The Daily Nole

No Way Around It: Early Signing Day Was a Bust for FSU

Bill Pearce/FSU athletics

Florida State head coach Willie Taggart could not have asked for much worse of an Early Signing. In stark contrast to the December 2017 triumph, the December 2018 affair was a complete bust for Florida State, and the Seminoles are left scrambling to try and fill out their needs for the 2019 cycle.

Florida State had a few objectives for the Early Signing Day. The Seminoles had already locked down much of their class beforehand, so they were not expecting many surprise flips or headline-grabbing choices. There were a couple players they were optimistic on — but nothing imminent. It can be broken down into these three objectives (the third is less important than the first two):

(1) Lock down your offensive line targets

(2) Convince a couple of your top commits to sign early

(3) Try to pull off a recruiting special

Let’s break down how they did.

On (1), they ultimately failed. This was a position group where they needed immediate help and an influx of talent. They were able to improve the depth with guard Maurice Smith, and they secured the signature for Dontae Lucas and Jay Williams. Both figure to raise the floor of the offensive line for 2019.

But this is also an area where they really could not afford any more misses, since Evan Neal went to Alabama. Florida State set its sights on 4-star guard Will Putnam. Despite momentum towards FSU in the final week of the recruitment, Putnam ultimately chose Clemson, guaranteeing that the Seminoles finished with just one of their top offensive line targets.

There is absolutely no way to spin the Putnam loss as anything but a disaster. There was not a single element of this recruitment that Florida State did not have an advantage in. It was the closest to home, it could offer early playing time, offensive line coach Greg Frey had known Putnam for a while, and Putnam had visited Florida State’s campus more than any other school. The result? Clemson sweeps him out from under FSU’s feet.

Mark these words: This is a warning sign. The staff was sold as a group who could recruit at a high level. The season results put limits on their recruiting ceiling, certainly. But there are no more excuses left for why they could not get more than one of their top targets in the fold. These types of issues will not get magically corrected after an above average season.

If you want a comparison, check out Tennessee. It had a similar 5-7 season with some ugly losses. The Volunteers’ offensive line struggled mightily as well. Did the Volunteers fold on the recruiting trail, extending offers to backup options, missing on all their top targets?

Nope. In fact, Tennessee is in position to sign one of the best offensive line classes in the nation. It signed 5-star tackle Wanya Morris, 4-star guard Jackson Lampley, 3-star guard Melvin McBride, and 3-star tackle Chris Akporoghene. The Vols are also the heavy favorite for 5-star tackle Darnell Wright, who signs in February.

Funny how that works.

As for (2), the Seminoles once again failed. Five of their top six players opted to sign in February. Three of those were not unexpected: Brendan Gant, Nick Cross, and Quashon Fuller never stated their intention to join in December. The other two are where concerns lay. The top two cornerbacks in the class, 5-star Akeem Dent and 4-star Travis Jay, both elected not to sign and instead weigh their options before February.

Florida State is still the favorite to sign both. Yet not getting their signatures now opens them up for visits and a late flip. Whereas one could argue that Dent was never a sure thing to sign early, it’s much harder to do so for Travis Jay. He is a longtime FSU commit who grew up a fan of the Seminoles.

He fully intended to end his recruitment in December, but he then received visits from Florida and Tennessee, who both convinced him to wait. Whatever they told him must have been pretty damning.

(3) never materialized but that should be the least amount of concern. It’s hard to pull off one of those late flips when you just put a terrible product on the field. Rumors circulated that 4-star athlete Jashawn Sheffield was preparing to flip to Florida State, but Auburn got to him in time and prevented that from occurring. Derick Hall was another eventual Auburn commit who had Florida State as one of his finalists, but the Seminoles could not fight the distance from home and the relationships that the Auburn staff had built.

If you have noticed, the Sam Howell and Derick Hunter decommitments should not be seen as a knock on the staff. While they are negative developments, the root criticisms stem from decisions made long before Early Signing Day.

Howell is the best example of this. Florida State should have never put all its eggs in one basket, and it should have ignored what certain people in his camp wanted the Noles to do. It is not a good look for Florida State, but it is also a problem that was not specific to the signing day process. The eventual flip was the cherry on top of bad decisions made months ago.

How Florida State plans on addressing its remaining needs will tell us whether or not Taggart is organized. There are still legitimate options out there at offensive line and quarterback. Those options were not FSU’s first choices, however.

No matter how you slice it, the Early Signing Period was a huge bust for FSU. The Seminoles failed to meet expectations at their biggest positions of need, and they will pay the price for it down the road. At this point, Florida State fans should start looking forward to the eventual offensive coordinator hire, because that is the one thing which might save Taggart’s job in the near future.

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