The Florida State Seminoles loaded their already burgeoning roster ofcollege football talent with some of the nation's best high school players on Wednesday, giving them what many consider one of the top recruiting classes in the country.
Not even the national champion Miami Hurricanes, who have finished ahead of FSU in the national polls in each of the past three years, could match the Seminoles on the first day high school players could sign national letters of intent to accept football scholarships. Nor could coach Steve Spurrier, who is sparking new life at the University of Florida.
"Florida State has enough athletes here to easily win the national championship, which is what recruiting is all about," said Allen Wallace, a recruiting analyst who publishes SuperPrep magazine.
"This is a class that ranks right up there with last year's, one of the top three in the country. Whether they're No. 1, 2 or 3 is not important. It's just important that you're there."
"Florida State is on another level compared to everybody," said Forrest Davis, editor and publisher of Southern Football Recruiting magazine. "They've been one of the top two or three recruiting teams in the country for the last few years. They have a very stable program and a great staff."
Other top recruiting classes were signed by Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Georgia and Ohio State, according to recruiting analysts from around the country. Miami has what experts consider a good recruiting class, but one that is disappointing in the context of the Hurricanes' national championship season.
Florida also did well considering the substantial problems Spurrier had to overcome when he took the job Jan. 1, including possible sanctions from the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
But the Seminoles not only dominated the state of Florida, they did an excellent job nationally.
They signed six Parade All-Americans: quarterback Chris Weinke from St. Paul, Minn.; running back Omar Ellison from Griffin, Ga.;
cornerback Clifton Abraham from Dallas; linebacker Ken Alexander from Austin, Texas; linebacker Marvin Jones from Miami; and cornerback Corey Sawyer from Key West.
"It looks pretty good," said Florida State coach Bobby Bowden. "I think being no lower than third in the nation the last three years, playing in major bowls the last three years and winning major bowls the last three years, all of that is a factor. This has been the smoothest recruiting year I can remember."
Most of what happened Wednesday was expected. Some of it was not.
Lateef Travis, a Parade All-America linebacker from Pensacola and the No. 1 player on the St. Petersburg Times Blue-Chip list, chose Florida over Miami; Jones, the No. 2 player on the St. Petersburg Times Blue-Chip list, chose Florida State over Miami; and James Roberson, a linebacker from Lake Wales who had orally committed to the Gators, signed with the Seminoles.
Roberson was considered the benchmark for Florida's recruiting class.
"He was the reason the Gators were happy as far as their in-state
recruiting," Wallace said. "This is another blow to Florida. Florida hasn't recruited in terms of national prominence. Although they got Lateef Travis - he's the flat-out best linebacker - there's obviously a question about whether he'll qualify (academically) or not. That diminishes his value to the Gator program at least on an immediate basis.
"Steve Spurrier is not going to turn it completely around. He got people to visit. But the optimism was pretty short-lived. The bottom line is it's not one of the top 25 classes in the country."
But the Gators did surprisingly well considering the turmoil the program has endured in recent months. Some experts believe Florida signed the second- or third-best class in the Southeastern Conference behind Georgia and Tennessee.
"If you're a Florida fan, what you have to do is look at the situation they came from, which was bad, really bad," Davis said. "I thought they were going to have a disastrous year. But after Spurrier got down there, he did a good job. They have a few star types, then the rest of them are quality people. They have something to work with."
So do the Hurricanes.
"It's disappointing if you expect the national champions to recruit a top-five class in the country," Wallace said. "It is not a class on a name basis that compares with Florida State. But there are some major players there. They've got guys who don't have major national names who always show up as being major players."
RECRUITING HOT LINE The Florida Football Recruiting Hotline, which updates the list of signees for the University of Florida, Florida State and the University of Miami, will be in service today at 1-900-860-1012.
The hotline, sponsored by Florida Football magazine, will be updated throughout the day. Calls to the 24-hour service can be made from any touch-tone or rotary dial phone. The cost is $2 for the first minute and $1 for each additional minute. As many as 48 calls can be handled simultaneously.
THE TIMES BLUE-CHIP LIST Name Pos. High school College Lateef Travis LB Pensacola Pine Florida Marvin Jones LB Miami Northwestern Florida St. Oscar McBride LB Chiefland Notre Dame Billy Glenn DL Daytona Seabreeze Florida St. Terry Dean QB Naples-Barron Collier Florida Larry Kennedy DB Sarasota Riverview Ohio St. Brian Osborn OL Plant City Auburn Jamie Turner DE Jacksonville Raines Did not sign Jay Austin QB Northeast Florida Corries Hardy DE Melbourne Miami Corey Sawyer DB Key West Florida St. Johnny Footman OT Lakeland Grambling Steve Gilmer DB Tallahassee Godby Florida St. The Blue Chips are "can't miss" college prospects as determined by a poll of recruiting coordinators from 15 Division I colleges that recruit heavily in Florida. A minimum of four votes was needed to make this year's Blue Chip list.