University of Miami

Florida recruiting battles this year could be 'fascinating.' Here's where things stand

From left: University of Miami Hurricanes coach Mark Richt, Florida State Seminoles coach Willie Taggart, Florida Gators coach Dan Mullen.
From left: University of Miami Hurricanes coach Mark Richt, Florida State Seminoles coach Willie Taggart, Florida Gators coach Dan Mullen. From left: adiaz@miamiherald.com, AP Photo, AP Photo

When the 2018 recruiting cycle came to an end in February, Miami, Florida and Florida State all finished with top-15 classes nationally for a second straight year.

Considering UF and FSU accomplished this while transitioning to new coaching staffs, the possibility of all three programs having top-10 classes at the end of the 2019 cycle — something that hasn't happened since 2012 — is a development to watch.

There are new yet familiar faces in the game now, with Dan Mullen taking over at Florida and Willie Taggart leading FSU. Both are hoping to bring their programs back to the national championship-caliber level they were at in the past. The Hurricanes head into Year 3 under Mark Richt and are coming off a 10-3 season that culminated with an Orange Bowl berth.

“I think the most fascinating aspect of those three programs is not just the battles on the field, but the recruiting battles,” ESPN college football analyst Greg McElroy told the Miami Herald.

While commitments are non-binding until players sign a national letter of intent, Miami and FSU have gotten off to hot starts on the trail with top-10 classes as of Sunday. UF is barely in the top 30 heading into the summer's month-long dead period — defined by the NCAA as a time during which a college coach "may not have face-to-face contact with college-bound student-athletes or their parents, and may not watch student-athletes compete or visit their high schools."

Once things pick back up on July 24, one of the key factors in those recruiting battles will happen right here in the state of Florida. As the top programs from the country make their annual trek to the Sunshine State to scout some of the top prep stars in the country, the in-state schools will once again attempt to stave off the the Alabamas, Clemsons, Georgias and Ohio States of the college football world.

After all, Florida has a nation-high 64 of the top 500 prospects from this recruiting cycle, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. California (61) and Texas (57) are close behind.

“As far as just sheer quantity of Division I players, especially at the skill positions, there’s nobody like the state of Florida,” McElroy said. “If you want to go get some of the best wide receivers, some of the best corners, some of the best secondary players, linebackers, you name it, at every position the box is checked at the state of Florida.”

That’s especially true when looking specifically at South Florida, that three-county cluster of Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade.

Of the state's top-100 players in the Class of 2019, 38 play high school football in one of those three counties, with 16 ranked among the top 250 players nationally. St. Thomas Aquinas has nine of the state's top 100 seniors, led by safety Jordan Battle and Hurricanes commit Anthony Solomon.

And while it would seem natural that the University of Miami would have an inherent advantage at recruiting the players in its own backyard, it has another leg up on the competition thanks to defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.

“He knows Miami like the back of his hand and can navigate the landscape down there blindfolded and never get lost,” McElroy said of Diaz. “I mean, he is as in tune with Miami as anybody in the college football profession.”

That helped the Hurricanes secure the No. 8 overall class in the country last year — Miami’s first top-10 class since 2012 — and is a major reason Miami’s 2019 class sits at No. 10 nationally. All of Miami's 16 commitments so far are from the Sunshine State. Ten are from South Florida.

Miami Hurricanes coach Mark Richt speaks to reporters about how his team did on National Signing Day at the University of Miami's Schwartz Center in Coral Gables on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018.

FSU and UF showed last cycle they won't hold back on the recruiting front, either. Both made 11th-hour pushes on National Signing Day to catapult their classes to rank among the nation's best.

Taggart had just seven players signed at the end of the early signing period in December. His 2018 class was ranked 64th nationally. But over the final two months of the cycle, FSU added 14 more signees to lift the class to 11th overall and third in the ACC behind Clemson and Miami. Taggart's 2019 class ranks ninth in the country as of Sunday, with five-star Palm Beach Central cornerback Akeem Dent — the No. 31-ranked player in the country — headlining the class.

Mullen landed five players on National Signing Day — including two top-100 prospects in wide receivers Jacob Copeland and Justin Watkins — to finish 14th in 2018. The Gators' 2019 class is off to a slow start relative to FSU and UM. UF's class is ranked 29th nationally has just 10 commitments and only one — four-star Doral Academy offensive tackle Wardrick Wilson — is from a top-50 player in the state of Florida.

Another late push is still possible, especially with six months left until the early signing period and more than half of the state's top-100 players still uncommitted.

"From a talent standpoint," McElroy said, "there’s no state that rivals Florida."

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