The sky is not falling. The sun hasn’t gone dark on us. Tidal waves have not wiped out large portions of the Atlantic and Pacific coast lines in the United States. Global warming did not wipe out humanity yesterday. Yet, there are some who follow University of Florida recruiting who tend to think that we have witnessed an unprecedented disaster of epic proportions all because the Gators are either seventh (Rivals and ESPN) or eighth (247Sports) in the recruiting rankings.
Before I get into the absurdity of calling this class a disaster or a disappointment, I’ll use an example that hopefully will cause some of you to step off the ledge.
Since 2012, Clemson is 100-11 with two national championships, a runner-up finish and, counting this year, five consecutive College Football Playoff berths. During that same time, Clemson has put together FOUR top ten recruiting classes per 247Sports – 2015 (9), 2018 (7), 2019 (10) and 2020 (1).
So, does Dabo Swinney have a magic potion that turns average players into the type that can win championships? Is Clemson doing it with smoke and mirrors? Or maybe – just maybe – Dabo and his staff recruit players that fit best in the Clemson system and then focus in on developing them? Obviously, they’re doing something right.
Another example is Steve Spurrier. Stevie Wonder was at Florida for 12 years, during which time Georgia typically was credited with better recruiting classes than Spurrier and the Gators. From 1990-2001, Florida went 122-27-1, won six Southeastern Conference championships, lost in the 1995 national championship game and then beat FSU for the 1996 national title. From 1990-200, Georgia was 88-51-1, and not only didn’t win a single SEC championship but didn’t even win the SEC once.
There are a lot of theories about Spurrier and recruiting, but people I know and trust who will forget more football in the next nanosecond than the average recruitnik will know in a lifetime, attribute Florida’s success to Spurrier finding players who best fit his system and then developing them.
With that in mind, I’ll make a rather rational defense of Dan Mullen and his 2020 recruiting class.
Does it ooze with star power? Not necessarily, it is a solid class that more than meets depth issues at nearly every position. Take wide receiver, for example. I asked Mullen at his press conference what is his ideal number of wide receivers on scholarship. His answer: TEN. Counting the seven the Gators already had on scholarship and the two – Texas transfer Jordan Pouncey and Ja’Quavian Fraziars – that signed Wednesday, that means UF has NINE on scholarship, which means there is one vacancy that could be filled, for example, by Leonard Manuel (committed but didn’t sign), Marc Britt (committed but didn’t sign), graduate transfer (from Michigan) Tarik Black or Penn State transfer Justin Shorter. Should the Gators be worried about losing Sam Brown to West Virginia? Not really, and I can all but guarantee you that Sam Brown isn’t as good as Fraziars
The Gators added four quality offensive linemen so now there are 16. They added seven in the secondary so there are 17 DBs. Mullen said he’d like to have four quarterbacks (Anthony Richardson makes three) so there is a need to add one more there, either by transfer or a developmental kid who doesn’t mind redshirting and sitting for at least three years. Running back needs one more, but Mullen pointed out he’s not done recruiting and there is every good chance Florida will wind up in February with Henry Parrish, the former Pitt commitment who is the best running back in South Florida.
Even without Tim Smith, the defensive line class might be the best in the country. The Smith situation might have a silver lining, however. Clyde Pinder Jr. didn’t sign with North Carolina on Wednesday. A few people who know a lot more about recruiting than I do say it’s very likely he was waiting to see what Smith did. Had Smith signed with Florida, Pinder would be a Tar Heel today. That Smith went ahead and signed with Alabama, they tell me, means Pinder is about 90% certain to sign with the Gators. Add Pinder to a D-line class that has Gervon Dexter, who is all but assured of getting his fifth star, Johnnie Brown, Jalen Lee and Lamar Goods and the Gators have their best group since 2010 when Dominique Easley and Sharrif Floyd signed.
Given that the Gators have Georgia transfer Brenton Cox Jr. eligible next year and they signed Antwaun Powell Wednesday, I don’t think it’s worth losing even a second of sleep over the loss of Donnell Harris. He’s a good player and the Gators wanted him, but he would have been an extra, not a necessity. A quick story on Harris. He was 190 when he visited Florida during the summer. He was 220 when he came to UF in the fall and that’s when he got his offer. Do I blame Florida for slow playing him back when he was 190? Hardly.
I could probably go on with comparisons, but instead I’ll simply point out the following:
(1) Dan Mullen has won 20 games in two seasons at UF. He has filled in nearly all the holes in the roster with quality players to the point where the Gators have the kind of depth you have to have to win big in the Southeastern Conference. The fact that he’s won 20 with all the deficits left behind by the previous coach is fairly amazing.
(2) Mullen really likes the players he landed in this class. Maybe he didn’t get everybody he wanted but he got players that (a) want to be Gators and (b) fit into the system he’s running.
(3) Mullen isn’t going to sell out his soul for stud recruiters who are average coaches. Alabama did that in 2018 and while Nick Saban got a lot of very good football players in that recruiting class, but on the field coaching lagged behind. Alabama got by on talent alone until Clemson came along in the national championship game and blew the Crimson Tide’s doors off. Alabama is still paying the price for that goof up.
(4) What Mullen did at Mississippi State was a testament to exceptional talent evaluation and then player development. If you’ve ever been to Starkville then you know exactly what I’m talking about. He wasn’t ever going to get the guys that Alabama and LSU land every year so he had to beat the bushes to find the players and then develop them. He hasn’t gone brain dead since he left Mississippi State. He’s recruiting better players now than he did at MSU and now he almost has Florida’s depth where he wants and needs it to be.
(5) I’ve said this before but I’m not at all sure how many of you understand how far relationships had sunk between the Florida coaching staff and high school coaches in the state. It has been an uphill battle since the day Mullen arrived on campus and things have improved exponentially. Are relationships fully repaired? No, but they’re getting a whole lot better.
So do us all a favor. Step back off the ledge. Give Mullen and his staff an opportunity to develop the talent that has been accumulated. Florida is far better off now than it was when Mullen took over and things are only going to get better. Recruiting is good. It will get better. Winning does that for you and the winning is only just beginning.