Gators use of underclassmen also a recruiting tool

Florida defensive back Trey Dean III (21) breaks up a pass attempt to Georgia wide receiver Jeremiah Holloman in their game last month in Jacksonville. [Lauren Bacho/Staff Photographer]

Dan Mullen doesn’t need to be informed of the innumerable benefits that would come with a positive finish to the 2018 season.

At 7-3, and favored in the two contests remaining on the schedule, the No. 13 Gators are in prime position to make a New Year’s Six Bowl if they win out. Mullen spoke Wednesday about the possibility, calling it “a huge honor” and “the next best thing” for the program after missing out on the College Football Playoff. For a foundation year, that’s pretty good — and yet, Mullen’s future success will likely be predicated on a strong finish on the recruiting trail.

As many UF athletics programs celebrated Signing Day on Wednesday, Mullen and his coaching staff continued balancing the team’s preparation with the work on the recruiting trail. With less than five weeks until the early signing period opens, Florida has a top-25 recruiting class, and the Gators could add anywhere from six to eight commitments before things are said and done.

“I feel like the early signing period is shaping up for UF to fill a lot of their needs early. Many of the Gators targets, and even a chunk of their commits, are looking to sign in December, as well as many prospects will be taking their official visits that month,” said Blake Alderman, 247Sports’ recruiting analyst covering the Gators. “As we hit the last month or so, until December 20, the biggest need for the Gators to fill is along the defensive line.”

The addition of the December signing period, which began with the 2018 recruiting class, resulted in a significant portion of early signees, with 77 percent of 247Sports’ three-star or higher prospects utilizing the chance to lock in a spot before the traditional National Signing Day on the first Wednesday in February.

While that number isn’t expected to be as high across the board in the 2019 iteration, the Gators are on track to sign at least six of their 15 commits in December.

There’s a benefit, too, as two 2018 early enrollees — defensive back Trey Dean and running back Dameon Pierce — have seen significant action this season, and Florida is expected to play as many as 10 true freshmen Saturday against Idaho. After a buy-in season, Mullen said Monday he hoped to show the team their efforts didn’t go unnoticed.

“I think it’s always great for everybody. Guys put so much work in, and the reward to get into a game and play in a game, be out there in The Swamp and get to play,” Mullen said, “I think is a pretty special deal.”

And, similar to the implementation of the early signing period, the addition of the four-game redshirt rule has altered Mullen’s typical approach to preparation. The Gators used the bye week to give the underclassmen more snaps in practice, and UF’s 12 p.m. battle with the Vandals should feature plenty of fresh faces. UF will recognize 20 seniors before the game — the rest of the afternoon will seemingly be a display for potential Gators.


  1. Currently, every SEC team is badly kicking Florida’s butt in recruiting with the exception of Missouri and Vandy. Even Arkansas’ class is currently ranked much higher that Florida’s class. Fingers crossed for some FSU and Miami flips and a strong close to the season and getting some of the top recruits still out there. And Georgia just got a commitment from a top running back…..from the state of Florida. And the two top state of Florida cornerback recruits (a big need for Florida) are now strongly leaning to Georgia (Stevenson and Elam). Florida and Mullen are is bad news for some really great news on the recruiting trail. Maybe he just has a bunch of big time recruits who are silent commits and announcement for Florida on the December and February signing dates.

  2. The defensive line issue is due to a dispoportionate number on the credit card fraud. Let’s hope we get guys that won’t be ineligible for any reason. And not just that we need guys that can grow into leadership roles. im sure the coaches want a higher rank too but maybe a new years day bowl can help some.

  3. We have to show the recruits that we can win and finish strong. If not we will keep losing the top recruits to these other schools. UF has been very bad on offense for so many years now that the only thing that will change the recruits mindset will be winning. The one good thing we have in our favor is FSU and UM are both struggling real bad and if we can show these guys that we are headed in the right direction there will be flips. If we lose to FSU for the 6th time in a row and play flat in our bowl game then don’t expect to see a big change in recruiting.

    • I think you’re exactly right about the lingering bad offense souring the best offensive recruits on Florida. It may take more than just winning to swing the momentum, though. After all, Mac’s first two teams won games, but the offense was still sub-par. It will likely take winning with good offense to attract the best offensive players.

  4. Mullen will continue to have to coach his ass off before recruits will trust UF. Both Mac and Muschamp had good seasons but ultimately were fired. I think Mullen will be fine and he will get the recruits he needs, including top classes in the future. But, at the moment, he is fighting recent history and will need to pull the most out of 3 and 4* recruits. After looking at this year’s team, he is more than capable of doing that.

    He deserves a ton of credit for taking this group of guys to the cusp of an amazing season. This is the same group of guys who stole credit cards, fired off air guns, were suspended for games and just gave up in games last year. If Franks needs to hate me as a fan to play like he did Saturday, I’m ok with that. He has never shown that level of passion or commitment last year and their were plenty of boos from fans to “inspire” him.

    Recruiting will take time because our facilities are sub par and it matches our coaching of the last 10 years. I don’t really blame players and parents who are hesitant to come to UF. The players that are committing right now need to be remembered as the foundation of this program’s rebuild when Mullen brings us all the way back.

  5. There is a lot of negative focus on Florida’s recruiting that can’t resonate very well with recruits. You see, if you make Florida out so badly then the recruits feel a certain self-association affect of lowering their player value if they sign with a program of low value. So let’s all have faith and talk up the values of being a Florida Gator! That’s something of high value that’s easy to talk about! Go Gators!

    • It has been a long 10 years since the Gators were a national story. However, I would argue that those great teams in the mid-2000s are still resonating with the recruits. You often hear them mentioning those teams and specific players like Tebow and Harvin as their football heroes when they were kids. Having Dan Mullen as the coach and his willingness to bring those players in to demonstrate the Gator standard is an ideal way to capitalize on past success.

  6. Apparently orlandogator did see all those new locker room, indoor practice facility, or any of the other new toys that the gators got over the last few yrs. When all this stuff was being built everyone was praising how good the new facilities were; must have fell apart real fast. Always a few neg comments from the unknowledgeable.

    • Yes, the new indoor practice field is fantastic. However, every other team in the SEC has one. The fact is Florida is behind in facilities, specifically the football complex, compared to the elite teams. Come on over and participate in our forum discussion on “Why hasn’t Florida been an elite Program for the last 10 years?” We would love to hear your input.

  7. Let’s not get too excited about 5 star recruits. There value is overstated. The New England Patriots have only one 5 star player on their team. Most of them are 3 and 4 stars. Coach Bellicek and his staff have coached up their players to win SuperBowls perennially. Don’t forget, Brady was picked in the later rounds of the draft.
    Coach Mullen has demonstrated his ability to coach up 3 and 4 star recruits to play at an elite level.
    Let’s not get too concerned about 25th rank. By signing day we will be in the top teens, and Mullen and staff will do their magic from there on.

  8. There seems to be a general disconnect between how people view recruiting rankings versus team performance. It has been shown time and time again that recruiting rankings correlate generally with team performance. Yes, there are always exceptions in player rankings versus performance and team rankings versus performance on a micro level (a particular player or a particular team for one or two years) but on a macro level there is no doubt. Stars do matter when it comes to being a consistent elite Top 5 team. There have been coaches such as Spurrier that buck the correlation through a paradigm shift. Nobody knew how to stop Spurrier’s offense for the first 7 or 8 years, but they did eventually catch up. Dan Mullen has shown he is a developer of talent, but Florida is ranked right where its recruiting rankings suggest it should be. Florida needs to recruit Top 5 classes or Top 10 classes with an elite QB to be an elite team on a consistent basis.

  9. I think the correlation is more that great coaches attract the better athletes who then consistently perform at a high level. Is there an “elite Top 5 team” with a mediocre or sub-par coach? If so, the program usually backslides after a year or two with that coach, regardless of the players (see Muschamp and McElwain). It is not coincidence that recruiting rankings and coaching records correlate. The question is whether or not there is a cause/effect relationship. It would certainly seem that the coaching is every bit as important as the recruiting, if not more so. How many highly ranked/recruited players never play up to their rated potential? I guess it is the proverbial chicken vs. egg argument. But seeing what CDM has accomplished with this year’s team is instructional. Having seen the evolution and the re-loading of teams coached by Saban, Dabo, Urban (I know…), and previously Bear Bryant and Bobby Bowden (I know…) one could argue that “if you coach them, they will come”. It makes for an interesting debate.

    • For sure there is a correlation between elite Programs and elite coaches. Elite coaches attract elite talent. There are also coaches whose team performance doesn’t match their recruiting ranking averages, and coaches whose teams surpass their recruiting ranking averages some years. The questions are, is there a correlation between average recruiting rankings and team performance?, and can you be an elite Program without Top 5 recruiting classes or Top 10 classes with an elite QB? It’s interesting to hear everyone’s opinion.

  10. One reason UGA is performing excellently on the recruiting trail is because in Kirby’s first year he started a true freshman qb and their team was average. In his second year he started a true freshman qb and their team played for the national title. If a true freshman can start at qb, a true freshman can start at any position and the recruits know it. BAMA did the same thing. Started a true freshman qb and the next year that qb was eventually passed up by a true freshman qb. Recruits want to start now and want to win now.

    Not sure Dean playing a lot or Pierce playing some is even comparable.