Florida has many rivals, from divisional foes Georgia and Tennessee to SEC West opponents Alabama and LSU to even a team based in the state of Ohio and a certain school the Gators rarely face, but though the Gators have seen rivalry intensity grow within recent years, none may compare to the rivalry with Florida State. And that carries over to the recruiting trail.
On Saturday, Florida will host FSU in a matchup between teams that are a combined 13-9. That "ugh" you just heard most assuredly came out of your own mouth, but was echoed throughout the Sunshine State. While Friday gives us LSU trying to maintain their perfect record against one-loss Arkansas and Saturday brings 10-1 Alabama attempting to stay in the national title picture against defending champion Auburn, the Gators and Noles play for much less. Instead of national title implications or undefeated seasons, Florida and FSU do battle for state pride and recruits. And recruits will be in attendance in droves ($). While some may favor one of the two programs at the moment, Saturday night has the potential to open some eyes in either direction.
The Gators will welcome only three official visitors, but they are important ones. Defensive end Jonathan Bullard is one of them, and one of the nation's most desired prospects. Early in the process, many believed Florida had an edge for his commitment, and when his friend and high school teammate Rhaheim Ledbetter joined the Gators' commitment list, it was hoped Bullard would follow. That has since changed, though, with distance believed to be a factor. Florida will still fight for Bullard, but it looks more and more like he will end up at Clemson or South Carolina.
Also visiting in an official capacity is defensive end Jordan Jenkins. With Alabama and Florida at the top of his list, it is thought to be a two-team race for Jenkins. Georgia is also hoping to keep Jenkins in-state. Early in the recruiting process, Jenkins developed a good relationship with Ronald Powell, and the prospect seemed excited at the idea of one day replacing Powell at the buck position. As the season has progressed and the position hasn't been as fully utilized as expected, such talk has almost completely disappeared. Florida is still in a great position with Jenkins, but he could lean either way.
Rounding out the official visitors is offensive lineman Avery Young. You don't have to be an obsessive fan to know the Gators need depth across the entire offensive line. With two great looking commits (D.J. Humphries and Jessamen Dunker) already, Florida is in good shape, but two is far from enough. For months, nearly every recruiting analyst was predicting Young would end up signing with the Gators. Today, that thought is still prevalent, but confidence may not be as high. Of all the recruits visiting, Young may be the most important. While "chicks dig the long ball" (i.e., they like the "flashier" positions), the 2010 and 2011 seasons are perfect indicators of the importance of the big uglies. Put simply: Florida needs Young.
Getting back to the rivalry side of things, two names to focus on are Dante Fowler Jr. and Tracy Howard. One is already committed to the Seminoles and the other is expected to sooner or later, but keep hope alive, Gators fans. For days, weeks, months, we've heard whispers of Fowler jumping off of the FSU ship and coming over to the good guys. The rumor has been brought up over and over again, but Fowler is still committed to the 'Noles. Being at Florida this weekend is a good sign, but the fact that FSU is the Gators' opponent may tell you something. Fowler is still in play, but to what degree is a roll of the dice. Howard - yet another five-star target - is one of the most coveted recruits of Florida fans, but it could be a pipe dream. Howard likes FSU, FSU likes Howard. All others have a tough, uphill battle.
Also in attendance will be Nelson Agholor, Josh Harvey-Clemons, Tyriq McCord and, perhaps most interestingly of all, Stefon Diggs' mom. We’ll start with Diggs’ mom, because why wouldn’t we? While Diggs won’t be in attendance himself, the fact that his mom is making the trip – with Jelani Jenkins’ mom – could be good news. Why would Diggs’ mother make the trip without her son? To see one of the schools that her son must be heavily considering, perhaps? Though it's a bit of an oddity, the visit should be seen as a good thing.
As for the others – Agholor, Harvey-Clemons, McCord – all have been rumored to be Florida leans at one time or another. Some say Agholor is down to the Gators and Southern Cal, even if his list is still wide open. Alabama, Florida and Georgia are the top three for Harvey-Clemons, but the Gators are applying the most pressure at the moment. Good news could come soon for Florida with the linebacker. Finally, there’s McCord. The Gators are in good shape for the defensive end from Tampa, but with visits to Miami and Georgia on the horizon, others will have a chance to make their pitch.
Among the other visitors are Raphael Andrades, Chris Bivins, Sean Culkin and Kurt Freitag. Among the four, only Freitag has an offer from Florida. Bivins was once thought to be a lock as soon as the Gators offered, but since he committed to USF, that may no longer be the case. Freitag could be the third tight end commit Florida covets, but any tight end will need a world of convincing to join Kent Taylor and Colin Thompson.
Of those already listed as orange and blue commits, the following will be in attendance: Austin Hardin, Rhaheim Ledbetter, JaFar Mann, Marcus Maye, Latroy Pittman, Brian Poole, Jeremi Powell, Kent Taylor, Colin Thompson and Quinteze Williams. Maye, Pittman, Poole, Powell, Taylor and Williams all had some level of interest in FSU at one point or another. Sure, they’ll be visiting the school they have committed to, but they’ll get a front row look at the Seminoles as well. Let’s hope their respective positions don’t show them any reason to recalculate their interest.
A collection of 2013 talents will also at the game on Saturday. One position in particular will be a focus: running back. Among those in attendance will be Ryan Green, Derrick Henry, Adam Lane and Kelvin Taylor. Only Henry is committed – to Georgia – but all have shown interest in both Florida and FSU. It doesn’t hurt that both programs have spent the past few seasons searching for consistency in their running games, or that both schools are running pro-style schemes. Both the Gators and Seminoles have backs on their 2012 commitment lists, but that won’t stop them from pursuing more in 2013.
Saturday will be important for both schools, both in terms of the game on the field and the recruiting battles off it. Despite down seasons, recruiting is as hot as it has ever been for Florida and FSU. Both rank among the nation’s best in current team rankings and Saturday will go a long way to solidify their standings. Watch for the game; follow afterward for the recruiting impact.