The month of September will be critical for the future of Will Muschamp and the Florida program.
For starters, on the field, the Gators will get a chance to wipe away the taste of last year’s 4-8 debacle. Considering their first three opponents are at home against teams who combined to go 5-31 last season, the Gators have a chance to get off to a strong start before heading to face Alabama on Sept. 20.
However, on the recruiting trail, the Gators could take a huge step forward in righting the ship if they can land a pair of 5-star prospects—defensive end Byron Cowart and wide receiver George Campbell—who each hail from the metro Tampa area.
According to Josh Newberg of Noles247 (subscription required), both Cowart and Campbell are both on the verge of committing soon.
Getting commitments from two top-10 in-state recruits, both whom hail from one of UF’s most traditionally fertile recruiting territories, would send a message to its rivals and the nation that the Gators are back on their way to becoming a powerhouse.
Florida—a program who has finished outside of the top 10 in recruiting rankings only once in the last decade—currently has a modest class that checks in at No. 24 in the 247Sports 2015 class rankings.
Furthermore, the biggest problem appears to be Florida’s lack of momentum with the elite prospects in its backyard.
Currently, the Gators’ five highest-rated pledges all hail from out of state, and they have yet to receive a commitment from a player ranked among the Sunshine State’s top 50 prospects.
|Florida's Recruiting Class Rankings Since 2006|
To put that figure in perspective, Florida State has commitments from four homegrown recruits ranked among the state’s top 25 players. Miami and Clemson each have three.
With the ‘Noles and ‘Canes claiming the upper hand in-state thus far in the 2015 cycle, the upcoming decisions of Cowart and Campbell becoming magnified for the Gators—who were the heavy favorites for both players earlier in the process.
As Chris Nee of Noles247 detailed, Florida was the perceived favorite for Campbell after his early decommitment from Michigan until FSU made a surge for his services. The Gators still claim 36 of the 39 projections on Cowart’s 247Sports Crystal Ball page.
Of the two, Cowart is likely the safer bet to end up in Gainesville—even though he admitted that a visit to FSU last month gave him something to think about:
However, the Gators’ struggles on offense and the shuffle in Muschamp’s staff have made their pursuit of Campbell trickier. Specifically, the unexpected departure of receivers coach Joker Phillips in June—who was replaced by former Gators quarterback Chris Leak—has left the 6’3”, 184-pound playmaker with more questions than answers about the Gators.
“Me and coach Leak have talked and we’ve had our discussions and that’s pretty much it,” Campbell told GatorBait (subscription required) last week. “[He is saying] pretty much just keep in touch and watch the Florida Gators as they go through this season and check them out.”
Regardless of whether they can land one or both of Cowart and Campbell, a strong start to the 2014 season will be the best medicine for the Gators' recruiting efforts. As Jeremy Fowler of CBS Sports noted, Muschamp and his team have to show a sense of urgency in order to get he and his staff off the proverbial hot seat.
As the chart above illustrates, the Gators have never had problems luring talent to The Swamp when the program has been on stable ground.
Assuming the Gators get back on track this fall, expect the Gators to re-assume their place as one of recruiting’s most powerful juggernauts.
Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.