Craig Stephens

Did Florida's Class Meet Expectations?

Created on Feb. 07, 2014 11:22 PM EST

The recruiting fields weren’t barren for the Florida Gators after their 4-8 season. New offensive coordinator Kurt Roper was able to revitalize recruiting on the offensive side of the ball and even flip a couple playmakers to the Orange and Blue.

At the same time, high school defenders around the country didn’t seem to be worried about Will Muschamp. The coach was once again able to bring in a wellspring of defensive talent.

Apart from some dynamic playmakers succumbing to the allure of playing with Jameis Winston, the Florida Gators had a surprisingly strong recruiting class.

Many people assumed the abysmal 2013 season would sink the 2014 recruiting class, especially on offense, but that proved to be premature. Roper’s hiring excited many recruits with promises of point explosions and up-tempo shootouts.

For the players that will actually be Gators, quarterback Will Grier shows great promise. A four-star quarterback by most sites, he set gobs of records in North Carolina and even won the Parade National Player of the Year award.

Surprising addition Treon Harris joined Grier. Harris won a high school national championship as the signal caller for Miami Central High School. He was a Florida State commit throughout his senior year but decided to come to Florida at the last minute, partly because of the new offense, but probably because of the greater chance for playing time.

Harris is a dual-threat quarterback who should excel in Roper’s offense, while Grier is athletic, but more of a pro-style passer. Both will compete with incumbent starter Jeff Driskel this spring. However, I expect Muschamp to stick with the battle-hardened Driskel because of Coach Boom’s lack of job security. The Gators also brought in size on the offensive line and receiving corps.

The Gators couldn’t close on some talented skill players, leaving a few holes in the recruiting class. Losing running back Dalvin Cook and receiver Ermon Lane to FSU hurts; they were special players and will probably shine for the ‘Noles. However, it should be expected that 18-year-old offensive playmakers can be enticed by the prospect of playing with a quarterback like Winston. In addition to Cook and Lane, Florida had a chance to sign five-star offensive tackle Damian Prince, but it was a longshot and few were surprised that he ultimately decided to stay home and sign with Maryland. The lack of running backs is another knock on this class. Kelvin Taylor’s success and sophomore status probably made it hard to bring in any talented backs.

Defense was another story. Like always, Muschamp focused there, and the recruiting class on that side of the ball is formidable. Cornerback Jalen Tabor is the only ESPN-rated five-star recruit of Florida’s 2014 class. Tabor has the size and speed to be a lockdown corner in the SEC. With the return of standout cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and the addition of up to three more four-star cornerbacks, the Gators secondary will be a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. Florida also added five defensive lineman, showing Muschamp’s defensive emphases: line play and great coverage.

Four-star safety Quincy Wilson is sure to gain some fans at Florida. He has been a loyal UF commit and was the first to fax his Letter Of Intent on National Signing Day. Wilson shows talent and a drive to succeed, but even more importantly, a healthy hatred of FSU. While many Gators fans bemoaned the loss of Ermon Lane, Wilson wasn’t concerned. After Lane tweeted his decommitment to Florida, Wilson said to Lane on his Twitter account:

“@_MoneyLane lol.. Well I'll have fun locking you down for the next 3-4 years like I did in highschool.”

That confidence looks great on a cornerback. Behind the bravado, Wilson would later admit in a report on that he felt lied to and betrayed when Lane and Cook flipped to FSU. It will be fun to see how that motivation affects his play.

All in all, the Gators rallied to pull in ESPN’s sixth-ranked recruiting class. It was the sixth-best in the nation but only the fifth-best in the SEC and somehow people are saying the SEC is on the decline. Florida’s class ranked second in the SEC East behind a surprisingly burgeoning Tennessee. The Gators’ class doesn’t have the volume of the Vols' class, but it has more top-level talent.

Florida fans should be happy that such a terrible season didn’t wreck what turned out to be a great recruiting season and excited about the promise that these athletes bring to the program. 

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