Everybody breathe. Take it in. Exhale. We made it through. And it was a pretty great signing day, wasn’t it?
A couple of very good players who at one point were leaning towards Gainesville decided to sign elsewhere, but Florida came into National Signing Day with the No. 1 ranked class and added two monster signees to the class on the big day. Then to bump things up yet another notch, picked up two more very good additions to the class over the following two days.
We slipped out of the No. 1 ranking nationally, but that was expected (more on that later) and much more importantly we finished with the best class in the nation in the estimation of the Gator Country staff and many of the true talent evaluators that the staff talks too throughout the recruiting cycle.
In the next week or two, I will be putting together my analysis and thoughts on the signing class position-by-position, player-by-player. But before the weekend I wanted to publish some initial thoughts on the class, the recruiting process in general and a few observations about other schools’ exploits this past week.
And Down the Stretch They Come
A few notes on closing. Much was made last year about the fact that Florida only added one new commitment to the signing class on National Signing Day, despite being the proverbial “hat on the table” for a large handful of top prospects.
This year, the Gators were again finalists for a half dozen or so big time recruits when the sun rose on Wednesday. But this year (despite a lot of early day fainting goats when two publicized names signed with a former Gators coach hated by some and a cross-state rival hated by all), Florida doubled its signing day haul of last year and then doubled that number again over the next 48 hours.
This did not please everyone, but in truth it should have set off parties all over Gator Nation, because Florida did not need any of those four to finish with a top-3 class. For this year’s cohort of Baby Gators, the hay was already in the barn. The most significant job on signing day was to keep all the commitments in the UF stable. Florida’s staff did that.
Look around the nation at the SEC’s elite programs and try to find one who can say it held onto all their commitments over the final weekend. It’s a small club.
The No. 2 job of this class was to fill all of its needs. Done. It was done before signing day dawned, except for defensive tackle, and low and behold the two-pin spare coach Will Muschamp picked up on Wednesday was made up of a couple of stud defensive tackles.
So, the three objectives of NSD were all met: (1) Meet all needs, (2) Hold all commitments, and (3) Sign an incredible class. The only thing left was the least important element of signing day, although often considered the biggest piece: finishing with a sizzle. Adding four players, two of them elite players and a third an elite at a non-glamorous position of kicker/punter, topped off the class with all the window dressing one could ask for.
For anyone who is still concerned that Florida did not close in big enough fashion, please consider that these days, closing does not only happen on National Signing Day. It also happens on the first day of early enrollment. A pre-closing, if you will. For those feeling hollow because Florida “only” nabbed two new players on signing day and “only” four total after the fax machines started rolling, you have to remember to include the players the staff closed on already.
Demarcus Robinson, Alex Anzalone and Matt Rolin were all not only closed on the final weekend before UF’s early enrollment deadline (with Robinson and Anzalone remaining mysteries until they physically showed up on campus), they were flipped from standing commitments to Clemson, Notre Dame and South Carolina to sign them.
What would have been the feeling around Gator Nation had these three not been closed by Muschamp in January, but on National Signing Day? I can guarantee that it would have propelled Florida so far ahead in the No. 1 ranking in the nation that they would never have been touched. And yet it is the same class we signed and had ranked outside the top spot. But there is a reason for that.
The Myth of Waiting
This is why teams rocket up the charts on signing day when they get eleventh hour commitments. So many recruits have their value artificially inflated in the eyes of both fans and the ranking sites by doing nothing but waiting until National Signing Day to pick a school.
There was far more hype and fan interest in Gator Nation in signing Jalen Ramsey on National Signing Day than there was in the commitment of Vernon Hargreaves III months earlier. But the plain fact is that not only is Ramsey not on VH3’s level, he is not even close.
James Clark received more attention and created more angst among Gator recruitniks than perhaps all of the other receiver signees combined, but he would have been the sixth receiver in the class because he would have been the sixth receiving priority to the coaches.
As far as the Gators losing their No. 1 ranking on signing day, that was all made-for-television drama. It didn’t matter what happened on signing day for Florida – Alabama was going to vault over us. The programming value of having a day-long television show hyping the fight for the No. 1 spot would be worthless with no payoff.
There has to be a slingshot on the final lap; there has to be a winning touchdown bomb on the last play. It was theater, nothing more. Also, we’ll have to wait and see who will even qualify for Alabama and the rest of the top 10 classes. Teams all over the country are benefitting from inflated rankings because they are knowingly signing kids they know will not qualify; Florida won’t do that and turned away a few big time prospects from the sign-and-place process.
If Florida had signed 4-star James Hearns, 4-star Elijah Daniel and 3-star Kennard Swanson, even though they won’t qualify, is there any way imaginable that ‘Bama or anyone else has a higher-ranked class than UF?
Receivers in the Balance
Here are a few comments on taking five receivers (and trying to take six) and on position imbalance:
There are some misgivings about taking so many receivers in one class, but there is no need to be concerned. It was not really a conscious choice as much as it was necessitated. One of the theories goes that you don’t want to have too many young guys stacked in one position because it will make it impossible to sign the most elite players at that position the next year.
You recruit this year for this year’s needs. You never pass on a guy you need this year so you can get one next year (a twist on the bird-in-the-hand concept).
To wit, the last time we signed this many WRs in one class was when we took six in 1994. There was a lot of clamor about imbalance but the class met the needs that year and Florida went on to win the next three straight SEC titles and a national championship.
As it turns out, it was necessary to sign all six. What happened is that one of those WRs failed to qualify, then signed next year and still got kicked out of school before he ever saw the field; one of them had two ACL injuries and never contributed until his senior year; a third never developed and just caught a couple spot passes as a fifth-year senior.
If Spurs decided he should have taken only three WRs in 1994 to maintain class balance instead of taking six to address immediate need, what would have happened? Well, if he had taken Reidel, Ike and Quez, everything would have worked out the same. Had he taken Jamie Richardson, Nafis Karim and Travis McGriff, we’d have been in deep, deep trouble and Danny Wuerffel would have only had Chris Doering to throw to the next two years, so who knows if we wind up winning any titles.
Had Spurs only taken three, it is highly likely he would have taken the wrong three, since Richardson and Karim were the top two on their board and McGriff was a legacy. Quez was a quarterback in high school and Ike was a running back and defensive back. Had we not taken Reidel, we would also not have gotten Fred Taylor. Both Fred and Reidel would have been leading FSU to national titles instead.
The same goes for any position through the years. Much was made of taking three running backs in 1993, especially after taking two in 1992. Spurrier brought in Terrance Foy, Tyrone Baker and Elijah Williams, when they already had Tony Davis and Dwayne Mobley from the year before. Well, Foy and Davis both got themselves kicked off the team, Tyrone Baker shattered his knees and Mobley almost immediately grew into a fullback.
Williams was the only one of the five who would up contributing at running back, and he would up switching to corner back to end his career as most of the quality carrier over the next several years were taken by class of 1994’s Fred Taylor and a converted linebacker from that same year, Terry Jackson.
You never know how things will play out, so you never pass up the chance to stack the deck in your favor at a position, balanced or not.
Besides, with five signed at receiver this year, if they all stay at that position, about half will redshirt. Even if we sign just one receiver next year, the virtual balance will be three signed this year and three signed next year. The redshirt year gives us all the balance that is needed between the two years.
He’s Leaving Home, Bye-Bye
In the class of 2013, we saw another year of raiding the state of Florida by out-of-state schools. And whereas years ago, out-of-state defections of Florida talent generally involved the lesser-regarded red chips. Rarely, including many from the Sunshine State’s top 10 or even top 20, in recent years has there been a major chunk of the state’s elite talent being poached by states north of the border.
To wit, of the state of Florida’s top-10 prospects, 60 percent of them left the state to play their college ball. What’s more, 40 percent of them signed with out-of-state schools that were even outside the Southeastern Conference.
This is not a blip on the radar. This is the new normal. In fact, I expect it will continue to be even more commonplace. Florida has been mined hard for many years now by out-of-state programs, and FSU and Miami have both been down for more than 10 years.
The reason — beyond the obvious that the state of Florida is the most targeted state in the nation for high school talent — is the simple fact the Florida Gators can’t sign them all. The flagship program in Gainesville is cleaning up in its home state – signing nearly 40 percent of the top 25-ranked players this year. But Florida can only sign 25 players per year (on average).
Even with the great number of elite recruits in Florida every year, and Florida still cherry-picks a significant number of signees each year from out-of-state themselves, leaving even fewer spots for Florida kids on the Gators roster. The elite out-of-state programs will continue to take from Florida because there simply are so many elite recruits from which to choose.
Why has the percentage of elite recruits leaving the state so much higher than it used to be? The key here is that for the last ten years the FSU and Miami programs have not only floundered on the field, they have floundered on the recruiting trail. While Florida took nearly 40 percent of the state’s top 25 prospects this year, FSU took four. Think that’s funny? Well, you should, but what’s funnier is that Miami only signed one. And he was ranked way down at No. 17.
This floundering in Tallahassee and Coral Gables has allowed all of the SEC and other national elite programs to establish a big toe hold and build relationships and pipelines in the state. Even if one or both of these two programs return to national elite status (which seems impossible while being stuck in the ACC), it will be too late to reverse or erase the footprint made in Florida by the out-of-state raiders. This in turn will make their return to elite status all that much more difficult.
Final Initial Thoughts
In terms of pure quality and balance, UF signed the best class in the country. There is no doubt about that to me or those who scout that I talk to.
Alabama’s class is truly elite, also. If you want to say throw a blanket over the two classes and call them even, that would not be a terribly out of line assessment.
Basically it comes down to this: except for our depth issues at certain positions that hurt us when we were beset by injuries, I saw last year Florida and Alabama as equals on the field, just slightly better than UGA, A&M and LSU, and then SC. Thought UF and ‘Bama were the two best teams in the country.
For the second-straight year, ‘Bama and Florida have signed the two best classes in the country. I thought ‘Bama’s was a little better last year and Florida’s is a little better this year. This trend will continue year after year as long as Muschamp and Nick Saban are in place. Florida will continue to separate each year from the rest of the East and ‘Bama will continue to separate from the West. And again both programs will be institutions, where the elite kids do not shy away every other year because they want early playing time, but sign every year because they want to join the institutions, be developed and put in the NFL by the two best programs in the nation at doing that, and of course win championships.
Except the rare times when they meet in the regular season, almost every year will end in a Florida-Alabama matchup in the SEC title game — just as it was in the 1990s. And every year, the winner of the SEC title game will go on to play in (and win) the BCS national title game — just like it has for the past seven-straight years.
And just as it should be.