Heeeeeere comes the future!

We’re old friends now, you and I.

We’ve been meeting each week for these mailbags since early August. You’ve tuned in to read all of our recruiting stories and blogs on Gatorsports.com and our new recruiting database, Recruits.Gatorsports.com. You’ve even made my catchphrase world famous.

I have to admit something to you — recruiting is crazy, and covering it sometimes seems like herding cats.

Just last week in this space, I reported that Patterson, La., linebacker Lorenzo Phillips was still verbally committed in the Gators’ Class of 2012. I even posted a quote from his high school coach expressing frustration with all the drama surrounding Phillips.

Turns out where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Phillips hasn’t returned phone calls, text messages or emails. Meanwhile, Scout.com and Rivals.com have reported his decommitment. He’s interested in LSU (shocking), Houston (he has high school teammates committed to the Cougars), Alabama (who wouldn’t be?) and Louisiana-Lafayette (another close-to-home option). With Florida out of the picture, the Gators simply move on in their search for another outside linebacker commit.

I think the top target is four-star Josh Harvey-Clemons of Valdosta, Ga., Lowndes. At 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, he has a frame that would give Florida a potential star athlete. JHC is just about ready to go on a whirlwind of official visits. He’ll start with LSU at Alabama on Nov. 5, then hit Georgia at Auburn on Nov. 10, followed by Florida-Florida State on Nov. 26 and wrap up with an official to Georgia on the weekend of Dec. 9-11. I think he’ll come down to Florida and Georgia. He’s said he will announce in the 12th annual U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

Florida could eventually have some other highly touted options at linebacker, but it’s too early to say. Stone Mountain, Ga.’s Ukeme “Markuss” Eligwe (6-3, 210), who gave his verbal to FSU over Georgia and Florida back in April, has expressed more interest in visiting Florida since the Seminoles have had some struggles this season and their vaunted class has seen some defections. Two other shaky in-state verbals are four-stars Keith Brown and Raphael Kirby for the Miami Hurricanes. They have also expressed interest in UF. However, it would only seem to be flirtation until either prospect sets an actual visit.

OK, that wasn’t too painful. Let’s get to your questions …

Kent Taylor is set to make his decision. Where do you think he’ll go, and what could he bring that we are currently lacking? — @RealGatorRuss via Twitter

Full disclosure: GatorRuss is one of my favorite Gator fans on the planet. He is the volunteer admin for the Gatorsports Message Board, famously known as the GSMB. It’s a thankless job, and Russ has been excellent for a long, long time.

Everyone and their brother says Taylor is going to pick Florida over Penn State and Alabama on Thursday during his U.S. Army All-American Bowl jersey presentation. Even recruiting fans/readers are going on Twitter and message boards to make this bold prediction. Here’s a newsflash — no one is surprised. I’ll join the chorus and say Taylor is going to announce his verbal to UF. He really became hot for the Gators when FSU accepted the verbal of tight end Christo Kourtzidis in June.

Taylor had a solid showing at Friday Night Lights in July and began to develop closer relationships with Florida coaches Charlie Weis, Brian White and Derek Lewis. He also became close friends with another Florida tight end commit, Colin Thompson. Taylor’s interest in Florida also grew around that time in late July when Penn State, the team he grew up rooting for, accepted the verbal commitment of a second tight end in their 2012 class.

At 6-5, Taylor has a terrific wingspan, and on the tips of those wings are some fantastic hands. At 215 pounds, he’ll need to gain weight in order to operate in the middle of the field and do some blocking. But make no mistake, Taylor is going to be a stretch-the-field tight end and quite possibly a threat as soon as next season. Given Florida’s current struggles at the tight end position and the transfer plans of sophomore Gerald Christian, Taylor could bring his hands and athleticism into play right away.

With recent transfers, refresh my memory: how does the new oversigning rule affect UF? Will we remain under the limit because we can’t sign more than 25? — @Spencer_Duhm via Twitter

Whoa! First GatorRuss and now Spencer Duhm? We have a celebrity alert, y’all! Another disclosure: I used to be a huge fan of TV reality juggernaut “Survivor” back when I had time to watch (read: before recruiting took over my life). So I was positively honored to see Spencer following me on Twitter. Spence ditched school at UF to take part in Survivor: Tocantins. In fact, he was the youngest contestant ever on the show. I thought he was unfairly booted far too early in the show and was just starting to be a very entertaining competitor. Alas, I only watched a couple more seasons before the show truly lost my attention with Jimmy Johnson as a contestant. I mean, seriously? How is that guy going to truly compete for a million dollars when his hair alone is worth $10 million?

OK, the recruiting question — I’ve gotten this one a lot since Tuesday’s announcement of the transfer plans of Christian and former high school teammate Robert Clark. Florida has seen nine players leave or plan to leave since Will Muschamp took over. The Gators are down to just 72 scholarship football players, including four walk-ons and not including linebacker Neiron Ball, who is recovering from a ruptured blood vessel in his brain. So there are 11 seniors coming off the roster, and who knows how many more transfers. Also unknown is if the scholarships given to redshirt junior Scott Peek and redshirt sophomore Tim Clark were just for this year … or if Ball will ever make it back onto the roster.

There are a lot of unknowns, so we have to operate within what we do know. When the season is over the Gators will be down to either 59 or 61 scholarships, depending on those two walk-ons. The roster limit is 85, which leaves between 24-26 scholarship openings. The oversigning rule does not allow more than a 25-man class, but schools are still allowed to count some early enrollees back to the previous class. So if the Gators can count back the six verbals who want to enroll early (I listed them in last week’s Outbox), they could potentially exceed the new limit of 25 that way. What cannot be exceeded is the 85 scholarships on the roster.

I think it’s fair to speculate that there will be another transfer or two. But I would not predict any sort of mass defections. The number 27 is still the most Florida has signed in any one class since Urban Meyer was the head coach. I could see Muschamp at or possibly just over that number. With Phillips’ decommitment, Florida’s Class of 2012 currently stands at 16.

Where do we stand with Landon Collins and what are our chances of landing Tracy Howard? Rivals claimed we are in Howard’s top 2. Those two would add much needed secondary depth and could both compete for a starting spot next year. — Titan_Gator via blog comments

Rivals did post a video this week of five-star cornerback Tracy Howard saying his top two are Florida and Florida State. I’d say that gives UF a pretty good chance at a tremendous cover cornerback. Howard is a student of the game, which translates to excellent technique on the field. He’s also got good size at 6-0, 175. Howard is just warming up to the recruiting process. He plans to take all five official visits and then announce at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January. He’ll take an unofficial visit to see his top two teams play at The Swamp on Nov. 26. The Gators are working hard on Howard, as defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson visited Howard’s school last week. It will be interesting to see how much bigger Florida’s class is by the time Howard is ready to announce. If Florida plans to sign 25 players, it might be hard for UF to wait on Howard. Another factor could be depth charts, as Florida has a younger secondary than Florida State. The Seminole coaching staff is no doubt using that in selling Howard on early playing time.

Another five-star talent, safety Landon Collins, is far less likely to end up in orange and blue. He plays high school ball in Geismar, La., just down the road from Baton Rouge for goodness sake! Everything I hear with Collins is LSU. He reportedly took an official to LSU for the Florida game on Oct. 8. That game may not have been an easy selling point for the Gators, but the need for a hard-hitting safety probably stood out. Collins is set to take another official visit to see the Tigers play next week at Alabama. I just don’t think Florida has a chance here.

Do you think WRs Nelson Agholor and Stefon Diggs are favoring Florida and do we possibly have a legit chance at taking away Avery Johnson after his official? — Morgan via blog comments

Yes, yes and yes.

Agholor and Diggs don’t talk about recruiting very often, but when they do it’s very positive for Florida. I see the Gators as a finalist at worst for both, and with their connections to the program and their favorable visits, I could imagine both of them in this class. The Gators have been working very hard on Agholor, with Weis and White in Tampa to see his game last weekend. Diggs has been planning to return to Florida for an unofficial visit with his mother ever since his interest in UF grew after participating in Friday Night Lights. He’s set to be in the south end zone for the Florida-Florida State game on Nov. 26.

Johnson is an interesting case. He recently told Rivals he is closer with Florida wide receiver coach Aubrey Hill than any other coach and that they talk weekly. Hill visited Johnson at his high school last week. The brother of former Tiger CB Patrick Peterson is considered a soft verbal to the Tigers and is planning to take an official visit to Florida after the season. I’m not sure Florida has room for four receivers (Latroy Pittman is already on the commitment list), but Johnson certainly could give the Gators more options at a position that is clearly in need of more.

With regards to the 2012 and 2013 recruiting classes, what do you see as the MAJOR ISSUE needing addressing most with the Gators? I know most people are saying OL and WR, but taking into account players graduating and weakness of play I feel there may be bigger needs elsewhere as well. — Adam Foskey of Santa Monica, Calif., via email

Adam, thanks for reading and emailing. You certainly have the right positions in mind, but since you asked about the next two recruiting classes, I will say the major issue is star power. I’ve been beating that drum for a long time. I know a lot of folks like to get all in-depth about recruiting. But it’s such an inexact science (I call it educated guessing). To me, the success of a class is not in its number of four- or five-stars, but in the number of actual stars. What Florida needs are players who make a big difference from Day 1 like Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes. You could make an easy argument that Meyer’s entire success was based on the recruitment of those three stars in the Class of 2006.

I think Muschamp and Co., get it. Their best chance at star freshmen might not truly arrive until this recruiting cycle (during their first year) is over and the heat is turned up on the Class of 2013. There looks to be tons of star power in that class. But in the meantime, Muschamp and Weis are grabbing all the high-character prospects they can for positions of need — tight end, offensive line, linebacker, running back. They will look to finish off this class with some potential stars in wide receivers like Agholor and Diggs. Marcus Maye could be a big hit at safety. Florida is in good shape to land some incredible prospects for the defensive front seven, an area that is sorely lacking star power.

Meyer was able to pull the No. 1 recruiting class after his first year. Muschamp may not equal that, but it’s important to note that right now he still has a shot. But again, it’s not about the rankings and ratings of scouting services. It’s about star power. And even if Florida’s Class of 2012 is at all short on star power, it has the potential to make up for that with character and players who fit the new coaching staff’s schemes. With a solid foundation in 2012, Florida could very well burst with star power in 2013. That’s a long way off, but in recruiting it’s just around the corner.

Gunner Keil is supposedly opening his recruitment back up, saying he will take some officials to games. Heard Bama was his other finalist so distance isn’t a factor. He’s the one QB I was hoping the staff would go for this year, and in fact has an offer from us. What are the chances we get him on campus? — Watson via blog comments

I have not heard a single mention of Keil having interest in Florida. I’ve heard Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Michigan and Alabama. It’s late in the game for five-star quarterbacks, so his decommitment could have an interesting ripple effect.

OK, we’re done here. I’ve been beating around the bush for weeks, but I’m just going to come right out and say it — I need more questions from you folks! The last couple of weeks I’ve answered just about every good question I’ve gotten.  Help a brother out …

• Post a question in the comments of this or any blog.
• Post in the Recruiting Board on the GSMB
• Follow me — Twitter.com/JeffBarlis
• Email me — barlisj@gvillesun.com