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Sunday, June 23, 2024

Column: McElwain saved his recruiting class on signing day, but does it really matter?

<p>Nick Saban celebrates after winning the SEC Championship on Saturday, Dec. 3, in the Georgia Dome.&nbsp;</p>

Nick Saban celebrates after winning the SEC Championship on Saturday, Dec. 3, in the Georgia Dome. 

Jim McElwain walked through a row of screaming fans inside UF’s indoor practice facility while UF’s band blared the school’s fight song throughout the facility.

A dozen or so chomping cheerleaders staged behind the podium welcomed McElwain to the lectern.

What would normally be a standard press conference felt more like a high school pep rally Wednesday afternoon.

And all for what?

Sure, McElwain’s National Signing Day was a successful one.

The Gators signed multiple top prospects in the class of 2017 that had been undecided, including defensive tackle Tedarrell Slaton, cornerback CJ Henderson and wide receiver James Robinson — all four-star recruits per 247sports.com.

Names like those helped boost Florida’s recruiting class from what was No. 19 nationally on Tuesday night into the No. 10 spot less than 24 hours later, according to 247sports.com.

That’s all good news for UF fans.

But it probably won’t matter.

Once again, Alabama’s class was other-worldly. The Crimson Tide’s fingerprints were all over ESPN’s top 300 recruits.

Florida was also out-recruited by Southeastern Conference members like Auburn, LSU and even Georgia, which pulled off the No. 3 class this year.

Florida State, which had a down year in 2016 by its recent standards, also finished ahead of the Gators, landing the No. 6 class.

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McElwain and Florida need to face the reality: These recruiting classes don’t matter unless they feature what UF has been in search of for years now: A quarterback.

Yes, maybe Jake Allen — a three-star prospect out of Fort Lauderdale’s St. Thomas Aquinas — is the answer. Maybe it’s Feleipe Franks or Kyle Trask, who will get their shot in Spring practice to earn the starting job. Or heck, maybe it’s early enrollee Kedarius Toney, whom McElwain said will play quarterback this spring.

But until Florida has a proven quarterback that is winning games in The Swamp and can finally get over what looks like an enormous hump in Alabama at the SEC Championship Game, why would any top-notch, five-star recruit want to come to Gainesville?

McElwain even mentioned at a recent Florida basketball game that he wants to “kick the door down” against the Crimson Tide next year.

But when asked how he’d do that, he reverted to jokes, possibly a sign that even he knows UF isn’t close to doing so right now.

“Get a bigger hammer,” he said. “Steel-toed boots this time instead of tennis shoes.”

Let’s be honest: That door ain’t coming down anytime soon.

Patrick Pinak is the online sports editor. His columns appear on Thursdays. Contact him at ppinak@alligator.org, or follow him on Twitter @pinakk12.

Nick Saban celebrates after winning the SEC Championship on Saturday, Dec. 3, in the Georgia Dome. 

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