LARRY VETTEL: UF's Best Signing Class Ever

While all indications are that Urban Meyer and company have done a remarkable job putting together a credible recruiting class in short time, there's one thing that is beyond debate. This class is not the greatest in Gator history. That's no knock on the student-athletes who have cast their lot with Florida's dynamic new coach but a recognition that some great classes have come down the pike for the Gators through the years.

2000 Group comes Close

Florida's 2000 signing class earned national acclaim as one of the two best in the country. Brock Berlin was the headliner but the class was loaded with highly touted prospects throughout. That was particularly evident along the line of scrimmage where Florida ended several years of classes shy on linemen with a dozen players, including Shannon Snell, Max Starks and Jonathan Colon on offense; plus Darrell Lee, Ian Scott, Kenny Parker and Santonio Thomas on defense. Add in Ben Troupe, Reggie Vickers and Willie Green Florida signed the kind of talent that should have provided the basis of championship teams in the future.

Many view this class is a disappointment because of the failure of this group to win more than one SEC title and the low number of NFL players that came out of the group of 29 new Gators. How much of that is bad luck, overrated players or the impacts of the coaching change is debatable. But the bottom line is on signing day it was a great haul… just not the best ever.

1991 Group Really Produced

Steve Spurrier's first full signing class was arguably his best. Florida nailed a very strong group, led by defensive linemen Kevin Carter, Mark Campbell, Ellis Johnson, Henry McMillian and Marlon Dixon. Ben Hanks, Larry Kennedy and Lawrence Hatch added speed to the back seven and JUCO sensation Alfred Smith was a linebacker everyone wanted. Offensively, the Gators got a star runner in Darwin Anderson, great lineman in Scott Joslyn and quarterback prospects Luke Bencie and Antwan Chiles… all highly regarded.

Smith you may recall had his career cut short when a congenital spinal defect was detected and the other offensive stars, other than Jack Jackson were huge disappointments. Still the defense from this signing class formed the core of Florida's SEC Championship defenses from '93-'95.

1987 Still The Standard

I still consider this group to be the best in school history when you combine all the factors. Among them, the need for the year to be a big one, the ability to get big-time prospects all over the field, the productivity of the class at UF and the performances they added at the next level.

The 1987 Class enters UF's top five on one signing alone, Emmitt Smith. The running back sensation from Pensacola Escambia was at the top of virtually everyone's wish list, including Nebraska and Auburn. But Escambia High School's mascot is the Gator, and as Emmitt himself once said, "Once a Gator, always a Gator".

The Class of '87 gave the Gators loads of talent on both lines of scrimmage… and both sides of the ball produced in a big way. Cal Dixon, Hesham Ismail, Mark White and Tony Rowell all started on the offensive line while on defense Florida picked up Tony McCoy and Brad Culpepper along with Michael Brandon. The class also featured the best linebacker signing class in school history with Godfrey Myles, Tim Paulk, Jerry Odom and Fee Bartley.

The group also included kicker Arden Czyzewski who beat LSU on the final play in 1989. Arden was one of nine members of this class to earn first or second team All-SEC honors and another (QB Kyle Morris) made the SEC All-Freshman team (as redshirt in '88). Emmitt and Tim Paulk made both.

Sure the '87 class had major disappointments like Scott Ball and Glenn Neely (OL) Steve Scoggins (DL) and Terence Barber (WR) but it was a class which provided the foundation on which Steve Spurrier built his championship legacy. It was a desperately needed class as the Gators were coming out of NCAA-imposed scholarship limits. But more than anything else, it was the class which brought the greatest player in UF history to campus.

Pressure Is Off/On Gator Hoopsters

Depending on your point of view, Florida's basketball team enters this brutally difficult portion of the schedule with the pressure off, courtesy of a 5-and-1 start in conference play. Or the pressure is on because Florida must win at least two of the next three games to remain a contender for the SEC Championship. I guess it al depends on how greedy you are.

To me, the number one goal of every basketball season is to get into the NCAA Tournament. Be a part of the big dance, like Florida has been for the past six years. You may be aware Florida is one of just 13 schools to make the last six "dances" (details at the end). Therefore, I consider the pressure to be off for the Gators. They are in excellent shape for another bid, need only four or five more league wins in the final ten contests. With winnable games at LSU, Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina coming up, plus excellent home chances against Vanderbilt and Ole Miss, Florida does not need to win many of their four toughest games (Kentucky 2X, Miss State, Alabama).

But if you, like Gordon Gecko in "Wall Street," believe greed is good and this team is of championship caliber, then the pressure is on. Florida must win two of three in this stretch against ranked opponents to have a realistic shot at the title. With Florida one of only four SEC teams with fewer than three league losses and Kentucky still unbeaten, the Gators need to remain in that upper-echelon not fall further behind the front-running Wildcats.

Hoops Tid Bits

Kentucky is the only other SEC team to make the last six NCAA Tournaments. The only conference to have more than two teams in this category is the Big-12 with three (Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma St.). It might be surprising that Wisconsin, Gonzaga and Cincinnati are on the list. It may be more surprising that Syracuse and Connecticut, the last two national champions are not.

The others on the list are Michigan State, Duke, Maryland, Arizona, and Stanford.

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