GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Who’s ready for Rocky Top?
The highly anticipated matchup is almost here with Florida traveling to Tennessee on Saturday. This game is important for recruiting because it’s one that prospects — like fans and players — have been looking forward to.
And while Florida and Tennessee don’t compete against each other for many prospects, a win in this rivalry can impress them.
Here are the top 5 questions from this week:
With all the talent leaving the defense this year, has Jim McElwain recruited well enough to at least keep us respectable?
This is a great question, because next season might really be a struggle for Florida defensively.
The Gators could lose as many as 10 of their 11 starters from this year’s defense, which would absolutely decimate that side of the ball. You’re going to see a lot of growing pains from that unit in 2017, especially early on. It doesn’t help that they get Michigan in the season opener.
But McElwain and his staff have recruited well on defense, bringing in 5-star defensive linemen Antonneous Clayton and CeCe Jefferson. They’ve improved Florida’s linebacker numbers and will do the same at cornerback with this year’s class.
There’s no doubt the Gators will have talented players, but their youth and inexperience could be cause for concern. The defense should still be respectable, but it might not play at the elite level we’ve seen in recent years.
Who will be a surprise impact guy in this class?
I really like Shawn Davis from Miami. He’s rated a 3-star prospect and will probably end up being the lowest ranked cornerback in Florida’s class.
Elijah Blades and Marco Wilson are ahead of him in the rankings, and the Gators are still after 4-star cornerbacks C.J. Henderson, Brad Stewart and Ambry Thomas as well as 5-star Ohio State commit Shaun Wade.
All those recruits are elite players — including Davis — and will/would do well at Florida. But Davis, because of his rating and summer commitment, won’t generate the same excitement as landing an out-of-state prospect like Stewart or flipping Henderson or Wade late in the process.
But based on his film and the two times I’ve seen him play in person, I expect Davis to make an impact with the Gators. They will need some freshmen corners to play in 2017 and he could be one of the contributors.
He’s athletic, physical and plays with a lot of swagger. Davis has also faced some of the nation’s best competition in South Florida.
What holes left by these current guys graduating or leaving early do you see a true freshmen or redshirt freshmen filling the void for next year?
Florida will lose seven seniors and potentially a half dozen juniors after this season.
Linebacker Alex Anzalone, defensive tackle Caleb Brantley and cornerbacks Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson are all but guaranteed to leave early. You could also see cornerback Duke Dawson, offensive tackle David Sharpe and running Mark Thompson turn pro if they have productive campaigns.
The Gators will need help on their defensive line and in the secondary with the 2016 departures.
You’ll see defensive ends Antonneous Clayton and Jordan Smith have big roles next year as redshirt freshmen. Junior college transfer Javier Edwards should provide depth at defensive tackle.
As for the defensive backs, the Gators will count on their cornerback signees to help out immediately. The aforementioned recruits may should be capable of doing that in addition to C.J. McWilliams. He’s missing this season with a torn ACL but played well in preseason camp.
A lot was talked about Antonneous Clayton during recruiting and we haven’t seen him. Why do you think he hasn’t played?
It’s mostly due to his weight. When I went to visit Clayton in the spring to do this feature on him being a video-game junkie, he was up to 240 pounds and in great shape.
But Clayton got sick shortly after enrolling at Florida and lost 25 pounds before the start of preseason camp, getting down to 215. I saw him on campus around that time and he looked really skinny with his 6-foot-3 frame.
He’s had trouble packing on pounds since then and is currently listed at 220 on the roster. McElwain isn’t worried about Clayton gaining weight in the future, but I do think it’s the primary reason he’s redshirting.
Clayton posted this message to Twitter on Monday.
— Godspeed (@antonneousc) September 20, 2016
Are we still major players for WR Donovan Peoples-Jones and DE Jarez Parks? Chances they commit to UF?
Florida is definitely one of the more prominent schools in the recruitment’s of People-Jones and Parks.
People-Jones, the nation’s No. 1 wide receiver from Detroit, hopes to unofficially visit Florida for the LSU game. He’s not naming any leaders publicly, but I’ve heard enough about him to consider Michigan and Florida as his favorite schools at this time.
The Wolverines likely have the edge and the proximity to home certainly works into their favor. As I’ve said for some time, Florida is the biggest threat to pull him out of his home state.
If he does make it to Gainesville on Oct. 8, that would be a huge for the Gators because they’d still have an official visit in their back pocket to get him on campus twice before he decides.
Parks, the nation’s No. 4 weakside defensive end from Sebastian, Fla., was scheduled to visit for the Kentucky game but did not make it. Florida will again try to get him in for one of the remaining home games and then an official visit after the season.
Alabama and Florida State are the competition for Parks, who visited both schools in July. But the Gators have always been near the top of his list and led for him early in the process.
Unless otherwise indicated, rankings come from the 247Sports Composite.