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Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Updated: January 30, 9:24 AM ET
It all starts on the trail

By Michael DiRocco
GatorNation

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It's easy to see why Florida won the national championship in 2008 and came within one game of playing for the title in 2009.

The Gators had great players. A lot of great players.

Tim Tebow
Percy Harvin, left, and Tim Tebow represent the best of both worlds -- top recruits who had stellar careers.
The core of those two teams came from Urban Meyer's 2006 and 2007 signing classes, which ESPN ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, at the time. Fourteen players who signed in those two classes would go on to earn All-SEC honors, and eight would go on to earn All-American honors.

Nine would go on to be selected in the first two rounds of the NFL draft, including five in the first round.

Oh yeah, one would go on to win the Heisman Trophy, too.

But it's also easy to see why the Gators stumbled in 2010 and 2011. The Gators didn't have as many good players as they did in the three previous seasons. Meyer's final three signing classes didn't come close to his '06 and '07 classes.

That didn't leave new coach Will Muschamp much to work with, and Muschamp's first two signing classes, 2011 and 2012, so far have produced only one elite player.

Muschamp did lead Florida to an 11-2 record and a berth in the Allstate Sugar Bowl this past season, so maybe that's an indication that the talent level is increasing.

GatorNation analyzed Florida's signing classes since 2006 -- the first year ESPN became heavily involved in recruiting -- and came up with the following breakdown that shows Meyer's home runs in 2006 and 2007 and his strikeouts from 2008 to '10.

First, an overall review of Florida's signing classes since 2006:

The Gators signed 162 players in that span (that counts Dee Finley, who was part of the 2008 and 2009 classes, only once).

Of those 162 players:

• 56 started 10 or more games in their careers. That doesn't include four players who were significant contributors but did not start: KR/PR Brandon James, K Caleb Sturgis, P Chas Henry and P Kyle Christy.
• 23 started 26 or more games, which is the equivalent of two full 13-game seasons.
• 23 earned All-SEC first- or second-team honors, either from the league's coaches or The Associated Press.
• Nine earned All-America honors.
• 18 were drafted, including CB Janoris Jenkins, who was dismissed from the team in April 2011 and went on to play one year at North Alabama.
• Five were first-round picks: QB Tim Tebow, WR Percy Harvin, C Mike Pouncey, C Maurkice Pouncey and CB Joe Haden.

Those are pretty impressive numbers, but most of them are the result of the 2006 and 2007 classes. In the past five classes, the Gators have signed nine players who earned All-SEC honors and just one who earned All-America honors. Only one player signed since 2008 has been drafted (Jenkins), although seven players are expected to be drafted this spring.

Even with the drop-off in the past five signing classes, the Gators' success at producing elite players compares favorably to what Alabama has done since 2006. The Crimson Tide, who have won three of the past four BCS National Championships, produced 24 players who would earn All-SEC honors, 12 players who would earn All-America honors, 18 players who would go on to be drafted, and 10 players who would be drafted in the first round.

Here's a look at what UF's signing classes produced (*denotes a player returning in 2013):

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

  • P Kyle Christy*: All-SEC in 2012.
  • QB Jeff Driskel*: 13 career starts.
  • DB Loucheiz Purifoy*: 12 career starts.
  • CB Marcus Roberson*: 14 career starts; All-SEC in 2012.
  • S De'Ante Saunders: 16 career starts.