Despite backing his way into two SEC East titles (and a 46-141 point differential vs. FSU and Bama to end each of those seasons, along with a 41-7 beat down at the hands of Michigan in his first bowl game), Florida Coach Jim McElwain has recruited incredibly poorly relative to both what Gators fans had grown accustomed as well as his SEC rivals.
Here’s a look at McElwain’s three UF classes* – the 2015 class was a stub year as he was hired in late December/early January. A combination of low rankings, below-capacity numbers, and attrition has left UF devoid of elite level talent on both sides of the ball, even on defense where UF has even up until last season been an NFL farm club:
2015: Ranked 21st nationally with 20 signees. Of those, #5/#8/#10 are all off the team, while #4 (Antonio Callaway) has been in trouble more times than the Dukes of Hazzard and two others were part of the group involved in committing fraud with school funds
2016: Ranked 12th nationally with 25 signees. Of those, #6 is a little-used JUCO who is currently 4th string and #9 is in legal trouble.
2017: Ranked 11th nationally with 23 signees. Of those, four of them have been suspended already, including #2 and #8.
*247 Sports rankings
That said, while spending time insisting he wasn’t posing naked with sharks this spring he has also managed to assemble the nation’s #7 overall class heading into the 2017 football season. That ranking, along with some of the high profile prospects that the current class consists of, has at least temporarily alleviated some of the concerns that many Florida fans have had about McElwain’s recruiting prowess, or lack thereof. The Gators are also contenders for some other very good players that could improve not only the ranking but also the true quality of the class. The current ranking does not include two FBS transfers that will count as part of this class – DT Marlon Dunlap from UNC and OT Jean Delance from Texas. Both of them will be a part of the 2017 roster but won’t be eligible until the 2018 season. These guys have two things in common: 1) they both come from relatively high level programs, and 2) neither of them have accomplished anything in their careers to-date, hence the transfers. Nevertheless, they are already on campus and both will have a chance to be relatively instant contributors from this class.
However, in my opinion this Florida recruiting class as it stands is extremely vulnerable to a poor showing on the field, especially if their offense struggles yet again and a defensive fall-off reveals that the last two seasons’ success were entirely due to Will Muschamp’s leftover NFL talent. Here’s why: one would think that given the level of talent in the state of Florida a highly-ranked Gators class would be filled with Sunshine State prospects, and to a degree that’s true – 11 of the 17 current commitments are Floridians. Importantly though, five of the top eight ranked commitments are from out of state. This includes one from CA (#1 – QB Matt Corral, who if he gets his act together will see West Coast powers come calling), one from LA (#3 – WR Jamarr Chase, who LSU absolutely won’t give up on), one from GA (#5 – RB Damon Pierce) and two from the Northeast. Further, three of the Floridians are from Miami, leaving them vulnerable to the Hurricanes, especially if Mark Richt and Co. have a strong season. Finally, their #2 recruit – WR Jacob Copeland – is coveted by Alabama, who has very recent success in the state of Florida, specifically with WRs Amari Cooper and Calvin Ridley. This class is simply not set up to withstand the negative recruiting that would come with a bad season and all of the legitimate questions that would be raised about McElwain and the direction of the program by the media, fans, and opposing coaches.
Contrast that with Tennessee’s current class, in which six of the top nine ranked players are from the state of Tennessee and more than half the class will be early enrollees. That’s a class built to last from here until National Signing Day (or December, for all of those January enrollees and many of the others who intend to sign with the Vols in the early signing period).
I’m of the opinion that this is the season where the NFL talent drain, and McElwain’s inability to backfill it with anything approximating similar talent (not to mention the suspensions and lack of accountability in this program) will finally show up. The Gators have had double-digit NFL draftees in total after the last two seasons alone, and the current roster doesn’t have anything near that. Looking at their schedule there are upwards of seven very losable games: Michigan, Tennessee, LSU, Texas A&M, UGA, @South Carolina, and FSU. And that doesn’t even account for a possible upset from the likes of @Kentucky, Vandy, or @Missouri – none of the aforementioned seven games will see the Gators favored by more than 4-5 points, and they are underdogs to Michigan and will be to FSU, at the least. Should the QB situation not magically fix itself like some national pundits seem to think it will; should the stink of a program rife with internal issues and 4th and 5th chances manifest itself; should injuries strike their perilously thin OL, DT, and LB positions; should their upwards of four true freshmen in the secondary two-deep not be ready for prime time and be ready early – should any small combination of these things happen the Gators will likely have a very poor season. And if that happens, expect to see current Gators commitments, especially those from out of state and from Miami, look hard at their other options. Their commitment list would look a lot different than it does now, and not in a good way (unless you’re a Vols fan).