Does Florida’s big win help solidify ’24 class? Why so much Deion coverage? Recruiting mailbag

GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 09: head coach Billy Napier of the Florida Gators takes the field with his team before the start of a game against the McNeese State Cowboys at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 09, 2023 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)
By Ari Wasserman
Sep. 19, 2023

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Recruiting never stops. Neither do your questions.

And if we didn’t get to your question, don’t be discouraged! We will be addressing some on “Stars Matter,” our weekly recruiting podcast that can be found in the “Until Saturday” feed.


Note: Submitted questions have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Does Florida’s win over Tennessee on Saturday increase their chances of holding on to their recruiting gems? — Shawn T. 

Before convincingly beating Tennessee in The Swamp this weekend, Florida was cruising toward the weird intersection between disaster on the field and excitement in recruiting. When you’re at a place like Florida, which demands excellence, there isn’t a long grace period for the coach. Also, consider that in the portal era coaches have proved you can flip a roster in a year and see vast improvement, so Billy Napier was at risk of having to explain why his program was still down bad in Year 2 of his tenure.

Fortunately, this win eased some of the tension.

Though I’ve written time and time again that prospects don’t look at individual results of games and make rash decisions about their future based on winners and losers, certain wins just mean more for the program. And this win could provide the boost Florida needs to avoid going into the deep darkness this season. It takes the focus off of how things are and allows people to refocus on how good things could be.


Some have pointed out that Florida could have been more aggressive in the portal and built a roster capable of winning 10 games this season. Florida State, which is up the road from Gainesville, is a prime example of how efficient usage of the portal can help accelerate a rebuild. And that’s a fair criticism, especially considering the Gators did use the portal and wound up with quarterback Graham Mertz, a decision that has been mocked and doubted since it happened.


We can confidently say Florida isn’t a disaster right now. It still might be a six-win team, but that’s so much better than a dysfunctional disaster. That’s the sweet spot in recruiting. You could see The Swamp rocking on national television, but there is also no question Florida needs the studs who are committed in its 2024 class to change the tide.

Say what you want about Napier’s product on the field through a season and change. What you can’t debate, though, is how much better Florida’s recruiting efforts have been.

Florida’s 2024 class includes two five-star prospects from Texas, quarterback DJ Lagway of Willis High and Xavier Filsaime of McKinney High. It has eight total commitments who rank in the top 120 nationally in the 247Sports Composite. The Gators class ranks No. 3 overall. Now let’s remember Dan Mullen’s final class at Florida had only three top-100 players.

Napier understands how important it is to land top-tier prospects. That’s what he was hired to do, and it’s being done.

Maybe the rebuild should have been quicker, but I also like that Napier is trying to build this program with a sturdy foundation of excellent high school players. That is the way to sustain success in this sport.

I don’t think Florida’s commitments are more likely to stay than before. They committed knowing this was a build. What I do think, though, is this win could help Napier take a deep breath as he moves into crunchtime of his second season. The further he can move away from “hot seat” discussions, the better he’ll be at navigating this recruiting class, adding more talent and, of course, retaining the commitments he and his staff have already earned.

The Ohio Bobcats had a lot of recruits on the sideline for the win against Iowa State. How much does a Power 5 win at home help them or any other Group of 5 team in a similar situation help in recruiting? Just a peek ahead at the future schedules and the Bobcats will host West Virginia and Cincinnati when those recruits would be playing. — Ryan M. 

So much about recruiting is proof of concept. If you can sell your vision to a recruit and that recruit can see the early stages of that vision beginning to take shape, it is powerful. So much of what we believe is what we can see, hear and feel. Optimism and faith play a part in these recruitments, but going to a place like Athens, Ohio — a place I’ve been to many times — and seeing the Bobcats beat a Power 5 team is huge. Also, this Power 5 team does a heck of a lot of recruiting in the state of Ohio, so that’s another plus.


I truly believe being a coach in the MAC has to be very difficult. All of those schools are similar as it pertains to money, facilities, fan buy-in and location. It’s got to be so hard to evaluate MAC-level players because thousands of them aren’t even rated. I also can’t begin to fathom how difficult it must be to separate one program from another. Heck, there are six MAC programs in the state of Ohio alone. Some have prettier campuses than others, but if you’re Akron’s coach, what’s the sales pitch?

Beating a Power 5 opponent is a nice place to start.

Hey Ari, I have a question for you as a member of sports mass media. Do you have concerns about not giving the full picture of what’s going on in the college football world because you have to pander to the casual football fan? I haven’t listened to any recent college football podcasts because it’s all Colorado, and I love the whole sport. Your own recent episode on “The Audible” is titled, “Colorado transcends college football, pulls out a double OT win.” Did Washington State transcend college football by beating that same Colorado State team 50-24 and starting 3-0 (also with a win over a Big Ten school who will actually finish above .500)?

I would love some juice to go to the Washington State-Oregon State top-25 matchup next week, who were both steamrolled in the latest round of realignment kicked off by the darling Colorado Buffaloes moving under the ESPN umbrella next year (no thanks to the PAC-12 leadership incompetence). NOTE: Of course, I can see Shedeur Sanders is a legit Heisman contender and would have a good team in title contention. I also see that Travis Hunter is a top-five pick. All of that deserves reasonable coverage. I enjoy watching Colorado and seeing what happens next when they start playing teams that will be bowl-eligible at season’s end. — Anonymous 

This is a question about our coverage decisions, but it also is the reason Colorado has a real chance to be successful.

I’m not on “The Audible” — that’s Bruce Feldman and Stewart Mandel — but I’ve spent a lot of time discussing Deion Sanders and Colorado on my podcasts. Everyone who talks into a microphone about college football has. I’ve also written multiple columns about Colorado in The Athletic, too. As a result of this, I get a lot of comments about beating a dead horse, giving Colorado too much attention or general thoughts much like the one you submitted. Some people are tired of it, and I get it.

But if you’re wondering why we spend so much time talking about it, it’s because there is an insatiable desire to read about it from thousands of people who don’t leave their thoughts in the comments section. Sanders is a larger-than-life figure. He has flipped virtually an entire roster in six months, and now the Buffaloes are 3-0 and just got done playing in one of the more exciting games of the college football season. It’s not just the football, either. It’s the comments Sanders makes, the way his players carry themselves, and, as you noted, the fact Shedeur Sanders and Hunter are good football players.

Our job in media is to serve our audience and give people what they want to read about. There’s a reason we don’t spend a lot of time covering the intricacies of Sam Houston State’s roster and recruiting. Why? Because there’s no real audience for it. The audience for Sanders content is incredibly large — and it’s not diminishing, it’s getting bigger. Say what you want about Colorado, but the Sanders experiment is truly one of the most interesting storylines this sport has ever seen, and it demands that coverage.

I think you make a great point about Oregon State and Washington State. I felt that. Those teams deserve the credit for doing similar things, too. But you also have to understand and accept the general appetite for niche Pac-12 coverage doesn’t match your personal preference. That said, of course, there is going to be more Colorado talk because more people are interested in it. People can’t look away from it, and they are consuming the content in record numbers.


That’s literally why Sanders was hired — to draw eyeballs. We’ve spoken more about Colorado in the last year than the previous 20 years (or more) combined.



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It’s also the reason I believe Colorado could win big. Sanders has everyone watching and talking about his team. People are drawn to it. That also means recruits are drawn to it. The No. 1 player in the 2025 recruiting class — five-star quarterback Bryce Underwood of Belleville (Mich.) High — was in town to watch that wild show of a football game Saturday night. There is proof of concept there, and people are reading and talking about Colorado the way they do the elite programs.

We, as reporters, are drawn to interesting. Like it or not, Colorado is peak interesting.

(But for the record, we did not talk about Colorado on our “Stars Matter” recruiting podcast last week.)

(Photo of Billy Napier: James Gilbert / Getty Images)

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Ari Wasserman

Ari Wasserman is a senior writer for The Athletic covering college football and recruiting nationally. He previously spent 10 years covering Ohio State for The Athletic and, starting on the Buckeyes beat in 2009. Follow Ari on Twitter @AriWasserman