As the saying goes, but it’s appropriate and big-time college football, “the rich keep getting richer.” And this weekend, Clemson football had a “1 – 2 punch” in recruiting, including adding arguably the best high school player in the state of Florida, that has solidified them for years to come.
That was when the Tigers got the verbal commitment Friday of Lakeland High School running back Damarkcus Bowman to spurn the Gators and come to the defending National Champion Tigers. It particularly was a stunning blow to coach Dan Mullen and a Florida program, which has traditionally had a pipeline from Lakeland to Gainesville for great players.
Alas, Bowman picking the orange and purple of Clemson instead of the orange and blue of Florida, is just another indication of how powerful coach Dabo Swinney, his staff and Clemson football have become. And the verification has been the on field results, as the Tigers have dominated the ACC the last four years, played in the College Football Playoff title game three times and won it twice (see above).
Bowman is regarded as the #2 running back in the entire country and also picked Clemson over Georgia, Alabama, LSU and Miami among others. He rushed for an astounding 2,466 yards and 36 touchdowns last season for the Dreadnaughts.
Then, Clemson followed that up Sunday afternoon by getting the number one quarterback recruit in the country for next year in California’s D.J. Uiagalelei out of Bellflower High School (North of L.A.). Checkout this hype video of Uiagalelei making the announcement to Clemson official:
DJ Uiagalelei, ESPN's No. 1-ranked pocket passer, announces he has committed to Clemson.
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) May 5, 2019
Uiagalelei ended up choosing Clemson over Oregon and he is USA Today’s 2018 High School football player of the year, as only a junior. He will likely still be behind Taylor Lawrence, who led Clemson to the title last year, as Lawrence will only be a junior in 2020 and cannot go to the NFL, by then.
The recruiting experts at 247 Sports now have Clemson rated with the number one 2020 recruiting class in the nation bettering the likes Alabama Georgia Ohio State and others. That includes two other players besides Bowman and Uiagalelei, who are also five star recruits and some of the top 50 players in the country.
Yes, Mullen has done a great job in one year of turning Florida back into respectability. And, Alabama and Georgia have also scored huge recruits themselves over the last 2-3 years.
Still, it certainly makes the Clemson Tigers look like they will be a front-runner to be a national championship contender in the years to come with what they have already got, plus these guys coming in, too.
Quarterback uncertainty dominates state schools
One thing is for certain as we head towards the 2019 college football season, around the state of Florida most of the prominent programs have more questions than answers at their quarterback position.
This was magnified last Wednesday, when it was learned that UCF’s presumed starter to begin the 2019 season, Darriel Mack, Jr., had suffered a non-football injured broken ankle. And, he is now out indefinitely. That has now thrown a real curve ball into Coach Josh Heupel’s plan to have Mack be the guy, but potentially be challenged by Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush.
Now, it appears that it’s Wimbush’s job and Mack may end up being medically redshirted all together.
There is equal instability in both Miami and Tallahassee. And, in both of the cases of Florida State and the Canes, a veteran transfer may end up being in their mix immediately, as well.
For the Noles, after the January dismissal of last year’s starter Deondre Francois, junior James Blackman will apparently be the quarterback for this season. However, the pressure is on second year boss, Willie Taggart, and he secured left-handed Wisconsin graduate transfer Alex Hornibrook, who could become the guy very quickly, if Blackman falters or should get injured.
Meanwhile, in Miami the Hurricanes are excited for Ohio State transfer Tate Martell (photo above) coming to them and winning an NCAA waiver ruling to make him immediately eligible. Miami does have part-time 2018 starter N’Kosi Perry that they can go to at the beginning of the year, but it’s believed that Martell will eventually take over the offense of new coordinator Dan Enos and maybe, soon.
The other two prominent programs in the state both return an experienced starter.
In Gainesville, the Gators will turn things back over to senior Feleipe Franks for the third consecutive year. Franks improved under Dan Mullen and his staff in 2018 and even though his statistics weren’t tremendous, he won critical games at the end of the year against South Carolina, FSU and the huge “New Year’s Six” bowl win over Michigan.
Clearly, the Gators are in the best shape of all state programs and want Franks to help lead them to what they believe could be an SEC East Division winning season in 2019.
And finally, that USF Bulls will also return veteran quarterback Blake Barnett for his second season in Tampa Bay. Barnett played very well at the beginning of last season as USF and coach Charlie Strong started at 7 – 0. However, with Barnett banged up down the stretch of the year, the Bulls faltered losing their final six games.
Barnett won’t face a challenge from last year’s backup and part-time starter Chris Oladokun, as he has transferred out of the program. So, the hope is the former Alabama and Arizona State quarterback can recapture some of the form that we saw last season. Then, the Bulls should be a bowl contender again this year.
Still that’s not certain.
And in Tampa, Tallahassee, Orlando and Miami, they want QB answers, too.
What does UConn leaving American for Big East mean for USF/UCF?
Get ready for another round of potential chaotic conference expansion speculation and maneuvering. And for USF and UCF there has to be simultaneous excitement but also concern with the latest news.
First, a report on Friday night that the University of Connecticut (or UConn, as they are commonly known) is about to suddenly depart the American Athletic Conference and return to their previous longtime conference home, the Big East.
The website and publication “Digital Sports Desk” had the story first that the Huskies are on the verge of departing the American and being back with some familiar foes in the Northeast, as soon as 2020:
BREAKING: #SportsBiz – Digital Sports Desk has learned, the University of Connecticut Huskies are making plans to return to the Big East Conference for basketball, according to multiple sources who could not comment publicly – visit https://t.co/Lqe1nySVZV
— DigitalSportsDesk (@DigSportsDesk) June 22, 2019
The outlet, which is based in Boston, reported that the only immediate holdup is UConn trying to figure out what happens with its flailing football program that went 1 – 11 and 0-8 in the American last year.
This is because, the Big East, since reconstituting in 2014, has gone back to its previous “basketball powerhouse” mentality of the 1980s in recent years. And, therefore, all of its members don’t rely on football any longer. Further example of this is: none of the current Big East members have a Division One football program.
The prominent basketball centered original members of the Big East like Villanova, Georgetown, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Providence, wanted to go back to the previous model and mindset.
Speaking of prominent members, UConn’s men won NCAA hoop titles in 1999, 2004 and 2009, while in the Big East and a fourth title in 2014. And, their women’s program under legendary coach Geno Aurieamma has won 11 National Championships.
With the others departing in 2014, the American Conference formed, with existing Big East teams like USF, Cincinnati and UConn joining up with schools like Houston, Memphis, SMU and of course, UCF on invites.
The American began playing football in 2014, as well, and has 12 football playing schools currently, including the U.S. Naval Academy.
More than likely, the Huskies will have to become a football independent at the Division One or FBS level at least in the short-term, and may actually consider dropping back to the FCS level, where they once played. This is because of the significant money drain that football can be on a program that is unsuccessful and losing money for a long amount of time.
Mike Anthony of the Hartford Courant reported on Saturday morning that UConn is awaiting an official invitation but formal announcement could come very quickly that the Huskies will go back into the conference that they helped form in 1979:
I can confirm that UConn is awaiting official invitation to the Big East and a formal announcement of the move is forthcoming. First reported by @DigSportsDesk
UConn football likely lands in another conference or goes independent, starting in 2020 season.
— Mike Anthony (@ManthonyCourant) June 22, 2019
Now, for the reality for the rest of the American teams?
Will there be new openings and opportunities forthcoming for schools like: Houston, Cincinnati, Memphis, and of coursre, USF and UCF to jump to another League? The first and most obvious point is that another conference that has football has to start dealing invites.
And there’s not a guarantee that it will happen.
The widespread belief is that the Big XII, which currently is constituted with only 10 schools, would be that conference to invite at least two, but as many as possibly six teams to become a “super conference.” And therefore, it would make the Big XII much more attractive when all of its television deals are up in the early 2020s.
If going to 16 teams is the case, then the USF Bulls and the UCF Knights would be in prime position, as a Florida package deal to join in, with the likes of Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia. It has been long speculated that Houston, because of its media market size and SMU (Dallas) for the same reason, would be offered.
And, the fact that the Cougars and the Mustangs are schools, who were previously with current Big XII teams, Texas, TCU, Baylor, and Texas Tech in the old Southwest Conference, would be the logical choices to fit in to the Big XII, if they only expand back by two more teams.
The Big XII also stands to have a massive new TV and internet multi-media deal for it’s schools soon.
Keep in mind that in March the American just announced television multi media rights and revenue deal for its member schools. And, the 12 year $1 billion deal with ESPN was supposed to entice teams to stay. Also, Commissioner Mike Aresco got the league member schools to agree to a more significant penalty for leaving and sign away, “grant of rights” for trying to leave for another conference.
That means that UConn or anyone else, gives up their all of their TV revenue and other outside of the conference money for the next few years, if they try to leave.
That’s why UConn essentially downgrading football anyway, makes more sense in this scenario.
UCF has won the American Conference Football Championship in each of the last two years (above) and represented the conference in a New Year’s Six Bowl game both times. They stunned the Auburn Tigers in the 2018 Peach Bowl in Atlanta, but lost a year ago to LSU in the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona. Both games were a massive financial windfall for the Knights and the American.
USF is also extremely attractive because the Tampa Bay television market is number 11 in the country and has a huge football fan base. The Bulls also have had recent success, including an 11 win season in 2017.
Meanwhile, the American could obviously add schools (like they did before) from Conference USA or the Sun Belt to replace UConn or any other members that try to leave.