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Former UGA coach Jim Donnan joins the Paul Finebaum Show to discuss Florida's recruiting trail.

Recruit breakdown: OT Martez Ivey 

January, 29, 2015
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What he brings: Martez Ivey is a long and flexible O-line prospect with tremendous upside. He's tall with almost other-worldly length and possesses a lean, athletic build with a frame that can continue to be developed. His strength at this stage is as a run blocker with the ability to come off with low pads and quickly get into a defenders and drive them back. He is agile and athletic for his size and possesses excellent range as a second-level blocker. He is a little less experienced as a pass blocker but possesses the tools to be outstanding in this area. With his length and ability to quickly set, he can mirror rushers with ease. This is a big man with excellent physical tools. And while he's a good football player at this stage, there is still room to grow and improve.

There wasn't a ton to smile about in Gainesville in 2014. The season culminated with a disappointing 7-5 record, and coach Will Muschamp was fired before the month of November ended.

Offense: After averaging 593.5 yards and 50.5 points in the first two games of the season, the Gators never hit the 500-yard mark again and scored 40-or-more one other time. With Jeff Driskel and Treon Harris sharing starting time, the Gators ranked 12th in the SEC in passing (179.9 yards per game). Receiver Demarcus Robinson (810 yards and seven touchdowns) was one of the league’s best. The Gators averaged 187.7 rushing yards per game, but Florida averaged a lousy 338.1 total yards and under 25 points in conference games. Grade: D

Defense: Once again, the Gators owned one of the SEC’s top defenses, but there was more bend in this group than ever during Muschamp’s tenure. Florida ranked fifth in the SEC in total defense (329.8 yards allowed per game) but gave up an SEC-low 4.55 yards per play. Florida’s younger secondary had its worst year under Muschamp, going from first in the SEC in pass defense to seventh, allowing 213.6 yards per game and being highly susceptible to the deep pass all year. Florida registered 30 sacks and 30 takeaways (second in the SEC). Grade: B-

Special teams: Dynamic return man Andre Debose wasn’t exactly the firecracker we were used to seeing, but he did return a punt for a touchdown. Florida averaged just 20.1 yards per kickoff return, while opponents averaged 22.4 yards and returned one for a touchdown. Florida also gave up a punt for a touchdown and had two kicks blocked in that disastrous loss to South Carolina. The play of the year came when walk-on receiver Michael McNeely took a fake field goal into the end zone in the upset win over Georgia. Punter Kyle Christy averaged 44.3 yards per kick and downed 22 inside the 20-yard line. Florida went kicker by committee, hitting 19-of-24 kicks, including five of 40-or-more yards. Grade: C

Coaching: When your head coach gets fired before the season ends, you know things didn’t go well. For as good as Florida was on defense, the offense just couldn’t get off the ground … again. Muschamp says he didn’t get in the way of offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, but the up-tempo, spread offense everyone expected to see was nonexistent after the first two games of the season. Some think Muschamp’s attachment to Driskel kept the offense from growing. Grade: F

Overall: Florida watched its offense crumble and its head coach let go. Florida did have a comeback win at Tennessee and snapped a three-game losing streak to Georgia with a commanding 38-20 win. But it got blown out at home by a Missouri team that had only 120 yards of total offense and blew every chance -- and lead -- in home losses to LSU and South Carolina, and in the season-finale at Florida State. However, Florida did get back to a bowl game and won to close the season. Grade: D
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Greg McElroy predicts the SEC football athletes that will have a breakout season in 2015.
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APOPKA, Fla. -- With one week remaining until national signing day, five-star offensive tackle Martez Ivey is finally closing in on his decision.

The fifth-ranked player in the ESPN 300 will announce his decision between Auburn and Florida next Wednesday on ESPNU but contemplated announcing early just to get the process over with.

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SEC morning links

January, 28, 2015
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1. I hate to start the day off with this, but it needs to be addressed. Two ex-Vanderbilt football players were convicted of rape Wednesday, and two more are still awaiting trial. It’s a black eye for the school, for the conference and for college football. The verdict likely gave some closure to the victim, but this is not going away anytime soon for the Commodores football program. Is it fair for head coach Derek Mason who took over after the incident occurred? No, but he’s the one who will have to deal with the consequences. One can only hope that the culture has changed under Mason's watch. And maybe all this will send a message to other student-athletes. Here’s to not having to address these types of issues as often in college football.

2. On a different note, we are officially one week from national signing day. Who’s ready? ESPNU will have wall-to-wall coverage next Wednesday with more than 15 live commitments and reporters on different college campuses across the country. There’s plenty of intrigue with six of the top 10 players in the ESPN 300 still uncommitted, and some believe Auburn, Florida and USC will make the most noise on signing day. The biggest name to watch will be five-star quarterback Kyler Murray, who is in the middle of a Lone Star recruiting battle for the ages. Will he stick with his current Texas A&M commitment or will he flip to the Longhorns and go play for head coach Charlie Strong? We’ll have to wait and see.

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

Official visits, unofficial visits, in home visits and everything else one can possibly think of is happening with one week until national signing day, Feb. 4. As expected, Twitter is abuzz right now with information flowing constantly all day and night.

Here is a look at some highlights from Tuesday.

@HamiltonESPN: ESPN300 five-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson headed to Florida on Tuesday afternoon for an unofficial following a trip to Ole Miss and Alabama over the weekend. In a recruitment that could go a number of different directions, the Rebels and Gators are the best bets to be standing on national signing day unless Auburn can pull the upset. Jefferson is scheduled to visit LSU this weekend, followed by a national signing day announcement live on ESPN.

@HamiltonESPN: Nick Saban was in South Florida on Tuesday, and one of his stops was Coconut Creek High. The reason is simple -- Coconut Creek is home to a trio of ESPN Junior 300 prospects, including top cornerback Trayvon Mullen, who has an Alabama offer.

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Greg McElroy ranks the top five SEC offensive Coordinator hires.

Recruit breakdown: DE CeCe Jefferson 

January, 27, 2015
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What he brings: CeCe Jefferson possesses a nice blend of size and athleticism that can allow him to be a disruptive and versatile front-seven defender. This is a prospect with very good height, bulk, and strength at this stage, and coupled with his first-step quickness and range he can create problems as both a run defender and pass-rusher. A physical player, he has the size and strength to set the edge when he stays low, and is also quick enough to shoot gaps and disrupt plays in the backfield at times. He needs to continue to develop, but has the tools to be a handful coming after the quarterback, with the ability overpower blockers or quickly work around them. When he keeps his 'foot on the gas pedal' he can be a factor in pursuit with very good redirect skills and range for his size. Jefferson moved around defensively quite a bit in high school, and a more singular focus should help aid his development in the little things, though he will likely continue to be aligned differently some at the college level to take advantage of his athleticism and create mismatches. The five-star did miss most of his senior season with a shoulder injury, but it shouldn’t take long for him to shake off any rust. Once healthy and with full maximization of his ability, Jefferson can be a disruptive defensive playmaker at the college level.


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Unfortunately for Florida, the biggest issues on this team revolve around quarterback and wide receiver. That isn't exactly the best bad combination to have, especially with a new coach taking over.

But for our purposes, we have to nail it down to one position. And while both of those areas have been concerns for the better part of the last five years in Gainesville, if Florida can't get its quarterback situation on solid ground, new coach Jim McElwain is going to have an even steeper uphill climb in front of him in 2015. And trying to get it done with multiple people probably isn't going to work out.

Position to improve: Quarterback

Why it was a problem: Where to start? Not since Tim Tebow in 2009 have the Gators had a quarterback throw for at least 2,500 yards or 15 touchdowns. Since that time, Florida’s quarterback carousel -- which has featured eight different participants -- has managed to average only 173.4 yards per game, with 67 touchdowns and 53 interceptions. Also in that span, Florida cracked the 10-win mark just once, never won the SEC East and failed to make a bowl game in 2013. Even with top high school prospects John Brantley, Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett on the roster, Florida’s passing game has been mediocre, and Driskel is now finishing his career at Louisiana Tech. Last season, freshman Treon Harris replaced Driskel during the last month of the season but was incredibly inconsistent, averaging just 126 yards in six starts, with six passing touchdowns and three interceptions. Florida has had plenty of offensive issues over the years, but it all goes back to the quarterback position.

How it can be fixed: For as bad as the actual on-field play has been by the band of quarterbacks who have suited up for the Gators over the last few years, you have to open things up at times and let these guys play. Former head coach Will Muschamp just couldn’t get past his own stern ideals of what he wanted -- and needed -- his offense to look like. Consequentially, the passing game was mostly limited and the offense was incredibly stagnant more often than not. So McElwain and his offensive coaches will need to open things up and give their next quarterback -- or quarterbacks -- some freedom. But development is also important here. That starts this spring, and Harris, along with redshirt freshman Will Grier, have a long way to go. Also, it would probably help if the Gators could stitch together a solid pass-protecting offensive line this fall and find some playmakers at receiver not named Demarcus Robinson.

Early 2015 outlook: With Driskel departing, the Gators will have quite the quarterback battle on their hands (again) between Harris and Grier. Harris’ passing ability didn’t exactly develop as 2014 went on, and Grier watched from the sidelines. We don’t know what to expect from Grier, who had an impressive high school career in North Carolina, but some feel he might be better suited for McElwain’s more pro-friendly offense. Harris, more of a dual-threat QB, must improve his accuracy, and McElwain, considered a quarterback guru, will be very hands on with both players’ development. As for recruiting, the Gators got an official visit from four-star Florida State commit Deondre Francois over the weekend and are in hot pursuit of three-star Louisville commit Lamar Jackson, who might officially visit Gainesville this weekend. Francois hasn’t exactly budged on his FSU commitment, so as of now, Florida’s only hope at landing a quarterback in the 2015 class might rest in Jackson.
You learn pretty quickly in the realm of college football to never say never.

So I won’t go that far, but with the first College Football Playoff in our rear-view mirror, I will say that I have a hard time seeing two teams from the same conference ever getting in, at least as long as it remains a four-team format.

And that’s bad news for the SEC.

When it became obvious that a playoff was coming, the initial thought in SEC locales was that the league would be strong enough to merit two teams in a lot of years.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsNick Saban and Alabama had to survive a challenging SEC schedule to earn a playoff berth.
After all, this was the big, bad SEC, which had won seven straight BCS national championships (with four different teams) and had played in eight straight BCS title games.

But the College Football Playoff is a different animal, and those of us who thought the SEC might get two seats at the table every couple of years were dead wrong.

The most iron-clad unwritten rule going is that conference champions will get first dibs every time, and I’m not necessarily saying that’s a bad thing.

Ohio State was the fourth team in this season and earned its spot by destroying Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. I’d say the Buckeyes were a worthy participant with the way they mowed down Alabama and Oregon in a span of 12 days.

Once given the stage, they proved they were the best team in the country and did so with a team that many thought was a year away.

Now, could they have navigated their way through the SEC with just one loss and even been in position to make the playoff?

That’s a story for a different day, but it brings into perspective the dilemma the SEC faces in the playoff era.

The grind of the league is what makes it so treacherous. As we saw this bowl season, particularly with regard to the Western Division teams, all bets are off in a one-game season. The West went a very humbling 2-5 and lost every one of its high-profile bowl games.

The SEC West had been hailed all season as the deepest division in the country, and some in the league speculated that it might have been the toughest division in college football history.

At the end of the day, the SEC didn’t have any dominant teams this season. It did have a handful of teams capable of winning a national championship, but most of those teams beat up on each other.

Let’s not forget that Alabama had to survive by one point at Arkansas, pulled out an improbable overtime win at LSU and beat Auburn at home in the regular-season finale despite giving up 630 total yards.

What you saw this season in the SEC is going to be much more indicative of what you’re going to see in the league going forward. That doesn’t mean Alabama is going anywhere, and it also doesn’t mean that Mississippi State is going to win 10 games every year.

What it does mean is that the SEC is going to continue to cannibalize itself, and that’s not good for business in a four-team playoff system.

The East is going to bounce back at some point, and maybe its 5-0 record in bowl games this season is a sign that it may occur sooner rather than later. When it does, the pathway to a national championship will become an even steeper mountain to climb for the SEC.

With that kind of balance on both sides, simply making it through the regular season in the SEC will be harrowing enough. Then comes the SEC championship game and two playoff games.

I remember vividly coaches in the league grumbling when the SEC championship game was created in 1992. A lot of them said then that having to win an extra game would severely hurt their chances of winning a national championship.

They were proved wrong. From 1992 to 2013, the SEC won 11 of the 22 national titles.

Maybe this will be a similar deal, and if (or when) the playoff moves to eight teams in the coming years, the landscape is sure to change again.

The mere fact that a national championship game was played this year without an SEC representative was surreal. And yes, refreshing, too, for all those coaches, players and fans who grew weary over the last decade of hearing about the SEC’s perceived dominance.

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson might as well have been speaking for everybody outside the SEC’s footprint when he chortled, “At least we don’t have to hear about the SEC for a while,” following the Yellow Jackets’ win over Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl.

Nobody’s suggesting that the SEC’s party is over. It’s still the best conference in college football, and privately, those who’ve coached in the SEC in the past and moved elsewhere will confirm as much.

But now that we’ve had a taste of the playoff, seen how it works and processed it all, it’s not necessarily a party the SEC is going to host every year.

And in some years, the SEC (gasp) might not even get an invite.

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

January, 27, 2015
Jan 27
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This was one of two remaining weekends for recruits to take visits until national signing day. The weekend was full of news including over 10 commitments in the SEC. Here’s a closer look at some of the top news from around the conference this weekend.


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More breakout players to watch in 2015 

January, 26, 2015
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On Friday, we rolled out the top 10 breakout players to watch in 2015. But we have 15 more, including two more Big 12 quarterbacks (for a total of four), the next great defender at Michigan State and, like our No. 1 breakout choice, USC’s Adoree Jackson, a return game ace.

Check out the first 10 players, then read about the next 15:

11. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma QB
Trevor Knight was a buzzy Heisman candidate last spring, yet rival coaches were talking about whether Mayfield, if he were eligible in 2014, would overtake him. It was made moot because the Texas Tech transfer didn’t get his waiver to play, but Knight’s up-and-down season has certainly opened the door for competition.

With an Air Raid-based offensive coordinator in Lincoln Riley coming in, Mayfield is perfectly suited to take over -- and flourish -- as QB1 in Norman.


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In the 100 days leading up to signing day 2015, RecruitingNation will be looking back at our ESPN recruiting rankings from 2006 to the present and counting down the best player of the past 10 years at each ranking position, No. 100 to No. 1.

Golden Tate, No. 11 in 2007 class

Tate came out of John Paul II in Hendersonville, Tennessee, as a gifted athlete who projected to wide receiver, but he didn’t receive the gaudy number of offers as many other Top-10 level prospects. With that said, he committed to Notre Dame over Alabama, South Carolina and Ole Miss in December of 2006 in a recruitment that was expected to go the way of the Fighting Irish as long as he made the SAT/ACT test score needed. Tate was a member of the Notre Dame 2007 class that included Jimmy Clausen, Harrison Smith, Armando Allen, and others.

Tate was a role player as a freshman for the Fighting Irish. He saw action in 12 games, making two starts. He had six receptions for 131 yards, and returned 15 kickoffs for a 21.7-yard average.

As a sophomore in 2008, Tate became one of college football’s most dangerous receivers. In 13 starts for the Fighting Irish, he caught 58 passes for 1,080 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also finished the season with 1,754 all-purpose yards and 11 total touchdowns.

Tate’s junior season would be his best in South Bend. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound playmaker had 93 catches for 1,496 yards and 15 TDs, rushed for 186 yards and two scores, and returned a punt for a TD. He totaled 1,915 all-purpose yards and 18 TDs, earning First-team All-America honors and winning the Biletnikoff Award.

Tate decided to forgo his final year of eligibility and enter the 2010 NFL draft. He was selected in the second round (No. 60 overall) by the Seattle Seahawks. He was selected to the 2015 NFL Pro Bowl.

Honorable mention: Jeff Luc, No. 11 in 2010 class. Luc signed with Florida State and played sparingly for two seasons before transferring to Cincinnati. He had 134 tackles and 6.5 sacks in 2014 as a senior, placing him on the map of NFL teams headed into the 2015 NFL draft. Eli Apple, No. 11 in 2013 class, and Jalen Tabor No. 11 in 2014 class. Both cornerbacks have the look of future NFL draft prospects at Ohio State and Florida, respectively.

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Donnan speaks on Florida's recruiting with Finebaum
Former UGA coach Jim Donnan joins the Paul Finebaum Show to discuss Florida's recruiting trail.
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