Florida has always been one of the most talented high school football states.
The recruiting battles in the Sunshine State are fierce, because who wins and loses them often helps decide conference and national titles. In the last 36 seasons, schools in Florida have won 11 of college football’s national titles. Florida’s 2 border states have won 8 more, with rosters typically including plenty of Floridians.
In this annual analysis, I only consider 4- and 5-stars from the state of Florida.
In an average year, there are 45 or so 4- and 5-stars from Florida.
For the purposes of determining which schools are recruiting the state the best, I am excluding players from IMG Academy who are not from Florida. A move to IMG is different than other moves. Because it is a boarding school, a kid comes for the purpose of football, not because his family just moved to town. There is nothing tying him to the state.
A large majority of players who transfer to IMG from out of state return to their home regions. By excluding these players, who make up about 5 of the state’s top 50 in a given year, I can attain a clearer picture of the schools recruiting true Florida kids, both in culture and roots. It also helps when making comparisons between years.
For 2020, these non-Floridians are Elias Ricks (from California), Demonte Capehart (South Carolina), Lejond Cavasos (Texas), and Warren Brinson (Georgia).
Who wins Florida on the recruiting trail is important. As is who loses. And several trends have emerged over the last decade.
“Florida schools used to hold onto the state’s better players. That’s changing.”
The Florida colleges once regularly combined to keep more than half of the state’s 4- and 5-star players home. The state’s Big 3 each took shares, with less than one to the state’s Group of 5 programs per year, on average. But in 3 of the last 5 years, they have failed to keep most of the top talent home.
That decrease is not particularly drastic.
But they’re doing an even worse job keeping the super-elite in state.
This is the big one. In each of the last 4 years, the Florida schools have failed to keep at least half of the national top-100 prospects from Florida in the state for college. We are dealing with small sample sets here, with an average of 16 National top-100 recruits from the state of Florida annually, but still. From 2005-2011, a span in which Florida and Florida State signed players who helped win titles, Sunshine State schools did that every year.
There’s a number of factors here. One is that the Big 3 programs have not sustained excellence since recent recruits became high schoolers.
The class of 2020 was born in 2002. They do not remember college football history like older fans do. They entered middle school in 2013 and high school in 2016.
Entering 2019, Florida was just 70-44 since 2010. It has not won an SEC championship since 2008, losing by a combined 52 in its 2 SEC Championship appearances. The Gators had an impressive first season under coach Dan Mullen, going 10-3. But Florida’s 2019 class failed to measure up to division rival Georgia’s and has fallen apart since, with 6 of the 14 4-stars signed not on the roster.
Suffice to say, Mullen has not quieted those who doubted his recruiting ability during his tenure at Mississippi State. But things could be shifting. The 2020 class will be an important one if he is to stop Georgia from widening the recruiting gap. Mullen has proved to be an excellent gameday coach, and the Gators look to turn in another 10-win season in 2019, so there is reason to expect considerable improvement on the trail year over year. As of December 19, Florida sits at 8th nationally.
Traditionally, if 2 programs within the state of Florida are flailing, as FSU and Miami appear to be, the power with its act together has a real chance to clean up on the recruiting trail within the state. 2 recent examples of this are Jimbo Fisher at Florida State benefitting from the tail end of the Urban Meyer era and Randy Shannon eras at Florida and Miami, respectively; and Urban Meyer, who benefitted from FSU and Miami being in the end of the Bobby Bowden and Larry Coker eras.
Florida State has regressed in every year since winning the BCS Championship in 2013, barely making a bowl in 2017 and failing to do so in 2018. While head coach Willie Taggart did have a track record as an elite recruiter, the poor on-field results in the 21 games he coached in Tallahassee before being fired served to undercut much of the groundwork his staff laid each offseason. New coach Mike Norvell, formerly of Memphis, was able to keep most of the class together and as of December 19 it sits at 21st nationally.
2003 was the final season for Butch Davis’ recruits in Miami. His final signing class went a combined 44-4, including 4 Big East rings and a national title. In 2004, Miami moved to the more difficult ACC. Though 4 coaches have tried a variety of approaches, the Hurricanes have gone 67-53 in conference in 15 years, failing to win a single conference title.
Manny Diaz is a good recruiter, but must recruit in an era in which players were not born when stars like Ed Reed and Ray Lewis roamed the Orange Bowl. Still, if Miami wins on a regular basis, it could pay big dividends. So far, though, Miami doesn’t look that different than it did in 2018. This is Diaz’ first full recruiting class, which is crucial, and he could have used a strong on-field product to take advantage of the excitement created via being on a new staff. Some of that excitement was dashed after an upset loss against FIU in late November. Miami’s class ranks 18th nationally as of December 19.
Among Group of 5 schools, UCF and USF recruit well. But a self-crowned national championship has not helped UCF with blue-chip recruits from Florida. The Knights have not signed a Florida 4-star since 2015 under George O’Leary. USF has not done so since 2016 under coach Willie Taggart.
Another is that players from in-state have left the state and had excellent careers, showing younger players a viable path.
It’s little coincidence that the biggest beneficiaries from outside the state have fielded some of this decade’s best teams.
Clemson has been incredible within the state for a while, landing receivers Frank Ladson, Deon Cain, Ray-Ray McCloud, and Artavis Scott; defensive tackle Tyler Davis; and cornerback Trayvon Mullen.
Alabama has signed elites like tackle Alex Leatherwood, receivers Calvin Ridley and Jerry Jeudy, and cornerback Patrick Surtain. Florida has been a priority for Nick Saban throughout his tenure.
Ohio State — thanks to the Florida connections of Urban Meyer and director of player personnel Mark Pantoni — has landed players like ends Nick and Joey Bosa, receiver Binjimen Victor, corners Shaun Wade and Tyreke Johnson, and tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere.
And Georgia has landed receiver Riley Ridley, cornerbacks Tyson Campbell and Tyrique Stevenson, running back James Cook, and linebacker Rian Davis.
As of this writing, the class of 2020 looks like a mixed bag for the Florida schools.
26 of the state’s 4/5-star recruits from Florida are committed to staying home, while 29 are leaving the state and 2 have not yet made a verbal commitment. Within that group, Florida has 10 verbal commitments, Miami has 9, and FSU has 7. Florida had the best year on the field while the other two schools had poor years between the white lines, and that has carried over to the recruiting trail somewhat.
And within the current national top-100, 5 players from Florida are staying home, 8 are leaving the state, and 2 are undecided. I expect the undecided pair to be a split come February. Even getting back to 50/50 would have been considered a win at this point for the in-state powers, but that is again not going to happen. The Big 3 schools are not keeping their top talent home.
Clemson and Georgia are on top, though.
The Tigers have commitments from Florida’s top 2 recruits in RB Demarkcus Bowman and CB Fred Davis. And could land elite receiver Xzavier Henderson despite the fact that his brother, C.J., is a star cornerback for the Gators.
Georgia has the state’s top WR in Marcus Rosemy, its #1 QB in Carson Beck, and its #2 DT in Jalen Carter. The Bulldogs also added receiver Arian Smith, one of the top athletes in the nation.
If those rankings and leanings hold, it would give the in-state schools 6 Top-100 players from inside Florida and 9 for the out-of-state programs.
College football is cyclical, but not random.
Florida schools dominated the sport for 3 decades, but recent seasons full of losses and frequent coaching changes have opened the door for other schools to come in and sign the state’s best prospects. Improved play on the field, better recruiters and recruiting staff, or both will likely be required for Florida teams to get back to the top of college football.
This piece will be updated monthly through National Signing Day in February. Bud’s Twitter account is @BudElliott3 if you have questions or comments in the meantime, or you can find him in the comments of various other posts on this website.