GAINESVILLE — Florida’s biggest college football programs got better Wednesday on early signing day.
The Gators signed a class that lacked superstars but was deeper than usual. Florida State boasts the nation’s No. 2 transfer class, while the Miami Hurricanes had their best haul since 2008.
But are any of them enough to return those programs to glory? That’s the question that will linger long after an eventful Wednesday.
Here are six takeaways from the start of the early signing period:
1. The Gators made incremental progress
Billy Napier’s first full class is 12th nationally and seventh in the SEC (including future members Texas and Oklahoma). That’s on par with recent rankings from Dan Mullen and Jim McElwain, but the 18 blue-chip recruits are tied for UF’s most since 2010.
Fourteen of the 20 signees are from Florida. However, the Gators were relatively quiet Wednesday and failed to land any of the state’s top 20 prospects (including those at Bradenton’s IMG Academy.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of others out there we’d like to have, too,” Napier said of his in-state recruiting, “but I do think this group reflects our philosophy, if that makes sense.”
The philosophy is an inside-out approach that must continue to improve.
2. UF’s quarterback competition is expanding
The Gators’ biggest win happened last month when they flipped quarterback Jaden Rashada from Miami. The California native is the nation’s No. 56 overall prospect and UF’s highest-rated quarterback since Will Grier in 2014. Napier said Rashada is a football junkie with a great arm.
But Napier also said UF will pursue a passer through the portal. That passer will be Wisconsin’s Graham Mertz. The Kansas native was a top-100 national recruit and had a historic first start (20-of-21 passing for 248 yards and five touchdowns against Illinois in 2020). His career numbers with the Badgers, however, are pedestrian: 38 touchdown passes, 26 interceptions and a 127.7 passing efficiency.
Mertz announced the move late Wednesday. He wasn’t the top quarterback in the portal — North Carolina State’s Devin Leary chose Kentucky, while Coastal Carolina’s Grayson McCall is still weighing his options — but perhaps Mertz needs only a change of scenery to live up to his potential.
Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene
Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
3. Florida State continues to shine in the portal
The Seminoles had an eventful day, beating Miami for top-500 athlete Edwin Joseph but losing top-100 recruit Keldric Faulk to Auburn. FSU also held onto Hykeem Williams, the program’s first five-star signee since 2017 (a class that included Cam Akers).
FSU’s recruiting ranking (20th) doesn’t tell the full story. The Seminoles picked up six players through the transfer portal in a class that’s only behind Michigan. Two of those players, South Carolina tight end Jaheim Bell and UTEP offensive lineman Jeremiah Byers, were among the top 20 players in the portal, according to 247Sports. Add in Colorado offensive lineman Casey Roddick, Miami defensive lineman Darrell Jackson and Auburn offensive lineman Keiondre Jones, and the Seminoles gained 105 career Division I-A starts.
Many of FSU’s best players, including running back Trey Benson, defensive end Jared Verse and offensive lineman Dillan Gibbons, were portal pickups under coach Mike Norvell. Their success has made FSU a top destination for transfers.
4. USF made a few splashes
New Bulls coach Alex Golesh had only two and a half weeks to prepare for the early signing period, so it’s unfair to expect too much. He did, however, add 16 signees (12 from high schools or junior colleges and four transfers) in a class that’s ninth among current AAC members.
One of them was James Jenkins, a three-star offensive lineman from Carrollwood Day. He decommitted from Cincinnati last week and was also pursued by East Carolina. Golesh also got Clearwater Academy International offensive lineman Nikola Milovac to flip from Old Dominion.
USF’s transfer acquisitions include a pair of former blue-chip recruits from blue-blood programs: cornerback Kendall Dennis from Oklahoma and edge rusher Lloyd Summerall from Florida. Summerall is a Lakeland native who appeared in 28 games for the Gators.
5. There wasn’t much drama in Tampa Bay
Most of the area’s top prospects stuck with their oral commitments: Five-star Berkeley Prep linebacker Keon Keeley (Alabama), four-star Jesuit High linebacker Troy Bowles (Georgia), four-star Clearwater Academy International offensive lineman Lucas Simmons (Florida State) and four-star Wiregrass Ranch receiver Bryson Rodgers (Ohio State). Four-star Carrollwood Day offensive lineman Clay Wedin was Auburn’s first signee.
One exception was Lakewood High edge rusher Isaiah Nixon. The No. 267 overall recruit flipped from Florida to UCF, where he first committed over the spring.
6. Miami’s class is TBD
The Hurricanes kept a pair of five-star offensive linemen, Francis Mauigoa and Samson Okunlola, and beat Alabama to secure four-star cornerback Damari Brown. The class was fourth nationally, which would be the Hurricanes’ best haul since finishing No. 1 in 2008. If it stands.
The uncertainty stems from the nation’s No. 2 overall recruit, Lakeland High cornerback Cormani McClain. He picked the ‘Canes over Florida and Alabama in October but did not sign Wednesday. Mario Cristobal’s first full class is good either way but will be elite if McClain sticks.
• • •