by Jeff Barlis
Heeeeeere comes the future!
The sports world is buzzing about Florida-Alabama, as well it should.
Florida is No. 12 and Alabama No. 3 in the latest Associated Press poll. There will be a sold-out crowd on national television in prime-time.
The recruiting world is buzzing, too. What makes this such a big game is that it pits two of the traditional recruiting powers, two schools that often go head-to-head for recruiting jewels.
That will certainly be the case on Saturday, when several prospects in the south end zone will have their eyes glued to two of their top teams. It’s not far-fetched to think this game could have some influence on their decisions — not necessarily in terms of the outcome, but rather more in terms of the atmosphere and how specific units look against elite competition.
OK, let’s get to your questions …
Who’s the most underrated prospect the staff is after? Who is the best dancer being recruited in this class? And will he and Dominique Easley have a dance off at some point? — Greg R. via blog comments
Oh, I see. After last week’s question about robots, some of you think I’ll give preferential treatment to funny/witty/clever questions, eh? Well, you’re right! Only problem is I can’t always run with them. Like this one. It’s a solid attempt, Greg, but I can’t really employ sarcasm when it comes to recruits. There is already so much misinformation out there, and I will not contribute to it. Still, I chuckled. The safe answer is that Easley is the best dancer I’ve seen in years past and for years to come. He has no equal. He really thinks he’s Michael Jackson. I’m just sayin’ Easley would crush anyone in a dance-0ff. That much is true.
As for the first question, I can tell you Florida’s most underrated targets are on the defensive side of the ball. Florida still has a the most action going on with regards to the D-line and linebackers in this class. On the line, everyone is focused on big names like Jonathan Bullard, Carlos Watkins and Darius Hamilton. At buck linebacker, the big names are Jordan Jenkins, Noah Spence and Dante Fowler. Not many recruitniks realize the Gators are still working on Alex McCalister of Clemmons, N.C., West Forsyth. He’s rated a three-star prospect by most services, but depending on how some of those big-name battles shake out, McCalister has a real chance of ending up in this class. He’s a 6-foot-6, 210-pound basketball player who is freakishly athletic. Florida likes him as a buck, even though he could be destined to end up as a defensive end. The feeling is most definitely mutual, as McCalister said he fell in love with UF and its campus on a June 18 visit. McCalister says he still talks to coaches as Florida, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and N.C. State. He is planning to take an official visit for Florida-Florida State game in November.
Assuming the 2012 recruiting class goes as you predicted last week, what are the areas of MOST concern for the ’13 Gators? — @Ivo_Solis_UF via Twitter
This is a juicy question, Ivo, because I definitely think that Will Muschamp and Co., knew they would take some lumps with the Class of 2011, knew they would have to really scrap to win some of the head-to-head battles for 2012 and have worked really hard to make sure 2013 is a level playing field. It’s not uncommon for a new coaching staff to need more than a year to establish good relationships. What’s working in Florida’s favor is that their biggest need is wide receiver, and that position is loaded in the state of Florida. Throw in the star power of Charlie Weis, and you’ve got a bunch of teenagers with orange-and-blue stars in their eyes.
I’ve been over this list before, but here are some rapid-fire names of Floridian wideouts high on UF’s list: Oakland Park Northeast’s Stacy Coley, Jacksonville Bishop Kenny’s Ahmad Fulwood, Tampa Jesuit’s Travis Johnson, Tampa Middleton’s Richard Benjamin, Tallahassee Lincoln’s Taj Williams and Reggie Davis, Immokalee’s Xavier Richardson, Seffner Armwood’s Alvin Bailey, Davenport Ridge’s Shykeem Pitts and Fort Lauderdale University School’s Jordan Cunningham. That’s quite a pool of talent to pull from. Weis will be a busy man in the state of Florida next season, as the running back position is similarly stocked.
The only other area that looks to be of significant concern would be defensive line. There, the Gators must recruit nationwide, as they are doing so for the current class. If they can pull in a surprisingly good crop of D-linemen in 2012, the need would obviously diminish a bit for 2013. But like a few positions, you can never have enough big uglies in the trenches. Florida could use some future star power there as well, considering the potential for at least one early exit off the Gators’ D-line.
Any new info on Ronald Darby? Also, what do you think the Gators chances are with landing Keith Marshall out of Raleigh, N.C.? With Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey leaving and no other halfback making up much ground, do you think he sees a true opportunity or is it getting too crowded with the verbal commitments of Matt Jones and Mike Davis? — Taylor via email
Whoa, that’s a lot of information there, Taylor. Took me a while to digest it all. Darby is a tantalizing cornerback prospect. The kind of five-star speedster that would force Florida to change its plans if he is indeed interested. Darby, who committed to Notre Dame in April, said recently that he plans to take an official visit to Florida this fall. Then he visited Notre Dame again, and now it’s anyone’s guess. As usual, if he makes it to Gainesville anything can happen. So definitely keep an eye on Darby.
As for Marshall, he is taking an official visit to Florida this weekend for the big Bama game. That tells me he is serious about considering the Gators. Everyone thinks he is a solid lean for Georgia, but you never know how a kid will react to some known factors — specifically, the job security of one head coach named Mark Richt and the presence of true freshman tailback Isaiah Crowell. Marshall is a five-star back looking for a home. The Florida coaching staff will have an easy time showing him film of Rainey and Demps and noting that they are both seniors. There is room for three running backs in this class. The question is, how would a commitment from Marshall affect a similar prospect like Davis?
Is Noah Spence not going to be at this game? Does it seem that we are among the favorites to land him? — GatorsEverywhere via comments
Noah Spence will not be at the Alabama-Florida game. I can say that with some certainty, because his Harrisburg, Pa., Bishop McDevitt Crusaders will play host to Hummelstown, Pa., Lower Dauphin at 10:30 a.m., on Saturday. Do you know anyone (who isn’t tied to a booster) who can fly him down on a private jet that afternoon? No? OK then.
Florida is indeed among the favorites to land Spence, a five-star pass-rushing hybrid linebacker. He’s an elite prospect at a position of serious need, so the Gators will roll out the red carpet when Spence takes an official visit (as expected) after his high school season is finished. Some say Spence’s top schools are Florida and the in-state favorite Penn State.
Where is Malcolm Lewis from Miramar on Gators’ big board? High priority or not? — @RobLou56 via Twitter
At one point, Florida was interested in Lewis and his Miramar, Fla., teammate, five-star cornerback Tracy Howard in a package deal. Both have offers from the Gators. But as Florida’s interest in Howard remains, the Gator coaches seemed to back off of Lewis, a four-star wideout who stands 6-0, 185. I’ve heard that Lewis has shown a lot of improvement so far in his senior season, but I’m not sure that will be enough to entice the stance of the Florida coaches, who are still prioritizing five-stars Stefon Diggs and Nelson Agholor at the WR position. I’ve also heard that Lewis has a lot of love for the nearby University of Miami, and the feeling is mutual. The ‘Canes are recruiting him the hardest. Still, depending on how things work out with Diggs and Agholor, Lewis could find himself back on the Gators’ list if they decide they must grab another wideout in this class. He’s definitely in that second group of receivers on Florida’s board.
Which recent recruit that we lost out on could we use the most? Sammy Watkins would be my pick the way he’s been tearing it up for Clemson and since he’s a position of need for our current team. What are your thoughts? — Gator in Ukraine via comments
Agreed. Watkins has been a stud true freshman, while Florida’s biggest need is for a playmaker on the edge. Unless, Florida scores Diggs or Agholor, I’m afraid that need could remain unfilled for quite some time.
How are we looking right now with tight end Kent Taylor? — @tjkrick via Twitter
As of just a few days ago, Taylor continued to say Florida is his leader. He will be at the big game this Saturday, and it could be one of the final pushes the Gator coaches need to make. With his excellent hands, Taylor could be a big part of Weis’ attack, and it may be on dazzling display with Taylor in the south end zone stands. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he or offensive tackle Adam Bisnowaty, who visited Florida for the Tennessee game, are the next two verbals for the Gators.
I find it interesting the recruiting hype surrounding UF vs. ALA, but not nearly as much hype surrounding UF vs. LSU. What gives? — Patrick via comments
Patience, Patrick. I’m not sure I agree with you. Maybe it just seems like there’s more hype for this weekend’s game because it’s first. I mean, why should the college football world hype a game on Oct. 8 when we have no idea what the teams’ records will be? If Florida beats Alabama, I’m sure that game in the Tigers’ Death Valley will get all the attention it would deserve.
As for a recruiting angle, I am not personally as concerned about a road game as I am a home game. I also think LSU is sometimes overlooked a bit in recruiting because they so dominate the state of Louisiana. Like Texas getting just about anyone it wants out of its state, where is the fun in talking about non-existent recruiting battles?
Who are the most likely recruits to commit to Florida during their visit this weekend for the Alabama game? — @flagridiron via Twitter
I’ve already mentioned Kent Taylor, and there is certainly some intrigue between he and fellow tight end prospect Kurt Freitag, a 6-4, 245-pounder who compares more with UF verbal commit Colin Thompson in that they are both point-of-attack, blocking tight ends who can catch the odd pass. Freitag is said to be down to Florida and Alabama (think he’ll be glued to the action on Florida Field?), and could also be close to making a decision. I think there is even a chance that Florida would take its second and third tight ends in this class if both want to pledge UF. Just think of how it’s going to go down in the locker room! Would the Florida coaches demand they arm wrestle for a spot in this class??!
Sadly, to specifically answer your question, I do not think any of Saturday’s visitors will commit on the spot. Or, if they do, I don’t think we’ll hear about it publicly.
Do you think FSU’s 2-2 start help us with some of the head to head recruits we are both going after? — Texas Gator via comments
Florida State’s back-to-back losses to then-No. 1 Oklahoma and a very feisty Clemson last week will probably not affect the Seminoles in recruiting. I heard the atmosphere at Doak Campbell Stadium in that big, nationally televised game against Okie was tremendous, a return to the glory days of the 1990s. However, losses don’t sit well with some recruits … like Fowler. The Prospectus talked to the mysterious FSU recruit about his ‘Noles and his visit to UF this weekend. Look for that blog on Thursday.
Do you see the coaching staff going after Landon Collins, Cyrus Jones or Deaysean Rippy to possibly round off the class? — E. via comments
Collins is a five-star prospect who can go wherever he wants. But the Geismar, La., Dutchtown safety is one of those Louisiana kids who seems unlikely to escape the clutches of the Bayou Bengals. Still, he has interest in Florida and says he will be at the Gators’ game in Baton Rouge on Oct. 8. UF is not out of the running here, but I’d say it’s safer to bet that the Gators are all set at safety with pledges from Marcus Maye and Rhaheim Ledbetter.
Jones, like the aforementioned Malcolm Lewis, is part of UF’s second tier of receiver prospects. He is a four-star slot receiver at 5-11, 183, and he said he had “serious” interest in the Gators earlier this summer. What’s not clear is how hard UF is going after Jones. In more recent weeks, Jones set two of his official visits and said he intended to officially visit Alabama and Auburn as well. Florida is among a group of schools Jones is considering for his fifth official.
Rippy’s relationship with Florida is way more complicated than any I have seen. In fact, I’m still trying to piece together what happened since Rippy insists that he’s always loved the Gators. Basically, like any volatile relationship, it was a case of on-again, off-again. When Florida got a verbal from Patterson, La., four-star outside linebacker Lorenzo Phillips, that was the end of the Gators’ love affair with Rippy. I don’t think they’ll be relighting the fire anytime soon, which is too bad for Rippy because the kid still got a bit teary-eyed in July when he told me his side of what happened.
That’s another Outbox in the books! Here’s how you can submit your questions for next week …