Call what happened Wednesday Florida’s version of “Fast and Furious.” How else can you explain that the Gators went from 30 in the Scout.com team rankings just a few days ago to #10 when the dust had settled on National Signing Day?
This was a shockingly strong close for Jim McElwain who showed remarkable calm throughout the entire recruiting process. He never panicked, not even when some long time commits like Elijah Blades bailed on him at the last minute. Judging by the players he was able to bring in, Mac and his staff always had a contingency plan and they came up with a group that is part Plan B, part Plan A and all about filling the gaps on the Florida two-deep charts.
Is this the blockbuster class that will have everyone predicting a national championship? Hardly. But, it’s good enough that with the players that are already on the roster, Florida could be substantially better in 2017 than either of the past two years when the Gators have defied conventional wisdom to win the SEC East. Georgia was supposed to win it in 2015 and Tennessee was supposed to do it in 2016. Florida won in 2015 largely because the defense was ferocious and Johnny Townsend kept flipping the field. The defense was still one of the best in the country in 2016, Townsend still flipped the field and the Gators added Eddie Pineiro so they could at least kick field goals.
In both seasons, the offense was – how can I say this kindly? – lacking.
Mac has ensured continuity with the defense by elevating Randy Shannon to permanent defensive coordinator and keeping Chris Rumph from bolting to Clemson and Torian Gray from the NFL. Having those three guys doing the recruiting showed on NSD because the Gators have the pieces in place to play on without missing too many beats.
Over on the offensive side, 10,000 questions remain. Based on the quarterback play in 2016, it doesn’t take a Rhodes Scholar to project better play in 2017 from either Feleipe Franks or Kyle Trask but even if they’re better (shouldn’t be too difficult to improve) will they give the Gators the strike capability you have to have to win at the next level in the SEC? If they do, then Florida should be able to put some points on the board for a change. If they don’t, there will be just as many questions and doubts about McElwain this time next year as they have been during this roller coaster of a recruiting ride the last month.
Mac quieted the noise in the system temporarily by adding several studs in the last several days for his fast and furious finish but the euphoria of National Signing Day will only last so long. What the Gators do on the field in 2017 will be the ultimate test.
ASSISTANT COACHES NEXT ON THE AGENDA
One of the incredible things about Florida’s fast and furious National Signing Day finish was the Gators were able to get the job done down two assistant coaches. By elevating Randy Shannon to defensive coordinator, Florida pretty much salvaged the defensive portion of the signing class, but the Gators needed more offensive tackle help than they got and that has everything to do with heading into NSD sans an O-line coach.
The defensive staff will be strong no matter what McElwain does with the rest of the staff. Shannon, Rumph and Gray are extraordinary on the field coaches who pull their weight on the recruiting trail. Most people expect running backs coach Tim Skipper to move to coach linebackers, but nothing is set in stone at this point.
When the flirtation with Mike Locksley was taking place, there was talk that he would share the play calling with Doug Nussmeier but he stayed at Alabama. Speculation now is that Florida native Ja’Juan Seider will leave West Virginia to return closer to friend and family while coaching Gator running backs. It is also speculated that Jeff Stoutland, who coaches the O-line for the Philadelphia Eagles, will leave the NFL for UF once his contract is up on February 7.
No matter who comes to Florida, however, it needs to be done quickly. Spring football is scheduled to begin on February 28, not a lot of time to get someone in place, familiarize with the schemes and players and then have a successful 15 days of practice on the field.
McElwain was amazing the way he closed on the recruiting trail in the last several days. That same sense of urgency which salvaged Florida’s recruiting class needs to be applied to filling out the vacancies on the coaching staff.
MIZZOU COMES TO TOWN TONIGHT
Donkeys might fly before Missouri (5-15, 0-8 SEC) scores a road upset to knock off 23rd-ranked Florida (16-5, 6-2) at the O-Dome tonight. The Gators are and should be heavy favorites but they can’t afford a letdown. Mike White needs to have this team playing with laser like focus on defense and sharing the ball offensively to give the Gators positive momentum for Saturday night’s SEC showdown with Kentucky (18-4, 8-1 SEC) at the O-Dome.
Most coaches would rather play a decent team before a big showdown game and Mike White is no exception. White knows the Gators would be far less likely to play on cruise control against a decent team and make no mistake about it, Missouri is light years away from decent.
After playing their two worst games of the season in losing on the road to South Carolina and at home against Vanderbilt, Florida put together its best two games of the year by beating LSU and Oklahoma on the road last week. The LSU game was Florida’s best offensive performance (106 points and 19 3-pointers) of the season while the Oklahoma win was UF’s best defensive game. The Gators need to put it all together tonight against Mizzou, get the blowout assured early on and avoid a stressful Thursday night with Big Blue on the horizon.
SEC basketball standings
1. (tie) Kentucky (18-4, 8-1 SEC) and South Carolina (18-5, 8-1 SEC); 3. Florida (16-5, 6-2 SEC); 4. (tie)Arkansas (17-5, 6-3 SEC) and Alabama (13-8, 6-3 SEC); 6. Tennessee (13-9, 5-4 SEC); 7. Mississippi State (13-8, 4-5 SEC), Georgia (13-9, 4-5 SEC), Ole Miss (13-9, 4-5 SEC) and Vanderbilt (11-11, 4-5 SEC); 11. (tie) Auburn (14-8, 3-6 SEC) and Texas A&M (11-10, 3-6 SEC); 13. LSU (9-12, 1-8 SEC); 14. Missouri (5-15, 0-8 SEC)
Alabama racked up another #1 recruiting class by landing a 28-man class that included six 5-star players and 17 with a 4-star ranking. Of the Scout.com top 100 players in the nation, 13 signed with Alabama.
We know what Alabama will do with a #1 signing class just as we know exactly what Urban Meyer will do with his 4th-ranked class at Ohio State. The real question is what will Kirby Smart do with his #2 rated class at Georgia? Even though 2016 was Smart’s first year on the job, Mark Richt left behind a loaded roster. Richt could always recruit but the Bulldogs couldn’t get over the hump and win the big ones. If I were one to wager, I’d put money on Kirby Smart being cut from that same cloth.
Although FSU finished strong by landing stud defensive tackle Marvin Wilson out of Houston, the Seminoles still only finished 8th in the Scout.com rankings. Florida finished 10th. That’s the closest UF has been to FSU in recruiting since 2013 when the Gators finished 7th national and FSU came in at #16.
How big a bounce did Clemson get from its national championship? Scout.com has the Clemson class ranked #26 nationally. The Tigers rarely crack the top 15 but it doesn’t seem to stop them from getting it done on the field.
In college, the best teams typically recruit the best players. Not so much in the NFL. Consider the top skill players of the New England Patriots. Tom Brady was a 7th round draft pick. Top running back LeGarrette Blount was an undrafted free agent out of Oregon who is in his second free agent stint with the Patriots. Leading wide receiver Julian Edelman was a 7th round draft pick out of Kent State. Wide receiver Chris Hogan played four years of lacrosse at Penn State and one year of college football at Monmouth. He wasn’t drafted and came to New England after getting cut following three years with the Buffalo Bills. Wide receiver Danny Amendola was undrafted out of Texas Tech. Beyond the skill players, it’s pretty rare to find anyone drafted in the first round on the New England roster, which is why Bill Belichick might be as good as there has ever been at evaluating talent.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
How surprised were you by Florida’s fast and furious finish which saw the Gators finish 10th in the Scout.com national recruiting rankings?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Mayer Hawthorne grows on me. I discovered him by accident a couple of years ago while flipping channels and finding a rerun of his appearance on Live from Daryl’s House. Today’s music is a 2015 outdoor concert from Las Vegas.