Imagine if Louisville quarterback and Heisman front-runner Lamar Jackson was playing at Florida.
It almost happened.
Jackson played high school ball at Boynton Beach (Florida) Community High School where he was ranked as the nation’s No. 13 dual-threat quarterback, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings. He committed to Louisville on Aug. 30, 2014, but his recruitment did not stop there.
The Cardinals quarterback showed interest in Nebraska, but that flirtation ended when then-head coach Bo Pelini was fired at the end of the 2014 season. Several SEC programs still showed interest in the speedy quarterback, including Mississippi State, Auburn and Florida.
Most assumed the Gators were out of the picture when Florida coach Will Muschamp was also let go and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper wasn’t retained, but Jim McElwain did his best to try and lure Jackson to Gainesville.
Jackson took a visit to Florida days before National Signing Day, and nearly flipped to the Gators, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Crabtree.
“When I was up there making my announcement, I thought I might decommit,” Jackson told the Sun Sentinel, according to ESPN. “It really came down to the wire. I felt Louisville was family. Coach Thomas had a great connection with me, and I love how coach Petrino develops quarterbacks. I had to go with my gut.”
In hindsight, the miss on the in-state Jackson is one that Florida would like to have back. But the Gators were able to win 10 games, take the SEC East and play in the SEC Championship last season, despite losing quarterback Will Grier to suspension for the final eight games.
The Gators quarterback play hasn’t been extraordinary in 2016 either, but certainly capable as the Gators remain in the hunt for the SEC East crown.
But what if Florida had landed Jackson?
One SEC assistant, who was not named in ESPN’s story, thinks the commitment could have changed the landscape of the entire conference.
“If you put Lamar Jackson with the weapons that Florida has at the skill positions and with that defense, they would be my pick to beat Alabama and win the SEC,” an SEC East assistant told ESPN. “They didn’t get Jackson, and it hurt in 2015 and it’s going to sting the rest of this season.”