The 2019 recruiting cycle has come to a close for college football. As the dust settles, Florida State emerges with the 16th-ranked class nationally and second ranked class in the ACC, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.
While it is not the top finish most are accustomed to, it would seem that going 12-13 over the past two seasons would hamstring even the best coaching staffs. So why is there so much uproar over the result?
It has to do with a mix of certain failures and self-inflicted wounds. The ceiling for this recruiting class was higher than the actual finish, and much of that is thanks to completely correctable problems that head coach Willie Taggart did not fix until it was too late. Now the onus is on the 2019 season and righting the wrongs of 2018.
Here are the worries, the hopes, and the expectations that FSU fans should have for the 2019 recruiting class and beyond.
No Quarterback? Again?
For whatever reason, quarterbacks do not seem to want to play for Willie Taggart. The staff’s biggest remaining target in 4-star Lance LeGendre chose Maryland over FSU, despite every prediction being in Florida State’s favor. The Seminoles had been recruiting LeGendre for months, even after Sam Howell committed. Maryland did not offer him until a couple weeks ago.
Some of the warning signs appeared in the 2018 cycle when he saw his main target James Foster commit to Texas A&M. That was fairly excusable, considering it was a late battle and the coaching carousel added a lot of uncertainty. The focus then became the 2019 cycle, especially after Bailey Hockman left before the start of the season.
Without transcribing the entire Sam Howell saga once again, it’s pretty clear that Taggart and his staff mishandled the whole situation. If it is true that Howell and his father insisted that Howell be the only quarterback in the class, Florida State should have started looking elsewhere. Some of that is hindsight since no one could have predicted that offensive coordinator Walt Bell would leave like he did.
There are still very few quarterbacks worth that level of hamstringing (and Howell is not one of them). It especially stings knowing that Jayden Daniels was ready to commit to FSU at one point, but was turned away for various reasons.
One could even excuse John Rhys Plumlee choosing Ole Miss, because the Rebels had a pre-existing relationship whereas Florida State had just started talking to him. But losing LeGendre to Maryland is a very loud warning siren.
Taggart is struggling mightily to convince high school quarterbacks that his offense is worth playing in. At minimum, Florida State will need a grad transfer quarterback and a season of no injuries at the position, should it want a successful 2019.
Besides the defensive backfield, there is virtually no position where Florida State hit on its big fish targets. Kayvon Thibodeaux chose Oregon, Nakobe Dean chose Georgia, Evan Neal chose Alabama, Charles Cross flipped to Mississippi State, George Pickens chose Georgia, and Will Putnam chose Clemson.
Dontae Lucas, Akeem Dent, Travis Jay, Brendan Gant, and maybe Kalen DeLoach are the only players who would be considered at the very top of Florida State’s recruiting board. That’s not to say the Seminoles didn’t want the rest of the players — but those players were not supposed to be the crown jewel of their position groups.
A bad record does not actually explain why they missed on them so much, but let’s play along and agree that the rough season meant they couldn’t hit on their biggest targets. Then where were the Plan Bs? Typically when a team misses on their top target, they have a backup plan ready to go.
Florida State never seemed to have one for guys like Dean or Putnam. When it missed on the tier-1 guys, the Seminoles went straight to their tier-3 prospects. Again, that does not mean those tier-3 prospects are bad or will not contribute at the next level — it just means that they are not the instant impact players the staff was aiming for.
This reeks of poor organization within the program. If rumors are true, then David Kelly will be moving to an off-field role in order to help clean up this mess and get the program running like it should. The fact that it has already gotten to this point is unfortunate.
The staff flat-out missed on guys that should have been locked up way before the signing days. Keep in mind that not every miss or decommit is the same. Missing on a guy like Kayvon Thibodeaux or Nakobe Dean is disappointing, but not necessarily indicative of internal issues.
Sometimes you even have issues like the Nick Cross situation, where Cross is supposedly dead set on going to FSU, but his parents are getting in the way. Those are not bad strikes against the staff.
But missing on players like Will Putnam and Lance LeGendre is completely inexcusable.
In the case of Putnam, he was the highly-ranked guard from Tampa who was considered an FSU lean for the entire recruiting process. FSU could offer distance from home, early playing time, familiarity with the staff, and familiarity with the school, since Putnam had visited Florida State’s campus more than any other school. He chose Clemson.
LeGendre was the one quarterback target remaining for FSU. The Seminoles had not signed a single quarterback since the 2017 cycle, and LeGendre was the heavy favorite to break that streak. FSU offered him early playing time, a system friendly to his skills, and a longstanding relationship.
He chose the school that he had just visited a week prior. Florida State was completely shell shocked at the news too. It thought for sure he was going to pick FSU.
There is no other way to read the above failures as anything but indictments on the staff. If they are missing on players like that, get the 2020 coaching search underway early. It’s hard to fail that badly.
Lack of Confidence
Put everything above into one general theme. Is there anyone left who completely trusts the current staff to right the ship? In between the mind-boggling misses, the lack of organization, and the known shock within the program, it’s very hard to see why there should be confidence for the 2020 cycle at this point in time.
Maybe after the 2019 season would be the soonest point. Or maybe the team can put in a lot of work over the summer and follow it up with decent results to start the year. But not now.
Patching Up Holes
Instead of upgrading its car, Florida State simply replaced some of the tires and gave it a new paint job. That is not meant as a negative; while the Seminoles would have preferred to raise the ceiling of the team, they did succeed in raising the floor.
Going in to the 2019 season, Florida State had very pressing needs along the offensive line, as well as concerns with secondary depth and linebacker talent. Despite some bad misses and disappointing developments, overall the staff did a good job of plugging up the leaks. They added two blue-chip linebackers with Kalen DeLoach and Jaleel McRae, in addition to grabbing a solid depth option inside with Kevon Glenn.
They signed five offensive linemen who fit a diverse group of needs. There are those who will likely contribute immediately in 4-star Dontae Lucas and 3-star Jay Williams, as well as those who will be solid backups that can become options later in the season. Tackles Ira Henry and Darius Washington each have above-average athleticism and received interest from major programs.
Less urgent, but still needed was depth at the cornerback and safety positions. When Isaiah Bolden was out for the season and Levonta Taylor started playing injured, the cornerback room did not look as deep as originally thought. FSU now has top recruit and cornerback Akeem Dent enrolling early, along with 4-star Travis Jay, 3-star Renardo Green, and 3-star Jarvis Brownlee.
The safety position might need to get reevaluated depending on what Nick Cross does, but bringing in 4-stars Brendan Gant and Raymond Woodie III is already a solid start to fixing a couple of problems. If there are unexpected transfers or departures, it is also possible that Travis Jay can slide into the position.
Defense Remains Loaded
This makes a lot of sense when considering that the class is over 68 percent defensive players. Unlike the offensive targets however, the misses on defensive recruits were few and far between, and they were also not as pressing. The Seminoles managed to bring in nine blue-chip defenders total.
Five were in the secondary, two were at linebacker, and two were on the line. The only criticism might be the lack of an elite defensive end, but that is nitpicking an otherwise great class on defense. FSU added talent and depth combined with last season’s veterans gives defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett a strong palette to work from.
The solution for better recruiting is fairly simple: Win eight games in 2019 and organize your priorities better. That seems like a tall task considering FSU just went 5-7, but it is within the realm of possibilities. It will not fix every issue, but it will make the FSU sales pitch a lot easier. Ideally, the staff should have been able to sell the program better than it actually did.
The 2020 class is off to a good start so far. The Seminoles already have five blue-chip players committed and a quarterback who will rise in the rankings once the cycle really begins. They are also in good standing with multiple top-100 players. Still, these commits and interested players need to see better results.
If Florida State comes out in 2019 and once again looks helpless, the recruiting will absolutely bottom out. It will make the 2018 class look positively elite by comparison.
Fixing the recruiting for 2020 deserves a piece all of its own, but for now it is best to know that cleaning up some staff disorganization and having something tangible to show recruits will do most of the work. The path back is actually pretty clear. It will be obvious by the middle of 2019 whether or not they are actually on that path.