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Florida Gators' recruiting class has star quality

cream of the crop: Defensive end Ronald Powell of Moreno Valley, Calif., signs his letter of intent with Florida. Powell is the star of the Gators’ stellar recruiting class and Rivals.com ranks him the top player in the country.

MARK ZALESKI | Press-Enterprise

cream of the crop: Defensive end Ronald Powell of Moreno Valley, Calif., signs his letter of intent with Florida. Powell is the star of the Gators’ stellar recruiting class and Rivals.com ranks him the top player in the country.

For weeks, instability ruled in college football.

At Florida, the coach with two national champion­ships announced he was taking a leave of absence.

At Southern California, the sideline icon left for the NFL.

At Tennessee, the loose-lipped leader bolted for USC after only a season.

Each program, it seemed, would surely suffer on national signing day, if only a little.

Or … maybe not.

On Wednesday, the traditional powers emerged from what some figured were potentially crippling developments to build recruiting classes that were envied by many.

Particularly Florida.

The Gators and their flip-flopping coach, Urban Meyer, who quit one day in late December then decided not to quit the next, somehow put together what might go down as the most highly rated group in school history. The class was the consensus No. 1 pick by all notable recruiting services (except Rivals.com), and landing Chaz Green, a coveted offensive tackle from Tampa Catholic, certainly didn't hurt. Neither did grabbing defensive end Ronald Powell of Moreno Valley, Calif., a player Rivals.com calls the nation's best.

"When the day started off, I really thought it could be either Florida or Texas (at No. 1)," said Allen Wallace, SuperPrep national editor. "I didn't see the big disparity there that others saw. But after (Wednesday), I understand why. They finished strong."

Lane Kiffin's personal image might have been damaged by his shocking, and abrupt, departure from Tennessee last month, but recruits apparently were unaffected. All the Trojans did Wednesday was land a handful of elite recruits — notably offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson of Minnesota — and serve notice that there isn't likely to be a shortage of talent in Los Angeles any time soon.

Meantime, the school Kiffin jumped ship from, Tennessee, regrouped under his replacement, Derek Dooley, to compile one of the Southeastern Conference's most impressive hauls.

Florida State also was among the day's biggest winners.

The Seminoles, now under first-year coach Jimbo Fisher, who replaced noted recruiting closer Bobby Bowden, have an excellent class, one led by Wednesday's signing of Tampa Catholic receiver prospect Christian Green, Scout.com's top player in Florida. Earlier in the day, they scored big again with Winter Park Lake Howell linebacker Christian Jones, a Rivals.com five-star recruit.

"A lot of help is on the way, particularly on the defensive side of the ball," said Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Jamie Newberg.

Also impressive were:

• Auburn, which under coach Gene Chizik, a Clearwater native, responded to archrival Alabama's recent national championship with a class every bit as respected by analysts as the Crimson Tide's.

• Texas and Oklahoma, which again distanced themselves from their Big 12 opponents by landing scoopfuls of four-star players.

• Joe Paterno, who at age 83 has a class that met all the team's needs, according to ESPN recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill.

The biggest loser? Possibly Illinois, which under former Florida coach Ron Zook has a class not in the Rivals.com top 50 and at press time ranked below Hawaii.

Locally, USF, under first-year coach Skip Holtz, signed 19 players for a class that appears solid, if not spectacular, and is led by touted Hillsborough High cornerback Terrence Mitchell, whom some services call a top-100 national prospect.

"You can't really count the first class," Newberg said. "It's the most difficult thing to do."

At Tampa Catholic, the pledges of consensus top-100 national recruits Chaz Green and Christian Green (no relation), generated so much buzz they were shown live on ESPNU. The St. Petersburg Times learned of Christian Green's pick just minutes before his announcement.

"It was a tough decision," said Hiram Green, Christian's father.

What wasn't so tough: deciding who was No. 1 on signing day.

"I think we've got the best recruiting class in the nation," said Florida recruit Leon Orr, a defensive tackle from Gulf High.

On this day, nearly everyone seemed to agree.

Keith Niebuhr can be reached at kniebuhr@sptimes.com

Rivals.com

1. Southern Cal

2. Florida

3. Texas

4. Auburn

5. Alabama

6. LSU

7. Oklahoma

8. UCLA

9. Tennessee

10. Florida State

Scout.com

1. Florida

2. Oklahoma

3. Texas

4. Alabama

5. Auburn

6. UCLA

7. Southern Cal

8. LSU

9. Penn State

10. Florida State

ESPNU

1. Florida

2. Texas

3. Alabama

4. Auburn

5. Oklahoma

6. Florida State

7. LSU

8. Southern Cal

9. Tennessee

10. Penn State

fast facts

Top national recruiting classes

Florida Gators' recruiting class has star quality 02/04/10 [Last modified: Thursday, February 4, 2010 12:46am]

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