While the main focus was on Early Signing Day on Wednesday, in actuality what takes place in December is an early signing period that spans 72 hours from Wednesday through Friday.
Now that it has passed, here are five thoughts on what we witnessed from Billy Napier and staff to this point in the cycle.
* Admit it, when Florida's first commitment during the Billy Napier era turned out to be low three-star offensive lineman Christian Williams, many of you – myself included – were expecting the worst to close out this cycle. However, a strong close to Early Singing Day has to have the Gator Nation cautiously optimistic as the staff heads into the six-week stretch run leading up to National Signing Day in February. It's safe to say that by signing three prospects – No. 28 Kamari Wilson, No. 64 Shemar James, and No. 100 Chris McClellan – ranked in the 247 Sports Composite Top 100, Napier more than exceeded expectations. Had Dan Mullen and his staff been in place, they likely would have signed James, No. 100 McClellan while adding No. 93 Azareyeh Thomas. That means that Napier actually did a better job with Top 100 players in 10 days than Mullen and Company would have done in a complete cycle.
* Speaking of Thomas, it will be interesting to see if in the end what might be considered a blight on an incredible start by this staff is requesting that he send in a workout video rather than allowing him to take the official visit that final weekend, as Inside the Gators was told he wanted to do, 'sight unseen' so to speak. It is absolutely understandable why so many of those who were committed to the previous staff were dropped. We predicted that Nick Evers wasn't likely to remain in the class when we went over them in our ranking of which pledges were most and least likely to remain in the class. The same with Terrance Gibbs and questioned if the new staff would keep Francois Nolton. Along with Thomas, the two that might come back to bite them in the butt are CJ Smith and Jayden Gibson. The rest are replaceable.
* For as bad as it currently seems sitting at No. 51 overall (which is still almost 30 spots higher than where UF was just a week ago), when you take a closer look inside the numbers, Florida isn't in terrible shape in comparison to the SEC as a whole considering there was a coaching change. The 247 Composite Team Recruiting Rankings has the Gators dead last, at No. 14, in the conference, but that is mostly a numbers game at this point. Florida and LSU are the only two in-conference programs with under 15 commits. Florida is dead last with 10 signees/pledges. However, at 89.84, Florida actually has the fifth-best 'rating average' in the conference. 60-percent of UF's commitment list is ranked as either a four or five star. By comparison, though they are ranked ahead of UF in total points, Kentucky is at 45-percent, Tennesee is at 35-percent, South Carolina sits at 14-percent.
* It isn't all sunshine and roses though. This HAS to be the last time this is a focus post-Signing Day – but, once again, Florida absolutely got run out of its own state. The Gators only signed one prospect – No. 5 Kamari Wilson – who was ranked in the top 25 in-state and landed only four signees who were ranked in the top 50 in-state. That isn't a Billy Napier issue. Even if Dan Mullen was retained, UF was on pace to only sign two – No. 13 Azareyeh Thomas and No. 20 Jayden Gibson – of the top 20 kids instate. By contrast, Georgia signed two of the top four, and Texas A&M could possibly sign the top two overall. And to be clear, all four of them are in-state prospects, none attend IMG Academy. It is absolutely insane that the flagship university in the state, with the biggest fanbase, playing in the biggest stadium, in the premier conference in college football hasn't been able to do a better job of retaining top in-state talent. If that doesn't change, and change quickly, Florida is in for more of the same.
* When it comes to this class, and this class only, it's really not fair for an overall comparison between Napier and coaches who took over other major programs. That is because he was recruiting a different level of prospect while he was at Louisana. Take Miami flipping Jaleel Skinner for instance, or the Hurricanes getting Cyrus Moss to visit. Mario Cristobal had a pre-existing relationship with them while he was at Oregon. The same with Southern Cal landing five-star Domani Jackson. He was at one time committed to Lincoln Riley while he was at Oklahoma. They had months and months, if not a year or more, head starts with those prospects compared to where Napier started out on day one. So, don't automatically credit them with being better recruiters when Napier wasn't on a level playing field to end this cycle.
* Yes, Florida finished Early Signing Day about as well as can be expected, but even with that being the case, the talent gap between Florida and the top tier programs in the SEC got wider this cycle and with what's remaining out there, the Gators aren't going to have an opportunity to close that gap. Before we even get to the damage Alabama and Texas A&M did in the West, Florida has to worry about a formidable foe here in the East. The truth is, Georgia has been and still is a recruiting machine. Kirby Smart commented after the Bulldogs beat the Gators that you can't outcoach recruiting, and he has walked that walk. In this cycle alone UGA signed five of the top 29 prospects, and eight of the top 48 prospects in the nation. UF has signed five top 50 prospects in the last five cycles combined. This new staff, recruiting 'army' and football facility has to start closing the gap in the 2023 cycle. They have to.