Perception is Gators are down

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UF has significant needs to address in recruiting high school players. (Photo illustration by Rob Mack/Gainesville Sun)

As the saying goes, perception is reality.

After the Gators were beaten handily in the past two weeks against Alabama and LSU, there is no arguing that Florida has fallen from the elite.

That was clear last year as well, when UF slogged to an 8-5 record in Urban Meyer’s final season as head coach. There were blowouts to Alabama, South Carolina and FSU, as well as losses to LSU and Mississippi State.

This year brought hope that a fresh, new coaching staff could come in and make an immediate difference. And while it still could, there is no denying that there will be no quick fixes for Will Muschamp and Co.

The Gators are in transition, and it could take a couple of seasons to return to college football’s mountaintop.

The impact in recruiting is a mixed bag.

Florida still has the reputation of an elite program, having won national championships and played on the nation’s biggest stage. The facilities, academics, coaching staff, campus, support staff and alumni aren’t impacted by losses on the field.

The question is, are prospects?

The majority are not swayed by losses. It’s true that big wins can bolster a player’s feelings about a school. But as long as one of their top teams isn’t losing six, seven or more games, these young high school stars typically feel like they can come in and make a difference. The coaches talk about having the chance to win championships as much as they talk about the chance to earn early playing time. Sometimes after a loss, coaches even specifically point out how a particular prospect could have helped them change the outcome, how the loss only proves how much they need the young man.

Consider what the head coach of Florida’s next opponent, Auburn’s Gene Chizik, just said today (Tuesday) …

“I think they are extremely good. They are very talented. There is speed everywhere. On the defensive side of the ball, they are physical. They’re big. They have a great plan. Let’s not lose sight of who their two losses are to. Their losses are to two really good football teams. It’s a very well-coached, very talented team. There is no question about that.”

Now consider what a handful of Florida’s top wide receiver prospects think …

Before the 2011 season even began, five-star wideout Stefon Diggs visited for Friday Night Lights. He talked about how Florida had been down for a couple of years. That is exactly what is meant by perception, because the reality is that the year before Florida’s difficult 2010 season, the Gators were the SEC East’s unbeaten representative in the league championship game. Florida was 13-1 in 2009. The undefeated regular season was capped by UF’s domination of Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl. For a 16-year-old, however, the lasting memory might be of Alabama crushing Florida and making Tim Tebow cry in the 2009 SEC Championship Game.

“The Swamp is a good place to be,” Diggs said on July 22, 2011 after putting on a show during Friday Night Lights. “They’re getting back into the tune of things. They had a couple off-years, but hey, gotta get back on track.”

Make no mistake that Diggs feels he can help Florida get back on track as a true freshman next year.

So do Latroy Pittman and Nelson Agholor.

The two in-state wide receivers are good friends. Pittman, a four-star prospect, was the first verbal commitment in Florida’s Class of 2012. Agholor is a five-star who, along with Diggs, is a top priority. Pittman and Agholor were in The Swamp, sitting in the south end zone bleachers to watch the Crimson Tide handle the Gators on Oct. 1. They were not discouraged. What they saw was opportunity.

Pittman said after the game he remains confident Agholor will have Florida among his top teams. As for his own commitment, Pittman would speed up the clock on his high school career if he only could.

“Yeah, I’m too excited,” Pittman said. “I can’t wait. It’s crazy. Every game I go to I would like to get some pads and just hop on the field right then.”

He will likely have that chance in less than a year.

51 COMMENTS

  1. This is a critical recruiting class for Muschamp and the Gators! I believe the remaining recruits see the opportunity that awaits them and in the end we will have a top 3 class. I look for Muschamp to put together another top 3 class next year and as he gets his type of players in the mix, we will see that surge to the top! Like Bobby Bowden once said, Florida is a sleeping giant, just waiting to be woke up!

  2. Havent seen much of
    Matt jones bc of the injury but to be honest i think he will have a huge impact next yr as a freshman hes the missing piece we need a Big back like him! Do u see him getting a chance to start next yr with M.G.?

  3. Hi Jeff big gator fan and a recruiting freak prolly could help the coaches but my question for u is how did K. marshall visit go? also i have watched Amara Darboh film many times the guy is a beast and underrated big time remind me of Blackmon out of OSU, are florida recruiting him hard if not they need 2!

  4. @Doug
    Kyle Christy came in this year as a feshman punter. Kid has a solid leg, even Berger admitted that Christy has the stronger leg but somehow Berger won it over Christy. We also have Austin Hardin coming in but he’s a solid Kicker instead.

  5. The Gators defensive linemen need to worry about plugging holes and not about making a spotlight sack on every play and therefore being pushed out to let the RB have a huge gap every time. Also, plase recruit some big, strong inside linebackers who can stop the run and tackle. None of the current LBs seem to be able to do any of that……is that the fault of the DL or the LBs not playing their postions well….or the fault of both. They can’t stop the run or make tackles one on one…..or even 3 or 4 guys are tackling someone….they just get pushed down the field in the wrong direction. This defense may be fast….but they can’t plug holes or tackle….so that does them no good at all. But they are young….and let;s hope they get better. They can’t get much worse than they are right now. Please…..Muschamp….teach some smash mouth football like Saban does.

  6. Last year we didn’t grab any recruits on signing day. Matter of fact we lost some we thought were definite Gators.
    What makes Coach think we will grab any this year? Last year Coach said “I could only talk to these kids one time”. He has had all year but we didn’t see any on FNL. I want to know, does Coach have a plan? Name some recruits that have UF tops right now. Oh and don’t mention Fowler, I never liked young men playing games. If you commit you commit. Man up and stop playing games. As one fellow Gator pointed out Men his age are in Iraq, he is old enough to know what a commitment is. And please stop the blogs or articles about him.
    Thank You

  7. With all the hype regarding Florida High School talent, you have to wonder if the talent level has dropped off some. Any good OL men coming out any time soon. UF’s lines got their heads handed to them. One thing will never change…High School football players from Florida have no loyalty to the Florida Schools. 2-3 of the top programs and they choose to go elsewhere; oh, I forgot it’s about the academics…sorry about that.

  8. I think we need to get the best offensive and defensive line possible this year. We also need a couple of great ILB’s and DE’s. The front 7 on D’ has proven to be quite over-rated. I expected the OL to be pretty bad this year and they lived up to my expectations. I still don’t understand why we don’t use Gillislee more. Anyone want to comment on that? Why didn’t Charlie or Will think to move Rainy and Demps to some slot roles and utilize a full back some? Use an OLmen at TE to help bolster a wall or move Hines into TE for a miss match against a LB? They have to find a way to keep the offense rolling and keep the ball out of the hands of the openents offense when playing the Bamma’s or LSU’s this year. Good thing the rest of the SEC teams we play this year aren’t at that level. We could win the rest of our games and finish with a rewarding bowl game. That will help secure some good recruits.

  9. Just what you said Jeff, “They were not discouraged. What they saw was opportunity.” Recruits do a lot of studying…coaches, opportunity to play, and most importantly…where can they get the most exposure…that is why the SEC is the best conference. We will know how the good the new recruits will be in 2-3 years after they are recruited…Coach Champ is doing a great job so far. Go Gators!

  10. I agree with Tampa Gator, we have talent on Defensive line, but it looks like they arent hungry or playing with heart. I noticed alabama and Lsu teamates chest bumping, high fives and more team unity. Florida looks like a bunch of overrated defensive linemen who just want to put a good effort in and go to the NFL. When Florida plays to their potential none of the teams we lost to could beat them, but until then it will be another lackluster effort and we the fans who spend so much time and effort wanting to see the game will probably get tired of no effort and have a BBQ at home instead of Gainesville

  11. gators79- There is a CB who would not like your comment. You may know him… Marcus Roberson. We picked him up on signing day…

    As for Fowler, kids mature at different rates and he also id fighting the fact his dad wants him to go to FSU. Let let this thing play out. And he’s lucky enough to get to wear orange and blue, remember to cheer for him!

  12. C’mon Jeff. Get it together. No point in negativity for negativity’s sake.

    Florida is an elite program in transition. Next year we’ll read about how much more comfortable everyone is in the system and will see the performance on the field.

  13. High School kids are fickle. Getting crushed on national tv has got to affect recruiting. Ohio State recruiting is in trouble. Now every kid wants to go to Clemson. If Miami ever gets their act together then every kid will want to go there. If WM and co. don’t get it together then recruiting will take a hit, the question will be how much.

  14. Who are the best offensive and defensive linemen left on the Gator list who have yet to commit and what are our chances to get them?

    I noticed during the LSU and Alabama games discussion about recruiting big (over six foot if not at least 6′ 2″”) defensive backs with lots of speed and increase their size (weight) and strength before converting them to linebackers. Could this be where Coach Wil and his NFL calibar defense coaches be headed next to be able to compete with the power schools in the SEC?

    Non-recruiting question – could all that NFL experience (our coaches) be experiencing an adjustment to the college game and calibar of players as they are different than the NFL. Also there is a greater variety of types of offenses in college than in the pros which would cause a need for more adjustments from game to game – at least this is food for thought!

    Thanks! Go Gators!!

  15. At least you guys aren’t losing to Wake Forest. Recruiting will always be there at Florida. Doesn’t matter who is the coach. Same thing with FSU. FSU can’t even fill its stadium and it is getting top-25 classes every year.

  16. It’s no coincidence the three top SEC teams – LSU, Bama and USCe – have offenses built around big, strong, fast powerbacks like Ware, Richardson and Lattimore. We’ve seen how limited our smaller speedbacks have performed against formidable defenses. Is Muschamp going to get himself one or more of that type of runner to build around?

  17. The Gator defense is learning a fairly complex new system. As soon as they move from conscious decision-making about assignments to the instinctive reaction that comes with familiarity, they will be fine. This isn’t an issue against most opponents, but game speed and opposition strength made it a tipping point against Alabama and LSU. Unfortunately, instinctive reaction to the correct assignment comes only with time.

    As for recruiting, it is first and foremost a function of an individual player’s opportunity. Big time recent NCs plus possibly college football’s best coaching staff = unbeatable opportunity.

    The Gators will be back at the very top within one to two seasons.

  18. And we will have no problem recruiting that prototype big back now that he will see the opportunity. What big back is going to come to Florida during the Tebow era? He would have ended up as a tight end.

  19. Gators got manhandled. You can’t play sophmores vs a big sr dominated team. Shariff is nasty but he is a DT not a DE. They have no pass rusher(s). Bostic is nasty but J Jenkins is an oversized safety. He is not a run stopper. Powell to me is a bust, or at the very least the Buck position is a bust. That is a very very difficult position for the pro’s let alone a young college kid. The Gators will get better as these guys up front get bigger. Easly is fast but doesnt look all that big out there. If you are a WR you are nuts not to come to UF, this offense is DYING for a real reciever.

  20. What the team needs to do is find those players who will play the line of scrimmage like it is a street fight. Just having a big back will not be the answer. We need tacklers who will bring their pads and not arms. We need coaches who do not show fear of any team. If you try to protect your QB with a small package then this league will eat you for lunch. We only have to look at last year with Adazzio. If you have a freshman QB then read half the field using combo routes. The truth is no play will work if we do not execute.

  21. Looking at the polls (and on-field product), it’s clear UF and the other I -state schools are struggling. The struggles make watching players like Trent Richardson, Sammy Watkins, and Patrick Peterson who are all Floridians “taking their talents” out of state. How does the staff start reeling some these big fish home? I seems clear that 10-15 years ago they’d at least be playing in-state.

  22. I would agree with Lake Mary Gator that our defensive scheme is complex. Alabama’s defenders had issues with the same defense but look at them now. Coach Champ will get the players for his scheme and train the present players to execute better. Urban Meyer teams were built for speed with Charlie Strong sending blitzes to overwhelm the offense. The problem I have is coaching with fear of mistakes. You have to call your offense and use all your weapons. Use 3 Wr sets with (Rainey –slot , Hammond , Thompson outside) in an offset I-formation base. This will make the defense cover Rainey with a LB in open space. If the defense uses a zone then sprint-draw is the play. If they go man and blitz then Rainey is the hot read. If the defense goes to a nickel back Rainey then use the TE (Hines or Reed) against the LB. The use of motion will help the QB read if the defense is in man or zone. Here is my point pick a group to attack and I love to the linebackers because they control the box.

  23. @Jeff Barlis

    Hi Jeff,

    After the two losses, I think everyone can agree on the fact that the Gators are not on the level of Bama and LSU in the trenches. I understand that Florida preferred speed over size under Urban Meyer, but that would seem to apply to positions outside of linemen. Does Florida not have enough beef or is it because we are playing a lot of freshmen and sophomores who have yet to fill out physically.

    Great job, by the way!

  24. Don’t understand the excitement over having 201 pound Gilisee to “power” up the middle. Again why don’t we have the bruising, crushing backs like Lattimore (230 pounds), Richardson (235 pounds)…
    I’m sure Gilisee will put his heart into every play when he is in but why the ignoring of big, bruising backs in a traditional pro-set power game?
    Will Fl ever go after them as tailbacks, not fullbacks? Fl did use Tebow as a power back and his size and weight did well in SEC play. What gives?!

  25. I think everybody is letting their emotions get to them. You have to remember that this team is practically Urban Meyer’s recruits playing in Muschamps system. You have to look at a bigger picture here with a transition year. Muschamp will weed out those who dont want to buy into the system. Just look at Muschamp’s first true recruiting class. The 2 RB’s coming in are completely different from what Urban Meyer brought in (and that’s a good thing). Mike Davis and Matt Jones are going to bring the power that we only had in Tebow. Everybody needs to calm down. Let’s take our hits and learn from a transition year. Muschamp is going to turn this ship around and it will start withg the recruits he personally goes after. Go Gators.

  26. Relax Gator fans,
    We are both taking it on the chin this year. We will both recover and be back on top soon. While I will always have a dislike for your team, I ALWAYS have respect for them. There is too much talent in Gainesville for me to think you will be down for long. Both programs continually have top 10 classes yearly so THE SKY IS NOT FALLING IN GAINESVILLE OR TALLAHASSEE. We will be back in the top 25 before we meet you this year and we will BOTH be ranked when we meet next season. Although we are enemies, lets agree to one thing: We both want the national championship to have to run through the state of FLORIDA!!! See you in November!

  27. Good post, Nick. Miami is having a tough year too. When it rains it pours. With as much talent as UF, FSU, and UM have all three will be elite teams again soon. One thing I’d like to see – have the canes and the noles join the SEC. Could have happened in the 90’s. Maybe again. With all the conferences realigning, who knows? Have all 3 teams in the SEC East. Then our rivalry games would mean SO much more – think about it. Go Gators!

  28. Gators were pathetic against both Alabama and LSU. Very embarrassing blowouts on national television. We have no running attack. We need an offensive line that can actually dominate the line of scrimage..something we don’t now have, and we need a defensive line similar to the ones we had when we won national championships in ’06 and 08. Our defensive line, and linebackers, rarely pressured either LSU or ‘Bama quarterbacks.
    We also need a physical runningback, a runningback with real power.

  29. Spare us the scare-tactic headlines. We’ll be fine. This Head Coach and his staff are on the exact right track–they are looking for guys “who want to be Gators”, who want to do things “the Gator Way”, an idea that is itself being redefined, as well it MIGHT after the way we’ve seen these “highly-ranked-by-experts”, “wow-what-a-highlight-reel”-recruits that have slunk away, disappeared on the practice field, underperformed in-game and generally made a mess of their personal lives and Gator reputation and morale these past couple of years.
    Don’t fall for this attention-grabbing, ratings/”hits”-oriented headlines. Settle back and let the coaches continue with their plans. While we have reason to be concerned with what we’ve seen, there is NO reason to panic.

  30. Charlie Weiss’ offensive play calling looks like the other team has hired The Mentalist as a consultant each week. Averaging 10 points a game is not a way to attract top offensive recruits. Turn Ronald Powell into a back and we would have the next Brandon Jacobs.