Both sides will try to downplay the recruiting implications attached to this year’s Florida-Florida State game.
“Florida is still getting good players no matter what, and we’re still getting good players,” Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher said this week. “It does have implications, don’t get me wrong, but both schools are going to get good players.”
Even the players don’t want to add to the stakes.
“Recruits pretty much know where they’re going to go,” Gators defensive back Brian Poole said. “I don’t think one game really determines where you’re going to go.”
But there’s no denying it.
The recruiting battle between Florida and Florida State is tighter than it has been in recent years. With the Gators’ instant success under new head coach Jim McElwain, the Seminoles need a win over Florida on Saturday to prove the state’s top football program is still in Tallahassee.
“I think it’s really important, more so for Florida State,” said Mike Farrell, a recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. “Florida has certainly become an attractive product immediately under McElwain with the season they’re having and Florida State needs to send a message.”
Between the two programs, the Seminoles have come away with the better recruiting class in each of the past two years, according to Rivals.com. Florida State is on its way to making it three consecutive years, as the Seminoles’ 2016 class is currently ranked fourth nationally and the Gators’ 2016 class is ranked 11th nationally.
A lot of that recent recruiting success has to do with Florida State’s on-field success. The Seminoles have posted a 58-11 record compared to Florida’s 37-26 record over the past five seasons.
Florida is catching up, though. With the help of the Gators’ current 10-1 record, three three-star prospects (athlete McArthur Burnett, defensive back Antonio Nelson, defensive end Jachai Polite) and two four-star prospects (defensive end Antonneous Clayton, receiver Freddie Swain) have verbally committed to Florida since the start of October.
A win over the Seminoles could bring the Gators even more top recruits. Seven of Florida’s top eight uncommitted 2016 targets on the recruiting trail are also near the top of Florida State’s priority list, according to 247 Sports.
“Florida State needs to win this football game,” Farrell said. “They need to really show all these kids that are now considering Florida that they’re still the big boy in the state and this upstart Florida team is not going to take their momentum.”
A few of the top 2016 recruits the rivals are fighting over are five-star Wake Forest (N.C.) defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, five-star Bradenton-IMG Academy defensive end Shavar Manuel and four-star Tampa Catholic wide receiver Nate Craig-Myers. Manuel and Craig-Myers are among the long list of recruits expected to be in the Swamp for Saturday’s showdown.
“We’re in the age of instant gratification,” Farrell said. “McElwain has instantly brought Florida to the forefront in recruiting after one year. These kids don’t care that it’s a horrendous SEC East. They don’t care that there’s really not a huge signature win on their slate. They don’t care.”
Even if the Gators fall to the Seminoles, McElwain believes he has already proven to recruits that Florida is moving in the right direction.
“The general consensus out there is they can see where the Gators are headed,” McElwain said of recruits. “Step back from this ball game, it’s not going to turn them one way or the other. I think they know the commitment we’re making as an organization to help them be successful in life, with the brand and Gators taking care of Gators when football is over.”
Dalvin Cook is an example of how important the annual Florida-Florida State recruiting battle is to the success of both programs. Before signing with Florida State, the star running back decommitted from Florida just months before signing day after the Gators finished with a 4-8 record in 2013.
Now Cook is one of the most dangerous weapons in the country, ranked sixth nationally with 1,475 rushing yards this season.
“That guy is special now. He’s a real guy,” McElwain said of Cook. “Somebody told me he was committed here or something. Wonder how he ended up there.”
There have been a lot of recruits who have left Florida coaches asking that same question over the past few years. A win over Florida State could help turn that question around on the Seminoles.
“If Florida wins, it’s an added bonus for the Gators and you’ll see a lot of additional interest in Gainesville,” Farrell said. “Florida State really has a lot more to lose. I think both programs have a lot to gain if they win, but Florida State has much, much more to lose.”