Gators to host several top prospects this weekend

It’s a big weekend for Florida football.

Initially, the feel of Jim McElwain’s first recruiting class at Florida was that he was merely trying to clean up the mess Muschamp started. But with so many top recruits coming to visit this weekend, that could drastically change by National Signing Day.

Here are the prospects Florida is hosting this weekend:

DL Byron Cowart

RB Jordan Scarlett (currently committed to Miami)

WR Ryan Davis

OL Martez Ivey

RB Jordan Cronkrite

QB Deondre Francois (currently committed to FSU)

Florida’s class lost several commitments once it became clear that Muschamp was on his way out, including top OL George Brown and top LB Jerome Baker. Only a few loyal pledges remained onboard, leaving the number of recruits in the Gators’ class in the single digits. But McElwain has a chance now to save this class by pulling in some big time prospects.

Of them all, I think Florida’s feeling best about their chances with Scarlett and Ivey. But three of the remaining four (Cronkrite, Davis and Cowart) could very well wind up at UF, too. And even Francois, the longest shot of the group, could conceivably join the Gator Nation, though I think he’s most likely to wind up at FSU.

Recruiting is really heating up now, and I’ll be discussing this much more in depth on Monday, with predictions on where these top kids will go. For now, though, let’s sit back, relax, and hope these kids have the time of their lives.

Recruiting wish list: Projecting the Gators’ top targets- Joey Vizzi

With less than 2 weeks left before National Signing Day, many are wondering where the Gators stand with their top prospects. This coming weekend is slated to be huge for the Gators. Many of Florida’s A-list targets will be in Gainesville on their official visits.

1. 5-star DE Byron Cowart

It seems like a 2 school race at this point (Auburn and Florida). Cowart has been all over the map with his Twitter feed and comments. There was even word that Florida coaches Terrell Williams and Kirk Callahan met with Cowart’s mother at a Tampa area Denny’s in the middle of the night. Shades of Billy Donovan style recruiting right there. Florida needs to get Cowart back on campus over the next 10 days. Will Muschamp seems to be doing everything in his power to keep Cowart away from Florida.

Prediction: Auburn

2. 5-star OT Martez Ivey

This is another 2 school race between Auburn and the Gators. Auburn just had Ivey on campus this past weekend with other top tier recruits. But Florida will get another unofficial visit before Signing Day. I have believed all along that Ivey was a Gator. Martez grew up a Gator fan and wants to be in the Swamp. Florida coaches have pushed early playing time for him and I believe he will start in some capacity as a true freshman.

Prediction: Florida

3. 5-star DE CeCe Jefferson

This is an extremely tricky prospect to predict. There are currently 4 schools involved right now, and I don’t know who to truly believe is his leader. Auburn just had Jefferson on campus this past weekend and Jefferson will be returning to Oxford this coming weekend for an unofficial. LSU will get CeCe’s last official visit next weekend. Florida’s campus is only a 45 minute drive from Jefferson’s home, so getting to come back to Gainesville will be easy. The question is, will it actually happen? This one is a coin toss.

Prediction: Ole Miss

4. 4-star LB Jeffrey Holland

Holland was a solid Florida prospect until Will Muschamp was hired at Auburn and DB coach Travaris Robinson followed him. Now, the Gators are an afterthought in my opinion. Holland was just in Auburn this past weekend and seems solid on the Tigers. Florida will try and make a push, but it may be just white noise at this point.

Prediction: Auburn

5. 4-star RB Jordan Scarlett

This St. Thomas Aquinas running back has been committed to Miami for awhile. But since the hiring of Jim McElwain, the Gators staff have made Scarlett a priority. Scarlett will be on an official visit to Gainesville this weekend and it is imperative the staff makes a good impression on him. Many speculate a flip is coming to the Gators. But Scarlett will be in Tallahassee next weekend for his last visit. Florida needs to get a verbal pledge out of Scarlett this weekend to have any chance.

Prediction: Florida

6. 4-star QB Deondre Francois

If the Gators can manage to flip Francois from his Florida State pledge, it would be possibly the biggest victory of the recruiting season for Florida. Francois is an elite arm talent that Offensive Coordinator Doug Nussmeier can mold into an elite SEC quarterback. Francois has been wavering on visiting the University of Florida this coming weekend. He has many his ear telling him to cancel, but it appears he is intrigued by what the Gators have to offer. If Francois goes through with his official visit to Gainesville, it would be a huge step for the Gators in trying to pull the curtain over him and flipping his pledge.

Prediction: Florida State

7. 4-star WR Ryan Davis

The Gators have been after Davis for a long time and he just received an in-home visit from Doug Nussmeier and Kirk Callahan last night. But since Auburn hired Will Muschamp, Auburn has made a hard push for him. Davis seemed high on Auburn after his recent visit. Michigan has now gotten involved with Davis as well. He is another coin flip. He is tough to get a read on, but I think he stays in-state.

Prediction: Florida

8. 4-star LB Adonis Thomas

The once committed linebacker is currently committed to Alabama. Thomas was new Defensive Coordinator Geoff Collins’ first visit once the dead period was over. This shows the priority the new staff has put on getting Thomas back to being a Gator. Thomas was just in Tuscaloosa for an official visit and by all accounts, he loves it there. It will be a tall task to swing him away from Nick Saban’s grasp.

Prediction: Alabama

9. 4-star WR Van Jefferson

With Jefferson de-committing from Georgia just a few days ago, it seems like anyone’s game with this talented young man. He was just recently in Norman visiting with Oklahoma. He seems extremely high on the Sooners, but the Gators get his last visit before Signing Day. This is huge if McElwain wants to secure his signature. But I just hope it is not too late.

Prediction: Oklahoma

10. 4-star OT Christian Pellage

Pellage was just in Gainesville this past weekend for his official visit and had nothing but great things to say. He is still committed to South Carolina at the moment and will take his last official visit to Columbia this coming weekend. Florida has been pushing location to Pellage and his family. The fact that early playing time is a factor at both Florida and South Carolina cancels each other out, but the close proximity to home wins the day.

Prediction: Florida

Gators’ Indoor Practice Facility to be ready by early September

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What was that again about Florida having inferior facilities, Muschamp?

The University announced plans to build a full sized, 120 yard long indoor practice facility with a surface of synthetic turf, and expect it to be ready by early September- right around the time the 2015 season will kick off. Originally, Florida planned to build a smaller (70 yards, roughly half a field) facility, but that idea was soon dismissed. As Jameis Winston would say, if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it big. If UF is going to spend the money for an IPF, might as well spend all you need to in order to do it right. In this case, that’s around $15 million.

The IPF will be built on what is currently the Sanders Practice Field, and the construction will take up so much space that the baseball stadium- McKethan Stadium- will require a whole new entrance. It will go alongside the 120 and 70 yard long outdoor practice fields the Gators have.

In documents drawn up in October to begin the procedure, the UAA listed the following two reasons as to why they felt it was necessary to build an IPF:

-“Allow practice to continue without interruption of inclement weather. At times, the team needs to seek cover during these events. This disrupts the continuity of the team’s training session.”

-“Compete with peers to recruit quality student athletes. The facility’s lack of space for indoor training has set the University’s program behind the majority of their peers within the SEC conference and the NCAA. This, in turn, puts the football program at a disadvantage in recruiting top student athletes.”

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(Images courtesy of Davis Architects via Gatorzone.com)

Personally, I think it’s about damn time Florida got an IPF. Florida has around 30 practices altered in some way by weather (practice must stop when lightning is within eight miles). Practicing indoors eliminates the chances of weather related injuries, between slipping on a wet field, heat exhaustion, and even freak things like lightning strikes. Through the years, dozens of Florida players have torn their ACLs on the beat up practice field, the most recent of which were Andre Debose and Matt Rolin. Of course, an IPF doesn’t guarantee players won’t tear their ACLs, but it does at least reduce those chances.

Having awesome new facilities doesn’t hurt in recruiting, either. In a way, Will Muschamp was right when he called out UF for having subpar facilities. Too bad Muschamp wasn’t good enough to stay at UF long enough to see them get built. No longer does Muschamp or any other rival coach have that to use against Florida in recruiting, and conversely, Florida can now use their up to par facilities to help themselves in recruiting.

On the other hand, I do understand why it took so long. Florida fosters three very successful athletic programs (football, basketball and baseball) that make the big money, and a bunch of others (soccer, lacrosse, softball, track, etc.) that make considerably less money but are very successful. Hence the popular twitter hashtag #EverythingSchool. It’s not so easy for Jeremy Foley to simply spend $15 million of his athletic budget on one sport, even if that one sport is the engine of the UF athletic program. He also has to keep his basketball facilities up to par, which is why he ordered the $45 million overhaul on the O’Dome at the conclusion of this (dreadful) season.

But it’s not like Foley totally neglects the football program financially. He has spent lots of money on the football program in other ways. Since 2008, Foley ordered the installation of the statues of the three Heisman winners outside the stadium, new video screens inside the stadium and the Heavener Football Complex- all of which help in recruiting.

Here’s hoping that the IPF will actually make the differences the UAA says they want it to.

TE Jake McGee granted sixth year of eligibility

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Remember all the problems Florida had in 2014 with tight ends screwing up in crucial situations? You know, like Tevin Westbrook’s drops against LSU and FSU that directly led to the Gators’ demise? Yeah, that.

Say goodbye to that, and say hello to Jake McGee. Again. The ex Virginia Cavaliers’ tight end graduated from UVA and elected to play what he thought would be his final year of college football with Florida in 2014. However, McGee broke his tibia in the 2014 season opener against Eastern Michigan, and missed the entire 2014 season. There was some concern that the NCAA would reject his waiver to play another year, but that wound up not being the case, and therefore Jake McGee will play football for the Gators in 2015.

So, once again: welcome, Jake! McGee is more dangerous as a pass catcher than any tight end Florida has had since a certain guy who got in major trouble with the law and therefore shall not be named. Yes, I believe he’s even more explosive than Jordan Reed, and provides Florida with a major upgrade at the tight end position. He stands 6’6, 250 lbs. and runs a 4.6 40 yard dash, and was UVA’s leading receiver in 2013.

It’s great news for the Gators, and adds desperately needed experience to what appears to be an inexperienced offense: the line will have to be rebuilt, whoever starts at QB will be a sophomore, and DeMarcus Robinson is the only wide receiver I can count on as dependable. In terms of leadership, however, it only adds to a football team that figures to have plenty of it; the defense already boasts two standout seniors in Jonathan Bullard and Antonio Morrison, plus junior lockdown cornerback Vernon Hargreaves.

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Florida set to hire Oregon’s WR Coach Matt Lubick according to multiple sources

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Jim McElwain has made some phenomenal hires thus far, but he may have saved his greatest trick for last. According to multiple sources, McElwain is set to hire Oregon wide receiver coach Matt Lubick to the same position at Florida.

McElwain had previously said that he would wait until the season- including the national championship game tonight between Ohio State and Lubick’s Oregon Ducks- was over to complete the act of filling his staff. But this morning, I learned that Lubick to Florida was essentially a done deal. And it’s more than just filling a staff position.

Lubick brings with him an excellent resume of not only coaching prowess, but recruiting elite talent to play for him. Lubick knows the SEC as he was the WR coach for Ed Orgeron at Ole Miss and recruited stud playmaker Dexter McCluster. He also worked at Arizona State under Dennis Erickson. He was the recruiter that signed LB Vontaze Burfict, the highest rated prospect the Sun Devils have ever landed. Before that, Lubick was at Duke under David Cutcliffe 2010-2012 and was named “Assistant Coach of the Year” by the AFCA in 2012.

But the cherry on the cake here is that McElwain is really close with Sonny Lubick, Matt’s father, and who Matt worked with as a graduate assistant at Colorado State. Florida has now completed (maybe) their best group of staff hires since the Spurrier days. Well done, Coach Mac.

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DL Gerald Willis dismissed from team

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I have to be honest. I had a bad, bad feeling about Gerald Willis’s chances of survival at Florida in the long term after he punched Jameis Winston out of bounds in the Florida-FSU game. I knew Muschamp was on his way out and Willis wouldn’t be under his jurisdiction anymore, so I can’t explain how I felt this, exactly, but the feeling deep down inside me was that he wasn’t long for Gainesville.

That feeling turned out to be true when today, Willis was kicked off the team for fighting with a teammate. You know, again. Much was made about his silly fight with QB Skyler Mornhinweg back in October over a pair of cleats, and while the details of this one aren’t quite clear, I’m told that it was serious enough to warrant his dismissal. Besides, he’s a repeat offender, and when you are repeatedly involved in fights with your teammates- in addition to taking a cheap shot on an opponent, even one as universally loathed as Jameis Winston- you cause more harm than good to your program, and you’ve got to go.

Credit to Jim McElwain for getting rid of him, and proving that character is just as important as on field results. Mac’s got a tough job to do in terms of holding this recruiting class together, and was counting on Willis, a former five star recruit himself, to step in and lessen the pressure of landing top recruits like Byron Cowart and Cece Jefferson. Now landing at least one of those two appears to be an absolute necessity.

Having said that, all that Willis really had was that “P” word that Muschamp hated so much. Willis just had potential, and very few actual results. The only real contribution Willis made that I can remember was recovering a crucial fumble at the goal line in the Birmingham Bowl. Florida was up 21-7, but East Carolina was driving. ECU QB Shane Carden tried to run it in, but was stripped, and Willis fell on the ball.

But nonetheless, Willis was counted on to play a big role in the front seven, and now Florida will be without him. It will be interesting to see Florida’s defensive line rotation without Willis. The line got a huge boost when Jonathan Bullard announced he would return, and Bryan Cox figures to play an increased role, but now the rest is really up in the air. Alex McAllister, Thomas Holley and Khairi Clark all promise to have breakout seasons if they have great offseasons, but again, the pressure is really on McElwain now to land Cowart and Jefferson.

I have the feeling it will all work out, though. McAllister is a proven monster, while Holley and Clark are young and unproven, but very talented. Bullard and Cox give the Gators two experienced defensive linemen to start out with, and so I’m confident that after the youngsters take the lumps that most freshmen take, the defensive front will be just fine.