GAINESVILLE, Fla. — If Florida coach Jim McElwain treats recruits the way he does the media, he’ll continue to have success on the trail.
McElwain handed out ice cream sandwiches to reporters before Thursday’s press conference. He got my commitment.
McElwain is expected to land another prospect Friday with Miami cornerback Shawn Davis announcing his decision. His finalists are Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Miami and Tennessee, but if he doesn’t choose UF it will be surprise.
He would give the Gators 15 class members heading into the season, which is more commitments than I thought they’d have at this point.
Here are the top five questions from this week:
Do you see us continuing to attract elite defensive talent now that Will Muschamp is gone?
(From @GatorsVino, @JDYoung843)
McElwain and his staff already have shown the ability to do that since Muschamp’s departure.
The Gators beat out Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Ole Miss for 5-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson, a member of the All-SEC Freshman team in 2015.
In the previous class, Florida signed 5-star defensive end Antonneous Clayton and Chauncey Gardner, the nation’s No. 4 cornerback. Both freshmen will play this season.
The coaches have more defensive priorities in this year’s recruiting cycle, and so far they’ve landed the state’s No. 1 strongside defensive end (Zachary Carter) and 4-star cornerbacks Elijah Blades and Marco Wilson.
They’re also expected to receive official visits from 4-star defensive end Jarez Parks, 4-star defensive tackles Fred Hansard and Aubrey Solomon, 4-star linebackers K.J. Britt and Rahyme Johnson, 4-star cornerbacks Brad Stewart and Ambry Thomas and 4-star safety Devon Hunter.
Chances of us landing Devon Hunter in this class?
Much as been made about the recruiting importance of cornerbacks for Florida, but safety is a priority as well.
The Gators lose Marcus Maye after this season and will return only four players at the position, one of whom (freshman Quincy Lenton) may not play this season.
So they need to sign an elite prospect, and it doesn’t get much better than Devon Hunter. He’s the nation’s No. 3 safety and has a top 5 of Alabama, Clemson, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia Tech.
However, the Gators and in-state Hokies are considered the teams to beat in his recruitment. He has strong relationships with Florida secondary coach Torrian Gray and quality control coach Mark DeBastiani.
“I can talk to them about anything,” Hunter told SEC Country at The Opening, Nike’s annual summer football camp for elite prospects.
“They made me feel at home. I liked the environment there and the campus life. … I can actually see myself playing there. I really like the Gators.”
If Luke Del Rio turns out to be a stud, what do we do with our freshmen quarterbacks and Jake Allen coming in next year?
Depth at quarterback is a foreign thought at UF after the last few years, but that would be a good problem to have.
Should Del Rio become what Florida is hoping for, he potentially could be the starter for three years. Del Rio may not have the upside of the younger players, but if he’s getting the job done and the offense is scoring points, there will be no need to remove him for the starting lineup.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Look for Kyle Trask to play in mop-up duty this season and Feleipe Franks to redshirt. If Del Rio pans out, Trask will be his backup in 2017 while Allen and Franks battle for the No. 3 job.
Allen is as highly-touted as Franks was coming out of high school, and no player wants to wait a couple years before seeing the field. But from a coaching and depth standpoint, it’s much better for a quarterback to have time to develop and learn the offense as opposed to getting thrown into the fire as a freshman.
We’ve seen that happen with Florida over the last few years, and it hasn’t been pretty.
How much of an impact will good results this season have on the trail? How much of an impact will a bad season have on it?
Based on the commitments to this point, I believe the Gators will have a quality 2017 class regardless of the season’s results.
That being said, how they finish the year could influence recruits who are on the fence. If the Gators fall at Florida State, don’t make it to Atlanta and lose the bowl game, maybe some of their class members who plan to visit other schools will jump ship, such as athlete Kadarius Toney and offensive tackle Kadeem Telfort.
If Florida upsets a team like FSU or LSU and returns to the SEC Championship Game, it could solidify any soft commits and help sway big-time prospects such as 5-star wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, 5-star offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood (Alabama commit) and 5-star cornerback Shaun Wade (Ohio State commit).
Personally, I expect UF to have a better season than most analysts project and finish with a top-10 class for 2017.
SEC Network made its picks for win/loss for the Gators. What are your thoughts on the record for this season?
I disagreed with the record and game predictions by SEC Network analysts Jordan Rodgers and Marcus Spears. They predicted Florida to go 8-4 with losses to Tennessee, LSU, Georgia and Arkansas, but a win at Florida State.
Florida isn’t losing against unranked Arkansas and then beating a team that could make the College Football Playoff. The losses to LSU and Tennessee make sense, but I’m not buying the offseason love for the Bulldogs.
Georgia is ranked higher than UF and has been pegged as the early favorite in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, but the Gators dominated UGA the past two seasons with Treon Harris as their quarterback. He threw just six passes in the 2014 game.
Georgia is more unproven than Florida and has a first-year coach, so I have a hard time seeing this rivalry changing course this season. As Jalen Tabor put it, the greatest indicator of the future is the past.
In my opinion, the Gators have two toss-up games (LSU and Tennessee), they’ll lose to FSU and should win the rest of their games. I think Florida ends up 10-2 at best and no worse than 9-3.
Unless otherwise indicated, ratings and rankings come from the 247Sports Composite.
Zach Abolverdi is the Florida beat writer for SEC Country and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.