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Previewing Kentucky’s First SEC Game: A look at Florida, their recruiting and coaching

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What in the world is going on in Florida? First, a 4-8 season last year and an uninspiring first half of the 2015 recruiting cycle.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I'll start with the recruiting.

The football recruiting world is a world of nuance and relativity and the state of Florida is experiencing it this year. If you already didn't know it, Florida leads the nation in terms of players with Division I (FBS) offers for most years. The University of Florida, however, is not having an easy time with recruiting so far.

For the 2015 through 2018 recruiting classes, 453 Florida high school players hold 3,567 Div I offers including 1,037 from top 25 programs. (Source: Rankbyoffers.com). The next closest is Texas with 356 players with 2,422 Div I offers including 779 from top 25 programs.

The Orlando Sentinel's recruiting home page states the following:

The state of Florida sends more than 300 high school football players to play at the NCAA Division-I level every year. It is a hotbed of football talent and the Orlando Sentinel covers it from Key West to the panhandle.

Florida boasts three teams from the five power conferences: Florida State and Miami in the Atlantic Coast Conference and the University of Florida in the Southeastern Conference. Florida also has Central Florida and South Florida in the All American Conference; and Florida Atlantic and Florida International in Conference USA. That's seven Division I teams, enough for a conference of their own.

As one would expect, the competition among the Florida schools is fierce in attempts to keep the Florida recruits in Florida. Considering that almost every Division I school is trying to lure Florida kids away from home, Florida is probably the most competitive state. It is so competitive that Iowa announced a couple of years ago that it would no longer spend the time and money to recruit the state.

The Orlando Sentinel publishes their top 100 high school seniors every year after National Signing Day in February. Their list doesn't necessarily agree with the recruiting services in terms of player rankings, but the majority of kids on their list are also on the recruiting services lists.

As of now, six months into the 2015 recruiting cycle, Florida has two commitments from the Orlando Sentinel's top 100 (#93 Jalen Julius and #100 Andrew Ivie).  Just for the record, Kentucky also has two (#59 Luke Hiers and #75 Marcus Walker). Miami and Florida State have seven apiece.

So, is Florida's recruiting on the decline? Maybe. Maybe not. 46% of the Orlando Sentinel top 100 Florida players have not committed yet. Half of the top 20 haven't picked a school. Two of the five Rivals 5* players have committed elsewhere: Kevin Toliver to LSU and Derwin James to Florida State.

Of the uncommitted, 247 Sports projects 5* Byron Cowart and 5* CeCe Jefferson to pick Florida. Florida's other 5*, Jacques Patrick is projected to commit to Florida State. CeCe Jefferson, if you'll recall, has teased and flirted with the BBN once or twice. Unless he takes a visit, don't even remotely count on this guy as anything other than a Florida commitment.

If the two Rivals five stars pick the Gators and 4* Martez Ivey, 4* George Campbell, 4* Ray Ray McCloud, and 4* Jeffrey Holland follow suit as projected, Florida should have another top 10 recruiting class. They've already "stolen" one of Ohio's top players, 5* ATH Jerome Baker (Cleveland Benedictine).

What is curious, though, is why haven't any of the uncommitted Florida elites committed? Are they taking a wait and see approach on the upcoming season?

It could be since it is common knowledge that head coach Will Muschamp is #1 on the hot seat after last year's 4-8 season. He certainly took a lot of heat at the SEC Media Days as described in this Gainesville Sun article.

Florida's offense has been on a decline since Urban Meyer left. Starting quarterback Jeff Driskell is operating under his third offensive coordinator. Usually, a new offense presents a learning curve even for the best quarterbacks.

Florida's offense (113th) last year was worse than Kentucky's (107th). However, it was good enough to beat the Cats, but not Georgia Southern. It wasn't good enough for Florida fans as Muschamp was forced to get rid of Brent Pease due to fan unhappiness. The Gators replaced him with Kurt Roper who helped David Cutcliff bring Duke out of the graveyard.  Muschamp's first OC was Charlie Weis for 2011, then Pease for 2012and 2013 and now Roper.

If Muschamp doesn't survive with Roper, Muschamp is the cause of his own undoing. His idea of having a great defense with a ball control and game management offense hasn't enthused the Gator faithful. These are fans who were used to big offensive numbers under Urban Meyer and Steve Spurrier. Both coaches brought Florida a national championship. Muschamp hasn't come close.

In Muschamp's three years at Florida he's gone 7-6, 11-2 and 4-8. His 11-2 team was uninspired in the two loses, a 17-0 debacle against Georgia and the 33-23 Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville. Muschamp has  been compared to Ron Zook who went 8-5, 8-5 and 7-5 before he was fired. During the Muschamp regime, Florida's offense was ranked 105th in 2011, 103rd in 2012 and, as mentioned above, 113th in 2013.

Just for the record, Florida's defense has remained stout. In Meyer's final season (2010), Florida ranked #9 in total defense. Since Muschamp was hired, Florida ranked 8th in the nation in 2011, 5th in 2012, and 8th in 2013. The Gators should be ranked as one of the best in 2014.

Another possible reason why the Florida elites haven't committed to the Gators could be due to the Joker Phillips situation. Getting caught having lunch with a recruit during a dead period wasn't the brightest move and could get the Florida program an NCAA sanction. It was bad enough to cause Phillips to resign. Is it another reason for Will Muschamp to be shown the door without significant improvement?

Lake Nona WR Deondre Farrier de-committed a couple of months ago and Jacksonville First Coast WR Tristan Payton just de-committed. Payton isn't the only recent de-commit. The Gators also lost DB Deontai Williams who flipped to Georgia. You can read about Payton and Williams at the Gainesville Sun. #14 Da'Vante Phillips (WR) de-committed back on December 2013, according to Saturday Down South.

Florida has dropped in the Rivals team rankings to 36th with eight commitments. Their average star rating is still good, however, standing at 3.39. Take a look at their commitment list.

You have to wonder, though, if Florida is susceptible to more flips? It was rumored over the weekend that Washington, DC Gonzaga 4* DB might be reconsidering his commitment. Also, Kentucky and Florida are fighting for a commitment from Ohio's George Brown who seemed enthralled during his visit to Gainesville this week. In days past, Kentucky wouldn't stand a chance, but now stands a 50/50 chance. Some predict Kentucky wins this recruiting battle.

As you can see, Kentucky is closing the gap.


Uk-uf_medium

The Florida and Kentucky Series

The two teams began playing on an annual basis in 1967 and the results are not pretty for Kentucky fans. Read and weep. Home Team in Bold. Kentucky wins in Italic.

1967 Florida (Ray Graves) 28, Kentucky 12 (Charlie Bradshaw)

1968 Florida (Ray Graves) 16, Kentucky 14 (Charlie Bradshaw)

1969 Florida (Ray Graves) 31, Kentucky 6 (John Ray)

1970 Florida (Doug Dickey) 24, Kentucky 13 (John Ray) - Tampa

1971 Florida (Doug Dickey) 35, Kentucky 24 (John Ray)

1972 Florida (Doug Dickey) 40, Kentucky 0 (John Ray)

1973 Florida (Doug Dickey) 20, Kentucky 18 (Fran Curci)

1974 Florida (Doug Dickey) 24, Kentucky 41 (Fran Curci)

1975 Florida (Doug Dickey) 48, Kentucky 7 (Fran Curci)

1976 Florida (Doug Dickey) 9, Kentucky 28 (Fran Curci)

1977 Florida (Doug Dickey) 7, Kentucky 14 (Fran Curci)

1978 Florida (Doug Dickey) 18, Kentucky 16 (Fran Curci)

1979 Florida (Charlie Pell) 3 , Kentucky 31 (Fran Curci)

1980 Florida (Charlie Pell) 17, Kentucky 15 (Fran Curci)

1981 Florida (Charlie Pell) 33, Kentucky 12 (Fran Curci)

1982 Florida (Charlie Pell) 39, Kentucky 13 (Jerry Claiborne)

1983 Florida (Charlie Pell) 24, Kentucky 7 (Jerry Claiborne)

1984 Florida (Galen Hall) 25, Kentucky 17 (Jerry Claiborne)

1985 Florida (Galen Hall) 15, Kentucky 13 (Jerry Claiborne)

1986 Florida (Galen Hall) 3, Kentucky 10 (Jerry Claiborne)

1987 Florida (Galen Hall) 27, Kentucky 14 (Jerry Claiborne)

1988 Florida (Galen Hall) 24, Kentucky 19 (Jerry Claiborne)

1989 Florida (Galen Hall) 38, Kentucky 28 (Jerry Claiborne)

1990 Florida (Steve Spurrier) 47, Kentucky 25 (Bill Curry)

1991 Florida (Steve Spurrier) 35, Kentucky 26 (Bill Curry)

1992 Florida (Steve Spurrier) 35, Kentucky 19 (Bill Curry)

1993 Florida (Steve Spurrier) 24, Kentucky 20 (Bill Curry)

1994 Florida (Steve Spurrier) 73, Kentucky 7 (Bill Curry)

1995 Florida (Steve Spurrier) 42, Kentucky 7 (Bill Curry)

1996 Florida (Steve Spurrier) 65, Kentucky 0 (Bill Curry)

1997 Florida (Steve Spurrier) 55, Kentucky 28 (Hal Mumme)

1998 Florida (Steve Spurrier) 51, Kentucky 35 (Hal Mumme)

1999 Florida (Steve Spurrier) 38, Kentucky 10 (Hal Mumme)

2000 Florida (Steve Spurrier) 59, Kentucky 31 (Hal Mumme)

2001 Florida (Steve Spurrier) 44, Kentucky 10 (Guy Morris)

2002 Florida (Ron Zook) 41, Kentucky 34 (Guy Morris)

2003 Florida (Ron Zook) 24, Kentucky 21 (Rich Brooks)

2004 Florida (Ron Zook) 20, Kentucky 3 (Rich Brooks)

2005 Florida (Urban Meyer) 49, Kentucky 28 (Rich Brooks)

2006 Florida (Urban Meyer) 26, Kentucky 7 (Rich Brooks)

2007 Florida (Urban Meyer) 45, Kentucky 37 (Rich Brooks)

2008 Florida (Urban Meyer) 63, Kentucky 5 (Rich Brooks)

2009 Florida (Urban Meyer) 41, Kentucky 7 (Rich Brooks)

2010 Florida (Urban Meyer) 48, Kentucky 14 (Joker Phillips)

2011 Florida (Will Muschamp) 48, Kentucky 10 (Joker Phillips)

2012 Florida (Will Muschamp) 38, Kentucky 0 (Joker Phillips)

2013 Florida (Will Muschamp) 24, Kentucky 7 (Mark Stoops)

There you have it. Kentucky's last win was in 1986, 27 years ago. Another Florida win makes it 28-0, the longest losing streak in this once great land of ours. If anyone could call this a rivalry, there is plenty of swamp land available on the cheap down here in Orlando.

For me, the root cause of this debacle has been the lack of talent and depth at Kentucky. One reason for that was the NCAA probation and scholarship limits that brought Rich Brooks to town. Kentucky's lack of talent created depth problems that still are there even after two great Mark Stoops recruiting classes. The void still won't be filled until after the 2015 class shows up on the roster.

Back in March, Athlon published an article ranking the rosters for the 2014 season. They pointed out how much recruiting matters. It matters just as much as coaching with a few exceptions. The combination of good recruiting and good coaching by the schools who can do that can be devastating to those schools who can't do both. Read the article here and see if you agree.

Kentucky ranked 36th, thanks to the 2013 and 2014 recruiting classes. Yet, Athlon says Kentucky is the biggest underachiever.

Kentucky:

Uphill battle in the SEC but this group has the worst record of any "Big 5" school and is 36th nationally in talent.

Florida wasn't treated any better.

Florida

Eight losses with the second-ranked roster in the nation is completely unacceptable.

Considering the recruiting by the Brooks regime, his results show what good coaching can accomplish, but without the recruiting, success is limited. Poor recruiting eventually catches up  and passes good coaching.

That begs a question. Had Joker Phillips retained the coaching staff that Rich Brooks had built, would he have had better results? Joker's staff improved the recruiting a little, but the coaching went south. The record shows that.

While the most optimistic Kentucky fans (the "We Believe" crowd) seemingly want to hang their hat on a signature win in The Swamp on September 13th, Florida still has more talent and more depth than the Wildcats. Don't doubt me on that. You should familiarize yourselves with our opponents. Here's Florida's 2014 Media Guide.

If you've never been to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, you might get the idea that Kentucky has a chance. We don't. The last time I was there, the game was over before the end of the first quarter and we went on to lose 63-5. With Florida's stadium, tradition, talent and depth and their history against Kentucky, the odds of beating them in Gainesville have to be prohibitive. While the optimist might point to Georgia Southern, that game wasn't a conference game. I think Kentucky will have to beat Florida in Commonwealth before we start thinking about winning in Gainesville.

All that being said, I'll take a victory lap when, and If, we beat them in recruiting. There is that possibility with the 2015 class. Minor victories are better than no victories. I think we'll be able to compete with Florida by 2016 if the current trends hold.

For now, I'll take a competitive game. How 'bout you?