Miami, Florida, FSU win on Signing Day, but smaller programs impress

  • Zach Buckley
  • Special to the Post
6:12 p.m Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017 Sports
Lane Kiffin, the newly announced head coach of Florida Atlantic University football, speaks to the press at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton on December 13, 2016. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

National Signing Day belonged to the incumbents in Florida college football.

Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, Florida’s Jim McElwain and Miami’s Mark Richt each reeled in a top-15 class nationally. Central Florida’s Scott Frost climbed to 54th in the country and stood atop the American Athletic Conference (on 247Sports) after snagging four-star running back Cordarrian Richardson on Thursday.

But perhaps the greatest signing day intrigue in the Sunshine State belonged to the coaching newcomers: Lane Kiffin at Florida Atlantic, Butch Davis at Florida International and Charlie Strong at South Florida. The abbreviated assessment of their initial attempts is that FAU and FIU both ranked better than last season (99th to 72nd and 101st to 87th, respectively), while USF dropped a dozen spots (65th to 77th).

That’s not entirely surprising. Strong had the fewest spots to fill, signing 18 players — 13 of whom had three-star grades on 247Sports. And if the Bulls hadn’t seen multiple commits follow former coach Willie Taggart to Oregon, their day would have looked much different. As it stands, they managed to rebound nicely with Carol City teammates wide receiver Kevaughn Dingle and safety Naytron Culpepper.

Davis helped the Panthers make progress in his first recruiting run back in South Florida. FIU added eight three-star recruits — two more than last year despite signing seven fewer players — including American Heritage athlete Noah Curtis and Dwyer linebacker Jamal Gates.

But Kiffin stole the show among first-year Florida skippers. He created national buzz with a hype video so bad it was good, then delivered the Owls their best signing class ever.

With 15 three-star additions, they earned the highest marks of Conference USA on 247Sports. Former FSU quarterback De’Andre Johnson — Florida’s Mr. Football in 2014 at Jacksonville First Coast — was the No. 2 junior college pro-style passer. Former Texas Longhorn DeAndre McNeal was 11th among junior college wide receivers. Ahman Ross was the 47th-ranked prep safety.

By stocking up on both high school prospects and junior college transfers, the Owls seemingly filled immediate needs and stocked the shelves for down the road. Credit Kiffin for delivering an impact class and outperforming the other first-timers.