Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Colleges

Florida State, Florida and Miami land near-consensus top-10 recruiting classes

The national signing day war room in Tallahassee featured so many figurative and physical acrobatics, one might have guessed Jimbo Fisher signed a few five-star gymnasts.

At one juncture, highly coveted Lakewood defensive end and longtime Seminole oral commitment Dante Fowler Jr. was flipping.

At another, Fisher was backflipping — or so one has to presume.

A day that began with Fowler publicly spurning the 'Noles for Florida ended with Fisher hauling in enough four- and five-star gems to merit national acclaim and put his class ahead of the Gators and Miami, according to two of the four major recruiting services.

"I love our class," Fisher said. "I think that we got a lot of the guys that we really wanted and met our needs, and that's the big thing."

So, too, did the Gators and Hurricanes, both of whom landed con­sensus top-10 classes.

Miami's 33-player class, boosted by the signature of Miramar five-star cornerback Tracy Howard and five bay area recruits, was especially surprising. The Hurricanes face potential NCAA sanctions in the wake of a booster's claims of years of illegal benefits to players.

"I'm not going to sit here and tell you we didn't get absolutely crushed by our opponents on this," Miami coach Al Golden said. "And we fought back."

Florida, meantime, addressed its deficiencies up front in a big way. Of its 23 recruits (17 signees, six early enrollees), 14 play on the line of scrimmage. Armwood tailback Matt Jones gives the Gators the chiseled, downhill force the 2011 team sorely lacked.

Fowler's fax didn't hurt either. The 6-foot-3, 261-pounder, who deems himself more of an end/linebacker hybrid, indicated he felt more comfortable in Florida's 3-4 scheme.

"We saw very easily in our season this year we struggled on both lines of scrimmage consistently being able to run the ball and stop the run," Florida second-year coach Will Muschamp said. "I certainly feel like we've addressed our most pressing need."

But from a sheer statewide perspective, the day belonged to the 'Noles.

ESPNU.com and 247Sports.com picked FSU's 18-member class as the nation's second best behind Alabama's 26-player haul. That was without Hueytown (Ala.) quarterback Jameis Winston, who orally committed to FSU last summer but didn't sign. (He said he expects to do so by next week at the latest.)

A pro baseball prospect, Winston — the top-ranked quarterback, according to ESPNU — was competing in a baseball tournament Wednesday but told ESPN, "I'm a 'Nole, man. I'm a 'Nole."

"Pound for pound, (FSU's) was the No. 1 class in America," said Josh Newberg, the FSU and USF recruiting analyst for 247Sports.

Helping offset the loss of Fowler was the signature of two other prized defensive ends: Mobile (Ala.) Under Armour All-American Chris Casher and USA Today Defensive Player of the Year Mario Edwards of Denton, Texas.

Additionally, five-star defensive tackle Eddie Goldman of Washington, D.C. was a coup courtesy of defensive line coach Odell Haggins, who recruits the nation's capital for FSU.

Complementing the size was speed to burn. Sunday, Orlando Boone wideout Marvin Bracy set the U.S. high school record with the world's fastest 55-meter indoor time this year (6.08 seconds). Four-star defensive back Ronald Darby of Potomac, Md., is nearly as fast.

"I think (Fisher) definitely felt good about the way it all ended," said Chris Nee, the state of Florida recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. "It's a very good class from top to bottom."

Just not quite as good as Alabama's.

The defending national champ signed 13 players among the ESPNU 150 and a quintet of linebackers hailed as the nation's best.

"Alabama's basically a minor-league NFL team at this point," Nee said.

Joey Knight can be reached at [email protected]

 
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