By most accounts, Florida‘s 27-man signing class in February 2010 was the best in the nation, an obscene haul featuring the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit, the top two defensive tackles, two of the top three safeties and eleven players in all ranked among Rivals’ top 100 for the 2010 class. In less than two full seasons, it hasn’t had time to fulfill the hype.
But it has had time to begin coming apart: With Tuesday’s announcement that former high school teammates Gerald Christian and Robert Clark plan to transfer, nearly a third of the 2010 crop has already left the program in one fashion or another — adding to the giant sucking sound first-year coach Will Muschamp inherited at the middle of what’s supposed to be one of the deepest, most talented rosters in the nation.
Altogether, nine players have left the team since Muschamp took over for Urban Meyer last December, a normal attrition rate in the wake of a coaching change. But the most recent exits have left the Gators with just 72 scholarship players, well below the NCAA maximum of 85. That’s even fewer than USC, the current gold standard for dwindling numbers after being slammed with NCAA sanctions last year. (Though the biggest bites out of the Trojans’ roster are still to come, thanks to appeal-driven delays.) But that number also includes walk-ons who have been awarded a few of the extra scholarships laying around, and there are a lot of them: Of the 85 recruits Florida has actually signed to letters of intent since 2008, only 60 remain on the current roster.
Do the math: That’s 25 scholarships below the allowable limit. Meaning that somehow, one of the richest, most consistent recruiting powers in the game has a hole on its roster right now the equivalent of one complete, full-sized recruiting class.
On one hand, you could view that as a recruiting class Florida has lost due to attrition: 25 players gone with eligibility remaining in four years leaves you 25 players short. Critics of “oversigning” would argue that the system is designed for that sort of simple math. By SEC standards, though, it’s not nearly that simple: Compared to the blue-chip peers that have wiped the floor with the Gators in their last three games — all of which have lost roughly the same number of players over the same span of time — it’s more accurate to say it’s a recruiting class Florida never signed in the first place. That is, where the Gators’ classes have been consistently long on quality, they’ve been just as short on quantity.
Between 2007 and 2010, three of Urban Meyer’s final four recruiting efforts finished ranked among Rivals’ top three incoming classes in the nation; the fourth, on the heels of Meyer’s second BCS championship in 2009, ranked 11th. Quality-wise, that’s an elite run by any standard. Quantity-wise… well, see above. Where Florida signed 85 players to letters of intent over four years, Alabama, Auburn and LSU all signed well over 100, easily among the highest rates in the nation.
Maybe it’s not so shocking, then, when a banged-up Gator outfit missing its starting quarterback and top playmakers on both sides of the ball is outscored against those three teams by a combined 96 to 27 in consecutive weeks. That’s not a criticism of oversigning: That’s a fact of life. Florida doesn’t have the depth to overcome injuries and early departures because it’s fallen short of filling available slots on its roster within both the letter and the spirit of the rules. Muschamp doesn’t have to cross any lines to get the operation back to full strength. He just has to get close to one.