THOUGHTS OF THE DAY; DECEMBER 21, 2018
THE MULLEN STANDARD
At his Wednesday afternoon press conference following a haul of 20 signed recruits, Dan Mullen said, “You know, we might have guys that are ranked higher than I would have ranked them and we have guys that are probably ranked lower than I would have ranked them.” conference.
Translation: Don’t lose sleep over rankings by recruiting services because the difference between boom and bust at the next level quite often has everything to do with being in the right place at the right time with the right coach.
Jeff Driskel, for example, was the nation’s top high school quarterback and part of Will Muschamp’s first recruiting class at the University of Florida in 2011. He transferred out after three years of moderate success at UF, rediscovered the joy of football at Louisiana Tech and now is a starting QB in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals.
In 2016, Florida signed a pair of 3-star guys – DE Jachai Polite out of Daytona Mainland and OG Jawaan Taylor out of Cocoa. Polite was the nation’s 741st rated player and #106 in the state of Florida. Taylor was #976 nationally and #135 in the state. Both will announce in the next couple of weeks that they’re leaving UF early for the NFL. Both will be first round draft picks.
The stories of Driskel, Polite and Taylor tell us that the people who do the rankings don’t always get it right. A talented player in the wrong system or with the wrong coach can be a total bust. A player with a lot of desire and willingness to work hard can wind up with a coach who motivates him to be better than he ever dreamed he could be. Timing is everything. Choosing the right coach and the right school is equally important.
The most important thing you can take away from Wednesday is that Mullen likes the guys he recruited. None of them have played a down of college football yet. Some of them won’t live up to their recruiting service rankings. Some of them will end up far surpassing all expectations. For now, the smart thing to do is trust that Mullen and his staff will do everything they can to bring out the best in the guys who choose to be Gators. You’ll sleep a lot better if you take that approach.
HEAD START GUYS
The Gators have ten players enrolled early so they can get a head start on the rest of the freshman class:
LB Mohamoud Diabate (6-3, 219, Auburn, AL)
OL Kingsley Eguakun (6-4, 288, Jacksonville, FL Sandalwood)
OL Will Harrod (6-5, 316, Clinton, MD National Christian Academy)
CB Jaydon Hill (6-0, 167, Huntsville, AL Bob Jones)
QB Jalon Jones (6-3, 204, Richmond, VA Henrico)
LB Jesiah Pierre (6-2, 217, Mount Dora, FL Mount Dora Christian)
LB Lloyd Sumerall III (6-6, 220, Lakeland, FL)
OL Michael Tarquin (6-6, 275, Ocala, FL North Marion)
OL Ethan White (6-5, 390, Clearwater, FL Calvary Christian)
OL Wilson Wardrick (6-4, 323, Miami Gardens, FL Miami Carol City)
ANOTHER MICHIGAN STAR WON’T BE PEACHY
A third Michigan standout, running back Karan Higdon, will join linebacker Devin Bush and defensive end Rashan Gary in sitting out the Wolverines’ Peach Bowl date with the Gators on December 29. Higdon, a native of Sarasota, led Michigan in rushing with 1,178 yards and 10 touchdowns. Higdon is trying to avoid an injury while concentrating on preparation for the NFL Draft. Higdon finishes his Michigan career with 2,606 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns. With Higdon out, Michigan will probably split the carries between Chris Evans (74-403, 4 TDs) and True White (59-355, 1 TD).
Bush, Michigan’s leading tackler with 79, is also a Florida native, from Pembroke Pines.
GATORS TRY TO GET SECOND STRAIGHT WIN SATURDAY
Can Mike White coax some sort of offensive rhythm out of the Gators (6-4) in the final two non-conference games before the SEC portion of Florida’s basketball season kicks in? With only Saturday’s game with Florida Gulf Coast (5 p.m., BB&T Center in Sunrise) and Butler (December 29 at the O-Dome) remaining before a January 5 SEC opener with South Carolina, White desperately needs the Gators to start making some shots on a consistent basis. Through their first ten games, the Gators are hitting only 43.5% overall from the field, 34.4% from the 3-point line and a miserable 64.1% from the foul line. Those are the kind of numbers that will get you beaten in an SEC that could send as many as 8-9 teams to the NCAA Tournament in March.
In their most recent outing against Mercer (71-63 Florida win), the Gators got freshman Noah Locke (5-11) and senior KeVaughn Allen (3-6) untracked from the 3-point line but the rest of the team went 4-16. Although UF had a huge size advantage on Mercer, the Gators were outscored in the paint 28-22, so that’s another issue that White has to get corrected if the Gators are to make a run at their third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Defensively, the Gators are giving up only 39.9% overall and 31.5% from the 3-point line, but unless they can score the basketball better than what they’ve been doing, they’re going to have problems winning SEC games. They definitely need to show some improvement these next two games.
RECRUITING IN THE SEC AFTER EARLY SIGNING DAY
ALABAMA: If there is one constant in Nick Saban’s tenure at Alabama it is recruiting the line of scrimmage. Alabama signed four offensive lineman headlined by tackles Pierce Quick (6-5, 285, Trussville, AL Hewitt-Trussville) and Evan Neal (6-8, 391, Okeechobee, FL/Bradenton, FL IMG Academy) and seven defensive linemen including Antonio Alfano (6-4, 285, Colonia, NJ). There are two quarterbacks in the class and stud running back Trey Sanders (6-0, 214, Port St. Joe, FL/Bradenton, FL IMG Academy) but the bulk of the class is either O-linemen or defensive players. Both ESPN and 247Sports rank Alabama’s class #1.
ARKANSAS: Considering the 2018 Hogs were the first 10-loss team in school history, pulling in a top 20 class (#19 ESPN, #20 247Sports) is quite remarkable. Chad Morris got his quarterback of the future (maybe even 2019) in dual threat KJ Jefferson (6-3, 211, Sardis, MS North Panola) and a pair of outstanding receivers in Trey Knox (6-5, 215, Murfreesboro, TN Blackman) and Shamar Nash (6-2, 194, Memphis, TN/Bradenton, FL IMG Academy). Linemen make up almost half the class – seven D-linemen and six O-linemen.
AUBURN: Considering all the negative publicity about Gus Malzahn and the Auburn program, it’s almost incredible that the Tigers landed a class that ranked #11 by 247Sports and #13 by ESPN. The headliners of this class are 5-star linebacker Owen Pappoe (6-0, 210, Loganville, GA Grayson) and 4-star dual threat QB Bo Nix (6-2, 207, Pinson Valley, AL). Auburn signed 16 but will have to wait until February to get the autographs of wide receiver George Pickens (6-4, 190, Hoover, AL) and defensive end Jamond Gordon (6-3, 260, Meridian, MS) on an LOI.
GEORGIA: With quarterback Justin Fields on his way out, Georgia’s #2 ranked class (both ESPN and 247Sports) signed two including juco Stetson Bennett IV (Blackshear, GA/Ellisville, MS Jones County Junior College) and 4-star Dean Mathis (6-4, 197, Oak Park, MI). QB John Rhys Plumlee (6-1, 185, Hattiesburg, MS Oak Grove) is committed but unsigned. Georgia landed five 5-star recruits – C Clay Webb (6-3, 295, Oxford, AL), DE Nolan Smith (6-3, 232, Savannah, GA/Bradenton, FL IMG Academy), LB Nakobe Dean (6-0, 222, Horn Lake, MS), DT Travon Walker (6-5, 272, Thomaston, GA Upson-Lee) and wide receiver Dominick Blaylock (6-1, 187, Marietta, GA Wheeler). Georgia loaded up on D-linemen, signing seven. There are four jucos in the class.
KENTUCKY: Twelve of the Wildcats 21 signees were on the defensive side of the ball, led by linebacker Jared Casey (6-3, 232, Louisville, KY Ballard) and rush end JJ Weaver (6-6, 240, Louisville, KY Moore Traditional School). Mark Stoops dipped into the juco ranks for immediate defensive help, landing three including safety Quandre Mosely (6-1, 195, Brunswick, GA/Thatcher, AZ Eastern Arizona College) and linebacker Marquez Bembry (6-3, 225, Atlanta, GA/Ellisville, MS Jones County Junior College). The Wildcats got an explosive make-you-miss runner in Travis Tisdale (5-8, 165, Valdosta, GA Lowndes County) and two 3-star QBs. Both ESPN and 247Sports rank this class #32.
LSU: Coach O kept three 5-star players from leaving the state – corner Derek Stingley (6-1, 188, Baton Rouge, LA Dunham School), running back John Emery Jr. (5-11, 206, Destrehan, LA) and guard Kardell Thomas (6-3, 356, Baton Rouge, LA Southern Lab). The class (#4 nationally by 247Sports, #6 by ESPN) features five offensive linemen and a steal at DT in Siaki Ika (6-3, 351, Salt Lake City, UT East), who everyone thought would wind up at either Alabama or Florida. LSU got a 4-star QB in dual threat Peter Parrish (6-1, 198, Phenix City, AL Central) and a big time kicker in Cade York (6-1, 190, Prosper, TX).
MISSISSIPPI STATE: Joe Moorhead has 14 signatures on LOIs, but he will have to wait until February for 4-star DT Nathan Pickering (6-4, 286, Seminary Attendance Center) and 4-star DE Charles Moore (6-4, 268, Louisville, MS). Florida and Alabama continue to recruit Pickering while Auburn is hot after Moore. The Bulldogs have four signed O-linemen including 4-star tackle Charles Cross (6-5, 270, Laurel, MS) and three signed D-linemen including De DeMonte Russell (6-4, 216, Jackson, MS Provine). The Bulldogs landed 4-star dual threat QB Garrett Shrader (6-5, 215, Charlotte, NC Charlotte Christian) in this class ranked #14 by 247Sports and #19 by ESPN.
MISSOURI: Mizzou got two transfer QBs earlier in the week – graduate Kelly Bryant from Clemson and TCU QB Shawn Robinson – but the Tigers still signed a QB in 4-star Connor Bazelak (6-3, 207, Kettering, OH Archbishop Alter). The class, ranked #34 by 247Sports and #37 by ESPN, loaded up on the defensive side of the ball, landing five D-linemen, two linebackers and seven DBs. Other than Bazelak, the highest rated signee was 4-star safety Jalani Williams (6-2, 170, St. Louis, MO Parkway).
OLE MISS: Ole Miss whiffed on keeping 5-star LB Nakobe Dean (6-0, 222, Horn Lake, MS) and will have to wait until February to see if stud running back Jerrion Ealy (5-10, 200, Flowood, MS Jackson Prep) signs. He’s committed to Ole Miss but could wind up at Mississippi State or Clemson. The best two players in the class are wide receiver Dennis Jackson (6-1, 187, Sumrall, MS) and offensive tackle Darius Thomas (6-6, 340, Jonesboro, AR). Matt Luke’s class (#20 ESPN, #23 247Sports) went heavy on the O-line (eight signees) and at DB (five). The Rebels signed two 3-star QBs.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Will Muschamp landed the edge rusher he needs in 5-star DE Zacch Pickens (6-6, 285, Anderson, SC Hanna) and the QB to succeed Jake Bentley in Ryan Hilinski (6-4, 237, Orange, CA Lutheran), who ESPN rates as the top pro-style passer in the country. In Joseph Anderson (6-4, 268, Murfreesboro, TN Parkland), Muschamp hopes he has the bookend pass rusher for Pickens. The South Carolina class, ranked #22 by both ESPN and 247Sports, addressed needs on the line of scrimmage with four O-linemen and five D-linemen.
TENNESSEE: Two things stand out in Tennessee’s early signing class – four offensive linemen and three juco defensive players. On the O-line, the headliner is 5-star tackle Wanya Morris (6-6, 312, Loganville, GA Grayson). Linebacker Lakia Henry (6-1, 225, Vidalia, GA/Dodge City, KS Dodge City CC) is the best of the jucos who will need to contribute from day one. Tennessee signed a QB in Brian Maurer (6-3, 180, Ocala, FL West Port). The Tennessee class was ranked #15 by ESPN, #17 by 247Sports.
TEXAS A&M: The Aggies landed a 5-star lineman on either side of the ball in OT Kenyon Green (6-4, 330, Humble, TX Atascocita) and DT DeMarvin Leal (6-4, 280, Converse, TX Judson). Jimbo Fisher loaded up on receivers (six) and landed 13 defensive players (five D-line, four LB, four DB) in a class ranked #3 nationally by both ESPN and 247Sports. Maybe the most interesting news of the day was about 4-star QB signee Zach Calzada (6-3, 193, Sugar Hill, GA Lanier), who Georgia tried to flip. Asked about it, Fisher said, “I’m not going to get into it. There were some stories out there.”
VANDERBILT: Of the 20 signed recruits, five are defensive backs and two athletes probably will move to the secondary. There isn’t a quarterback in this class, ranked #51 by 247Sports. The three most highly regarded signees are safety Anfernee Orji (6-1, 200, Rockwall, TX), corner Dontye Carriere-Williams (5-11, 185, Miami, FL/Independence, KS Independence CC) and DT Daevion Davis (6-1, 315, Madison, AL).
BOWLING FOR DOLLARS
Tuesday night’s game
Marshall (9-4) 38, South Florida (7-6) 20
Florida International (8-4) vs. Toledo (7-5)
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Western Michigan (7-5) vs. BYU (6-6)
Conference bowl standings
Mountain West 2-1
Sun Belt 2-1
Conference USA 2-2
American Athletic 1-1
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois says he will test the NFL waters but if he gets an unfavorable evaluation from the pro scouts he will return to FSU for his senior season. It had been reported that Francois would either transfer out or go pro. If Francois moves on, FSU will have only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. The Seminoles don’t have a QB in their early 2019 recruiting class after longtime commit Sam Howell flipped and signed with North Carolina … Rick Pitino will be the new coach Panathinaikos in the EuroLeague. On the roster is former Gator and All-Greek League point guard Nick Calathes, who is averaging 9.5 points, 3.1 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game … I appreciate all that Dick Vitale has done to raise money for cancer research through the V Foundation but after 30-plus years of listening to the same old clichés, I wish someone would tell him to stick a sock in it … It was reported on Wednesday that Miami quarterback Jarren Williams was transferring out. Thursday, however, Williams’ dad said Jarren’s mind has been changed and that he’s sticking with Miami … Josh Gordon has been suspended by the NFL again. How many chances will this guy get before someone figures out he can’t stay away from the drugs?