It is National Signing Day and by the time Jim McElwain steps to the podium for his press conference at the indoor practice facility at 3 p.m., Gator fans will either be cheering a fast finish that vaulted the Gators from a ranking in the 20s last week to somewhere closer to the top ten or else they will be lamenting about all the ones that got away. It’s the same way every single year. This one is no different than any others since NSD became the third most popular sporting event in all of college athletics.
Depending upon your preferences, first and second place belong to the national championship games in college football and basketball. For some reason, no one other than Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina and Duke fans seem to get all that worked up about the early signing day for college basketball, but football? That’s a totally different animal.
What will happen in Gainesville will be repeated at 127 other Division I schools as the entire college football nation lives and dies with decisions made by 17-, 18- and 19-year-old kids who have never played a down of college football.
Every single year it seems the post-signing day press conferences at all schools – and particularly Florida – are dominated by one of the four following thoughts:
1. We got a monster class that will lead us to a national championship: I’ve heard this four times. The first was 2003 when Ron Zook put together an amazing class headlined by everybody’s best player in the nation, quarterback Chris Leak. Leak promised he wouldn’t get a girlfriend until he led Florida to a national championship. He broke that promise but he did win the national championship in 2006. Reggie Nelson signed the first time with the Gators in 2003 but didn’t qualify, went to juco and came back in 2005. He was the eraser at safety Florida’s 2006 national championship team. Bubba Caldwell left UF as the all-time leader in receiving yards while linebacker Earl Everett, defensive tackle Joe Cohen, defensive end Jarvis Moss, punter Eric Wilbur and OT Carlton Medder were all starters on the 2006 national championship team.
The next time I heard “monster class” was 2006 when the headliners of the class were Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes. All three had a hand in the 2006 national championship and were All-Americans in 2008 when the Gators won their second national title in three years.
The third time I heard it was 2007 when the Florida class was highlighted by seven players from Lakeland including future All-Americans Maurkice and Mike Pouncey and Ahmad Black plus a future All-SEC in Chris Rainey. Those guys and nine other 5-star players in the 2007 class combined with the 2006 class to lead the Gators to the 2008 national title.
The last time I heard about how a monster class was going to take the Gators to the promised land was 2010. This was supposed to be the class to end all classes, everybody’s consensus #1, headlined by defensive studs Ronald Powell, Sharriff Floyd, Dominique Easley and Matt Elam. That class produced 19 players who spent at leas once year in the NFL but they never even sniffed a national championship. They didn’t even win the SEC East by the last one left the program in 2014.
2. We missed on a few guys but got the ones we need to fill the gaps on the roster: I heard that a lot in 2004 and it was understandable since that class didn’t have the star power of the 2003 blockbuster class landed by Ron Zook. The gaps that were filled were on the O-line where Drew Miller, Jason Watkins, Phil Trautwein and Jim Tartt all made their mark for the next five years (Miller, Tartt and Trautwein started on the 2006 national championship team; Watkins and Trautwein started on the 2008 national championship team). Linebacker Brandon Siler was thought to be a gap filler, but he was the leader of that ferocious defense. Star power was Derrick Harvey, the lone 5-star recruit, the defensive MVP of the 2006 national title game and an All-America pick in 2007.
3. We got a lot of pretty good football players but I don’t see a lot of playmakers: I heard his a lot in 1999 when folks were questioning Steve Spurrier signing this quarterback from Indiana (Rex Grossman) and wondering how the passing game would thrive in the future with Jabar Gaffney and Taylor Jacobs running routes. Grossman should have won the 2001 Heisman (it was awarded to Eric Crouch of Nebraska for lifetime achievement) and in all probability would have won it hands down in 2002 if Steve Spurrier had stayed. Gaffney made All-America in 2000-01 and Jacobs was a great third receiver in 2001 and All-SEC in 2002.
4. The sky is falling: I heard this in 2002 but that had more to do with Ron Zook being the hastily hired replacement for Steve Spurrier. The FSU people laughed that Gavin Dickey was the QB headliner of the class. He actually ended up playing baseball. The class actually contributed several players who were important cogs in the 2006 national championship run. Ray McDonald was a lightly regarded D-lineman who grew into a monster; Steven Harris stepped in at nose tackle and made life miserable for the Ohio State center in the national title game; Reggie Lewis switched from wide receiver to starting corner on the national championship team; Jemalle Cornelius was one of the leading receivers that year; DeShawn Wynn led the Gators in rushing in 2006 and the McCollum Twins (Jermaine and Tremaine) became vital members of special teams and backups in the secondary in 2005-06. Channing Crowder was an All-America linebacker in 2004 and Ciatrick Fason gained more than 1,000 yards and left early for the NFL after the 2004 season.
So, what will the Gator Nation be saying at 3:15 today when Jim McElwain holds his press conference to tell everyone who will listen that he’s so proud of the kids who have chosen to be Gators and how his staff signed a group of guys who wanted to be Gators? Obviously, the sky isn’t falling but will the class meet Florida’s needs and move up the Scout.com rankings?
Adding defensive tackle Elijah Conliffe, safety Donovan Stiner, corner Brad Stewart and linebacker Nick Smith in the last four days has moved the Gators to the #16 position in the Scout.com rankings and they could move up a few more spots if they close with the likes of defensive tackle Tedarrell Slaton, linebacker Lacedrick Brunson, corner Brian Edwards, running back Adarius Lemons and corner Christopher Henderson. And, if the Gators land two of the following – defensive end LaBryan Ray, corner Tre Brown, wide receiver Charleston Rambo and corner Elijah Blades – then there will be reason to consider this class a real success and possibly a top ten finish.
BLAST FROM THE PAST
Remember the one that got away in 2006? That was safety Myron Rolle, who chose Florida State over Florida. We got our first taste of things to come at the US Army All-America game practices where Percy Harvin made blowing past Rolle his mission in life. Rhodes was a Rhodes Scholar at FSU and has become a doctor, so give him credit for that, but he never developed into the player he was expected to be and was on the losing end to Florida four straight years. Meanwhile, Percy, Tim Tebow, Brandon Spikes and all those Florida kids who signed in 2006 won two national championships.
This could be the very last National Signing Day as we know it. If the NCAA votes to allow an early signing period for December it could pole-axe NSD, which already lacks much of its past luster due to the number of early January enrollees.
There is no question the transfer rules have to be evaluated and re-written. Blake Barnett won an appeal and will be eligible immediately at Arizona State. I think kids should have more freedom than what they have but the current transfer system where some kids get to play immediately and some have to sit is inconsistent at best, dead wrong at worst.
The Oakland Raiders’ attempted move to Las Vegas is falling apart now that casino/hotel mogul Sheldon Adelson and Goldman Sachs have pulled out of a stadium financing deal. Adelson is blaming the Clark County Stadium Authority and Goldman Sachs isn’t going to be part of any plan that doesn’t include Adelson.
ESPN’s Mike Sando polled five NFL coaches – one head coach, three coordinators (two offensive, one defensive) and one defensive assistant – about the Super Bowl. Four of the five predict the New England Patriots will beat the Atlanta Falcons to win the championship.
Meanwhile at CBSSports.com, Pete Prisco and John Breech are both picking the Falcons to win the Lombardi Trophy.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is the latest athlete to offer his political opinions. Are any of you influenced by political endorsements or opinions of athletes or Hollywood entertainers? I’m certainly not.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Will the momentum of the last four days spill over into a National Signing Day bonanza for the Gators or will this be a disappointing day?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I still prefer the music of the pre-Michael McDonald Doobie Brothers. Today I broke out my “What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits” album from 1974 when Tom Johnston wrote most of the songs. The album rose to #4 on the Billboard charts and went double platinum. “Black Water” made it to #1 on the singles chart. My favorite song from the album has always been “Another Park, Another Sunday.”