GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Recruiting season is in full swing with National Signing Day less than two weeks away.
247Sports, ESPN, Rivals and Scout released their final recruiting rankings this week, which dropped Florida from No. 19 to 23rd in the composite team rankings.
It appears UF coach Jim McElwain will not sign a top-10 class for the third consecutive year, and that has some fans concerned despite his success on the sidelines.
Here are the top five questions for this week:
Where do you think Florida football is heading with Mac? I just wanna hear your opinion.
That’s a loaded question with several layers to answer, but overall my opinion is that McElwain has the Gators headed in the right direction.
The current state of Florida’s 2017 class has created a negative perception of the program, and there’s no denying that recruiting needs to get much better under McElwain. He’s the first person to admit that.
However, that’s only one aspect — albeit an important one — of his job. McElwain is ultimately judged on wins, losses and championships, and he’s had two 10-win seasons (yes, I’m counting Presbyterian) and two SEC East titles so far.
McElwain also has spearheaded the facility upgrades at UF, bulked up Florida’s support staff and changed the overall culture of the program. He hasn’t landed enough elite prospects, but a handful still have been signed. The early returns on some of his 3-star signees are impressive as well. He and his assistants know how to evaluate and develop talent.
But for McElwain to take the next step, it will take a consistently productive quarterback and more quality depth. If the personnel improves, so will the offense. Then the Gators can legitimately compete for a championship.
Florida isn’t there yet, but McElwain inherited a program in need of rebuilding and a roster that had to be retooled. That takes time, and he’s earned the patience of the administration with the overall results he’s had so far.
McElwain must finish strong in this cycle and hire a pair of ace recruiters to complete his staff. But for fans who are upset about his first three classes, coaches don’t get fired because they place poorly in recruiting rankings. They succeed or fail based on whether they can win with those players.
If McElwain isn’t recruiting well enough, it eventually will catch up with him. But he’s set a lot of firsts in school and SEC history, so his program is by no means a sinking ship right now.
What’s the chance that the Gators get 4-star LB Levi Jones?
(From @scottshanefield, @mmajosh, @Archival2458)
Jones is beginning to look like a realistic option for Florida. Last last month, he revealed the Gators were a surprising contender because of his relationship with defensive coordinator Randy Shannon.
Then after his official visit last weekend, he named UF his leader to SEC Country. He and his parents were blown away during their first trip to Gainesville.
Now the Gators have to outlast his other finalists, which won’t be easy. Jones just wrapped up his trip to UCLA and will visit Southern Cal this weekend. Then he’ll check out Texas A&M and Florida State next week.
FSU getting his last visit is worrisome for Florida, as is the opportunity he has to stay closer to home (Austin, Texas) at the other three schools.
The Gators have their work cut out for them, but at this point in the recruiting process, you’d rather be trying to hang on to a lead than playing from behind. McElwain and Shannon will conduct an in-home visit with Jones next week.
With Alabama’s class at 25, where do we stand with DE LaBryan Ray, DE Jarez Parks & WR Henry Ruggs?
(From @RCraft612, @JarquezMango, @AlcoholicaGator)
According to SEC Country’s Alabama recruiting writer Chris Kirschner, the Crimson Tide can take 28 recruits in the Class of 2017. Two of their 25 commits, CB Jhavonte Dean and DT Akial Byers, are not expected to sign with them.
So Alabama has room for Parks, Ray and Ruggs, and all of three are projected to pick the Tide. Florida is trying to get Ruggs on campus Jan. 27, but he admitted to SEC Country that Alabama and Florida State are his favorite schools.
Parks and Ray haven’t named leaders, but the Crimson Tide are considered the team to beat. However, both plan to officially visit the Gators next weekend, so UF gets the last crack at them before signing day.
How big will Florida’s class be?
(@irgator04, @robharrison414, @jkcrusher)
The Gators currently have 15 members in their 2017 class, five of whom have enrolled early. Florida cannot count back any of those mid-year enrollees toward the 2016 class, so the maximum number of recruits that can be signed this year is 25.
McElwain currently has room for 24 signees with all the attrition that took place this month. A transfer would allow the Gators to have a full class, so they could oversign by one recruit if they’re aware of a current player who intends to leave the program.
If UF adds only nine more prospects, it likely will break down like this: one running back, one wide receiver, one offensive lineman, two defensive tackles, one linebacker and three defensive backs.
What’s the deal on Mailk Zaire?
Zaire planned to pick a new school in December, but the grad transfer delayed that decision and chose to delay enrollment until the summer.
That could be positive news for the Gators. The former Notre Dame quarterback named Florida as one of his top transfer destinations, but an SEC rule prevented UF from taking him because 2015 grad transfers Mason Halter and Anthony Harrell didn’t graduate.
However, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey told reporters at the conference title game that the league may revise its grad transfer rule, which would open the door for Zaire to join the Gators.
That could be the reason he postponed his decision. Zaire is also considering North Carolina and Wisconsin.
McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier told Florida commit Jake Allen they want to sign a second quarterback for the Class of 2017, but there doesn’t appear to be another prep prospect available. Allen told SEC Country he wouldn’t mind playing behind Zaire for one year.