The recipe for national titles begins with bringing in more four- and five-star prospects than not. Ohio State recruits a higher percentage of elite recruits than any school except for Alabama, and continued the trend this year in taking home the title. Florida State has done this under Jimbo Fisher (seventh best nationally).
It continues this year, as 15 of Florida State's 22 commitments are rated four-stars or better. FSU is cleaning up in-state, with 10 blue chip commits, by far the most in-state (Miami has three, Florida none and Clemson four). This is shaping up to be another top-five class, and could finish as high as No. 2 (behind Alabama) if things break right. The other contenders for the No. 2 spot are USC and Auburn, who are both poised for very strong finishes.
The Noles have a very strong group of current commits trying to get other elite preps to join them in Tallahassee, often using the #Tribe15 hashtag on social media. This weekend, six visitors will be in town, including commits Minshew, Bello, Kilby-Lane, Wilkerson, and new linebacker Lorenzo Phillips (see below).
Seven prospects enrolled early for the Seminoles, and several could make an immediate impact. With 5 players off to the NFL early, 2 transferring and 13 graduating, FSU currently sits at 68 total scholarships, which means it can take another 17 prospects without any additional attrition. Additional attrition would not be a surprise, however, as players leave to find playing time elsewhere, take medical DQs, etc.
Let's look at what FSU needs at each position, what it already has, and who it might target to fill those remaining needs. As you'll see, FSU is in a bit of a numbers bind and will have to turn away talented prospects at some positions.
Florida State signed J.J. Cosentino in 2014, a strong-arm pro-style passer. FSU needed to take two in this class. This is a rather poor year for quarterbacks East of the Mississippi, and FSU struck out on its top QB targets out West.
The Seminoles elected to combat the issue via quantity. FSU currently has three quarterback recruits: De'Andre Johnson (enrolled early), Deondre Francois, and Kai Locksley. I addressed the situation in Will Florida State really sign three quarterbacks?. Very little has changed since then. Florida, having lost dual-threat QB Sheriron Jones to Tennessee, is coming after Deondre Francois and Francois will visit Gainesville on January 23 after visiting Florida State over the weekend. There were rumors that Francois' visit went so well that he cancelled his Gainesville plans, but those are false. Florida believes it can flip Francois. Francois has the best physical tools of FSU's QB commitments, and this will be something to watch, as the Gators need a QB. FSU would really like to keep Francois in the fold.
Texas and Maryland are still interested in Locksley, who does have the ability to play receiver as well (some, including myself, think he is a better fit at receiver). FSU continues to recruit Locksley, and the last remaining obstacle might be his January 23 visit to Austin (Texas coach Charlie Strong has a close relationship with the Locksleys, thanks to their time together in Gainesville).
The other detail here is that FSU secured a commitment from 2016 QB Malik Henry, one of the best in the country. It's recently been reported that Henry's considering transferring from California to the IMG Academy (Bradenton).
I have not decided where or if I will transfer.— OVO_MALIK (@malik_henry16) January 20, 2015
Will that knowledge weigh on the minds of any of the 2015 players? We'll have to wait and see.
Florida State signed seven skill players in 2014, including two excellent running backs, a terrific trio of receivers, and two very promising tight ends. Including the three early enrollees, Florida State is at 18 skill players for 2015. Four more are currently committed, and if all stick, FSU would be at 22, with some transfer possibilities on the roster.
RB: 4-star Jacques Patrick (Orlando Timber Creek) enrolled early and could soon become FSU's power back. FSU's other commit at the position is Johnny Frazier (North Carolina). Frasier is anything but solid, but he has yet to publicly decommit. N.C. State, Alabama and others remain in contention, with the hometown Wolfpack offering early playing time and distance advantages. FSU sources tell me that they really want to get Frasier down to Tallahassee on another visit, but that might not happen.
There's a reason FSU is keeping contact with Miami four-star commit, Jordan Scarlett, of St. Thomas Aquinas. If Frasier leaves, expect the Seminoles to crank up the heat even more to try and flip Scarlett. However, that doesn't mean FSU can automatically flip Scarlett if Frasier bolts. I recently interviewed Scarlett after the state title game, and he does value academics and distance -- factors that favor Miami. Florida is also very much in the mix for Scarlett. It's worth noting that Scarlett was openly recruiting for the Hurricanes on his recent visit to Coral Gables. We'll see if he keeps his plan to officially visit on the 30th. He'll check out the Gators on the 23rd.
I don't know where FSU would go if it loses Frasier and cannot flip Scarlett. It's possible they could pocket the scholarship and roll with Mario Pender, Ryan Green, Dalvin Cook, Jacques Patrick, Freddie Stevenson (TB/FB) and Jon Vickers (TB/FB) for 2015.
WR: The Seminoles early enrolled two excellent receiver prospects in 5-star George Campbell (Tarpon Springs East Lake), and 4-star Da'Vante Phillips (Miami Central). It also holds commitments from two more strong receiver recruits: Nyqwan Murray (Orlando Oak Ridge) and Auden Tate (Tampa Wharton). Tate compares to a Willie Haulstead big-body type, while Murray compares to Bobo Wilson or Kenny Shaw with his ability to work in the slot.
Tate continues to hear from Florida and Michigan, but FSU sources believe his commitment is solid. He'll officially visit on January 30, a week after Murray. FSU has done a very good job here and is not currently pursuing any more receivers in this class, as the staff has its eye on the excellent 2016 crop of wideouts in the state and Southeast.
TE: Florida State loses Nick O'Leary and Kevin Haplea, but returns three other scholarship tight ends. FSU would like to carry five on scholarship, if possible. The Noles have a commitment from Jalen Wilkerson (Coffee County, Georgia). Wilkerson is athletic, but is unlikely to be an instant-impact player, as his receiving needs considerable work. Tight end is a tough position to learn as a freshman, due to blocking and route running requirements.
FSU won't take a second tight end in this class, as the Seminoles recently landed Isaac Nauta, who is moving to Florida and will be attending the IMG Academy in Bradenton. Nauta is currently the best tight end prospect in the class of '16 and is a freak. He is better right now as a junior than Wilkerson was as a senior and is the type of player who, if he could somehow skip his senior year of high school, would likely see the field for FSU in 2015.
Florida State cleaned up along the offensive line on National Signing Day 2014, bringing in seven fantastic offensive linemen. FSU currently has 11 scholarship linemen, now that 2014 signee Ethan Frith is enrolled. (Frith delayed his enrollment due to shoulder surgery). Ideally, a team wants to carry 15-17 offensive linemen, but because FSU has no seniors (according to our read of the redshirt rules), spacing things out a bit and only taking 3-4 this cycle makes some sense.
FSU has three commits listed right now: Abdul Bello (Montverde Academy), Cole Minshew (Georgia Coffee County), and David Robbins (Glenelg, MD). Bello is extremely athletic but raw; Minshew is an absolute steal that Georgia has to be kicking itself for not offering earlier; and Robbins is a promising prospect at center or guard. Bello officially visits on the 23rd and Minshew on the 30th.
Florida State recently lost out on Jalen Merrick (New Smyrna Beach), who chose Arkansas over the Seminoles and Gators. I'm not aware of any other offensive linemen being recruited by FSU. 12 in the span of two years is a fantastic haul.
FSU signed a monster class of defensive linemen, seven in all on National Signing Day 2014. Florida State will return 16 defensive linemen in 2015. Assuming attrition of four, it needs to bring in at least four in the 2015 class. This is a good year in-state for ends and a terrible one for defensive tackles.
Florida State has two commitments on the defensive line: end Josh Sweat, and tackle Darvin Taylor (Virginia). Sweat is enrolled early, and Taylor is very solid to the Seminoles (visited January 16). If healthy, Sweat is the best pass rusher in the 2015 class, but he suffered a serious knee injury during his senior season and will need considerable treatment now that he's at Florida State. This could obviously affect his ability to make an instant impact in Tallahassee.
Florida State is still after two five-star prospects: end Byron Cowart (Seffner Armwood), and tackle Terry Beckner, Jr. (Missouri). Cowart will use his last official (Jan. 30) visit to see Tallahassee.. He's saying all the right things about Florida State, but Armwood prospects simply have not signed with Florida State in the past, and it's hard to believe he'd come to FSU. Most believe Cowart will sign with Florida, but Auburn has apparently made a big impression after his January 16 weekend visit. With Will Muschamp on the Plains, the Tigers look like a serious contender. As long as Cowart makes it to FSU for his official visit, the Seminoles will have a shot, but it's still very difficult to see him heading to Tallahassee. Whether Muschamp sticks with Auburn, or goes to the Atlanta Falcons to reunite with Dan Quinn (if Quinn is hired as HC) could also play a role.
Beckner is a Missouri-Ohio State-Florida State-Auburn battle and is difficult to read as he does not talk very much. However, his coach believes the hometown Missouri Tigers hold a strong lead, and that, combined with Mizzou having the final official visit lined up before National Signing Day, is reason to not love FSU's chances.
FSU is also interested in Shelton Johnson, a developmental pass rusher out of Delray Beach Atlantic. They seem to have a good shot at him, as well. Johnson visited Tallahassee with his mother earlier this fall, and I expect the Seminoles to land the long pass rusher if they want him. He'll officially visit on Jan. 30 after visiting Miami on the 23rd.
One thing I do not expect is for FSU to take two non-elite defensive ends in addition to the stud they already have in Sweat. That's because 2016 defensive end recruiting is going extremely well with Janarius Robinson and Josh Brown already committed.
FSU signed a highly rated linebacker class on National Signing Day 2014 and will return eight linebackers in 2015. Assuming no attrition, it will need to bring in at least two linebackers, and it's done so in Brian Bell, of Valdosta (Ga.) and Sh'Mar Kilby-Lane, of Hallandale (Fla.). This is a solid pair of linebackers and given the lack of linebacker talent in the state, this does not seem to be the year to reach for an extra player, although FSU could possibly use another after the transfer of E.J. Levenberry.
2015 was not a good year for in-state linebackers. Look for 2016 to be a big linebacker year.
FSU is now pursuing Lorenzo Phillips, a JUCO linebacker from East Mississippi Junior College with offers from Alabama, Texas A&M and Mississippi State. Phillips could be a valuable addition with Reggie Northrup's ACL injury and Levenberry leaving. It's quite possible that he commits on his visit to Florida State January 23. Update: Phillips committed to FSU before even visiting.
FSU needs to hit a home run in the defensive backfield in this class, and the ball appears to be sailing over the fence.
Florida State signed a pair of talented defensive backs in 2014. 5-star safety Derwin James and 4-star defensive back Calvin Brewton have already enrolled. James is one of the best safety recruits in the last two decades and could make an immediate impact. Brewton has versatility, but he needs to add strength.
FSU has two other defensive backs committed: 5-star CB Tarvarus McFadden (American Heritage) and 3-star DB A.J. Westbrook (Daytona Mainland). McFadden is a top-five cornerback nationally, and Westbrook is versatile as well. Both are very solid to FSU.
FSU is still pursuing corners Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama commit from New Jersey) and Iman Marshall (of California).
Marshall visited Florida State over the January 16 weekend, but did not bring his parents. That is a bad sign for FSU's chances of pulling him away from USC. A recruit can have a great time on a visit, as Marshall did, and there were 13 other members of #Tribe15 on hand (including prospects already enrolled) to recruit him, but it's incredibly unlikely that a player who didn't bring a parent or guardian with him on his one and only trip is going to end up at that school. By comparison, Marshall has visited USC at least 10 times.
Fitzpatrick, on the other hand, seems open to hearing from Florida State, and the Tide's defensive backfield became more crowded with the recent commitment of Kendall Sheffield from Texas. FSU absolutely has an edge in selling early playing time.
Two other names to consider: Jeremiah Dinson and Rashad Fenton. Dinson, of Miami American, is a Kentucky commitment with recent offers from Florida and Auburn. Fenton, of Miami Carol City, holds offers from some SEC schools and Louisville. FSU has yet to offer either project (as of Monday), but that could happen. To be clear, these are somewhat lesser prospects than the Texas prospects FSU was recently chasing, but the Seminoles need bodies at the position.