UF champs off field, too

The Gators reel in what is uniformly considered the nation's best recruiting class.

Published February 8, 2007

On a day when many blue chip recruits changed commitments, one fact remained unchanged.

The University of Florida's football recruiting class is the cream of the crop.

The Gators built on their national championship victory in January by nabbing the nation's top recruiting class Wednesday, the first day high school seniors could sign binding national letters of intent with colleges.

Florida received commitments from nine of the top 45 players in the nation, according to Scout.com, and 11 of the top 71. By midday, recruiting analyst Larry Blustein quipped, the "only team that could top them is the Colts."

Tennessee, Texas, Southern Cal and LSU fill out the top five, according to CSTV recruiting analyst Tom Lemming. In a surprising twist, Miami cranked out a top-15 class, while Florida State's group was its "worst in 15 years," Lemming said.

"Florida has taken Florida State behind the woodshed," Lemming said. "It used to be FSU in control, but now the Gators are having their way with everyone north of Broward."

Well, not exactly everyone.

Miami, under new coach Randy Shannon, saved its best for last, picking up two four-star recruits the past couple of days, defensive end Allen Bailey (Darien, Ga.) and defensive back DeMarcus Van Dyke (Miami Pace).

Bailey and Van Dyke, previously Florida oral commitments, combined with tailback Graig Cooper (Milford Prep) and Plant quarterback Robert Marve in helping the Hurricanes' class jump from the low 40s to the top 15 in a week's time, Blustein said.

"Cooper is a McGahee-type back," said Blustein, referring to Buffalo Bills and former UM running back Willis McGahee.

"He may be the best back Miami has had in a long time. And Bailey's a freak; he'll be an impact player on the defensive line right away."

Florida State, feeling the effects of a 7-6 season and offseason coaching uncertainty (offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden resigned), had zero Rivals.com five-star recruits.

Besides their top recruit, four-star defensive back Dionte Allen (Orchard Lake, Mich.), the Seminoles did steal four-star wide receiver Bert Reed (Panama City), who switched from the Gators on Sunday.

FSU, which historically closes signing day with a bang, whiffed Wednesday on two players atop its wish list, five-star defensive tackle Marvin Austin (Washington, D.C.) and five-star running back Noel Devine (North Fort Myers), who didn't sign anywhere and likely will attend a prep school.

USF picked up one of its biggest recruits ever in former Sarasota running back Michael Ford, one of the nation's top high school backs two years ago. Ford, who spent a year at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia after failing to qualify academically out of high school, was cleared by the NCAA and accepted into USF for spring classes.

Lemming said, "Ford can be the one to lead USF to the big time."

UCF picked up Land O'Lakes quarterback Joe Weatherford as part of a "solid class," Blustein said.

UCF coach George "O'Leary has that magical touch," Blustein said. "He's very gruff but effective. He knows what he's doing."

So does Meyer, who said his class "was knocked out of the park" by the Wednesday afternoon pickup of receiver Deonte Thompson (Glades Central), Scout.com's No. 3 wideout.

And in a move that symbolized the topsy-turvy signing day, Florida signed one of the nation's top safeties, Jerimy Finch (Indianapolis Warren Central).

Finch orally committed to Michigan then switched to Indiana before Meyer gave him a call.

"It's unbelievable," Meyer said, "because I didn't go to Indiana once the whole time."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@ sptimes.com or at (727) 893-8129.