It Started With Disappointing Class of 2000
I remember signing day of 2000 vividly as one of the biggest days in the years I have been covering Florida Football recruiting. Every player left on the board seemed to choose UF that day. When all was said and done Florida had a huge class that most analysts ranked the nation's best.
Yet when you look back at that class, you don't find all that many guys who ended up having great or even very good college careers. You find a whole lot of guys who were expected to be studs who didn't accomplish much in Orange and Blue.
There was another group of guys who did some good things, including Cory Bailey, Ron Dowdy, Jon Colon, Reid Fleming, Travis Harris, Kelvin Kight, Matt Jackson, Kenny Parker, Carlos Perez, Matt Piotrowicz, OJ Small and Kennard Ellis.
Think about what was expected about the remaining members of the class and what they actually produced. Deshawn Carter, Kevin Deaton, Willie Green, Benny Mills, Earnest Smith, Santonio Thomas, Chad Tidwell, Reggie Vickers and Brock Berlin.
This was a class that was supposed to give the Gators a dominant team led by a great quarterback, big-time receivers and the "Berlin Wall" up front.
Not so much.
2001 and 2002 Brought Even Less
It was known the 2001 signing class, Steve Spurrier's last was not a great group but at the time nobody seemed all that concerned. The 2000 group would be kicking in soon and that was the future of the program. The class of '01 did include some significant contributors like Mike Degory, Dallas Baker, Lance Butler, Jarvis Herring, Matt Leach, Mo Mitchell and Todd McCullough.
The University of Florida should never have a football signing class in which not a single players gets drafted. That probably won't happen since Baker, who had to leave and re-signed in 2002 is a likely draft pick next year. But it shows how little talent the Gators got that year.
Of course that class was devastated by the tragic death of Eraste Autin.
Oops, my mistake there was a guy in that group drafted. It was Ingle Martin.
Ron Zook's first class also failed to deliver the kind of numbers in both quality and quantity you would expect around here. Channing Crowder and Ciatrick Fason certainly are studs and you should see Ray McDonald at the next level.
So in a three year period, Florida brought in at most a handful of All-SEC type players and less than a half dozen first-day NFL draft prospects.
Repeating Recruiting Success is Vital
To have a great program you must consistently and continually bring in talent good enough to reach the next level. Steve Spurrier and his staff did that through most of the ‘90s, but not in the last class. Ron Zook did it in 2003, but 2002 wasn't good enough and the jury is still out on '04.
Urban Meyer's first class, 2005 is a lot like Zook's first group was. And, like Zook, Meyer seems to have score big with his first full class. But even if the 2006 signing class turns out to be as good as advertised it won't be enough to return Florida to consistent championship caliber football. Following up that class with another deep, talented group is crucial.
And success on the field this fall may very well determine just good the class of '07 will be. I'm not talking about national rankings, either. I'm talking about quality athletes, quality kids and filling needs. In '07 that's defense, defense, defense.
As always, I welcome your emails about anything I write or anything you might want to know. Vettel@gatorcountry.com