GAINESVILLE — Shortly after Florida's loss to Florida State in November in its final regular-season game, dejected Gators coach Will Muschamp told reporters he wouldn't be around town much for a while.
"I'll be out recruiting," he said.
The implication was clear. With Florida's 6-6 regular-season record cemented, the need to improve Florida's depth, and its talent, was evident. And Muschamp was wasting no time.
Today, with a little more than two weeks remaining before the Feb. 1 national signing day, Muschamp has assembled a recruiting class that is ranked among the top five by the three major recruiting services.
"The 6-6 season doesn't hurt that much because (Muschamp) is still new at Florida," said Scott Kennedy, director of scouting for Scout.com. "He can sell early playing time to fill in holes, and sometimes that can be a plus. If he's 6-6 again next year, he's got a credibility problem on the recruiting trail. But for now, recruits are willing to listen about coming to Florida and playing for a fiery guy like Muschamp."
Last year at this time, Muschamp was trying to salvage a class that he had no involvement with until he took over from Urban Meyer in January. The Gators signed just 17 players last year, and Muschamp said at the time he was more concerned about quality than just taking players to add to his numbers.
But a lot has changed since then. Since Muschamp's arrival, 11 players have left the program, and combined with the loss of 14 graduating seniors, the Gators' roster currently sits below 60. But Muschamp insists he won't change his basic philosophy.
"I haven't changed my approach," he said. "You still have to evaluate and take the right guys. It's a little bit different right now because you have a whole year to evaluate. I think that a little bit of my philosophy at that point (last year) was, don't take a guy that you weren't sure about. I think that is the most important thing.
"Right now, we have had a full year to evaluate, we know what we have evaluated, we have ranked everybody at every position, we understand the numbers at certain positions that we want to take, but we're not going to take a guy just to take a guy. We would rather check it all out. If there are five at one position and you want to take three, you know you can get two, and then take four more at another position. You feel good about those selections. More than anything, at the end of the day, it's like the NFL draft. You take the best player available in those positions."
Muschamp has been known to jokingly take shots at those who rank recruits, saying he recruits based on talent not by stars, referring to the ranking system used by recruiting services. There is some merit to that. Two years ago, Meyer pulled in what the recruiting services called the No. 1 class in the nation, and the Gators have gone 8-5 and 7-6 since.
"Muschamp has quietly put together a terrific class already," Kennedy said. "While Florida State has taken some of the spotlight from the Gators on the recruiting trail the last two years, there's still plenty of players headed to both teams to make for top-five classes."
Even with the loss of his offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, and the extended period before hiring former Boise State offensive coordinator Brent Pease, the Gators have persevered, which is exactly what Muschamp envisioned at the end of the season.
"At the end of the day, we're the University of Florida, and we're going to be fine," he said.