Recruiting is important, don’t get me wrong.
You have to have talent in order to compete with the best college football programs in the country.
But do Dan Mullen and the Florida Gators have to consistently bring in top-5 classes to compete for national championships?
I personally don’t think so.
Look at the Clemson Tigers, for example.
Dabo Swinney has led his team to two national championship victories since 2016, and the Tigers have been right in the middle of the College Football Playoff conversation every season since 2015.
To me, Swinney is similar to Mullen in a couple of ways.
One, Swinney knows how to get the most out of the talent he has. And two, Clemson’s classes haven’t exactly dropped jaws in the rankings.
The Tigers’ highest class ranking in the last decade was seventh in 2018. The average ranking over that span? Sixteenth.
Sixteenth is good, but it’s not elite.
And yet, Swinney and the Tigers have climbed to the top of the college football landscape twice.
Why can’t Mullen and the Gators do the same?
Florida’s second-year head coach has been questioned for most of his coaching career when it comes to his ability to effectively recruit. He isn’t a Nick Saban, Kirby Smart or Jimbo Fisher on the trail, but in my opinion, he’s one of the more underrated recruiters in college football.
Perhaps his bad reputation stems from nine years as head coach at Mississippi State.
His recruiting classes there usually ranked in the top 30, with one class breaking into the top 20 back in 2009, his first year as head coach of the Bulldogs.
Yes, those numbers aren’t going to wow anybody, but you have to understand the circumstances. Not a lot of recruits envision themselves playing collegiately in Starkville, Mississippi. A sold-out crowd full of rattling cowbells at Davis Wade Stadium is one of the more iconic sights in college football, but outside of that, the town doesn’t have much else to offer.
Despite all of this, Mullen took Mississippi State somewhere it had never been with mediocre talent.
Because he’s an elite football coach who knows how to get the most out of his players.
In 2014, the Bulldogs were ranked No. 1 in the nation after victories over three top-10 teams.
Led by a team assembled by classes ranked 41st, 22nd, 24th and 36th and a three-star quarterback in Dak Prescott, Mullen guided his team to a 10-2 regular season record and a major bowl game (Orange Bowl) for the first time since 1941.
At Florida, there’s no doubt Mullen’s classes will consistently be in the top 15, similar to Swinney’s numbers.
But most Gator fans, especially the ones on Twitter, will tell you that’s simply not good enough.
But why can’t it be?
Mullen completely ripped up the last regime’s mistakes and laid new groundwork from the minute he stepped on campus.
He turned an undisciplined team that went 4-7 the year prior into a 10-win squad that blew out Michigan in a New Year’s Six Bowl.
His first two classes at UF have both ranked in the top 15, and even with the decommitments and transfers that have gripped the program recently, the 2020 class currently ranks eighth.
I believe that’s more than enough to put Florida in prime position to make the College Football Playoff and possibly win a championship very soon under Mullen.
Follow Evan Lepak on Twitter @evanmplepak. Contact him at. [email protected].