GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Despite the social media eruption Saturday night, the cascade of GIFs and memes tweeted by Florida coaches and staffers and the overall excitement expressed by players past, present and future, the celebration could not be totally unanimous throughout the fan base.
That’s just the way it goes.
After facing mounting criticism that he couldn’t attract and land a truly elite quarterback recruit, Florida coach Jim McElwain got two of the most coveted Class of 2018 QBs on campus Friday night and convinced one of them — Matt Corral — to deliver a high-profile pledge before he left town.
— Kevin Barbay (@Coach_Barbay) July 23, 2017
Yet the question still lingered. What about Justin Fields?
Viewed by many as the top quarterback prospect of all, Fields was also at Florida’s Friday Night Lights showcase and was considering the Gators along with Florida State, Auburn, Alabama and Georgia. Did McElwain and Co. give up pursuit of the top target to settle for the next-best option?
Perhaps, but with good reason, because Corral is no consolation prize.
And if Fields now lands at rival Florida State as many Florida fans fear and becomes an impediment for the Gators’ national title hopes in coming years, the question about the Gators’ decision will be renewed time and again. But it need not be, because this was a win for Florida.
- Fields has indicated no public preference at this point, so the Gators were merely in the running for his commitment with a lot of work to do and considerable competition still to overcome. McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier have a better pulse on the situation than any recruiting analyst. If they sensed it was truly just a matter of time for Fields to find his way to Gainesville, maybe they play this differently. Instead they went all out for Corral during Friday Night Lights. The California kid didn’t have to throw a pass at the showcase to remain in the spotlight all night, palling around with one assistant coach after another at midfield, laughing, smiling and generally looking more like he was catching up with uncles at a family reunion than coaches he was still getting to know. He then returned Saturday for further discussion with the staff. The Gators seemed to know what they wanted to achieve out of this weekend and pulled it off, securing the commitment from a QB who also listed Alabama, Georgia and Southern Cal as his finalists.
- What if McElwain and Co. had indeed played the long game, had decided that Fields — the No. 1 rated dual-threat QB in the country and No. 2 overall prospect according to the 247Sports composite — was such a one-of-a-kind talent that they had to go all in and wait this out until the end? Corral, who it should be reiterated is ranked the No. 2 pro-style QB nationally, proceeds with his planned visit to Georgia and the momentum that existed for him and the Gators in Gainesville this weekend moves further and further into the rearview. Maybe he was so set on the Gators that he makes the same decision in three months or six months if Fields heads elsewhere, or maybe not. Then what? Corral is potentially beating Florida in Atlanta or Jacksonville in a couple years.
- McElwain has established a nice foundation in his first two years at Florida, and the Gators were already riding a wave of recruiting momentum this cycle and into the future, but if the 2018 class didn’t include a premier quarterback who fans could view as the long-awaited program-changer at that position, then the pressure and scrutiny on this coaching staff would become only more magnified. This is McElwain’s fourth recruiting class, and while Feleipe Franks was a highly-regarded signee in 2016, Fields and Corral are on a different level. The Gators needed to land one of them and they did, convincing a highly sought-after prospect to relocate across the country.
- And finally, it simply shouldn’t be understated what a big get Corral is for Florida or would have been for any program. The magnitude of his commitment need not be evaluated on anything other than his own immense potential. Rivals and Scout both rate him as a 5-star recruit with Rivals listing him as the No. 7 overall prospect at any position, which would make him the highest-ranked QB signee in Florida history if that stands. While he still has to eventually sign and then prove himself after arriving on campus, there is every reason to believe the Gators have found their quarterback of the future … finally.
The man on fire tweet was well-earned. The dancing Carlton GIF seemed appropriate. The raw excitement emanating from the Florida football program said all that needed to be said Saturday night.
The only question that should remain from the weekend and linger into the future is this: Just how good can Matt Corral be in the orange and blue?