Recruiting roundup: How USF, UCF, FAU and FIU fared on National Signing Day
"Who's next?" became USF's motto on National Signing Day, those two words a call to anticipate the future instead of toiling on the past. "Who's next?" was supposed to offer fresh hope after a pair of frustrating seasons. "Who's next?" was created to focus on the possibility of rewarding falls, not the empty ones left behind.
If all goes according to plan for coach Willie Taggart, a man who has no choice but to bet on the future, "What's next?" will be another question worth considering.
No program admits defeat on National Signing Day. It's one of the few days each year in the ultra-competitive world of major college football when cameras zoom in, thousands of words are spilled online and over the air and few losers are declared. It's a 24-hour all-you-can-handle buffet of hope, optimism and big dreams.
Consider some of Taggart's tweets published throughout Wednesday morning, all pouring on the positive vibes like a large gravy ladle.
If we're not the greatest then we're headed for it! #gobulls #305— Willie Taggart (@CoachTaggart) February 4, 2015
Comeback season in the works, now we're thinking bigger! #gobulls #904— Willie Taggart (@CoachTaggart) February 4, 2015
In USF's case, there are reasons to consider that the Bulls' new class can help a stagnant program gain life. Scout.com ranked USF's 21-player group as No. 71 in the country, which stands second in the American Athletic Conference behind Cincinnati, which closed No. 60. The Bulls' haul includes 16 three-star players as part of an overall 11 signees on offense and 10 on defense. It includes the country's No. 59 quarterback (Brett Kean), No. 72 defensive end (Marlon Gonzalez) and No. 94 guard (Billy Atterbury). There's potential everywhere.
But Taggart, of course, needs potential to equal victories fast. His more innocent hours are gone.
Time has changed his perception in two years. The former Western Kentucky coach came to Tampa with the roots in nearby Bradenton, with the ties to the Harbaugh family, with the thought that he was the right man to lead USF from the crater left by his predecessor, Skip Holtz.
Instead, Taggart has hit a brick wall. He has a combined 6-18 record with no bowl appearances. He has fired his offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator and secondary coach. The bus he touted early in his tenure -- "Let Coach T drive this bus!" -- might as well have been sold for scrap metal by now. Positive developments have been few.
Still, Taggart has life as USF's coach, though his clock is ticking. He has no choice but to believe in tomorrow, to turn "Who's next?" to "What's next?" and then "Wasn't that great?"
If he fails, he's likely gone.
So this National Signing Day could be the start of a recovery. It must be. Taggart better hope that's the case, because coaching futures in college football are always as delicate as the signatures faxed into eager offices each winter.
"Obviously," Taggart told reporters Wednesday when introducing his class, "we should expect a jump."
Future months will show if Taggart's forecast proves correct. It's a positive sign for the Bulls that they edged UCF's class, ranked No. 76 by Scout.com, despite the Knights' five bowl berths in the past six years.
Still, UCF has the recent hardware. Still, UCF is pleased with the signing of 11 three-star players of its own, including touted wide receiver Tristan Payton. USF's climb to respectability, to a level UCF enjoys, will be no small chore.
For Taggart, the answer better be good, his future hanging on developments to come.
Here's a recap of how other Florida schools performed on National Signing Day:
Most significant signing: Kean, from Lakewood, Ohio, offers promise as a three-star talent. Scout.com ranks him as the country's No. 59 quarterback prospect. Kean stuck with the Bulls after making his verbal commitment in June.
Biggest surprise: This day went according to plan. By 10:30 a.m., the Bulls had received letters of intent from all 21 of their commitments. Taggart marked the occasion with a tweet that showed his excitement: "All NLI's are in! How about now? Cause we're up right now! #gobulls"
The one that got away: None that stick out. The Bulls were hoping for a last-minute surprise from four-star wide receiver/running back Ray-Ray McCloud, a Tampa native, but he signed with Clemson. McCloud had also considered Auburn, Alabama and Florida, among others.
Most significant signing: Some consider Payton, the decorated wide receiver, to be one of UCF's most significant signings in recent memory. Payton is a 6-foot, 185-pound three-star talent from Jacksonville, Florida, who chose the Knights over USC. Scout.com ranks him as the No. 64 wide receiver in the country.
Biggest surprise: Three-star safety Brandon Scott was a coup for the Knights. The native of Destrehan, Louisiana, chose UCF over Arkansas. The Knights lost four starters from their secondary, so Scott's addition is a plus.
The one that got away: None that stick out. Many are optimistic about UCF's class, and there's reason to be. The Knights landed four three-star players, and none flipped their verbal commitments. Overall, this was a positive day for coach George O'Leary.
Most significant signing: Fullback Kal-El Williams could be a load to bring down in the backfield in future years. At 6-foot, 230 pounds, he stuck with the verbal commitment he made in June, turning down offers from Florida Atlantic, Florida International and Western Kentucky. The native of Largo, Florida, is the fourth best fullback as ranked by Scout.com.
Biggest surprise: How about all the solid in-state talent? FAU's class includes 11 three-star players, and many are from Florida. Coach Charlie Partridge is searching close to home to build a strong foundation.
The one that got away: N/A
Complete 2015 commitments
Most significant signing: Quarterback Christian Alexander could be a face of the future. He's one of three three-star players to sign with FIU, and Scout.com ranks the native of Lakeland, Florida as the country's No. 107 quarterback. Miami and USF were among the area schools to express interest in the pro-style signal caller.
|Gerald Robinson Jr.||DB||5-10||175||3-star||N/A|
Biggest surprise: Considering that FAU had success mining Florida talent, why can't FIU do the same? FAU's arrow is pointed up, while FIU's direction isn't as pleasing. More local momentum is needed.
The one that got away: N/A
Complete 2015 commitments