Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Florida landed two very good defensive tackles on Wednesday, fringe pieces for a fantastic recruiting class. And yet Will Muschamp and others hear cries of "Boring!" Here's why those cries are misguided.
Spoiler alert: It is. But, frankly: That's okay by me, because it's also brilliant.
I'm going through GatorJustin's comment here not to bash him, but to better explain Muschamp's slow-but-steady build to one of the best classes in the country.
The Champ model for recruiting, coaching, etc. seems to be a safe, effective, and potentially great model for a college football team. So does it speak poorly of me if I’m constantly talking myself into liking it? This isn’t about Champ or anything, its about the excitement.
The last 2 great UF (and arguably only) coaches were Spurrier and Meyer. Spurrier’s days at UF were before the social media/Recruiting Nation/Rival era really kicked into high gear so he didn’t have to deal with providing excitement this time of year. However, SOS brought offensive (and press conference) excitement. He also had some great defenses, but lets be honest, the offense and championships were the selling points. Meyer, on the other hand, brought us 24 hour excitement. We had great and different offenses. We had star players. We had recruiting coups. We had championships. It was great, most times.
Now we have wins, great defense, conservative offenses, safe recruiting, etc. I’m not complaining. I like what Champ’s building. Its a much more sustainable model than Meyer’s. Its hard to compare to SOS because it was a different era but seems as sustainable, if not more, than what SOS brought. But it just lacks excitement (in general, there have been moments). I dunno, maybe I’m crazy. Just curious about everyone else’s take.
I think and have thought for two full years now that Will Muschamp is a bitter pill to swallow for Florida fans who prided themselves on having a team that was explosive, swaggering, and arrogant enough to back them up in any contest of fandom. Having Steve Spurrier and the 1990s Gators as your team was great, because Florida won most of the games and every "But whose coach would you rather have?" argument; having Urban Meyer and the late-2000s Gators may have been better, because Meyer's talent was finer, Tim Tebow was around, and Florida won even more of its games.
Both of those reigns were ones of easy dominance, ones that have spoiled Florida fans and tricked them into thinking that Florida's birthright is a team that can hang half a hundred on anyone and win titles at will.
Muschamp's two teams have been built on different principles, and on defense rather than offense; the 2011 and 2012 Gators generally didn't do much of anything the easy way, and were only considered dominant if a) you knew enough to spend time reading (or writing) the cases for their dominance or b) you enjoy great defense. I think not liking Muschamp's Florida in that realm predisposes some to dislike the way Muschamp handles things in all areas. And I don't know that that's wrong, per se, because I'm okay with fans enjoying their teams in their own styles, as long as they're not working with incorrect facts, terrible assumptions, or methods that involve lashing out in ways that hurt other people.
Justin's not working with the wrong facts or assumptions, and he's not trying to hurt anyone, but he perfectly illustrates why switching from Spurrier/Meyer to Muschamp has left Gators fans with whiplash.
He's right that Spurrier didn't have to provide recruiting excitement, and thus didn't have to deal with Signing Day "disappointment"; very few fans of any team cared about recruitment in the pre-Internet era, and those that did were probably boosters who were greasing hands. Spurrier just had to get his offense whirring for the fall.
He's also right that Meyer provided "24 hour excitement" — on National Signing Day. Working off Rivals' class listings for the Meyer years, here are the guys Meyer pulled into the fold on National Signing Day:
If I'm being generous, 10 (Atkins, James, Williams, Henry, Moses Jenkins, Thompson, Evans, Jelani Jenkins, Green, and Kitchens) of those players have been major contributors in their time at Florida. Of the other 10, I have never heard of three (Baker, Codrington, Gresham) of them, and I know three others (Lawrence, Coxson, and Shaw) transferred. And there's one five-star Rivals prospect in the bunch, Jelani Jenkins.
In three years, here's what Will Muschamp's done on Signing Day:
You know who two of those guys (Roberson and Andrades) are because they've started as true freshmen, and you know who Fowler is because he played throughout his freshman year. You may not know Bostwick and Reed in 2013, but I suspect you will by the time they're done at Florida: Muschamp isn't recruiting depth on the offensive and defensive lines for the sake of having a lot of names on a depth chart. And I'll put those five players up against Meyer's entire list of Signing Day signees.
Muschamp's recruiting strategy also enables his staff to fill needs whenever and minimize scrambling on the final days of the year; but so does any successful recruiting strategy: In 2013, if a team isn't 90 percent done by Signing Day, that team is probably in deep trouble, especially in the SEC. Meyer wasn't just getting faxes on Signing Day, either — consider that every Meyer signee not on those lists above committed before his respective NSD.
If you want the 24-hour excitement of Signing Day Florida got under Meyer, that's fine, but you might be remembering those Signing Days wrong. And, besides Muschamp provides 24/7/365 excitement; unless you're plugged in because you read Alligator Army or a pay site, you never know when Florida's going to get a commitment.
The centerpieces of Muschamp's three recruiting classes have all been in the fold long before Signing Day: Jeff Driskel was the 2011 gem, and committed to Meyer, though Muschamp had to hang on to him and added Jacoby Brissett thanks to Charlie Weis; D.J. Humphries, the star of 2012 committed in August 2011; Vernon Hargreaves III and Kelvin Taylor hopped on the Gators' train in July and February 2012, respectively. And, after scrambling to rebuild Meyer's final class in 2011, Muschamp entered January 2012 with 16 commitments and January 2013 with 23.
Knowing what you want and getting it early doesn't make what you want less valuable, as Muschamp is fond of pointing out — yesterday, at his presser: "I've never understood the difference between a guy committing in March and a guy committing on Signing Day. Does that make him a better player?" — but it does mean you know what you're doing. What Muschamp is doing is remaking Florida in a way that will keep Florida competitive with Alabama ... and, thus, the rest of the nation.
I'm getting tired of explaining that Muschamp, a Nick Saban disciple who is following Saban's path at Alabama with eerie precision, is building his version of Alabama, but I know I have to keep doing it: Florida fans, thanks to Spurrier and Meyer, are uniquely ill-suited to choose sustainability and luck suppression over dizzying highs and variability. (It's like we all forgot 2010.)
What Muschamp has done, in focusing on the lines and identifying talent very early in a recruiting cycle and locking up the best in-state prospects and getting as many players enrolled early as possibly, is largely what Saban would do, and in some cases better, because Florida has to try a little harder to recruit than a team with three titles in four years does. And though there are ethical issues with how Saban recruits, and he does things I'm not sure I believe in, personally, it is impossible to make a case that Saban has failed as a recruiter.
Alabama's gotten very little from DeAndrew White and Dee Hart in their combined five years at Alabama, but it hasn't mattered: Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon made up for the injury luck that befell their talented peers in 2012. Alabama had to replace five players taken in the 2012 NFL Draft's first 35 picks, but did so without a hitch. Alabama merely needed to get a player as good as Greg McElroy to steward its offense, but ended up with likely future NFL Draft pick A.J. McCarron, and has recruited just as well behind McCarron as it did McElroy.
Saban put the building blocks in place long ago; now, Alabama stands on them, and astride the college football world. Alabama's Signing Day wasn't boring, as the Tide solidifed another No. 1 class, but that was a rarity for it: 'Bama's significant Signing Day recruits since 2010 are the brother of Cyrus Kouandjio (because Alabama did the Denzel Nkemdiche thing before Ole Miss did), Jeoffrey Pagan (who Florida might have snagged if Muschamp had had more than a month on the job), Brent Calloway, and Cyrus Jones. Of them, only Jones made a substantial impact as a freshman.
Florida is trying, under Muschamp, to build a similar foundation, but 2013 Florida is in different straits than 2010-12 Alabama, and needs impact freshman more. It will have them: Demarcus Robinson will be one, and so will Daniel McMillian, and so will Kelvin Taylor — and they're all on campus. Vernon Hargreaves is so good that Florida can move its most physically gifted corner, Loucheiz Purifoy, a burner in more ways than one, to wide receiver for the spring, and not worry about the secondary for a second. Landing Tyler Moore, a transfer who doesn't count as a recruit but is essentially part of the 2013 class, will only help Florida's depth on the offensive line, and fellow transfer Max Garcia is in the same boat.
Florida just landed its second straight top-five class, and this great one was was much, much better than the last great one, with players filling every conceivable need and the misses being few and far between. One day after National Signing Day, Florida's already positioned to have a 2014 class that is almost as good.
You can call that boring if you want, or take a while to warm up to it: I know it took me a little while to see the big picture and trust Muschamp's process. But I've been firmly entrenched in the Muschamp camp for more than a year, and I can tell you this: It looks more beautiful than boring when you see the full picture.