Recruiting at Florida has been the subject of intense scrutiny for some time now. It may have been the primary reason Dan Mullen was fired; understanding its importance and being able to execute on a plan for it were key traits Scott Stricklin sought in Mullen’s replacement. While he is still over a month out from coaching his first game, Billy Napier has already sustained some major recruiting losses, according to certain parts of the Florida fan base.
In June, the Gators missed on highly-touted quarterback Jaden Rashada and had a couple other targets commit to other schools. This led to many thinkpieces and contemplatevideos about what is wrong with Florida recruiting — many of which were published within a seven-day period in which Florida received three commitments from four-star recruits.
The expectations that Napier and Co. must deal with to have longevity at Florida are obviously quite high.
Contributing to these expectations are the recruiting heights being reached by programs all around Florida. The SEC is such a recruiting behemoth that if your 2022 class finished number four in the country, it would have also finished fourth in the SEC — and finishing 17th nationally, as Florida did, was good for just seventh in the league. As a conference, the average class rank for the SEC in 2022 was 18.36. The Big Ten was next with an average class rank of 34.07. That average would rank next to last in the SEC, beating only Vanderbilt at 47th ... which is in turn a hair behind the ACC average of 45.57. (Imagine Vanderbilt as your league’s median recruiter!)
Under Steve Spurrier, Florida’s goal was always to win the SEC. If the Gators did that, access to the national title mix would take care of itself. The goal should likely be the same for Billy Napier: Winning the SEC will almost certainly guarantee a spot in the College Football Playoff.
It would also end a title drought that has lasted much longer than almost anyone could have anticipated. Florida has made the SEC Championship game only three times since 2010, and has only really been competitive in one of those games, all of which have come against an Alabama program that has mastery of recruiting foremost among its many strengths. The Gators’ talent level has just not been high enough to match opponents at that highest level.
Recruiting is obviously important, but what is the threshold you have to cross to be an SEC champion? And how far away is Florida?
SEC Champion Talent
I decided to look back at all the SEC champions since 2016 and see what the recruiting profile was of their starting lineups. I also included 2021 Georgia, as the Bulldogs both won an SEC division and national championship. (The best Georgia team in generations did not win the SEC title last year, in case you forgot.) I tabulated the 247Sports Composite player ratings and star ratings for each starter from when the players were coming out of high school or JUCO ranks. I did not use the newer transfer ratings where those would have been applicable. I also did not include kickers and punters as starters, as the ratings for them are highly specialized and not totally consistent.
SEC Champion-Caliber Starter Talent, 2016-2021
|Offense Starters Talent||0.94||4|
|Defense Starters Talent||0.9532||4|
The average SEC champion has a starting lineup littered with blue-chip (four- or five-star) players. On average, 18.85 out of 22 starters for the SEC Champion are blue-chip players. The average player rating of a starter on those championship teams is .9459, which would have been a four-star and the 133rd rated recruit in the 2022 class.
Florida Projected Starter Talent, 2022
|Offensive Starters Average||0.9199||3.82|
|Defensive Starters Average||0.9231||4.0909|
Florida, by comparison, has 16 blue-chip starters. The average player rating of the starters is .9215, which is still a four-star recruit. However, that rating would equate to the 199th rated player in 2022 — still a four-star, but on the lower end.
Offensively, the average SEC champion has 8.71 blue-chip starters. The average player rating for those starters is .9400, which is a four-star and the 151st ranked player in 2022. Florida has seven blue chip starters, with an average player rating of .9199. Again, that rating is still worth four stars, but it would equal the No. 206 player in 2022.
The biggest difference between Florida and the average SEC champion is the offensive line. The average SEC champion offensive lineman has a rating of .9417 and is a four-star. That rating would make that player the No. 145 recruit in 2022.
The average Florida offensive line starter is a .8856 and is a high three-star recruit. That rating would be 483rd in the 2022 recruiting class. While you could argue that some of Florida’s offensive linemen have outplayed their recruiting rankings — and it is inarguable that Louisiana transfer O’Cyrus Torrence, unearthed by Napier and staff in Acadiana, was a low three-star prospect in the 2019 recruiting cycle, serves as an anchor in this exercise, but should also anchor Florida’s line this fall and vie for All-SEC and All-American honors before an NFL career — only Richard Gouraige would be considered an above-average SEC champion starter based on recruit ranking.
The defensive side of the ball has been traditionally the more talented side of the ball for SEC champs since 2016. On average, 10.14 of 11 starters are blue-chip players — and not only are they blue-chip players, but their average rating is that of a mid- to high-level four-star prospect. At .9532, that average rating would qualify this average starter to be the No. 115 player in the 2022 class.
Florida is not far behind the championship standard in quantity of blue-chip talent on its front line, with nine of 11 starters being blue-chip players. But the Gators have less of the quality of player the standard-bearers have brought to bear: Florida’s average player rating on defense is .9231, which would be a lower-end four-star player most years and rank just 195th in the class of 2022.
If you want to see how Florida’s starters compare with each individual SEC champion, check out the video below. I go a little deeper into each champ and give some more context to the ratings.
The takeaway here is one that is obvious to pretty much everybody following Florida: The Gators have to recruit better.
However, the gap between Florida and both SEC titlists of the past and monster SEC rosters of the present at Alabama and Georgia can’t be closed just by signing more blue-chip players, which Napier appears set to do. To diminish that on-paper distance, Florida must also win some battles for the higher-end blue-chip talent. They don’t all have to be five stars, but Florida must land some more top 100 players, like they recently did with gator-wielding Aidan Mizell.
We have a long way to go until Early Signing Day, much less National Signing Day, but the staff has started to find their groove on the trail. After some early tribulations, they closed July with a flurry of blue-chip commitments, arguably topped by Mizell, a speedster and Florida legacy whom Alabama and others had pursued. Thus far in this cycle, the coaches and recruiters in Napier’s “army” have seemed willing to pound the pavement and play the hospitality game a little harder than the previous staff, and also closed some big time players in last year’s class well, most notably Kamari Wilson. A wait-and-see approach from the fans seems appropriate this time around, even if that wasn’t what many employed.
As for 2022, Florida doesn’t appear to have a roster ready to compete for an SEC championship, and that’s especially true when looking at the entire roster and not just its starters. I only looked at the starters here — and I believe that Florida’s starting group can win a good number of games this year. However, if health becomes an issue, I don’t know if Florida has the depth to take a big step this season.
Billy Napier’s rebuild — or build — should definitely be considered a multi-year project.