Ex-CU CB McClain, former ASU WR Badger commit to UF

Ex-CU CB McClain, former ASU WR Badger commit to UF

According to the 247Sports Composite, Florida now has the nation’s #7 overall 2024 recruiting class. That’s a five-spot move from #12 since three recent additions by Billy Napier and his staff from out of the portal.

Likewise, UF’s transfer-specific imports have jumped five spots from #10 to #5. Those recent commitments have come from interior offensive lineman Jason Zandamela (USC), CB Cormani McClain (Colorado) and Elijhah Badger, a 6-foot-2 WR from Arizona St. who announced his pledge to the Gators on May 17.

Badger was a part of Herm Edwards’s 2020 recruiting class at ASU when the former NFL coach had studs like QB Jayden Daniels, WR Ricky Pearsall and others forming the nucleus of a program on the rise before drawing the ire of the NCAA.

Pearsall, who eventually transferred to Florida and was one of the few bright spots on Napier’s first two teams who posted an atrocious 7-14 record against Power-Five opponents, left a big void in UF’s WR room after being selected by the San Francisco 49ers with the final pick (#32 overall) of the first round in last month’s 2024 NFL Draft.

Eugene ‘Tre’ Wilson is absolutely ready to fill Pearsall’s shoes as QB Graham Mertz’s #1 target in 2024. In 10 games as a true freshman last year (he missed all of two contests and most of three with an injury), Wilson had 61 receptions for 538 yards and six touchdowns.

It’s the #2 WR in UF’s offense that’s been a glaring concern ahead of Napier’s third season that’s crucially important for his future and the tenure of much-maligned AD Scott Stricklin, who is absolutely detested by large factions of the fan base. With Badger now in the fold, the hope is that he’ll provide another dynamic playmaker to compliment Wilson, who had 55 rushing yards on six attempts for a 9.2 yards-per-carry average last season.

As a redshirt freshman in 2021, Badger played sparingly, contributing seven catches for 61 receiving yards. He made his biggest impact with 37 rushing yards and two TDs on merely three carries.

Badger erupted in 2022 for the Sun Devils, hauling in 70 receptions for 866 yards and seven TDs. He added 23 rushing yards on four attempts (5.8 YPC).

Then in 2023, Badger snagged 65 balls for 713 yards and three TDs. He had 12 catches for 134 yards in a 27-24 home loss to Colorado. In a 17-7 win at UCLA, Badger had 12 receptions for 116 yards and one TD. For the season, he also had 51 rushing yards and one TD on 11 totes (4.6 YPC), in addition to leading the Pac-12 and ranking seventh nationally in averaging 28.9 yards on 20 kickoff returns.

After a disappointing freshman season at Colorado, rising sophomore cornerback Cormani McClain is moving closer to home. The former star at Lakeland High School announced that he’s committing to Florida this past week (May 15).

McClain was a five-star prospect ranked as the nation’s #1 CB and #14 overall player coming out of high school. The 6-foot-2, 165-pounder committed to Miami in late October of 2022, but he decided not to sign on National Signing Day, sparking speculation that Colorado had joined the mix after hiring Deion Sanders.

On Jan. 13 of 2023, McClain arrived in Boulder for an official visit. Six days later, he flipped his commitment from Miami to Colorado and ended up signing on Feb. 1.

But McClain didn’t have the instant impact many thought he would for the Buffaloes. In fact, he didn’t play in CU’s first two games. He ended up playing in only nine games, recording 13 tackles, two passes broken up and one tackle for loss.

McClain got a lot more playing time in November after injuries took their toll on the Buffaloes’ secondary. After making just two tackles in September and October, McClain recorded a season-high five tackles and one PBU in a 56-14 loss at Washington St. He had at least two tackles in each of CU’s last four contests.

Although Zandamela is technically a transfer, he’s also a true freshman who is part of the 2024 class. The 6-foot-3, 306-pounder was ranked by 247Sports as the country’s #1 interior offensive lineman and #46 overall prospect.

Zandamela committed to Lincoln Riley’s USC program on Dec. 20 and enrolled early in mid-January. But after going through spring practice with the Trojans, the Clearwater Academy International High School product decided that California wasn’t for him.

In the 247Sports Transfer Rankings, Zandamela was the #7 overall player and #1 IOL. With Zandamela, Badger and McClain, the Gators now have six four-star transfers. The freshmen in UF’s 2024 class include two five-star prospects and 12 four-star players (for 18 overall).

Is Napier finally starting to figure things out on the recruiting trail? After all, Dan Mullen was fired due to his lack of production in recruiting battles against Alabama, Georgia and others. But until Napier’s recent class surged up to #7 in recent weeks, his first three groups were ranked behind Mullen’s.

Make no mistake, Napier’s first 29 months on the job have been an unmitigated disaster. Nearly every move, decision and result has been garbage.

Consider this: Since the early 1980s, the worst 25-game start for a Florida head football coach has been a record of 17-8. Ron Zook and Will Muschamp both shared those ledgers after 25 games at UF. Zook was gone before lunch on Monday ahead of the Florida-Georgia game in late October of Year 3, while Muschamp tasted his pink slip on the Sunday ahead of the regular-season finale at FSU in Year 4. (However, Muschamp had posted an 11-1 record during the 2012 regular season, his second year at UF, and if USC QB Matt Barkley hadn’t injured his shoulder vs. UCLA, the Trojans would’ve undoubtedly beaten Notre Dame in their regular-season finale and Florida would’ve played Alabama in the BCS Championship Game instead of the Fighting Irish.)

In Napier’s first 25 games, the Gators have an 11-14 record. They’ve lost by double-digit margins seven times.

At a time when it’s never been easier to turn a program around faster through the use of the transfer portal, Florida has gone in the other direction under Napier, who has also had a benefit that Mullen wasn’t afforded. Shortly after Napier was hired, UF opened one of the country’s premier football-only facilities that it had been lacking in part due to the (many!) failures of Stricklin’s predecessor, Jeremy Foley.

Nevertheless, it was as if Napier could’ve cared less about winning right away. Despite inheriting a roster that was in desperate need of a major overhaul, he dipped into the portal for only six players in his first recruiting class.

In comparison, Brian Kelly was also hired at LSU before the 2022 campaign like Napier. He produced the nation’s #7 overall class and the #3 group of transfer-specific imports (Napier’s first class ranked #17 overall and #20 in terms of transfers.). The Tigers had gone 5-5 in 2020 and 6-7 in 2021, but Kelly, who signed 15 transfers in his first class, won the SEC West in his first season and finished 10-4.

Florida went only 8-4 in 2020, but it gave Alabama, the eventual national champion that posted a perfect 13-0 record with 11 wins over SEC opponents, its toughest test in a 52-46 loss at the SEC Championship Game and lost two other one-possession heartbreakers before no-showing for the Cotton Bowl vs. Oklahoma. That 2020 outfit was ranked in the Top 10 of the national rankings for the entirety of September through November.

In 2021, UF lost four one-possession games and finished a disappointing 6-7, triggering Stricklin to pull the plug on the Mullen Era. But to be clear, the situation at LSU was more dire than the one Napier took over in December of 2021.

In Napier’s second recruiting haul in 2023, the class ranked #12 overall and #16 in the portal. He doubled the number of transfers to 12, but two of those players didn’t play a snap last season and only four became starters.

Despite the influx of talent ahead of the looming 2024 campaign, oddsmakers aren’t impressed at all. For the second consecutive season, Florida has its lowest season win total in program history. It was 5.5 last year when it went ‘under’ after a five-game losing streak gave the Gators a 5-7 overall record.

For the last month and change, UF’s total has been listed at 5.5 again, but it was shaded to the ‘under’ at a price in the -200 neighborhood. However, as of this morning, FanDuel had UF’s number moved to 4.5 (‘over’ -150, ‘under’ +122). DraftKings has also adjusted the Gators to 4.5 (‘over’ -140, ‘under’ +120).

Florida’s odds to win the SEC Championship Game are 110/1 at FanDuel, which has the Gators with 300/1 odds to win the College Football Playoff.

DraftKings has posted lines for seven UF games in its Games of the Year section. The Gators are underdogs in all seven of those and double-digit ‘dogs in three of them. They’re two-point home underdogs vs. Miami, four-point home ‘dogs vs. Texas A&M, 11-point ‘dogs at Tennessee, 22-point ‘dogs vs. Georgia, 5.5-point home ‘dogs vs. LSU, 6.5-point home ‘dogs vs. Ole Miss and 12.5-point ‘dogs at FSU.

And here’s the kicker: DraftKings hasn’t even posted a number for Florida’s trip to Austin. The Gators are actually looking at an eighth game as underdogs and fourth as double-digit ‘dogs at Texas. Furthermore, there’s the possibility that UF’s home date vs. Kentucky, which has beaten Napier’s teams twice by a combined score of 59-30, might be a ninth spot as a ‘dog.

Napier’s obviously on a boiling hot seat and deservedly so. His buyout is still going to be $24 million after the 2024 season concludes.

As for Stricklin, how on earth he wasn’t fired more than a year ago will baffle loyal Florida fans for decades to come. The Gators haven’t won an NCAA Tournament game in men’s basketball since 2021. They’ve had three losing seasons in a row in football for the first time in 76 years.

Although it was for relatively minor recruiting violations on Mullen’s watch, the NCAA placed UF football on probation for one season in early 2021. It was the first time the Gators had been sanctioned by the NCAA since the late 1980s.  There was also the embarrassing situation involving the recruitment and NIL contract saga with Jaden Rashada, in addition to a nasty women’s basketball scandal several years ago.

All of these shameful incidents and performances haven’t impacted the job status of Stricklin, who is now trying to orchestrate a major revamping of The Swamp that will reduce the stadium’s maximum capacity and cost more than $400 million.

Yes, the same Stricklin who made the worst hire in men’s SEC basketball history when he hired Rick Ray during his tenure as AD at Mississippi St. Ray went 37-60 overall for the Bulldogs and 13-41 in SEC play during his three-year tenure.

After his dismissal in Starkville, he was promptly hired by Southeast Missouri St., where he went 5-24 in Year 1. Ray compiled a 51-104 overall record (32.9%) and 27-59 mark (31.4%) in Ohio Valley Conference play during his dismal five-year run with the Redhawks. He predictably hasn’t been a head coach since then.

Even if UF goes ‘over’ its season win total of 4.5 and wins five games this year, that would still leave Napier with a 16-21 record. Hell, if he goes 8-6 and wins a bowl game, he’d still have a record of just 19-20.

With that in mind, is it a major reach to imply that Stricklin can now claim that he’s made the worst hires in SEC history in both football and basketball? I don’t think so.

But since Napier’s tenure still isn’t over, we can’t quite pin that on Stricklin yet. Maybe things will start to click in Year 3? Maybe the defense will have a pulse for the first time since 2019?

There’s only one given in this time of uncertainty galore in Gainesville: Napier and Stricklin better hope things start popping between now and the end of October, or both of their disastrous tenures at UF will belatedly end.