Florida Gators’ 247Sports bulletin board has something called “the official meltdown thread.” Since Monday morning it ran 147 pages. It’s a light-hearted summer reading, inspired by some brutal recruiting blows that Billy Napier’s staff took.
The first came around 2:30 p.m. on Sunday when four-star striker Roderick Kearney verbally targeted the state of Florida. The worst part? The Orange Park resident and number 128 in general announced his pick just after his official visit to Florida.
Two hours later, the Gators lost an even better blue-chip talent to another state school. California quarterback Jaden Rashada — the nation’s number 45 who was considered a UF lean earlier this month — committed to Miami.
So the meltdown.
If you believe the messages on message boards and Twitter (always a dangerous proposition), Billy Napier’s honeymoon has ended two months before his first game. Even if that sky-is-falling sentiment is extreme, there’s definitely a little more fear and a little less understanding now compared to Dan Mullen’s June 1st.
Shouldn’t be there. This is crazy but apparently necessary to write: Napier hasn’t coached a game yet. It is far too early to know whether he will succeed or fail.
Napier’s remodeling work would never be a quick fix. He never promised it would be.
“We are a work in progress,” said Napier during his spring speaking stop at Armature Works† “I’m not going to lie to you.”
I won’t lie to you either. A degree of concern is warranted.
Elite recruiters usually show their abilities in their first full cycle. Nick Saban, Kirby Smart, Ryan Day, Jimbo Fisher (twice), and Urban Meyer (also twice) all signed top six classes in their first full year.
Napier’s Gators sit 36th, between SMU and Illinois. At this point in Smart’s tenure, Georgia was in fifth place.
Napier’s biggest gain this cycle has has Lakewood High edge rusher Isaiah Nixon convinced to flip UCF† That’s a nice addition, but the Gators will not return to the championship battle if their top recruit is the number 195 in the country.
Former five-star running back Demarkcus Bowman who chose to enter the transfer portal on Friday also hurt. While Bowman played sparingly and was part of a deep position group, it’s hard to take a positive note of the impending departure of one of the best recruits in Polk County history.
If Napier is going to do what he was hired to do – beat Alabama and Georgia on the field – he will have to beat them on the recruiting path. He hasn’t done much yet.
Keyword: yet. It is June 1 of the year.
Recruitment is particularly fluid at this time of year, which explains why Oklahoma, Michigan, LSU and Texas A&M are all outside the top 40 nationally. There are still too many pledges and releases to measure success.
Meyer transformed the Gators with a 2006 class that finished #2 nationally. Three of its superstars (Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes) chose UF only after Meyer’s eight regular season wins. If Napier squeezes eight wins out of this team – an optimistic but achievable target – why couldn’t he close the recruiting path properly and bring in the kind of spoilsports UF needs?
His short history at UF already shows that he can do it. In December, Napier came in late to sign IMG Academy safety Kamari Wilson, the number 44 prospect in the country. Mullen only signed three higher-ranked players during his UF term. That addition should carry more weight than a non-binding verbal commitment six months before the early signing day.
It’s also worth remembering that the Gators’ highly anticipated $85 million football complex will open later this summer. If so, Napier’s recruiting talk gets easier. Maybe it’s enough to convince one or two big prospects.
In an interestingly timed open letter to fans on FridayNapier acknowledged the passion and pressure in Florida.
“I can assure you that no one has higher expectations of what we want to achieve than I do,” Napier said. wrote†
Can he live up to those expectations? Maybe maybe not. Come back in December after he has coached a full season and signed most of his first full recruiting course.
For now, it’s way too early to say — whatever the message board meltdowns are saying.