6:30: Almost all Texas sites are non-committal or are predicting Dontavious Jackson to Florida State. That's enough for me to also pick him to come to FSU. Frankly, I'm surprised with Texas recruiting his teammate and his mom coming on the visit on Sunday to Austin.
As I noted at lunch, Clifford Chattman may indeed flip to A&M, and since I have nobody from FSU's side telling me they will keep him, and several A&M (and New Orleans) sources predicting a flip, I'll join them.
I am leaving the rest of my picks as is.
-As of lunchtime Tuesday, I see no reason to change any of my picks (below). I wrote about Florida State's recruiting momentum from the recruiting visits over the weekend. Since then not much has changed. This is the time of year when prospects try to leverage more out of schools, so rest assured some (hard to know a number exactly) really are not making true "final decisions."
-I've been asked about what I think of other sites picking Jamel Cook to flip to USC. As of now I am sticking with my pick of Florida State. Here's more of my reasoning: Kids rarely go cross country unless they have means to go home if need be, or their parents have means to fly out to see them. Further, much of the chatter on Cook is tied to him going to USC with Pie Young, but a source who knows Young spoke to him in the last day or so and came away unconvinced he will actually pick USC over Louisville. There's also rumor that Cook's brother at a JUCO in Cali is pushing hard for him to come to USC. But a community college is a temporary setting. It ain't ever simple with South Florida prospects, and this is not enough for me to flip my pick to USC.
-I was asked if LB recruit Emmett Rice "choosing" between FSU, Louisville and West Virginia is an indication that academics are a concern (Louisville and West Virginia find ways to get just about anyone into school). My sources told me they are not.
-I am a bit surprised that Texas recruiting sites do not view linebacker Dontavious Jackson as a lock after his unofficial visit, especially since his mom joined him on Sunday. Team sites that charge a subscription fee often cater to their homers and act shocked when a player goes elsewhere. This does have me re-thinking my prediction of Texas a bit, but it is not enough to make me switch. I've already stated I am not confident in either side here. If I were to flip a prediction to Florida State, Jackson would be it.
-One player I didn't think I'd need to make a prediction for is FSU commitment Clifford Chattman, a three-star safety from New Orleans. Chattman visited A&M over the weekend and my sources say A&M believes it can flip him. I also do not believe Chattman would be a big loss to FSU's class if he were to flip. I do not know Chattman like I do some of these recruits and do not have a real idea of what he will do.
-Florida defensive tackle commit Shavar Manuel has gone from saying to various media outlets that his mind was made up, to he doesn't know, to it's 50-50, etc. This is all just noise. I bet Manuel knows whether or not he is sticking with Florida and is just trying to create hype for his announcement.
-Apparently FSU's biggest competition for Jauan Williams is now UGA and not A&M. I'm not sure that matters.
-Tennessee experts do not expect to sign Landon Dickerson.
There is no prize for second place in recruiting. That's a lesson Florida State learned the hard way during National Signing Day 2015. FSU signed a very good 2015 class, but misses on National Signing Day prevented it from being an all-timer.
Florida State stepped up to the plate but struck out as Minkah Fitzpatrick did not flip his commitment from Alabama, Terry Beckner, Jr. chose Missouri, Shelton Johnson shockingly picked Michigan, Iman Marshall chose USC, and all that followed the Seminoles being unable to even get Tampa five-star defensive end Byron Cowart to take an official visit a few days before.
Yes, FSU signed a top class, and yes FSU was thought to be trailing in several of the recruitments, but the the lack of a close was still stung the staff. FSU could have had a special class by adding more difference makers.
Things could be different in 2016.
Florida State again enters National Signing Day with a strong chance to sign an amazing class if it can close.
It's tough to quantify, but it seems like FSU has a better chance to do it than 2015. Sources are always confident their school will win battles, it's the thing that makes great salesmen, which is what coaches are on the recruiting trail. But they do seem more confident than a year ago.
Why is this year different?
Geography, for one. Instead of trying to battle Alabama for a New Jersey player like Fitzpatrick in 2015, FSU was fighting for a player in its own backyard. That battle was won Friday as four-star receiver Keith Gavin, who many believe to be the best receiver in the state, picked FSU over the Tide.
There's no California target for which FSU is trying to beat out USC, like Iman Marshall in 2015.
The vast majority of prospects left on Florida State's board are not facing pressure to stay home like Terry Beckner was when he picked Missouri in 2015. In a few cases, like with four-star tackles Landon Dickerson, of North Carolina, and Jauan Williams, of DC, the prospects this year are not considering their hometown school at all. If anything, prospects are getting pressure to stay home and play for Florida State. The closest thing to hometown pressure Florida State is trying to overcome is with four-star Houston linebacker Dontavious Jackson, though Houston is not as strong a Longhorns town as say, Dallas or Austin.
This isn't really a change in philosophy, but a change in circumstance.
Recruits as recruiters
Florida State has a special group of recruits this year who seem to be extremely tight, and importantly are active in recruiting new players to the fold. When Janarius Robinson was visiting Alabama and Florida, fellow commit Josh Brown was in his ear. Five-star corner Levonta Taylor flew down this weekend on his own dime to help FSU recruit.
I swear i should be a recruiting coordinator in the future— Levonta Taylor (@iamlevonta) January 30, 2016
Tight end Naseir Upshur helped organize the group text message labeled "the gamg" that helps keep them in the loop and building camaraderie earlier in the process. I can confidently say that over half of Florida State's commitments actively recruit players to join them in Tallahassee. That's a big deal, and they are certainly more active and organized in the effort than in previous cycles. I don't know if this was organized from above or if it's simply a more outgoing group than in previous years.
Another circumstance beyond Florida State's ultimate control was the screeching halt brought to Florida and Miami's momentum on the recruiting trail.
Yes, Florida State beat both teams, but other factors mattered more.
Miami had the No. 1 class in the nation at one point, and while some of that rating was as a result of sheer numbers so early in the process, the class was strong. But Miami crumbled on the field and ultimately has suffered 23 decommitments during the process, firing its coach. The first class under a new coach is always incomplete, and FSU will likely have to deal with a tougher Miami next year with Mark Richt's first full class as head coach, but the Hurricanes were a non-factor against Florida State down the stretch. Now the Hurricanes are barely clinging to a top-20 class.
Florida, on the other hand, is signing its first full class under Jim McElwain. The Gators had a ton of momentum right up until the point at which Will Grier was suspended for a calendar year. Florida's season, which was still a success failed to become an even bigger success, and offensive recruits saw what Florida's QB situation was with Treon Harris as the Gators were blown out in their final three games.
It's hard to quantify this, but if you cover recruiting you know it was the truth: Florida was more popular with recruits for much of the year, but down the stretch a big momentum shift occurred. Word in recruiting circles was that Florida was going to replace some of the lesser members of its class once it gained commitments from greater stars, particularly at receiver, but the Gators were unable to flip Sam Bruce from Miami, like FSU they couldn't land Nate Craig-Myers (he's headed to Auburn by all accounts) and never got traction with Eli Stove. The Gators are still in it for Tyrie Clevland and will likely land a top-ten class, but there is no doubt that some of the new car smell of a coaching change has dissipated a bit.
Of the top 40 players in the state who are actually from the state of Florida (excluding out-of-state short transfers to IMG Academy like Ole Miss' Shea Patterson and Georgia's Isaac Nauta), the Seminoles hold commitments from six players. Florida holds commitments from five, and Miami nine (though none of the top ten). That would be a good share of the state's elite prospects.
Where the difference should come in the state is National Signing Day, where Florida State seems likely to end up with six or seven of the top 20.
Consistency as a plus
While other programs were going through some turmoil both on the field and in the coaching ranks, Florida State's staff had no changed for the second-consecutive year. This means that players had good familiarity with the people who had been recruiting them for the previous 30 months or so. I don't believe that it was a huge factor, but it is certainly a factor and I know that FSU has pitched program stability to players, like winning 10 games even in a rebuilding year. New coach smell is still one of the best weapons in recruiting, but consistency can help, too.
It's still my opinion that FSU needs to add another recruiting ace to its staff, that if it had one this class could have landed the No. 1 in the country, and that it must do much better in Tampa. But FSU is going to land another really strong class. Geography and rivals stumbling helped that.
The final 100 hours: Predictions
By lunch Wednesday, most of Florida State's targets will have signed. I gave my picks to the Tallahassee Democrat for the experts section, and figured you should have them, too. I hate doing picks because people only remember the misses, but hate when you pick against their team. I am very confident in some and not at all confident in some others.
Landon Dickerson, four-star offensive tackle, North Carolina: I know that Dickerson really likes Florida State and Tennessee, and I don't buy the Alabama talk, which may be foolish given how well the Tide recruits. I'm going to say Florida State but I don't think this is a slam dunk.
Brian Burns, four-star defensive end, Ft. Lauderdale: I am confident Burns will pick Florida State over Florida and Georgia because my sources believed FSU held a lead entering this weekend's visit and FSU usually hits visits out of the park.
Trayvon Mullen, four-star cornerback, Coconut Creek: Mullen seems like a kid who has trouble telling people "no." I honestly believe that the coaching staffs recruiting him (Clemson, FSU, LSU) all think they have some shot. Word in recruiting circles is that mom wants FSU and his coach wants LSU. Clemson has the early playing time to sell. I honestly have no idea here. I had to pick it for the paper and chose LSU over FSU, but I could see Mullen going to any of the three. I do NOT believe the report from a week ago that Mullen is down to Clemson and LSU, both because sources don't buy it and because Mullen himself denied it.
Dontavious Jackson, four-star linebacker, Houston: Can Florida State overcome Jackson's close relationship with several Texas commitments and the proximity to home? Ordinarily, I'd say absolutely not, but that some Texas writers I know and trust believe FSU has a legitimate chance, which gives me pause. I think I picked Texas when interviewed by the paper, but I have zero confidence in the pick.
Jonathan Kongbo, four-star defensive end, Arizona Western CC: This is an incredibly difficult one to read because Kongbo seems to fall in love with everywhere he goes. I presume he'll love FSU after his visit is done, too. Guessing here, but if forced to make a pick I'll say Tennessee because of his long-standing relationship.
Carlos Becker, four-star cornerback, Kissimmee: I'm confident Florida State will beat out Ohio State and land this excellent cornerback. Coaches Jimbo Fisher, Charles Kelly and Rick Trickett have done a great job cultivating a relationship with him, though he did like his Ohio State visit the best. This was closer down the stretch than most readers realize.
Jauan Williams, four-star offensive tackle, DC: I think A&M is in this thing more than people realize and Williams is another player whose mind seems to change quickly based on visits, but he has consistently kept Florida State at the top. The interesting thing is that I am not sure FSU will actually take two more linemen, and I would far prefer Dickerson, though I do not know if the staff feels the same way.
Stephon Taylor, four-star defensive tackle, New Orleans: I'm going with Texas here. The Longhorns can offer early playing time more than Florida State, and even after his official visit FSU did not pull ahead.
Shavar Manuel, four-star defensive tackle, IMG Academy: I believe Manuel will stay committed to the Gators. I can't say there is zero chance of him flipping because he is quite impressionable and falls in love on visits according to sources at FSU, LSU and Florida. But in the end I think he'll stick with the Gators.
Amir Rasul, four-star running back, Coral Gables: I think Rasul sticks with Florida State. North Carolina has made a run, but I don't think it will be enough. And I was always skeptical that he was really that high on Alabama's board.
Jamel Cook, four-star safety, Miami Central: I think Florida State keeps Cook. I keep going back to a chat I had with Cook after the state championship games. He unveiled plans to visit a bunch of schools, but didn't even really know which ones. I asked him if he was legitimately interested or if he was just going to have fun (free trips are awesome). He confided in me that he was mostly looking to have fun. In the course of having that fun, I think USC has made things interesting, but I do not believe FSU will lose a kid from Miami Central like Cook.
The only position at which I could see FSU landing a player not mentioned here (the dreaded "mystery recruit) would be at linebacker if it misses on Jackson.
If I am 100 percent correct on these (fat chance, I'll be lucky to hit more than I miss), FSU will add four blue chip players on National Signing Day and finish with a class of 25 including 17 four- and five-star players, which is an excellent haul and a surefire top-five class.
*Edit: I meant to say Texas A&M is competition for Williams, but wrote LSU. It's since been corrected.