There hasn't been a National Signing Day quite like 2016's version for the Florida Gators. Florida enters the day with 25 scholarships allocated, 12 commits enrolled, and only a handful of targets to watch — but enough commits are on flip watch that an eventful day could still be on the horizon on this Wednesday even if zero new prospects picked the Gators.
Here's what to watch for at the moment.
Florida a finalist for four big names
The announcements from major prospects considering Florida that wouldn't be complete surprises if they involved Gators hats will come from these four players (all times Eastern):
- 8 a.m.:: Brian Burns, South Florida defensive end, considering Florida, Florida State and Georgia
- 9 a.m.: Tyrie Cleveland, Houston wide receiver (and Houston commit), considering Arkansas, Florida, Houston and TCU.
- 12:30 p.m.: John Simpson, South Carolina offensive lineman, considering Clemson and Florida.
- 12:45 p.m.: Kristian Fulton, Louisiana cornerback, considering Florida and LSU.
Burns was considered a Florida lean at the beginning of January, but has been trending toward Florida State, and the expectation from most experts is that he'll pick the 'Noles. Cleveland is an enigma: While it seems that he'll flip, it's unclear to where. Simpson is likely to pick the home-state Tigers. Fulton may be a coin flip between his home-state Tigers and Florida; by all accounts, he's been thoroughly impressed by what the Gators have to offer him.
Landing all four prospects, especially with recent momentum trending toward FSU for Burns, would be an unbelievable close. Landing just Cleveland and Fulton would be excellent, too, and landing just one of the four — Fulton feels most likely, though I don't have enough confidence or sourcing to confidently project any one of them to Florida — would make Signing Day a fine if subdued endeavor for the Gators.
The rest of the field
It's entirely possible, however, that Florida also has other players on cooler burners should the Gators strike out entirely or partially with that quartet of big names. Rhode Island offensive lineman Tyler Catalina visited Gainesville last weekend, for example, and names have appeared from nowhere on Signing Day before — wide receiver Raphael Andrades is one of the more recent such commits to do so.
Florida's oriented its recruiting around bringing in an enormous class of early enrollees, restocking its roster with depth, and gunning for several big names at season's end, and it's largely already accomplished the first two goals. If it can't quite do the third on this Wednesday, it might turn back to making the second one happen — or it could pocket the three to five scholarships it would seem to have available to have a chance to build a bigger class in 2017.
There is also a disaster scenario available to the Gators: All four of those deciding prospects could choose other schools, big-time defensive tackle Shavar Manuel could decide to flip to Florida State after spending his final official visit in Tallahassee, and there might be some more attrition on the fringes of the Gators' class.
While Manuel's the biggest potential flip, the Gators have had to play defense with most of their commits since season's end, with a pitiful offensive finish to 2015 helping neutralize much of the momentum garnered from a 10-win season and SEC Championship Game appearance. Florida has successfully kept some of those commits in the fold, but others — Vosean Joseph, Lamical Perine, Aaron Robinson, and Jeawon Taylor are just two of a few who may be making "final" decisions on National Signing Day — have seemed to listen to other schools' overtures.
Manuel seems like the most likely flip, but the buzz about him flipping has died down a bit since the weekend, and few analysts went so far as to actually predict a flip from him, rather than discuss the possibility. Joseph, Perine are fully expected to stick, and Taylor is very likely to do so. Robinson is more up in the air: While he may stick, he may also not sign with a school on Wednesday, with a lack of test scores that prevented him from taking official visits in January also precluding him from giving coaches assurances about his future eligibility.
We'll keep this post updated throughout the day, while also publishing many more, to keep you apprised of what's going down.
8:39 a.m.: Early returns from National Signing Day have gone approximately as expected for the Gators.
The biggest name to commit so far, Brian Burns, did indeed opt to commit to Florida State over Florida. A handful of players have sent in National Letters of Intent, all solid commits. And wide receiver Rick Wells, whose "announcement" was seen as a formality, is sticking with the Gators.
Given his mother's outfit, that's no surprise.
10:27 a.m.: Things have turned up and down for Florida since the early morning. It's hard to say they're really going sideways, though, not with the incredible Tyrie Cleveland committing to the Gators; the somewhat expected news of Shavar Manuel's decommitment isn't enough of a damper on the enthusiasm that Cleveland picking Florida should engender.
Cleveland is ultra-talented, maybe Florida's best and highest-rated wide receiver recruit since Percy Harvin, and Florida needs instant-impact wide receivers more desperately than it does defensive tackles that might take a year to develop. So while losing Manuel hurts, yes, and hurts slightly more because Florida State seems well-positioned to snag him, reeling in Cleveland is such a coup that it's very hard to say National Signing Day to this point hasn't been a net positive for the Gators.
And with commits becoming signees at the expected rate, save for Manuel, it seems as though the only surprises from here on in will be positive ones.