It’s a consensus top ten class according to every major recruiting service ( #2 on Scout, #5 on Rivals and 247, and #7 on ESPN).
In spite of this lofty status, the grumbling and whispers on recruiting message boards and social media have become groans, whines, and downright angst for many in Gator Nation who follow recruiting.
Why so much fear and loathing by fans for what most experts agree is a stellar bump year class?
Two reasons: stars and expectations.
Ever since the evolution of the Internet and the creation of recruiting websites which rank players individually using a star system (3,4,5) based on a recruit’s potential to contribute on the college level, fans have become star-struck.
For almost all fans, their only knowledge of recruits comes from what they’ve read from “experts” or by watching a crudely made highlight video.
As a result, they become overly enamored with players star ratings. Winning a mythical recruiting championship becomes as important as wins/losses on the field.
The problem with this approach is simple.
Recruiting rankings are as subjective as the color of tie one chooses to wear.
Not to diss on the recruiting “experts” who decide these star ratings, that’s the subject for another article, but opinions vary greatly and the old saying about opinions and arses holds true.
One mans “can’t miss” prospect or “lock” is another mans overrated recruit.
Take Gator defensive end commit Antonneous Clayton.
After dominating the Under Armor All American game practices, he shot up to 5* status on both Rivals and Scout and is the overall #10 player nationally on ESPN but barely cracks the top 100 on 247sports.
The problem with many Gator fans on message boards is they’re too caught up with stars and became concerned early in the cycle when the Gators appeared to be loading up on lower-rated players (3 stars) and unknowns.
What they don’t realize is the coaching staff, which includes a large contingent of off-field staff who’s primary job is evaluating and targeting recruits, don’t look at recruiting rankings and star evaluations.
They do their own evaluations based on the tangibles and intangibles they identify that fit what they wish to accomplish based on scheme.
The good news for Gator fans is that the early evaluations of this staff have proven to be strong as 11 of the 26 commits (according to Andrew Spivey of Gatorcountry.com) have been bumped up in star rating and a number of the Gators lower rated recruits are being pursued late by other premier programs.
What this means is that Gators staff evaluations are ahead of the curve.
Last cycle Antonio Callaway was a consensus three star and the #68 rated receiver in the nation according to Scout. He wasn’t listed among their top 300 recruits.
He was an afterthought to the previous staff who slow played him while they chased other recruits.
Many Gator fans, even those who follow recruiting, knew little of him and likely thought little of him even after Mac’s staff began to pursue him immediately upon their arrival.
We all know how he did as a true freshman.
That’s the key. Every school has to take some three star guys. There’s not enough top recruits to fill everyones needs.
And recruiting lower rated recruits is a lot like picking upsets during March Madness. You know you need a few in your bracket to be successful but figuring out which ones are the right ones can be tricky.
Callaway certainly was one.
The other major issue for fans is unrealistic expectations.
Most fans who follow recruiting subscribe to at least one or more of the major recruiting services. As such, they are led along hand and foot at times by experts or insiders who claim certain recruits are locks to their school or leaning to their school.
Fans who buy these subscriptions want this type of info. They want to know who their school “leads for”. They want to know who of the uncommitted or committed elsewhere might sign with their school.
There’s nothing wrong with this as long as fans understand that these are merely educated guesses in the highly fickle and extremely fluid world of recruiting.
There are no locks and a guy leaning towards one school today could eliminate that school tomorrow.
When this happens, fans expectedly react with trepidation and concern about the staff’s recruiting ability especially newer staffs with little track record together. They cry out on message boards that the staff is “getting killed on the recruiting trail”. They fill social media with accusations that this staff can’t “close”.
Closing is a sales term which rates a salesmans ability to “seal the deal”. In recruiting, however, it’s come to mean how well a particular staff or recruiter does in the last few weeks before national signing day.
Many of the top (4-5 star) recruits wait to decide or announce until late in the cycle often at All Star games or on signing day.
Some wish to put off until after their season in order to better focus on their season. Some wish to postpone trips until January in order to get a more inclusive experience where they can see more than the football offices and the stadium. Many, however, simply wish to create drama and enjoy the notoriety and attention that comes with being a top uncommitted prospect late in the cycle.
As such, fans have become accustomed to buying into this drama hoping to enjoy the notoriety their school gets (called a recruiting bump) when they land these prospects.
As such, they lose focus on the recruits already in the fold, focusing primarily on the late commits and how well their schools staff “closes”.
Gator message boards and social media are awash in posts about all the supposed Gator leans that are trending away and the typical concerns that this staff can’t close.
Chicken Little’s to the left, Chicken Little’s to the right.
Are they going to miss on some top targets?
But what many fans are forgetting is all the bad juju beyond the staff’s direct control that they’ve had to deal with making it easy for others to negative recruit against them and, thus, making their job as recruiters that much tougher.
A bare cupboard at receiver and offensive line along with inexperience and poor depth at quarterback made it difficult to showcase much offensively in year one.
Then you add in Grier’s unexpected suspension which effectively shut down everything they were trying to do offensively and you have the makings of a recruiting nightmare.
Hard to recruit top guys to an unproven system with zero experience at QB.
Still they’ve got three pretty good ones already on campus (Freddie Swain, Josh Hammond, JUCO Dre Massey) and a fourth (Rick Wells) committed that could be a sleeper.
Add in there’s a good likelihood they get their top choice at TE (Nick Eubanks) and that’s a solid receiver class.
So fear not Gator Nation, the sky is not falling.