As we move into 2020 and approach the February National Signing Day, there is naturally a lot of interest on how many players Florida can bring in this year. There are three relevant limits on that measure, so here is how the Gators stand regarding them.
I already wrote up a detailed explainer on how initial counters (ICs) work, so I recommend you read that if you haven’t already. It’ll clear up any questions you might have in this section, though I will do some very basic repeating of information here.
FBS programs may only put 25 new players on scholarship per academic year whether by signing players out of high school or JUCO or by accepting transfers. In NCAA jargon, these are “initial counters”. Initial, because these players are going on scholarship at the school for the first time, and counter refers to head count. The academic year begins in the fall. Presently, we’re about at the halfway point of the 2019-20 academic year.
Fall enrollees must count as an IC toward the year in which they enroll. There also is a specific NCAA rule for FBS football that states that summer enrollees must count as ICs towards the upcoming academic year.
Anyone who enrolls after the start of fall but before summer can count toward either the academic year in which they enroll or the following academic year when they will actually start playing. This primarily applies to guys who enroll in January. If you’ve ever heard of “back counting” early enrollees, what’s actually happening is they’re being counted toward the academic year in which they enrolled rather than the one in which they start participating.
The math can be found in the link above, but Florida has 29 initial counters to work with. Four are unused ones left over from 2019-20, and the rest are the fresh 25 for 2020-21.
Right now, 26 of the 29 are reserved. UF committed 21 of them on the December signing day, and two more have gone to transfers Jordan Pouncey and Lorenzo Lingard. That’s 23. The Gators have three verbal commits in Xzavier Henderson, Marc Britt, and Leonard Manuel. If all of them sign, that’s 26. If any of them decommit like OL prospect Jovens Janvier did earlier this week, that will free up an IC.
If all three verbals sign, Florida has the ability to take in three more players before the fall semester begins. It can be any combination of signees and transfers.
After Houston Nutt signed a staggering 37 players at Ole Miss in 2009, the SEC stepped in to stop anyone from ever doing that again. It made a new rule limiting member schools to accepting 28 National Letters of Intent between December and May. Since nearly all prospects sign NLIs and few wait until after May to do so, it effectively created an annual cap of 28.
Florida will not have to worry about this limit. Again, it has 29 ICs to work with. It has already accepted two transfers. Therefore, UF can sign a maximum of 27 prospects. If Dan Mullen is able to land another transfer, or wants to hold open a spot for a potential future transfer between February and August, then they won’t even sign 27.
The 85 Limit
Football programs may not have more than 85 players on scholarship at any time. If they oversign however, they can have more than 85 scholarships promised for the upcoming season.
They can do that because some number of high school signees won’t enroll until the summer or fall. During the time they have signed but not enrolled, the total promised scholarship count can be above 85. The number actually receiving financial aid must be no greater than 85 once all of them enter school, though.
As of the end of the 2019 regular season, Florida had 75 recruited scholarship players on the active roster. Former walk on Tanner Rowell was also on scholarship. He was a redshirt junior and did not participate in Senior Day, so I assume he will be back next season. Mullen could give his scholarship to someone else, but that’d be a bit of a jerk move.
The Gators lose 13 seniors to graduation. Feleipe Franks and Lucas Krull announced their transfers, while CJ Henderson declared for the draft. Trevon Grimes, Marco Wilson, and Kyree Campbell announced they’re returning for 2020, leaving only Kadarius Toney as a potential other early NFL entrant.
That means UF is down to 60 returning scholarships, or 59 if Rowell isn’t on scholarship for whatever reason. That puts the Gators 25 or 26 below the 85 cap, pending Toney’s decision.
If Mullen maxes out his 29 initial counters, that’ll put him with 88 or 89 scholarships allocated for 2020. That means he’ll have oversigned by three or four.
While Florida used to never oversign, that ended a year ago. By my count, Florida was at 88 after the 2019 February signing day. Several veterans subsequently chose to transfer and three signees ended up not qualifying, so perhaps Mullen knew about some of those ahead of time and justified it internally by saying he technically wasn’t oversigning given known upcoming departures. We don’t know that for sure, though.
Florida was already on track to oversign by one or two before Janvier’s decommitment. It right now is either at or one above the limit.
Without naming names to remove potential confusion, there are a handful of rising redshirt juniors and seniors who aren’t in line to start and who could become grad transfers after spring practice to open up spots. Such moves are fairly common. Examples from last year include linebackers Kylan Johnson, who finished sixth in tackles for Pitt, and Rayshad Jackson, who led UNLV with 99 total tackles. Sometimes these moves are planned out ahead of time; sometimes they require getting beaten out by younger players in spring ball to make the decision happen.
Predicting any departures beyond that would be speculation on my part, so I won’t. Absent news of any more attrition, Florida will be over budget on the 85 cap if it maxes out all 29 ICs. Even if Toney leaves for the draft and Rowell doesn’t stay on scholarship, they’d still be over the limit by two. UF will need more current players to leave in order to both use all of its ICs and be at or under the 85 cap in the fall.