Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Sign Along the Dotted Line, Please

A fairly crummy Signing Day caps off a mildly disappointing recruiting season that still resulted in Florida inking a number of excellent players.

That number, unfortunately, is only 16. Urban Meyer didn't have a lot of scholarships to offer this year; his defense returned all 22 players on the two-deep depth chart, and his offense lost just a handful of standouts. So this wasn't going to be a big class.

But Meyer was burned by a handful of ill-timed decommits from players who had verbally pledged themselves to Florida.

One of the problems with following college football recruiting is that you start to take it personally. I went to this school and I loved it. Why isn't Johnny FiveStar over there salivating at the prospect of playing for my beloved alma mater? Is there a deficit in his character? You know what- he's not even Gator material anyway!

This is especially hard to shake when "your" team is exceptionally successful and the player in question has previously committed to the school in question. The Gators, of course, are coming off a national championship and should start the 2009 season as the number one team in the country. They've got a proven, superstar head coach. They've got 24,000 of the hottest female students in the country. They're in the state of Florida. Really, what's not to love?

Quite a lot, evidently. Meyer found out that a national championship means a little less than he might have thought. After clinching a berth in the BCS game, Florida lost the following highly rated recruits:

  • Nick Kasa, DE, Broomfield, Colorado
  • Marsalis Teague, CB, Paris, Tennessee
  • Nu'Keese Richardson, WR, Pahokee, Florida
  • Greg Reid, CB, Valdosta, Georgia
Reid's departure was particularly galling. On National Signing Day '08 he committed to the Gators, the earliest possible date he could do so. A lifelong Florida fan and ESPN's 15th best prospect, Reid spent most of 2008 happily recruiting for his future team. And then the Gators clinched a national championship berth, and Reid realized Florida's depth chart at his position was rather crowded. So he opened his recruitment, dazzled coaches and media at the Under-Armour All America game and found himself a highly valued commodity. He was not swayed when Meyer laid a guilt trip on him and pointed out that Florida had been recruiting him when no one else was on the Greg Reid bandwagon. Reid signed with Florida State today.

At least Kasa and Reid decommitted several weeks ago. Richardson and Teague bolted today, and both to arch-rival Tennessee and new head coach Lane Kiffin. Teague stayed close to home, but Richardson's departure is baffling. Again, fans tend to myopia, but it's hard to see what Tennessee offers a Florida receiver that UF doesn't.

Those losses hurt, because they left the Gators with just one receiver in the class and no cornerbacks. The latter is particularly troublesome.

Meyer and Company also lost out on a number of players who announced their intentions today. Linebackers Frankie Telfort (a Florida boy) and Jarvis Jones (Georgia) both opted to cross the country and play for Pete Carroll and USC. Jones, in particular, was a big loss, as he was targeted to be Brandon Spikes' replacement.

And Meyer again missed out on his white wale running back. After months of drama Trent Richardson, ESPN's top running back, re-affirmed his commitment to Alabama and spurned UF's advances.

But for all the players Florida missed out on, Meyer still managed to bring in a relatively impressive haul of talent. The crown jewel is Andre Debose, an explosive wide receiver (#2 on ESPN's list) whose high school tapes just scream "Percy Harvin." Meyer had to scrap and claw to hold on to him after a last second visit to Florida State, but there's little doubt he'll make an immediate impact.

Florida's lone Signing Day triumph came when Maryland linebacker Jelani Jenkins (ESPN's number nine overall prospect) declared for the Gators. He'll join Jon Bostic (#108) in forming an excellent linebacker class that could have been extraordinary with the addition of Jones and/or Telfort.

The real strength of the class is on of the offensive line, where Meyer dedicated five of the 16 scholarships. That unit is headed by Xavier Nixon, one of the best tackles in the country, and Nick Alajajian, a guard whose name is going to torment Verne Lundquist for the next four to five years.

The complete list is here. Also worthy of mention is Mike Gillislee, rated the 14th best running back in the country by ESPN; he's a good fit for the spread and makes whiffing on Trent Richardson slightly less troublesome. Jordan Reed, another Connecticut export, is the only quarterback in the class.

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