Florida building to be at Georgia’s level

Georgia football coach Kirby Smart signs autographs as he arrives for the Southeastern Conference Media Days in Hoover, Ala., on Tuesday. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

HOOVER, Ala. — In the frigid main media room at SEC Media Days, Kirby Smart was part swagger and part humility.

His team has been so close to taking down the king of the league in consecutive seasons, losing on the last play of the national championship game and blowing a late lead in the SEC title game.

The key to beating Alabama going forward?

“Get rid of their back-up quarterback,” he said. Part joke, part reality.

Smart is 24-5 in his last two seasons, but last year ended with a thud, consecutive losses to close it out. On the other hand, there was Florida, winning its bowl game and finishing ahead of the Bulldogs in the coaches’ poll at the end of the season.

But there is still the perception Smart has recruited so well there is a talent gap between Florida and Georgia. And the rest of the East.

And most of the country.

It’s based on recruiting reality. Georgia has signed 12 five-star recruits the last two years. Florida has not signed any.

“I wouldn’t say talent gap,” Georgia offensive lineman Andrew Thomas said Tuesday. “We have really good players. There are great players in the East. Florida is a really talented team. I guess according to the recruiting services … “

Yeah, those.

They will tell you Florida has been unable to close the gap that existed when Dan Mullen took over.

And on the field, the Bulldogs have won the last two games between the two schools by a combined 78-24.

But Florida can point to a game that was a one-possession game until the middle of the fourth quarter last year. So is there a real talent gap or one just based on Georgia’s ascension to the elite level in college football?

“None at all,” Florida running back Lamical Perine said. “We have just as much talent as Georgia has, maybe more. You can tell by looking at our roster.

“We had a lot of turnovers in that game last year (three). Turnovers will kill you.”

So will missing a wide open receiver on a flea flicker on your first offensive play of the game as Feleipe Franks did last year.

“Every game in Jacksonville is going to be a game,” Perine said.

Let’s face it. Despite the finish to last season, Georgia is where Florida wants to be. Georgia is where a lot of programs want to be. The Bulldogs just haven’t been able to finish.

When the voting is released later this week, Georgia will be picked to win the East again. Smart has shown that — unlike so many Nick Saban assistants hired to head SEC programs — he has been able to apply the relentless effort in recruiting that is the Tide model.

As a result, the Bulldogs are the only team that can be mentioned in the same breath with Alabama when it comes to talent in this conference. (LSU fans might disagree but they have scored 10 points in the last three seasons against the Tide and have lost eight straight to Alabama. So pipe down.)

Mullen has been on the job in Gainesville for only 13 games, but we know this much — he hasn’t been able to recruit at a high enough level to significantly tighten the gap. But at the same time, he has shown he can develop players well enough to rise above their recruiting ranking.

Is that going to be enough to overtake Georgia? We’ll see.

Don’t forget, Florida owned Georgia under Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer. That seems like a long time ago after the results the last two years.

Heck, Jim McElwain’s two SEC East championships seem like a long time ago.

There’s only one way to show that there is no talent gap between the two programs.

“We have to beat them,” said Florida’s Jabari Zuniga.

Yeah, that would help.

On the field and off the field, in Jacksonville and in the living rooms of elite recruits.

Football can be brutally cyclical. In the East, it’s Georgia’s turn at the front of the parade. But we’ve seen that it can turn quickly. Four different teams have represented the East in Atlanta this decade.

But as this decade closes, the perception is that it’s a red and black division and everyone else is fighting to be in the conversation.

The reality is that Florida beat LSU last year and the Tigers turned around and smacked Georgia a week later. The reality is that Florida has better receivers than Georgia heading into this season and probably wouldn’t trade defenses.

There is also the reality that Georgia was disappointed with 11 wins last year and Florida was ecstatic to win 10 games.

The truth may be somewhere in between and may depend on which team you are rooting for.

There’s only one way to settle it, but November is a long way off. Trolling on Twitter isn’t going to change anything. Neither is anything that happened last season.

You want to change perception?

You know what to do.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.


  1. We will have to develop players better and out coach Georgia, unless we start cheating.Georgia cheats and every SEC coach knows it and won’t talk about it. Like some unwritten code. I wish I could put Justin Fields under a lie detector test.

    • You may still take some heat for that, mkf — or maybe not; this time a year ago you probably would have been crucified by someone for even hinting at such a thing. It will nonetheless be interesting to gauge reactions currently, however. Just for the record, I don’t have any proof myself but I have listened to people who actually know quite a lot……they say it has to come out at some point. Myself, I agree with you.

      Having said that, I got the sense from this article that we are in dire straights and there is nothing we can do about it — that we hired a likable boob but he can never compare to Kirby Smart. Yadda, yadda. Or perhaps it’s just me again misreading.

      • Hey man it’s a new year, no one is going to give him heat for saying that. The fellow that did that to you last year seems to be a distant memory now.
        Secondly I did not get that impression at all about doom and gloom, on the contrary I got that even though Kirb has out recruited us we have a much better play caller and talent developer that negates the recruiting advantage.
        Thirdly, history shows we can beat UGA with lesser ranked recruiting classes, been there done that, ask SOS.
        Have a nice day and Go Gators!

  2. I think there should be a “Wall of Shame” somewhere at Florida Field and the only two, maybe three, inductees should be the coaches responsible for the Gators falling so far. I don’t need to name the individuals responsible for leading the Gators from being a feared powerhouse to a program that was an afterthought when it came to football conversations on Fall Saturdays. May their names never be mentioned in this great state again.

  3. The statement about our fan bases at the end of last season says a lot about how far our program has fallen, and how much better UGly has become. I remember fondly being disappointed after losing conference championship games. I still believe Mullen can get us back to Championship level, but only time will tell. Go Gators!!!

  4. Not sure who’s side PD is on but the talent gap? if there is one is not as significant as the author leads one to believe. Again think of the % of kids that are recruited vs the number of high school kids playing. If the figures I have read are accurate that means that the top 4% are recruited into college football period. Now among that 4% which totals about 3000 players sports people rank the 5*-3* players I believe the top 500 which is less than 1%. (.006667) are the elite of the elite and in a bell distribution curve essentially of the chart. So while the * matter for many things I think that when you are talking players at division I there isn’t as much disparity as the sports services like to make out. I have said this before. Now the difference in the * may be less risk for coaches (behavior/development/grades(this may be the biggest)) History shows the FL/UGA recruiting UGA was often ranked higher than FL and still lost. Then you have the talent vs coaching on a particular team. If * is the end all to things UGA should be ranked higher. The lost to AL twice when they shouldn’t have. LSU when they definitely shouldn’t have. I am not saying we haven’t lost those types of games either. I have been there to see that.
    I would like to ask the author and the other writers that keep saying CDM isn’t recruiting at a high enough level, if we beat UGA and all their “talent”, how did we do that? By reading this article it is not possible for us to win with the players we have. Similar to what CDM told FF if twitter (court of public opinion) and the media are saying he’s all wrong then name someone and we can go hire them. So if recruiting is so poor should we ditch the whole team.
    There are some of us here that are vets. I was a infantry squad leader and left to pursue other things. What I learned about young men (women weren’t part of the party then) is the new squad leader got the ‘rejects’ the others didn’t want. They were job qualified airborne troops. The squad leader either made the group something or was washed out. I thought I had been handed a raw deal but was coached by my senior NCO’s that the raw talent needed leadership and training to succeed. They went from zero’s to the best in the platoon. I doubt they were in the top 5% which the recruits at FL are. CDM is much more the leader than that squad leader and this is long enough. The article should be read aloud to the team with the closing statement ” they (PD RA) think you’re not good enough.

  5. SEC Media Daze is all conjecture. Verbal sparing and such.

    Pat Dooley: Palaly, palalalaloolay, parsley, parsnip, par, par…
    Robbie Andreu: Parley?
    Pat: That’s the one! Parley!
    Kirby Smart: Damn to the depths whatever mud filth thought of Parley!
    Dan Mullen: That would be the Georgia Bulldogs.

  6. Talent matters! Coaching matters! Strength and conditioning matter! Knowing the plays on both sides matters! What doesn’t matter in the least is the opinions of any of the writers or us posters when it comes to winning games. And soon (but not soon enough), toe will meet leather and we all get to see the product on the field. Hell, GA writers are still complaining about getting left out of the CFP last season 😂😁

  7. What PD is trying to say is most of the teams that are at the top have 5* talent throughout their roster and we do not. That doesn’t mean we can’t beat UGA or BAMA it just gives them the advantage when having to coach them up. CDM does a great job of that with recruits that are 3 and 4 star but could you imagine if he had 12 5* recruits to work with like when Meyer was here. We would be playing BAMA every year for the championship once again. We need to keep up with the Jones’s if we want to compete at that level and the only way we can do it is by beating UGA. Right now for whatever reason every 5* athlete out of the state of Florida is going to other schools whether it be UGA, Clemson, or BAMA. We can’t let that happen. If we have another good season and improve again like we did last year I believe we can start getting some of them to stay home and see what we are building again. Also remember this is only CDM second year here, he needs a little more time to build these relationships with recruits that want to go to UF but still have the image in their head of J. McElwain still calling plays. That’s what caused all of us Gator fans to go Bipolar as LP was saying. I mean I thought I was going crazy watching some of those games for real. It was really that bad. Go Gators!

  8. When did a 5* become a 5* recruit? Why can’t a 3*, with proper training and coaching, become a 5* player with support and effort once coming to campus?

    The best strides I ever made in baseball and bowling came after finally getting good coaching.

    A torn ligament derailed my baseball dreams, but I did have a chance to turn pro in bowling, but I had a family and that is a tough sport to make a buck, at least back in the 90’s.

    So I declined the offer to get my PBA license and made a life turning my mostly Buffalo born family into die hard Gator fans! (The Supur Bowl losses helped.)

    A group of us will be spending a week around St Pete Beach and will be at a friendly venue to watch the Fightin’ Gators prevail over the huffing and puffing canes.

    • Why can’t a 3* recruit become a 5* performer, Phil? Are you serious? That’s like asking why a midget can’t play in the NBA! Why dead people are lousy golfers! Why someone in a coma can’t go bowling with you on Saturday night! Some things are just physically or humanly impossible, don’t you know that? Let me ask you, can you seriously ever think of one time in human history when someone has actually gotten better by something as insignificant as coaching or even trying harder? No, I didn’t think so. So come on — you know as well as I do that 3*s are born, not made……and that no college football team as ever won a game of any kind, let alone a championship of any kind, without a single, solitary 5* on the team.


  9. Lswho fans are soooo obsessed with beating Bama but as long as Ed O is there and Nick is at Bama it won’t happen. They need to be concerned with Texas because I see a beatdown coming by the ‘Horns. If that happens you can look for numerous ‘fireedorgeron’ sites to pop up. A win over Miami will set the tone for the season and I think they will handle them with no problem. I also foresee a victory in the WLOCP as well and on to Atlanta to face the evil empire. GEAUXXX GATORS!!

    • BR, I know how you feel about LSU — I would too if I had to put up with all that noise from close in like you have to, day in and day out — but don’t put too much $$ on Texas putting a serious beat down on them Tigers just yet. I do have to put up with the same thing with the ‘Horns, being this close to Austin (AustinGator is actually right there and we do disagree on what I’m about to say) — but this year’s hype down there is just that. Texas isn’t where everybody wants them to be yet; they will be in a year or two, just like we will be……but not this year, I promise. So even tho it pains you, LSU will expose Texas when they play. If not, I will admit to being a suck egg mule, come to Baton Rouge and personally deliver all the hot boudain and Dixie beer you can stand. 😉

  10. I don’t want to hear about recruiting services or talent gap. That never mattered to the HBC. In fact, he used to gig them for having “better” recruiting every year and still getting their eyes beat in at the Gator Bowl each Oct.

    Just beat Dawg Scum already!

  11. Meh, this whole “we recruit better than you” is just cyclical noise. These kids come out of high school with a “5-star” rating… get onto a great team… and if there isn’t strong coaching, they coast. Look at FSU. When the next crop of kids look around and see a team of all-stars never making it to the top level, they jump onto the next bandwagon.

    We lost guys when Urban jumped ship. Those guys that would have picked the Gators went to places like Georgia. When they see that UGA can’t beat Bama, and that the Gators are on the upswing again (like we are now), we will see the recruits all return to Gainesville.

    Lesson to Georgia… when you try to kill the King… don’t miss!

  12. While coaching and development is just as important, you cant coach a 4.7 guy to run a 4.3. A lot of the stars the recruits get are from God given talent that simply cant be coached. I don’t remember anybody complaining when Meyer was bringing in 5* talent like Tebow, Spikes, Harvin, etc. Mullen can develop players better than most, but even he would prefer to start with the best talent. When our facilities finally get back in the top 20, our recruiting ranking will rise quickly. High School kids love to see the newest and best facilities. From what I hear, we are light years behind the top programs. Until we catch up, patience is going to be required.

    • Jeez Sparky, I was only pulling Phil’s leg!

      But you are absolutely correct: Recruiting is multi-determined and even has its own, individualized, subliminal factors to deal with. There is recent record, group perception based on the media, facilities, fan base support, perception of fit to the system and so on. I don’t think we are “years behind” other top programs at all, tho. True, those 7 years wandering in the dessert of mediocrity cost us a lot — but look at this years class and the class of 2020 that is being built. The core going into both is a group of players who now believe, are stronger mentally and physically, and more than anything else are being coached properly and developed the right way. Behind — sure. But not as far behind as some think. One game at a time — one season at a time, bud.

  13. This is the year the Gators take a bite out of the Dogs.
    We have a superior D, capable of slowing their O Line and giving Fromm fits.
    We have superior receivers capable of getting open deep and scoring TD’s.
    We have a QB who is growing in skill and confidence and with something to prove against the Dogs.
    We have a superior special teams capable of scoring from mid field and able to turn the field around and drop the ball inside the 20.
    Add this all up and you have big win, 24-18.
    GO Gators!

  14. the real function of a head ball coach, imo is to be the chief planner. planning is not easy, and implementation derives from a good plan. urban may have been the next joseph stalin if he were from that part of the world, but that ruthlessness is what a planner needs. CDM seems easy going, smart, etc., but i think there is underneath all of that a mastermind. kirby may have the outer what it takes, but so far, in the heated moments i like cdm. things like special teams, putting the right guys in at the right moments, and the ability to see workable alternatives in a challenging spot etc. successfully executing options from the plan separate the socially dominant per the new york yankess mental skillscoach. i agree and cdm shows it in his work imo.
    recruiting happens once the word gets out. that kirby was all potential but cdm is the guy you want so that a winning plan will happen. other guys can pick kirby, but in time i prefer cdm.