With signing day a month and a half away, the recruiting trail will soon heat up again for Florida coach Jim McElwain and his staff. The Gators closed out the December contact period on a high note, bringing their 2016 class to No. 8 in the 247Sports Composite team rankings.
However, Florida could make a run for the top spot depending on how it finishes over the final six weeks. To do that, McElwain & Co. needs to land some big fish down the stretch.
Here are the five biggest battles for Florida recruiting:
- Nate Craig-Myers, 4-star WR, 6-2, 205 pounds (Tampa, Fla./Tampa Catholic)
Schools to beat: Auburn, Florida State, Mississippi, North Carolina
Early on in this cycle, Florida didn’t appear a contender for Craig-Myers. But over the summer and fall, his interest in the Gators increased and he visited a handful of times. Had he stuck with his Jan. 8 commitment date, UF might have landed the dynamic receiver. With him extending his recruitment to signing day, Craig-Myers claims no leaders and still has four official visits remaining. But the opportunity to play early at Florida and its proximity to home could make the difference.
- Lyndell Wilson, 5-star LB, 6-2, 220 pounds (Montgomery, Ala./Carver High School)
Schools to beat: Alabama and UGA
Wilson named Florida his top school in late September and still maintains the Gators lead for him. But many question if his interest is legitimate. And if it is, will it be enough to get him to leave his home state? Alabama has long been Wilson’s dream school, and earlier this month he called it the best program in college football. Gators defensive coordinator Geoff Collins is recruiting Wilson relentlessly, and he has two close friends committed to Florida in defensive backs Antonio Nelson and Jeawon Taylor. Still, it’s hard to go into Alabama and land a 5-star recruit Nick Saban wants.
- Shavar Manuel, 4-star DT, 6-4, 287 pounds (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy)
Schools to beat: Florida State and LSU
Manuel has yet to name a clear-cut leader in his recruitment, but in late July he called himself an “SEC guy” and named a top 3 of Auburn, Florida and LSU. He has since swapped Auburn for Florida State, and the Seminoles are probably more of a threat to the Gators than LSU. The Gators lost a starter at Manuel’s position with the departure of Jonathan Bullard, who is projected to be the fourth consecutive Florida defensive lineman selected in the first round of the NFL draft. That track record along with the relationship he has with his potential position coach, Chris Rumph, are huge factors.
- Marcus Tatum, 3-star OT, 6-6, 255 pounds (Daytona Beach, Fla./Mainland High School)
Schools to beat: Miami and Tennessee
Though Tennessee has been one of Tatum’s favorites throughout his recruitment, his decision will likely come down to Florida and Miami. He plans to officially visit both schools in January, but has been to UF’s campus much more. His comfort level with the Gators and their need along the offensive line should win him over. His teammate, defensive end Jachai Polite, is also committed to Florida.
- Eli Stove, 4-star WR, 6-1, 178 pounds (Niceville, Fla./Niceville High School)
Schools to beat: Auburn
Florida is recruiting several receivers in addition to Craig-Myers, but most of them have several schools still in the mix. Things are much more simple with Stove, an Auburn commit. Will he stick to the Tigers or flip to Florida? The Gators are really the only team with a shot at Stove, who visited UF for the Vanderbilt game on Nov. 7. However, he’s been to Auburn twice since checking out the Gators. Getting Stove back on campus for an official visit will be key for Florida.