ongoing academic year or the following one when they actually begin playing football. This is where “back counting” comes in. A 2021 recruiting class early enrollee who enters school in January can either count towards the ongoing 2020-21 year or the upcoming 2021-22 year when he actually begins playing football.

Florida brought in four transfers who are initial counters for the 2020-21 academic year: Lingard, Stewart Reese, Justin Shorter, and Jordan Pouncey. They signed 23 recruits (not including Manuel, since he hasn’t signed), and they were able to count four of the January enrollees toward the 2019-20 academic year. Just trust me on that one and click the link above for more information if you want it.

So, 19 signees and four transfers counting towards 2020-21 sums to 23. That leaves two 2020-21 initial counters that can go towards early enrollees in the 2021 recruiting class.

That means Florida could theoretically sign up top 27 recruits in the 2021 class. I don’t think Dan Mullen will, since the program isn’t terribly far under the 85-scholarship cap. He might spend some number of them on sign-and-place guys, though, which had been unusual for UF but not so much under the former Mississippi State head coach.

Sign-and-place is when a coach signs a prospect who isn’t likely to qualify (or is flat-out known to not be a qualifier) in order to build goodwill and guide him to a friendly JUCO to increase the chances of landing him when he comes out of JUCO. Florida appears on track to complete the sign-and-place method with 2019 signees Diwun Black and Deyavie Hammond, and it may try to complete it again with 2020 signee Johnnie Brown.

Florida has oversigned under Mullen, which is when a program has more than 85 scholarships committed to the upcoming season after completing the signing class. It hasn’t extravagantly done so, though, and it hasn’t come close to needing to process players out to hit the 85 number by fall for a variety of reasons.

I’ve heard recruiting analysts from multiple outlets peg the likely signing class total at around 23. I hope this shows you how they got there. The team will have 18 class spots available after seniors graduate and another two from for-sure NFL early entrants. Toss in a handful of less-certain NFL early entrants and/or transfers out, and you get the low 20s as the target amount.

Bringing in transfer portal guys from here on out will cut into the number of signees from the 85 cap perspective, but Florida doesn’t appear likely to run up against the initial counters cap this year. It has 27 initial counters to work with, and several of them will go unused depending on how many sign-and-places Mullen decides to attempt.

It’s always hard to pinpoint an amount this far out unless a team is able to max out its initial counters without breaching the 85-cap, and Florida’s not there. The COVID-19 uncertainty means any of this could be wasted writing effort on my part and reading effort on yours. If nothing else, I hope you have a better idea of how the math works when trying to project the size of recruiting classes.

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