Gators losing Florida?

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There is one disconcerting flaw about Florida’s 2016 recruiting class, and I’m not talking about the absence of a defensive tackle or tight end, or the lack of numbers at linebacker and on the offensive line.

I’m talking about how few homegrown prospects are in this class. The Gators managed to sign only 13 players from Florida, and missed out on many of the state’s elite prospects coming down the stretch. Florida got beat up in its own state, which should never happen.

Jim McElwain acknowledged on signing day that the Gators need to do a better job in Florida, saying he and his staff have a long way to go. Well, they better start making up ground fast, because the Gators appear in danger of losing the state.

It’s not going to be easy to reverse this troubling trend. UF not only lost prospects to the usual suspects — Florida State, Alabama, Clemson, Miami, Auburn and Ohio State — they got stung by the same team that battered them in the Citrus Bowl. Michigan has returned as a major player in recruiting the state under Jim Harbaugh. He likes it here so much that he’s talking about bringing the Wolverines down to Florida for a week of spring practice, to go along with a summer football camp he has in the state.

The competition for Florida talent is going to get tougher and tougher with so many major programs now consistently having success pulling top players out of the state. Just look at the coaches who have made Florida a priority: Saban, Meyer, Harbaugh, Richt, Fisher, Malzahn and many others.

The Gators bounced back on the field in McElwain’s first season, which should have helped. But you have to believe the flat finish left some recruits with a negative perception of UF. The pitiful performances by the offense also had to be a factor in the Gators losing some momentum.

Under McElwain, the Gators are catching up in terms of facilities with the upgrades that have, and are, being made. He’s also made an upgrade in his coaching staff that was necessary. Now, UF has to make a move on the field, with the offense. If the Gators don’t show dramatic improvement on offense and give recruits something to get excited about, more of the state’s top prospects are going to flee elsewhere.

The Gators can’t afford that. They can’t lose Florida.