by Jeff Barlis
Heeeeeere comes the future!
The future is still bright, people. Back away from the ledge.
I’ve heard so many Gator fans in distress about this four-game losing streak, it feels like I’m watching the sequel to “Panic Room.” It stars Will Muschamp and it’s called “Panic Room 2: Doom, Gloom and Boom.”
Seriously, how could so many fans have so quickly forgotten that this is supposed to be a transition year? Forgotten the traditional honeymoon period for a new coach? Forgotten the brutal schedule that Florida has? Was the 4-0 start that great that it raised expectations beyond reason?
OK, enough of my interrogation, Gator fans. This blog is about you and YOUR questions.
Here’s one that I’ve gotten from too many people to name …
How will the losing streak affect the current class? Will there be more defections? — Gator fans everywhere
The answer may surprise you. Florida’s Class of 2012 is very committed. I’ve talked to many of the pledges and they all remark how much they love the coaching staff and how much they like each other. There’s loyalty there, and every recruit I’ve talked to has made sure to mention how much character they’ve seen in their fellow UF commits. Muschamp and Co., have done well to secure commitments from 17 recruits who seem to be totally sold on the Gators … in all kinds of weather. It also doesn’t hurt that they all think they’ve got a great shot at playing in 2012.
Since linebacker Lorenzo Phillips decommitted, I don’t think there’s a shaky commitment among Florida’s 17. In fact, there are several leaders who are actively recruiting their peers to join the class. And those that are still taking official visits, as wide receiver Latroy Pittman did last weekend to Notre Dame, appear to be simply enjoying the rewards of five free official visits this fall.
Gator fans looking for a light at the end of the tunnel can look to recruiting in my opinion. Florida is still undefeated in 2012 last I looked at the schedule, and it looks like a very good class will be coming next year.
In the Urban Meyer era, Florida was known for it’s blazing speed and game-breaking ability. How long do you think it’s going to take for the Gators to change their identity from a fast, speedy team to a strong, physical team? And what players in the 2012 class do you think will spearhead that change the most? — Mitchell McGuire via email
That’s a great question, Mitchell. Without a crystal ball I can only say that it’s going to take time. The Florida-Alabama game a month ago was a stark illustration of just how far Florida is from being the kind of team that they lost to — a team that has oodles of talent and depth to keep everyone working hard, a team that can shut down anyone’s running game and make an offense one-dimensional, and a team that can run on anyone. Anyone who really knows football had to see what a wide gap was on display in that game. My feeling is that it will take Florida more than one recruiting class to start down that path. I’m sure only the most patient of fans wants to hear talk of 2013, but the truth is that is when this Gators program will have a large senior class for the first time in three straight years.
I think the Class of 2012 will make an impact right away. The two running backs, Matt Jones and Mike Davis, are good fits for what offensive coordinator Charlie Weis wants to do, which is dominate with the ground game. D.J. Humphries could come in and contend for playing time right away at left tackle. The two tight ends, Kent Taylor and Colin Thompson, appear to be better fits than anyone on Florida’s current roster. Marcus Maye could get into the mix at free safety, and Brian Poole could be a factor at cornerback.
But to specifically answer the question about strong, physical players, I would say Jones, Thompson, Poole, middle linebacker Antonio Morrison and strong safety Rhaheim Ledbetter are the standouts of this class so far. There’s more to come, as toughness is certainly a priority for this Florida coaching staff.
Based on the current holes in our team, is the 2013 season when we should expect the Gators to be competing for a national championship again? — Austen P. Cornell via email
Let’s not get carried away, Austen. It takes time to become a national title contender. I really think Gator fans not only got spoiled by Meyer’s incredibly quick success, but many of you also developed unrealistic expectations. What happened in Meyer’s second season is not the norm. Not even close. Ron Zook may have left Meyer more talent than Meyer left Muschamp, and Meyer was able to combine those seasoned players with some generational recruits like Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin. Florida fans should always enjoy 2006, but it would be wise to not expect it to happen again.
Still, there could be one answer to your question that is more uplifting — Florida could contend for championships in 2013. It’s certainly possible. I just think maybe the SEC is more realistic than the BCS in 2013.
I see Keith Marshall is visiting UF again on 11/25. How serious are we in contention for his services? — ClockedOut via blog comments
I believe that information is incorrect. Marshall, who took an official visit to Florida on Oct. 1 for the Alabama game, is planning to officially visit South Carolina that weekend for the Clemson game. Clemson has suddenly become a pretty big player for the nation’s No. 1 running back prospect, as Marshall is planning to also take an official visit to see the Tigers play host to Wake Forest next weekend (Nov. 12). The whispers all along have been that Marshall was leaning toward Georgia, and the Bulldogs do indeed remain among his favorites. Florida has crept into the mix as well, but perhaps Clemson has a chance to take another elite running back away from the Gators. We should find out soon, as Marshall is planning to decide after his final visit. We should know his verbal some time in December.
So what is the Gators’ number 1 target this recruiting season: big back, OL, DL, etc.? — @tcpipman via Twitter
By Game 8 I think it’s become fairly obvious that Florida’s biggest problem is the offensive line. Florida has a big back coming in the 6-foot-3 Jones, but he won’t be effective until the line play improves. The players UF has are young and in need of much more coaching. Of more concern is the lack of depth. It’s surprising that Florida has recruited so many offensive linemen through the last five years and almost none of them can even get on the field. “Right now, the first string is obviously better,” sophomore Jon Halapio said on Tuesday.
Florida can clearly sell prospects on the chance at early playing time. The staff feels it can work with many of the current players on the roster and convert some of them to the interior line positions. The need specifically is at tackle, and there is good news with the solid verbal of Humphries (6-6, 280) , the nation’s No. 1-rated tackle. Another pledge is from 6-6, 315-pound Jessamen Dunker, who brings tremendous size and raw athleticism.
Florida would love to add two more linemen to this class, but it may not happen. The Gators have been high on the list for five-star prospect Avery Young (6-6, 275) for a long time. But Young, who is Scout’s No. 4-rated OT, recently took an official visit to Auburn and came back with the Tigers as his new leader, with the caveat that he hasn’t taken any other visits. He’ll be at the LSU-Alabama “Game of the Century” this weekend to give the Tide a closer look. He has also said he wants to visit Florida and Georgia. The Gators are still in good shape, but this one will come down to National Signing Day.
Another big-time possibility is five-star Kyle Murphy (6-7, 268) from San Clemente, Calif., who is Scout’s No. 8 tackle prospect in the nation. Murphy will take an official visit to Florida for the Vanderbilt game this weekend, but it seems he’s much more likely to remain on the west coast with a Pac-12 school. Most consider his leader to be Southern Cal, the closest of his top schools at just over an hour from home.
There could be more offers in the works, as Florida looks to address its biggest need and won’t hesitate to make a late play for undecided or even committed prospects. UF coaches recently offered Donald Hawkins (6-5, 320) of Northwest Mississippi Community College, who has been committed to Oklahoma State since August.
How will the outcome of Saturday’s Florida-Georgia game impact the recruitment of John Theus? Specifically, is there still an opening for the Gators to woo this Bolles star to Gainesville? — Martin E. via blog comments
Good follow-up for our offensive tackle discussion, as Theus is regarded by many as the best prospect in the state of Florida. He is, however, firmly committed to Georgia. Last Saturday’s game was ugly on both sides, make no mistake about that. And it was worse for Florida, with just two offensive tackles in the game — both struggling mightily. But UGA coach Mark Richt has to be feeling the relief of a much cooler seat these days. His team is ranked No. 18 and riding a six-game winning streak. Beating Florida, no matter how ugly, is cause for wild celebration in Dawg Nation. Had Richt lost to a Florida team mired in its second straight difficult season, yes, I could imagine commits like Theus might be worried and possibly think about looking around. John’s father, Paul, has said that Florida was closer to Georgia than most people realize when it came to getting John’s verbal, and John does plan to make an unofficial visit to Gainesville for the Florida-Florida State game. But because Richt got the big win in Jacksonville last Saturday, I expect Theus to remain an anchor in Georgia’s class.
I live in northeast Georgia and keep hearing that Brice Ramsey is a Mark Richt committment instead of a UGA committment. By the time this is posted next week we will know the outcome of the Florida-Georgia game (not Georgia-Florida) and Richt’s job will either be in dire jeoprady or secure. What are our chance’s of flipping Brice and the big Yulee running back committed to UGA? — ga gator via blog comments
Ah, now here’s a follow-up to that last follow-up! Richt’s seat may be cooler after finally beating Florida for the first time since 2007, but he’s not out of the woods. He’ll have to beat in-state rival Georgia Tech to truly secure himself in the good graces of his bosses. But the point is that Richt is no longer in danger of being fired. He’ll live to see another signing day, which is usually a good day for him. What about signing day, 2013? Well, I can’t predict that far into the future, but I’ll tell you this — neither Ramsey nor Yulee, Fla.’s Derrick Henry are what you would call solid verbals. Yes, they both like Richt a lot and see a Georgia program that offers them everything they are looking for, but I think Florida will remain in the mix for both. Ramsey does appear to be one of Weis’ top targets for a quarterback of the future. Henry, I’m told, jumped at Georgia’s scholarship offer when Richt made it clear that the Bulldogs want him to play running back. That’s something most coaches won’t promise Henry, as he is 6-3, 235 and runs a bit upright. The bottom line is that February 2013 is a very long way away. Anything can happen.
Who do you think are the 3 most important recruits left out there that Muschamp should bring in for this class? — Gator^2 via message board
That’s a very good question, and I’m glad to see the GSMB spring back to life with some questions. I think the aforementioned Avery Young is one of the three, because he’s an offensive tackle that Florida has a realistic shot at. Next is wide receiver Nelson Agholor, who at 6-2, 185, would give the Gators an explosive athlete at a position where they are just desperate for play-makers. And finally, I have to cheat and give you a three-for-one. UF has to get an elite prospect for the buck linebacker position. Florida has a chance at getting Noah Spence, Jordan Jenkins and Dante Fowler. Even just getting one would do, as the buck might be the most important position in Florida’s defense. For whatever reason, the Gators just haven’t gotten the kind of consistent pass-rush or havoc from Ronald Powell, formerly the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit. Getting any one of those three I listed would go a long way to pushing Powell, either to another position or the bench or at least into sharing playing time.
If the Gators’ Class of 2012 ends up with Young, Agholor and one of those buck linebackers, you’ll be looking at a top 5 class for sure. One that could have an immediate impact on the field in 2012.
That’s it for now. I really appreciate all the excellent questions. Let’s keep ‘em coming …