Even after the early signing period, the state of Florida has more top-tier uncommitted talent than any other state. While 51 of the Sunshine State’s 61 ESPN 300 prospects are signed or committed, the last three uncommitted five-stars and five of the state’s top 15 prospects have decisions to make on signing day.
Where things stand
When looking at the recruiting race in the state, all three in-state powers -- Florida, Florida State and Miami -- sit in the top 25 of the ESPN class rankings, with the Hurricanes checking in at No. 7 and with sights on a first top-5 class since 2008.
Miami has been selling stability and a program on the rise, and recruits are buying it. Florida and Florida State, meanwhile, are in the closing stretches of transition classes under Dan Mullen and Willie Taggart, respectively, with the Gators looking a like a rare transition class with the potential to end up in the top 10.
The Hurricanes have 13 ESPN 300 signings and commitments, while the Gators’ No. 18 ranked class has seven ESPN 300s and 10 four-stars with plenty of room and top targets remaining. The Seminoles have a number of prospects leaning Taggart’s way, with a top-20 finish looking like a strong probability.
Miami’s top targets
CB Patrick Surtain Jr. (ESPN 300 No. 5): The five-star cornerback has been a longtime lean to LSU, but Alabama and Clemson have closed the gap, and Miami is still in the fight. With the Crimson Tide cutting into LSU’s lead in recent weeks, it has given the Hurricanes more opportunity. Should Surtain spend the weekend in Coral Gables, this decision could get very interesting.
CB Tyson Campbell (ESPN 300 No. 9): Campbell has gone back and forth between Miami and Georgia, and that looks like where the decision will come from, unless Alabama can overcome both teams. The Bulldogs have the momentum -- and some help with the recent success of Sony Michel and Isaiah McKenzie in Athens -- but Miami is the hometown team. Winning out for either Campbell or Surtain would be massive for Mark Richt and staff.
DE Andrew Chatfield (ESPN 300 No. 159): Chatfield’s decision is a big one, as the Hurricanes still have needs on the defensive line. The four-star edge rusher is a Florida vs. Miami battle, with Florida State lurking.
Three recruitments to watch for the Gators
OT Nick Petit-Frere (ESPN 300 No. 13): One of the toughest recruitments in the 2018 cycle to pin down also is one of the most important for Florida, with a glaring need at offensive tackle. The Gators are very much in the picture. along with Notre Dame and Alabama. Michigan also has received a visit from Petit-Frere, and Ohio State is scheduled to host the five-star Sunshine State tackle this weekend.
WR Jacob Copeland (ESPN 300 No. 40): Copeland’s recruitment is likely coming down to Florida versus Alabama, with the Gators continuing to prioritize the one-time verbal, and Alabama battling for ESPN 300 receivers Jaylen Waddle and Justyn Ross with more vigor. Tennessee and Texas A&M also have hosted Copeland.
OT Richard Gouraige (ESPN 300 No. 85): Keeping the longtime commitment in the fold and ultimately getting a signature is huge for Dan Mullen. Clemson has muddied those waters after a January official visit. The Gators hosted the Tampa-area tackle last weekend, and they have the close to home factor in their favor.
Three recruitments to watch for the Seminoles
QB James Foster (ESPN 300 No. 124): All eyes of Florida State fans will be on the recruitment of the four-star quarterback, with Foster scheduled to make his official visit to Tallahassee this weekend, following trips to LSU, Alabama and Texas A&M. LSU has been considered the favorite since his decommitment from Missouri during the season, but the Seminoles have a legitimate shot to unseat the SEC favorite.
DT Malcolm Lamar (ESPN 300 No. 162): The one-time Oregon commitment is down to Florida State and Florida, with his recruitment expected to end once again by making a commitment to Willie Taggart. Lamar would be a third four-star defensive lineman in the class for the Seminoles.
DT Jamarcus Chatman (ESPN four-star): The Seminoles are trying to load up on the defensive front, and beating out Miami for the Peach State defensive tackle would add yet another four-star talent to the defensive line haul. North Carolina and Michigan State have received official visits, but it’s the trip this weekend to Coral Gables that is the toughest competition for the Seminoles.
Who wins by signing day?
Miami will have the highest-ranked class at the end of the day and will continue on an ascending track under Richt, but it could be Florida that is talked about as the big winner. If the Gators fill needs at offensive tackle and defensive line and win out for Copeland, a top-10 finish is a possibility.
For the Seminoles, the program of the big three with the most talent already in the program, filling needs is most important while not reaching for prospects that don’t truly have the chance to compete for starting spots down the line. While a seventh straight top-10 class is not in the cards, Taggart’s transition class will likely finish in the top 25 and be a tone-setter for 2019.
At the end of the cycle, the big three will all sign top-25 classes for a sixth-straight year.