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National signing day: What we make of good, not great classes at Florida, FSU and Miami

First-year coaches at UF and Miami had some nice wins (and key misses) on national signing day.
Only 59 days have passed since Billy Napier was hired by Florida, which makes his first recruiting class hard to evaluate.
Only 59 days have passed since Billy Napier was hired by Florida, which makes his first recruiting class hard to evaluate. [ BRAD MCCLENNY/THE GAINESVILLE SUN | AP ]
Published Feb. 2

GAINESVILLE — If you’re looking for any big-picture takeaways on Florida’s major programs from Wednesday’s traditional signing day, you won’t find any here.

The Big Three — Florida, Florida State and Miami — all finished between 14th and 20th in both 247Sports composite rankings, regardless of whether transfers were included. That’s not good enough to compete for national championships, as all three programs are supposed to do. But it’s not bad, either, considering the challenges UF and Miami faced with new coaching staffs and the bruise lingering from FSU’s 5-7 season.

Instead, Wednesday left us with a few snapshots that might (or might not) be indicative of the state’s future.

Related: National signing day live updates: Florida Gators sign two, USF adds its top recruit

Perhaps the most encouraging moment at Florida came when three-star offensive lineman Jalen Farmer stuck with the Gators, despite a late push from Alabama.

“Certainly it’s a good thing when some of the best programs in the country come in to try to recruit some of your commits …” first-year UF coach Billy Napier said. “So big win (Wednesday) for the Gators, for sure.”

There were some other big wins, too. Three-star receiver Caleb Douglas — a one-time USC commit from Texas — picked UF after visiting LSU last weekend. Clemson wanted Louisiana running back Trevor Etienne, the younger brother of former Tigers star Travis (now with the Jaguars). The top-200 national recruit stuck with the non-binding oral commitment he made to UF last month.

If the Gators are going to start beating the Alabamas and Clemsons on the field, they first must beat them on the recruiting trail. Napier’s predecessor, Dan Mullen, is out of a job because he didn’t do that enough.

Emory Jones was one of the blue-chip prospects Dan Mullen added in his first recruiting class at Florida.
Emory Jones was one of the blue-chip prospects Dan Mullen added in his first recruiting class at Florida. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Though it’s unfair to judge any coach’s recruiting by a transitional class, it is fair to compare Mullen’s first haul to the one Napier is finishing. Mullen added six blue-chip prospects (four- or five-star recruits) who were not previously committed to UF in his 2018 class. None of them were five-star talents in a class ranked 14th nationally.

Including transfers, Napier added seven. The biggest came in December when he snagged five-star safety Kamari Wilson from Bradenton’s IMG Academy to boost a class ranked 19th in recruiting and 17th if you include transfers.

The most telling example of the challenges Napier faced shows up geographically. The eight high school players he signed Wednesday are from seven different states. Only five of the 17 high school recruits he has signed since December are from Florida. That’s an unusually low ratio Napier called a product of his late hire.

Related: National signing day: Can the transfer portal save Florida recruiting?

“I think we basically just had to go evaluate the players that were available, and we looked all over the country,” Napier said.

He tried to get one of them from Texas but couldn’t reel in one of the top uncommitted prospects, Harold Perkins. The five-star linebacker signed with another first-year coach, LSU’s Brian Kelly.

“I don’t think I’ve ever batted 1.000 with signing day,” Napier said. “We’ve got to swing a lot and make contact, and at the end of the day we need 25 really good hits.”

First-year Hurricanes coach Mario Cristobal didn’t bat 1.000, either. Defensive lineman Shemar Stewart, a top-10 overall recruit from Opa-Locka, considered the ‘Canes but joined Jimbo Fisher’s Aggies to give Texas A&M one of the best classes of the modern recruiting era.

Miami did, however, sign four prospects and beat the Gators for four-star running back TreVonte’ Citizen and three-star offensive lineman Matthew McCoy. That was enough to give the Hurricanes the state’s top class (15th in recruiting, 14th including transfers).

The day was relatively uneventful elsewhere, as FSU, UCF and USF did their heavy lifting in December. The Knights officially signed eight transfers, including former UF tight end Kemore Gamble, former Mississippi quarterback John Rhys Plumlee and linebacker Terrence Lewis, a former five-star who’s coming from Maryland.

Kemore Gamble has transferred from the Gators to UCF.
Kemore Gamble has transferred from the Gators to UCF. [ BRONTE WITTPENN | TIMES | Times (2018) ]

The Bulls’ only addition was a big one: three-star Michigan linebacker Michael Williams. He’s the nation’s No. 394 overall prospect and the highest-rated signee in USF’s class (ranked 87th with recruits and 73rd including transfers).

The Seminoles were even quieter. They didn’t add any players to a class ranked 20th in recruiting (18th including transfers). The most interesting news out of Tallahassee was early enrollee quarterback AJ Duffy saying in a Zoom session with reporters that the player he most admires is retiring Bucs star Tom Brady.

Related: What does it take to recruit like Alabama and Georgia? ‘Total commitment.’

The ‘Canes and Gators should match that quiet next February, when they aren’t scrambling for as many last-minute commitments because of coaching changes. By then, we’ll have a better, fairer assessment of whether Cristobal and Napier can recruit at the level their programs (and fans) rightfully expect.

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