8:51 PM EST, February 1, 2012
GAINESVILLE — After the fax machines had grown silent, National Signing Day was complete and the Florida Gators had hauled in one of the consensus top-five classes in the country, UF coach Will Muschamp was asked about the "critical factors" he always talks about when evaluating potential recruits.
He walked across his office and pulled a sheet from a pile on his desk. Every position is listed on the sheet with a dozen factors UF coaches think are important as they scour the country in search of players who fit Muschamp's style and philosophy.
And here's all you need to know about that style and philosophy: On the sheet, the No. 1 factor at every offensive position is "toughness" and the No. 1 factor at every defensive position is "tackling" — followed closely by "toughness."
"Toughness is a talent," Muschamp says. "You either got it or you don't."
Welcome to a new era of University of Florida recruiting, where former coach Urban Meyer's philosophy of speed and glitz has been replaced by Muschamp's philosophy of big and nasty. Muschamp's first full class at UF isn't filled with blazing running backs and burning receivers, but it is loaded with linemen.
This class has all the sex appeal of Newt Gingrich and all the pizzazz of Clint Howard. If this recruiting class were a meal, it would be a huge slab of roast beef, a heaping helping of mashed potatoes and a big stack of bread and butter.
Muschamp, you see, is all about bread and butter. He's a no-nonsense, nuts-and-bolts coach who watched Meyer's last team at UF and his first team at UF get manhandled by the big boys in the SEC. After Tim Tebow left, the undersized linemen Meyer used to run his glitzy, gimmicky spread offense were steamrolled by both Alabama and LSU — the two SEC teams that played for the national title.
"The physicality in this league is different," says Muschamp, who was the defensive coordinator for Nick Saban's national title team at LSU. "Every week, you've got to strap it up. We needed to get more girth and we needed to get more physical. You don't pay money to see the featherweights. You pay to see the heavyweights."
Speaking of boxing, it's no secret Meyer left Muschamp a program with a glass jaw and no legs. Meyer had been a recruiting dynamo during his first few years at Florida but quickly burned out like a falling star disappearing in the southern sky.
All you need to know about the talent level Meyer left behind is this: There were a record 65 underclassmen who declared for the NFL draft — and none of them were from UF. For the first time since 2004, the Gators have no underclassmen in the draft and for the first time since 1971 had no position players on the first-team All-SEC squad.
Meyer, of course, is back in coaching at Ohio State and obviously has his recruiting mojo back. Since taking over the Buckeyes a couple of months ago, he, too, put together a top-five class and managed to flip top prospects from Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin.
We don't know if Muschamp will ever be as great a coach as Meyer, but he is at least gaining a reputation as being as dogged on the recruiting trail. Last month, Muschamp visited Josh Harvey-Clemons, the stud linebacker from Valdosta, Ga., at the kid's family church. Not to be outdone, Georgia's Mark Richt did the exact same thing a couple of weeks later and ended up securing the commitment.
"He (Harvey-Clemons) is a very religious young man," Muschamp explained. "I'm a Christian, too, and I go church. Never been to his church, but I had a free Sunday morning."
No word on whether Muschamp tipped the organ player to play "We Are the Boys."
Such is the state of college football recruiting in the Southeastern Conference, where not even Sunday is a day of rest.
"Recruiting," Muschamp says, reciting the old adage, "is like shaving. If you don't do it every day, you end up looking like a bum."
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