Florida, FSU signed solid classes Wednesday. But solid doesn’t win championships

FSU is on track for its worst recruiting class since 2007. The Gators are on pace for their second-worst of the Rivals era.
Keon Zipperer (seen here playing defense in 2017) is part of the Lakeland trio heading to Gainesville. [ TIMES FILE ]
Keon Zipperer (seen here playing defense in 2017) is part of the Lakeland trio heading to Gainesville. [ TIMES FILE ]
Published Dec. 19, 2018|Updated Dec. 20, 2018

GAINESVILLE — Through the first day of the early signing period, Florida and Florida State have compiled solid recruiting classes.

Not great. Not bad.


Too bad solid might not be good enough if Dan Mullen and Willie Taggart want to start bringing conference and national championships back to the Gators and Seminoles. To do that, they need to be recruiting at elite levels.

Neither one is, according to the class rankings Wednesday night. The two power programs failed to sign any of the nation's top 100 prospects.

As Taggart's FSU predecessor (Jimbo Fisher) and former program (Oregon) landed top-five classes, the Seminoles were fighting to stay in the top 15. If FSU's current ranking (No. 14) holds through the February signing period, it will be the program's worst haul in 11 years.

In a 10-minute span Wednesday afternoon, FSU lost four-star defensive end commit Derick Hunter to Fisher's Aggies, then saw quarterback commit Sam Howell flip to Mack Brown and North Carolina.

Howell's loss leaves an enormous hole. It's not just his talent — he's a four-star talent and a top-100 national recruit. It's the fact that FSU is thin at the position and might get even thinner.

Taggart didn't sign a quarterback in the last class, so FSU's only two scholarship quarterbacks are James Blackman and Deondre Francois … who might not be around next year. Francois graduated this semester, he can transfer elsewhere and become eligible immediately, or he could enter the NFL draft. Taggart said Francois is "weighing his options."

"Florida State will be fine…" Taggart reassured reporters in Tallahassee. "We'll get a QB in here."

But FSU's options are limited. Of ESPN's top 29 quarterback recruits, only one (four-star prospect Lance Legendre) is unsigned. That means the 'Noles might have to fill the void behind center through the booming transfer market.

The Gators' day was much less eventful; all 17 of their commits signing before lunchtime. Yet UF's class needed a late push to end Day 1 two spots lower than FSU, at No. 16. That would be the Gators' second-lowest finish of the Rivals era.

Mullen admittedly checks recruiting rankings but isn't worried. His worst class at Mississippi State ranked No. 41 with an unheralded quarterback (Dak Prescott) that Mullen developed into a star.

"That's a group that went on to be the No. 1 team in the country," Mullen said.

It didn't finish there because the programs that win championships recruit at a championship level. At least half of the rosters of all four College Football Playoff semifinalists are four- or five-star recruits. Georgia has signed 18 blue-chip prospects this class; UF and FSU have combined for 17.

There's still time for both teams to bolster their classes, either over the next two days or on February's traditional signing day. FSU could land four-star offensive lineman Will Putnam out of Plant High on Thursday. UF should be in the mix for top-70 defensive backs Kaiir Elam and Chris Steele.

And both schools had some successes Wednesday.

FSU moved to repair its anemic offensive line with three signees, including four-star guard Dontae Lucas from Bradenton's IMG Academy and juco transfer Jay Williams. Taggart also poached a pair of Carol City prospects: defensive lineman Malcolm Ray (away from USF) and cornerback Jarvis Brownlee (away from Miami).

UF landed a four-star dual-threat quarterback, Jalon Jones, then mined Lakeland for a trio of four-star prospects —tight end Keon Zipperer, offensive lineman Deyavie Hammond and defensive end Lloyd Summerall —that were among the Gators' top five recruits.

"I thought it was a pretty solid day," Mullen said.

But solid usually isn't good enough to bring championships back to the state.

Contact Matt Baker at Follow @MBakerTBTimes.