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With Florida Gators somewhat quiet, South Florida Bulls, FSU Seminoles and others sign impressive football recruiting classes

Less than a month ago, Urban Meyer was hoisting crystal, Tim Tebow was hoisting the spirit of his fan base with a promise to remain in school, and the Gator Nation was hoisting everything from soda to spirits in collective bliss.

On Wednesday, you could have heard a fax machine drone as the euphoria began dissipating in Gainesville. The success that intoxicated the University of Florida in January now might be starting to victimize it. If only slightly.

Armed with fewer-than-normal scholarships, and unable to guarantee playing time to most recruits because of a congested depth chart, the Gators spent the day watching themselves tumble from the upper tier of most national recruiting rankings.

Meantime, USF enjoyed the best national signing day of its short life.

Such were the developments Wednesday, the first day high school seniors could sign letters of intent with college football programs. Nationally, Alabama ended the day with virtually a consensus top-five recruiting class, while Florida State's 21-member class earned top-12 recognition from at least three recruiting services.

The Tide, ranked first by a second straight year, closed strong with an afternoon signature from five-star Pensacola running back Trent Richardson. He was one of four five-star recruits, including Foley (Ala.) tackle D.J. Fluker, widely deemed the nation's top offensive lineman.

The class also included Armwood linebacker Petey Smith, whose brother Eric signed with Auburn last February. Smith was one of nine Armwood players to sign Wednesday, the most of any bay area high school.

Other schools earning No. 1 signing day nods from various services: LSU and Ohio State.

"For the second year in a row (Tide coach Nick Saban) got almost every single guy he wanted from the state of Alabama," said longtime national recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS College Sports, who ranked Alabama's class fifth. "Saban is a formidable foe. He and Meyer are almost identical-type recruiters."

Speaking of Meyer, his class was ranked as high as ninth by Lemming, and as low as 21st by longtime recruiting analyst Allen Wallace of

"Any time you can't sell immediate playing time to kids, it's difficult, even though you are Florida," said national analyst Jeremy Crabtree, whose service ranked the Gators 10th.

"You can't say they did a bad job … it's just a lot of people had expectations like, you win a national championship, maybe you should have the No. 1 recruiting class. It doesn't always work out that way."

At least not when essentially your entire defense, first- and second-stringers, is returning. Nonetheless, Meyer landed one of the nation's top linebackers in Maryland's Jelani Jenkins, and helped offset the departure of Percy Harvin with Sanford receiver Andre Debose.

Two previous Gators commitments, Pahokee receiver Nu'Keese Richardson and Henry County (Tenn.) athlete Marsalis Teague, signed with Tennessee.

"We had 22 players coming back on defense," said Meyer, whose 16 signees Wednesday were the fewest of any SEC school. "Twenty-two. Not 11, not nine, not four. We have our top 22 coming back."

By contrast, USF coach Jim Leavitt's 28-member class was the most lauded in the program's 12-year history, earning top-30 rankings from at least four major national recruiting services. ranked it the second-best class in the Big East behind West Virginia.

"I would say that, on paper, this is a tremendous class," Leavitt said.

"We have to wait and see how great it is going to be for a couple of years. Until a player comes in and produces at the University of South Florida and is well coached, has discipline and does the right things, we won't know. Now with that being said, I am elated."

The Bulls' prize catches: rangy Armwood defensive end Ryne Giddins, who chose the Bulls over the Gators; and Miami Pace defensive back Kayvon Webster, a nationally touted sprinter who previously had committed to Miami.

"I have them right now No. 27," Lemming said. "Obviously Ryne Giddins was a good reason for that. A player of that ilk was unusual. For South Florida now, they're in such a talent-laden area, if they're not in the top 30 or 40 every year, they're not doing their job."

FSU's class was led by five-star defensive tackle Jaccobi McDaniel of Greenville and Valdosta (Ga.) Parade All-America cornerback Greg Reid, MVP of last month's Under Armour All-America game.

"In my opinion, Jaccobi McDaniel, even though he's short (6 feet), was the best defensive tackle in the country," Lemming said.

With Florida Gators somewhat quiet, South Florida Bulls, FSU Seminoles and others sign impressive football recruiting classes 02/05/09 [Last modified: Thursday, February 5, 2009 3:04pm]
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