This week's edition from the Sunshine State. Ready? Go!
You've covered recruiting for more than 20 years now. What are some of the main ways the recruiting culture of south Florida has changed during that time? More kids than ever are leaving south Florida. Can Miami cure that simply by winning big again, or is it more of a reflection on the times?
Everything has changed over the past two decades. Think about it.
College football is a sport covered from head to toe. Games are televised practically every night of the week. There are a billion blogs and multiple team specific web-sites. Then you have the full buffet of games on each and every Saturday, where you can park yourself on your couch and watch them all. There's GameDay, College Football Final on ESPN and countless highlight shows.
Meanwhile, your lap top, tablet and or cell phone are [all] up and running. While you are watching the game of your choice you can be multi-tasking on twitter and on the CanesTime message board.
But I don't feel that now, not at all. Because of the cell phone, text messaging/email, social media, the 24 hours sports new cycle, ESPN, and the wall to wall coverage of college football in general, nothing feels far away with this game. We are all together in a sense watching the game we love unfold before our very eyes. We are sharing the experience together as fans from coast to coast.
And I get a real sense that this is how recruits see things today. Technology has given us this. South Florida recruits see Alabama football as much as they see their hometown ‘Canes. They read about Johnny Manziel/Texas A&M more than about Duke Johnson.
The boom of technology combined with the television coverage has absolutely exploded the game of college football. It's been a perfect storm and a perfect marriage.
And that has opened up the door to the state of Florida for teams like Clemson, Syracuse, Cincinnati, UCLA and Boise State. Everyone comes to the Sunshine State to try and get their haul of the Florida football talent. I talked about it last week [here], how roughly 350 D1 kids from Florida sign every year.
This has certainly made things more difficult on Miami, Florida and Florida State. I have always believed that the two teams with the two biggest recruiting advantages are Miami and LSU, because of what is in their backyards. And for the sake of this answer's length, I am going to stick with talking about the Hurricanes.
There is more talent in the south Florida than anywhere else. In defense of Miami, they have to fend off everyone, including the Gators, Seminoles, Alabama, Georgia, USC, Ohio State, etc. You know the teams and they are coming to this part of Florida every single recruiting cycle to land recruits.
Sure, the ‘Canes are still the top dog in south Florida, but it's not so easy. Despite their resurgence in recruiting of late they still have lost too many locals like Amari Coooper (Alabama), Dalvin Cook (FSU), Sony Michel (Georgia), Matthew Thomas (FSU), and Alex Collins (Arkansas), just to name of few. Big name kids in the 2015 class have picked other football powers like Calvin Ridley (Alabama) Shawn Burgess-Becker (Alabama) and Tyrek Cole (FSU).
Miami will never put up a fence in their backyard. Simply, it is just impossible. First, there are just too many recruits. They all can't go to Miami. Second, there are just too many good options within the state, regionally and nationally. Technology and the coverage of the game has essentially marketed and promoted so many of the other great programs throughout the country.
The bottom line is this, it's still the same for Miami; it's all about evaluating the right guys for you and what you do. Then you have to go get them and sign them. Certainly Mike, "winning big" will go a long way in their recruiting efforts. And I believe they are on the right track with Al Golden.
How do you see the Florida wide receiver board shaking out?
Florida has already committed Tristan Payton (Jacksonville First Coast). He's one of my favorites in this class. I love his build, the way he fights for the ball and his giant hands. Payton runs well and seems to snatch the ball out of the air. Catching the football looks so natural to him.
He looks like an outside wide receiver while Jalen Julius (Winter Haven West Orange) looks like a slot, if Florida decides to keep him on offense. This Gator commitment could end up at cornerback. To me though, he's the kind of playmaking weapon you want on offense, especially with this roster in Gainesville. The third wide receiver pledge is an out-of-stater in Derrick Dillon (Franklinton, La./Pine). He's a high school quarterback and a good athlete that projects at wide receiver position. This kid will bring a ton of speed to the Gator offense.
Florida has already lost two Gator commitments in this class - Da'vante Phillips (Miami Central) and Deondre Farrior (Lake Nona, Fla.). Julius has recently made visits to other schools. On top of this, Florida wide receiver coach Joker Phillips is no longer with the team and resigned last week. His replacement is former quarterback Chris Leak.
At this point I think the Gators are definitely in the hunt for receivers like George Campbell (Tarpon Springs, Fla./East Lake) and Auden Tate (Tampa Wharton). Those are two big and athletic outside guys. Ray Ray McCloud (Tampa Sickles) could be a running back or slot for Florida offensively. Then you have a guy like Ryan Davis (St. Petersburg Lakewood). He told me last week that he wanted to make a trip to visit the Gators this summer.
Again, this could all change depending on the outcome of a dozen games this fall and what this team shows on the offensive side of the ball. It could be for the better or worse. I believe it's absolutely imperative that this Gator team show some offensive juice this season or it will be a very tough sell and difficult finish with this class at this position.
You would think that Will Muschamp and the Gator would like to bring in three to four receiver. At least for now, they are in the mix for a lot of talented, playmakers here. I know if I were a recruit I would want to see what they look like on the field when the bullets are flying for real this fall. And I would certainly hope they look better than last season's offensive disaster.
Then again, you just never know. It's a different time in terms of recruiting and today's prospect tends to commit early and then take trips. When that happens all bets are off.
You bring up a good example with Treon Harris (Florida signee). First, I think this Miami Booker T. Washington standout shocked many by originally committing to Florida State. Never in a millions years did I suspect he would back away and sign with the Gators. If anything, I figured he would end up at Miami, the school he has so many ties too. But Florida made their scheme move to a spread, brought in a new offensive coordinator [Kurt Roper] and the rest is history.
Could the same happen with Johnson? Could a team persuade him to change his decision? I tend to doubt it. A handful of other schools have offered him like Auburn, Florida, Clemson, Tennessee, Ohio State, Nebraska, UCLA and others.
On the flip side, the Seminoles have offered other quarterbacks like Deondre Francois (Bradenton IMG Academy) and Kai Locksley (Baltimore Gilman School). At this point, if there is another quarterback addition it could be Francois but Auburn seems to have made a huge move for him. Locksley could make a decision soon and FSU is in the mix. But he first wants to make a visit to Texas and check out the Lornhorns before he makes his commitment. If the Seminoles landed one of these guys how would it effect Johnson?
Florida State just wrapped up their big June camp season and there were no new quarterback targets in Tallahassee. Keep an eye on next month's session, particularly with who, if any, out-of-staters turn out. At the end of the day, FSU would never turn down another outstanding quarterback recruit if he wanted to come play for the Seminoles. If that were to happen then keep a watchful eye on what Johnson does.
USF just pulled in a really good class after their worst season ever. A major selling point was the ability was to come in right away and compete for a starting spot. If USF were to pull off six wins this season what kind of impact do you think that will have in recruiting? Do you think it would start to make USF somewhat competitive with the "Big Three" inside Florida with the way things are moving? If not, what do you think USF would have to do in order to start making their mark on the state of Florida?
Willie Taggart inherited a major rebuilding project when he took over this USF football program. The roster needed to be completely revamped from top to bottom. In a nut shell, Skip Holtz just about destroyed what Jim Leavitt had built.
Yes, a major selling point is the ability to play early. Taggart and the Bulls also want to create competition across the board at every single position with every recruiting class. It's going to take a few more classes and it's all about recruiting consistently well over a given period of time. Certainly, going .500 this season and winning a half dozen games would be a very positive step in the right direction. A season of six wins would validate what this coaching staff is preaching to the recruits, that this is a rebuild and it will take time but they are taking the right steps.
More than anything, South Florida needs to win a conference championship. This is something that hasn't been done yet. That's the next step for this program and it has been for some time. It should be their mantra every single year – win your conference title.
And I don't see it as something that is so far-fetched. This is not the SEC, Pac 12 or ACC. It's the American Athletic Conference. Gone is Louisville. There's no reason whatsoever that USF shouldn't be competing for the AAC title sooner rather than later. I am not saying it should happen in 2014 but it's shouldn't be improbable in the near future.
In terms of the Big Three, USF shouldn't be concerned with what Florida State, Florida and Miami are doing. They are not there yet. Like I wrote last week, it's that trio that wields the recruiting power in this state.
Having said that, there is certainly more than enough prospects from Florida to build your roster. There really shouldn't be a reason to even leave the Sunshine State unless you are going to spot recruit certain positions like quarterback or the offensive front.
For the Bulls, it's all about evaluating and recruiting the right guys for what they do. It will be more of a grind until they start winning and competing for conference titles. Heck, even then it will be hard because recruiting is never easy.
Does Maryland have a shot with Ray Ray McCloud?
The Terrapins are in the hunt for one of this season's most explosive recruits, Ray Ray McCloud (Tampa Sickles). Maryland's Mike Locksley is recruiting him and he has also been known as one of the country's ace recruiters.
McCloud, 5-foot-10, 180-pounds, is an amazing talent, especially with the ball in his hands. He could play running back, slot receiver or even on the other side of the ball at cornerback. This is the kind of kid Maryland and a ton of other teams would kill for.
McCloud told me last night that the "Terrapins are definitely in the mix and that they are a great school."
I still believe that Clemson is the team to beat. His very good friend, Deon Cain (Tampa Bay Tech), just committed to the Tigers. But there are a handful of other schools in the mix like Florida, USF, North Carolina and UCLA. His cousin, Josh Black, signed with the Bulls in February. That's big for South Florida. His father really likes the Gators and they just switched to the spread attack, which is the ideal scheme for McCloud. Then you have the Bruins and their offensive scheme that he loves.
McCloud, a four-star prospect, said he plans on visiting both USC and UCLA this summer. He has already made a week's work of visits this month to Georgia, North Carolina, N.C. State, Clemson and Wake Forest. It was on this trip that he fell in love with the campus and coaches at UNC.
Stay tuned, as the McCloud recruitment will be an intriguing one entering the fall. I have a feeling that what teams showcase on the field this season could go a long way to landing this playmaker from Tampa. And certainly Maryland finds themselves in the mix, which is all you can ask for at this point.
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