Why are Miami, FSU down? They've struggled to sign Florida's best recruits. That could be changing
A month before the early National Signing Period last year, Florida had 1 commitment from the top 50 players in its state.
If you’re looking for a microcosm of why Dan Mullen was fired after taking the Gators to a New Year’s 6 bowl game 3 times in 4 seasons, that’s it.
Recruiting is everything. And suddenly, it’s getting serious again in the state of Florida for the Big three of Florida, Florida State and Miami.
Nearly 8 months later, new Gators coach Billy Napier already has 4 commitments from the top 50 in the state according to the 247Sports composite — and is considered the clear leader on 7 others, including the No. 1 player in the state and No. 3 overall in the nation (CB Cormani McClain out of Lakeland).
But that’s only part of the story.
A year ago, Miami had 2 in the top 50 committed when former coach Manny Diaz was fired. The Canes under new coach Mario Cristobal have 6 commitments in the top 50 and are the clear leader on 2 others.
Florida and Miami hired coaches who are elite recruiters, and Florida State’s Mike Norvell recently completed his first recruiting class of unfettered (see: COVID) evaluation and had his best class in 3 years.
It’s getting serious in the state of Florida because the Big 3 are engaging in white-knuckle pursuit of the top players in the state — against each other and the best programs in college football.
In the recently completed 2022 class where Napier and Cristobal had limited time to make an impact, 10 of the top 12 players, and 32 of the top 50 signed with out-of-state schools. Florida grabbed 1 of the top 12 players: No. 7 Kamari Wilson, a 4-star safety. FSU signed No. 8 Sam McCall, also a 4-star safety. All of the top 50 were at least 4-star players.
In the 2023 class, the margin already has been shaved to 5 of the top 10, but the losses are still significant. The top 2 wideouts in the state (both 5-stars) are committed to Ohio State (Brandon Inniss, Carnell Tate), and a third 5-star wideout is committed to LSU (Jalen Brown). The best defensive lineman, a 5-star, is committed to Notre Dame (Keon Keeley).
The state’s elite are still finding their way across the border, but not the overflow of previous years. In the 2022 class alone, Florida, Florida State and Miami lost 4-star in-state players to — I’m not making this up — Indiana (2), Louisville, Iowa State, NC State, Rutgers and Georgia Southern.
Yep, Georgia Southern.
“There’s a long way to go,” one Miami staffer told me. “If you look at it year by year, it’s shocking how (Florida, Miami and FSU) lost control of recruiting the state. That can’t happen.”
There’s no better indicator of how far it had fallen than the very top. Only 4 times in the past 10 years has the No. 1 player in the state signed with a Florida school. Gervon Dexter (2020, Florida) is the most recent.
Alabama, Georgia, Clemson and Ohio State — and most recently, Texas A&M — have had their way in the state over the past decade, signing elite talent and reducing the state’s Big 3 to a shadow of their former championship selves.
Florida hasn’t won a conference championship since 2008. Florida State hasn’t won a conference championship since 2014.
Miami hasn’t won an outright conference title since 2002, when it was in the now-defunct Big East.
Recruiting is everything.
When you’re consistently losing Dallas Turner (Alabama), Jalen Carter (Georgia), JJ McCarthy (Michigan), Nolan Smith (Georgia), Evan Neal (Alabama), Xavier Thomas (Clemson), Nic Petit-Frere (Ohio State), Jerry Jeudy (Alabama), Shaun Wade (Ohio State) — stop me when you’ve read enough — to schools outside the state, eventually the level of play diminishes.
Eventually, there are decade-long stretches of irrelevancy.
The biggest issue for the Big 3 has been ceding South Florida (Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties) and prestigious IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., to the sport’s heavyweights.
IMG is a boarding school that accepts players from all over the country, and a majority of its players don’t have deep Florida roots. But as one FSU assistant told me: “(IMG’s players are) in our state for a year or two or more, and that’s an advantage. We have to use that.”
In the past 5 recruiting classes, IMG produced 39 players with 4- and 5-star evaluations, including 12 players with 5-star evaluations.
Not one of the 5-star players signed with Florida, FSU or Miami, and only 8 of the 4-star players did.
If you subtract the first recruiting classes of Napier and Cristobal — and FSU coach Mike Norvell’s first class of full-time (non-Covid) evaluation in 2022 — it’s 5 of 30.
Five of 30.
For 2023, IMG has 7 players in the state’s top 50 with 4- and 5-star evaluations, and Miami has commitments or is considered the strong leader from 4 — including 2 with 5-star evaluations.
Florida is primed for its best recruiting class since Will Muschamp landed multiple top-10 classes a decade ago, and Norvell just beat Napier for the No. 2 offensive lineman in the state (Lucas Simmons).
Recruiting is everything again for the Big 3 in the state of Florida.
Winning games of significance, and championships, can’t be far behind.