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May 1, 2014

For now, Florida facing an uphill battle in recruiting

It would be unfair to say that Florida has struggled on the recruiting trail as of late, but there is no doubt that the Gators saw their fair share of defections during the 2014 cycle - after finishing the season at 4-8, their worst record since 1979 - and have struggled to gain momentum this spring.

Head coach Will Muschamp brushed over the Gators suffering several decommitments during his National Signing Day press conference but spoke openly about the sudden departures of some of Florida's highest-rated pledges without mentioning any recruits - such as notable five-star defectors running back Dalvin Cook and wide receiver Ermon Lane - by name.

"In an unfortunate manner, a lot of these young men change in the attention and whatever you want to call it as far as the amount of attention they receive. All of a sudden it's a different guy you're recruiting two years later from that standpoint," Muschamp explained on Thursday ahead of a Gator Gathering in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"It's great to see the ones that never change. It's great to see the ones that are genuine, the same guy from early in the recruiting process. And that's a learning experience for you as a staff, too. You're sitting back watching a young man change who he is, what he's about. And all of a sudden you're wondering, 'Do we want this guy in our program or not? When you do face some adversity, does that guy still want to be a part of what we're trying to do?'"

Muschamp pointed to Gators five-star quarterback Will Grier and four-star cornerback J.C. Jackson as examples of a true commitments, player who could have gone to play for any team in the nation but never wavered despite seeing Florida go 4-8 and hearing a ton of negativity and criticisms.

But while Grier and Jackson stuck around, others did not. The Gators were forced to fill some holes with lower-rated prospects and still closed out on the cycle strong with the No. 8 overall class in the nation.

"Y'all know me," Muschamp quipped, "I worry about the ones we sign. The ones that go somewhere else, I got to deal with one day out of the year. I could care less. Just go somewhere else and be a good football player, be a good citizen. I got no problem with that. For 365 days, I deal with the ones we sign."

Florida held on to its 2014 class quite well all things considered, but the Gators are struggling at the start of the 2015 cycle, which Muschamp freely admitted on Thursday.

UF's current stable of recruits has the program ranked 28th in the Rivals team rankings. Alabama (15) having more than twice as many commits as Florida (seven) is not abnormal, though it is just one of many schools currently out-recruiting the Gators. In fact, 27 teams have more four-star pledges than Florida (one) as the Gators' seven pledges currently consist of a trio of three-star commits and three others not currently ranked by Rivals.

Muschamp, like most coaches, has never been one to care much about star rankings, but he did not shy away from the fact that things have "slowed down" for Florida in the early stages of the 2015 cycle.

"They hear the negativity and that's part of it," he explained. "You work through that and certainly do I think it has slowed down progress to where we may be at this time if we did not go through what we went through? Absolutely.

"But do I think it is going to slow our process moving forward? No. I think we're going to have a good football team. We're going to have a good year. There's a bunch of good players around us that want to be Gators."

The key, according to Muschamp, is for the Gators not to falter again this season. One sub-par campaign can be forgiven in college football, he believes, as long as a program does not allow them to pile up.

"I don't think in college football there's a whole lot of a difference between a bunch of college football teams. I really don't," Muschamp said. "You look at what one season can do for you positively or negatively. It's when you start grouping together seasons of mediocrity then you got a problem. I really believe there's a fine line between a lot of teams in college football, I really do [believe that]."

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