Will Muschamp has a lot on his plate this fall.
But one area that Florida's new coach has excelled in is recruiting. He's replacing one of the best in the recruiting business in Urban Meyer, but he currently has Florida's 2012 class ranked No. 4 in ESPN's class rankings. Of Florida's 17 verbal commitments, seven are on the ESPNU 150.
Still, the Gators are looking up at rival Florida State at No. 2. They might be just a notch behind in rankings, but how far are they really behind the Seminoles?
I caught up with ESPN recruiting analyst Corey Long to find out:
Florida has 17 commitments right now and seems to be getting on a nice roll heading into the season, but when you look at this class compared to Florida State's, does it even stack up?
Corey Long: Well, it's apples and oranges in a way. Florida probably has the best offensive line class in the nation right now, but offensive line isn't a sexy position for the fan base to get excited over and it's rare that one of those guys makes an immediate impact. There's some other great talent here. I think Brian Poole is vastly underrated even though he's an ESPNU 150 player. I love LaTroy Pittman, I love Quinteze Williams, I love Marcus Maye ... these guys can play some football.
FSU has the top-ranked player in the nation, Mario Edwards Jr., and the top-rated quarterback in Jameis Winston. If this was a game of poker, Florida would be holding three kings and FSU would have a straight flush. The Seminoles have those stars that generate the headlines. When I write about Winston I know I'll get twice as many page views as I do when I write about the top offensive lineman. So even though FSU and Florida are sitting at No. 2 and No. 3 in our team rankings I think FSU is closer to No. 1 than Florida is to No. 2.
Florida might have a nice chunk of verbal commitments, but how are Florida's coaches doing in the state of Florida and around the Gainesville area?
Long: I believe that the Florida schools should recruit around 60-65 percent of their classes from in-state talent at a minimum. And when I say in-state I also take into consideration that south Georgia and east Alabama can also qualify as part of the primary "recruiting base." Usually when the "big three" get into range the class is successful. Right now eight of Florida's 17 recruits are from the state so it's a little under average. I would like to see them pull that up to 60 percent or better and if the top in-state guys on their board -- Tracy Howard, Kent Taylor, Avery Young, etc. -- choose the Gators they will be in that range. The in-state players that have committed to Florida, however, are guys I really like.
As for the Gainesville area, it's been a little strange. I thought it was interesting that two quality defensive lineman such as Jordan Williams and Trevarris Saulsberry both played at Gainesville High and didn't get much of a bite from Florida. I think Williams has star potential and Saulsberry had the size to play different positions along the line. Is Florida that loaded at defensive line that they didn't think two locals were worth an offer? There was some transition on the staff with the retirement of Urban Meyer so maybe the evaluations will back up the staff's choices but there's a reason both players went to Tennessee and that's because they want to play Florida every year and show them what they missed out on. And then to lose out on Tim Jernigan, the main prize sitting 40 miles away, to the Seminoles was an additional stomach punch.
As for this year's crop of area talent they have a commitment from LaTroy Pittman, quite possibly the most physical receiver pound-for-pound in the nation. He just beats defensive backs up. I think they could have had Sean Price and they let him go. He's done nothing but get bigger and better in the last six months and he seems set to USF. The Gator staff seems to have chosen Taylor over Price ... that's a risk. The one player that has me scratching my head is Chris Bivins. He is a great player that plays at Gainesville High and really wanted an offer. He has busted his butt this offseason and worked his way up from a relative unknown to a top 20 defensive back in the nation. He's a good character kid from a good family that preaches work ethic. I'm not sure why Florida (or FSU and Miami for that matter) haven't bitten on the young man yet. But to Bivins' credit he doesn't complain and he's been positive about the whole recruiting experience even though the fact that the local school hasn't offered is probably eating him up. Then you have P.J. Williams, sitting 30 minutes away, and has been solid to FSU for a year now.
Coach Muschamp is definitely going to have to re-establish that area between Ocala and Lake City as "Gator Nation" to the recruits.
What does Muschamp have to do to become more competitive with Jimbo Fisher and start bringing in the athletes like FSU has gotten verbals from thus far?
Long: I've said this a few times and it's no offense to the comedian but I believe Carrot Top could successfully recruit at UF because the resources are plentiful and the school has a name nationally. So getting players will never be a problem, getting the right players, however, is what separates the champions from the contenders.
Coach Muschamp has to win and he has to win the marquee games against the big teams such as LSU, Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, etc. And it's not going to be easy because this schedule is as tough as it gets after Week 2. He's going to have to win and show some of that fiery personality he has. When Steve Spurrier took the job in 1990 he basically forced every coach that followed him at Florida to have some sort of edge and a bit of a charming personality to go along with it. Ron Zook is a nice guy but he doesn't have that sort of an edge. He didn't win like the fans expected and he didn't last. Urban Meyer was a winner and he had a demeanor that was confident and maybe even a little cocksure -- that's something the Gator fan base loved. They love to win but they really love to win with style and flair. Spurrier and Meyer gave that to them. They knew how to feed the beast.
But Muschamp is not in an easy position. His margin of error is slim and there isn't going to be much of a honeymoon period. Not only is he following behind one of the most successful coaches but he's walking into the toughest time for Florida football.
That last point I didn't realize until a good friend of mine brought it up in a conversation. When Spurrier was the coach he revolutionized the way SEC football was played and he ran off four consecutive SEC titles while the other programs were playing catch up. During the mid-90s winning the SEC was a given for Florida so they just had to beat Florida State to compete for a championship.
When Meyer was the coach he had the fortune of catching FSU on a major downswing, the two best offensive players in college football (Percy Harvin and Tim Tebow) to handle his offense and arguably the best defensive coordinator in the game (Charlie Strong) to run through the SEC.
But Muschamp has to deal with a rejuvenated Steve Spurrier and a desperate Mark Richt in the SEC East, an SEC West division that could have 3-4 teams in the top 15 and an FSU program that is on the verge of being a national player again. He's going to have to prove he can navigate those rough waters before everyone buys in.