Two days before suiting up in the Under Armour All-America Game at Tropicana Field, Dalvin Cook announced a change of heart.
After almost nine months as a Gators commitment, the five-star running back from Miami flipped to rival Florida State.
"I felt at heart that it was the school for me, and I can get everything I want to get done there," Cook told Fox Sports at the time.
He did, of course. Cook needed only three seasons to become FSU’s all-time leading rusher. He was one of the NFL’s top rookies for the Vikings before tearing his ACL.
But if he had gone to Gainesville instead of Tallahassee, the college football landscape would look much different — including Saturday’s FSU-Louisville matchup.
Cook was the kind of dynamic offensive weapon the Gators lacked under coach Will Muschamp. His addition to the 2014 roster would have given the Gators three NFL running backs (Armwood High product Matt Jones and eventual 49ers draft pick Kelvin Taylor). Even with a subpar offensive line and suspect quarterback play, that backfield would have been one of the best in the nation.
Cook had 43 plays of at least 10 yards as a true freshman at FSU; he would have provided the explosiveness to a UF offense that was No. 112 that year in big plays. UF might not have been challenging for the SEC East championship, but the Gators could have won at South Carolina — the offensive disaster that cost Muschamp his job.
Let’s assume UF’s offense showed enough promise with Cook for Muschamp to get another season. Then this alternate reality starts to get really interesting.
Before his dismissal, Muschamp and his staff built a solid relationship with a 2015 quarterback recruit at Boynton Beach High: Lamar Jackson.
Jackson liked UF enough that he wore a Gators backpack to his signing ceremony. His high school coach has said that Jackson probably would have signed with UF, if Muschamp hadn’t been fired. And in this universe, he hasn’t been.
So Jackson joins the Gators.
A once-dormant offense now has two of the country’s most dynamic players — three, assuming receiver Antonio Callaway still signs with UF, too — plus a talented Muschamp defense. UF won division titles in 2015 and 2016; it’s not a stretch to think that Jackson and Cook would have helped the Gators seriously challenge Alabama for the SEC title.
Without Jackson, Louisville wouldn’t be the national name it has become over the last season and a half, but it would still be a respected ACC program. The Cardinals, after all, nearly upset FSU in 2014 and had 10 players drafted the next spring.
The more interesting question is this: What would have happened to the Seminoles without Cook?
FSU has had plenty of other talented backs but none like Cook. He scored pivotal touchdowns all three times he played Miami, with each game decided by only one score. Fisher’s losing streak to the Hurricanes would be at four, not one.
Cook was the MVP of the Orange Bowl and the 2014 ACC title game; it’s hard to see FSU winning those without him — if the Seminoles could have qualified for either in the first place.
Fisher would still be leading FSU, but his 2013 national championship would feel even farther away. The pressure would be starting to mount slightly with this 2-3 start.
All thanks to the running back recruit who got away.
Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.