Editor’s note: This is the first post from new Alligator Army contributor Seth Varnadore, who comes to us highly recommended from SB Nation’s USF site, The Daily Stampede, and who will be taking an analytical look at and a coach’s eye to the Gators this fall. I think you’re going to like him.
This season, I will be writing a weekly series on the performance of different position groups and personnel groupings. First, I wanted to look at how Florida stacks up against this season’s schedule.
Dan Mullen has stated multiple times that he doesn’t care about star ratings. The recruiting services are not consulting him for his evaluations, he says. And that’s fine.
But while Mullen has done a great job developing players throughout his career, there is a correlation between star ratings and winning — or, at least, winning at the highest level.
Bud Elliott has popularized the Blue Chip Ratio. The thought behind the Blue Chip Ratio is that the only teams that have a chance to win the national championship are those with over 50% of their roster composed of four- and five-star recruits. And regardless of Mullen’s feelings for the recruiting rankings (and the hand-wringing of the fanbase), the Gators are on the correct side of the Blue Chip Ratio break point: 66 percent of Florida’s current players were ranked as four- and five-star recruits. That 66 percent is just one percentage point behind fourth-place Clemson, and ties Florida with Oklahoma, Texas and LSU in a foursome at fifth.
While Florida obviously has a lot of overall talent, I wanted to take a closer look at the roster. Using the 247 Composite rankings and a little help from CFB Winning Edge (an unbelievable resource if you are looking to make some wagers this fall), I looked at each position group for the Gators and how they stacked up to both their schedule and the country at large.
Dan Mullen is known as one of the elite quarterback coaches in the country. Position coach Garrick McGee also has a good reputation for developing high-level signal callers. Fortunately, both will have a lot of talent to mold.
Positional Talent: Quarterback
Florida is second on their schedule in terms of talent, which is derived from the top three QBs on the roster. Nationally, Florida ranks sixth at the position.
There has been some concern with this staff’s ability to recruit the running back position, but they have been able to use the transfer portal to bolster this position. Demarkcus Bowman and Lorenzo Lingard were both five star recruits coming out of high school. Their star ratings lift this position group to being one of the best in the country
Positional Talent: Running Backs
Florida’s RB room is only ranked third when compared to its slate this season. However, this top three is also repeated nationally: Alabama and Georgia have the top two groups of backs in the country, but the Gators are right behind them at third in the country.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Since Mullen’s return to Gainesville, Florida has done a great job of developing wide receivers and tight ends. This process culminated in each position having a first round pick in the latest NFL Draft.
And yet, while Florida lost its top three pass catchers from last season, it still returns a talented group.
Positional Talent: Wide Receivers
Positional Talent: Tight Ends
Even with all that lost production, Florida has the fourth-best wide receiver group and the third-best tight end group on its schedule. Nationally, CFB Winning Edge groups tight ends and wide receivers together; Florida’s combined pass catchers rank ninth nationally.
This one looks about how you would expect. The offensive line is the position group causing the most heartburn for Florida fans and the numbers help explain why. The Gators haven’t recruited the offensive line group at an elite level and that has shown on the field.
Positional Talent: Offensive Line
It shows in the numbers, too.
The Florida offensive line is the fourth most-talented with regards to opponents. However, this is the first position group where the Gators are closer to the fifth spot than they are to the first spot — and the numbers show clearly that they simply aren’t in the same tier, in terms of how their OL talent was rated coming out of high school, as the top three.
Nationally, this group ranks 15th, the lowest of any Florida position group.
The defensive line struggled at times last season, in particular against the run. Florida brought in two offseason transfers — and one 11th-hour addition — into the interior to help fix some of those issues. Those transfers, coupled with a stable of talented edge players should lead to a much better year for this unit.
Positional Talent: Defensive Line
The Gators once again find themselves in the fourth position. However, fourth on this schedule is good for seventh nationally.
Like much of its defense, Florida’s linebackers were inconsistent last season. That inconsistency is to be expected when two of your top three players, in terms of snap count, didn’t play the position before college. With another year of experience, you would expect some increased consistency from the group — especially given its talent.
Positional Talent: Linebackers
While the Gators are once again third in terms of their schedule — perhaps you have sensed a theme? — they are still highly-rated nationally, checking in at eighth in the country.
For a school vying for the coveted if mythical “DBU” title, the Gators haven’t recruited at a level befitting it of late.
Positional Talent: Defensive Backs
Florida has the fourth-best secondary on its schedule, and it will test its DBU credentials often on the field this fall: The three schools above it here are all in the top five nationally. Florida still has a top-ten unit, but only just, with the secondary coming in at No. 10.
Perhaps surprisingly for a person performing this analysis, I actually agree with Dan Mullen: Star ratings aren’t everything. Anybody who watched Kyle Trask the last couple of seasons can attest to that. Some players, like Trask, are extremely underrated coming out of high school. On the other hand, there are also guys like Tate Martell who come into college as one of the top-rated recruits at his position and leave without starting a game. (Or, well, at least probably without starting one, in Martell’s case.)
Recruiting rankings are not the final arbiter of a player’s quality. However, they are a decent metric to compare teams.
Going through the roster, Florida is one of the most talented teams in the country. The Gators have one of the top 10 units in terms of talent at nearly every position group. Unfortunately for the Gators, they play three teams — Alabama, Georgia, and LSU — that have better overall or comparable talent on paper. Not coincidentally, Florida’s season win total was set at nine by the bookmakers.
But Mullen and staff have shown the ability to close whatever gap there may be when the games are actually played. Georgia was the No. 1 team in last season’s team talent composite, and Florida handled that iteration of the dauntingly loaded Dawgs with an excellent game plan and solid execution.
That game, and much of Mullen’s career, is testament to the idea that great coaching and development can make up for the small perceived talent gaps. You just don’t want to let those gaps get any bigger, though — and just because coaching can make up for a perceived talent gap doesn’t mean it always will.