GAINESVILLE — Florida coach Dan Mullen was sitting in Emory Jones’ living room when he pointed out the full-circle nature of recruiting.
Mullen’s staff at Mississippi State was the first program to offer Jones a scholarship. Two and a half years later, his Gators were one of the last pursuing the four-star quarterback.
"God works in funny ways sometimes," Mullen said.
Whether it was divine intervention or just persistent recruiting, Jones signed with UF on Wednesday, the first day of the inaugural early signing period. He gives UF a dual-threat talent who will try to stabilize a position that began slipping after Mullen left to take over the Bulldogs after the 2008 national title.
Jones is UF’s top ranked quarterback recruit since five-star Jeff Driskel in 2011. The Franklin, Ga., native is the nation’s No. 40 overall prospect and No. 4 dual-threat quarterback, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings. He is expected to enroll early and compete with redshirt sophomore Feleipe Franks for the starting job.
Jones had been committed to Mullen’s old boss — Ohio State’s Urban Meyer — and visited Florida State last weekend. Meyer’s Buckeyes still ended Wednesday with the nation’s No. 1 class and 18 blue-chip signee (including Armwood running back Brian Snead), but Jones’ flip was Mullen’s first big recruiting victory at UF.
"Those are the expectations here," Mullen said. "Maybe the first, but certainly is not going to be the last."
It wasn’t. A few hours later, UF landed four-star safety Trey Dean, who also considered Alabama. UF’s 13 signees included Calvary Christian athlete Amari Burney and four other blue-chip prospects plus former Ole Miss receiver Van Jefferson, vaulting a class that had been ranked in the thirties to No. 14.
As the Gators rose, rival Florida State continued to drop. A Seminoles class that was in the top 10 a month ago signed only three recruits and ended Wednesday at No. 64 — below USF, Kansas, Western Michigan and Lovie Smith’s Illini.
About the only good news for FSU is that some of its top targets remain unsigned. That list includes three of new coach Willie Taggart’s former Oregon commits. Four-star Wesley Chapel defensive back Isaiah Bolden said he’ll choose between FSU and Clemson on Friday, and the Seminoles are still pursuing two blue-chip prospects from Armwood (defensive end Malcolm Lamar and receiver Warren Thompson).
Like UF, USF might have found its quarterback of the future as part of a class sitting second in the AAC and No. 53 nationally. The Bulls’ 15 signees included a pair of three-star passers — Atlanta’s Octavious Battle and Plant High’s Jordan McCloud — who could compete with veterans Brett Kean and Chris Oladokun as Quinton Flower’s replacement.
Barring a transfer, USF appears poised to have at least four players vying for the starting job since the 2013 preseason (Matt Floyd, Bobby Eveld, Steven Bench, Mike White).
"You have two players here in the program, and we’re trying to sign us a quarterback, but it’s going to be competition there," Strong said Monday.
Battle, the nation’s 37th-ranked dual-threat QB, totaled nearly 4,000 yards as a senior (including 3,221 passing yards and 23 touchdowns), brandishing some Flowers-type elusiveness when his pocket collapsed.
McCloud is ranked five spots behind Battle in the 247 rankings. He totaled nearly 2,800 yards (26 passing TDs) with 389 rushing yards as a senior.
But the top class in the state belongs to Miami, which continued building on its first ACC Coastal Division title with its best haul since finishing No. 1 in 2008. The Hurricanes ended Wednesday sixth nationally, behind Ohio State, Georgia, Texas, Penn State and Alabama.
Twelve of Miami’s 18 signees were blue-chippers, and four were top-65 recruits: five-star running back Lorenzo Lingard (Orange City University), four-star cornerback Al Blades Jr. (Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas), four-star receiver Mark Pope (Miami Southridge) and four-star tight end Brevin Jordan (Las Vegas).
The early signing period runs through Friday. After that, coaches will reset to prepare for the traditional national signing day Feb. 7.