Gators hold on to claim recruiting crown

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The Florida Gators sat at the No. 1 spot on Scout's Team Recruiting Rankings by the slimmest of margins heading into National Signing Day, holding a one-point lead over fellow recruiting power Texas.

Not content to merely finish with the No. 1 recruiting class for 2010, Florida gave itself a little Signing Day insurance with commitments from players such as four-star wide receiver Adrian Coxson (6-foot-1, 195 pounds). That helped the Gators hold off a late surge from Oklahoma to run away with the nation's top recruiting class.

The Class of 2010 was marked by coaching turnover at several of the nation's traditional recruiting powers, including USC, Notre Dame, Florida State, Tennessee, and in a sense, Florida.

The groundwork for Florida's No. 1 class was set well before head coach Urban Meyer's on again-off again leave of absence, but Florida's ability to close on recruits after the uncertainty of Meyer's status was nothing short of amazing.

Notre Dame's No. 2 ranking for the Class of 2008 following a 3-9 season was the best recruiting job I'd ever seen, but each of Florida's five five-star players for the Class of 2010 committed to Florida after Meyer first announced his leave of absence and the Gators lost several coaches to promotions outside the program.

The first week of the new decade was a good one for the Gators as they piled up commitments from many of the nation's best players, including the best defensive line class in the country. From Jan. 2 through Jan. 9, Florida added five five-star-rated players including No. 1 defensive end Ronald Powell (6-4, 250) of Rancho Verde, Calif., No. 1 defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (6-2, 311) of Philadelphia, Pa., and No. 2 defensive tackle Dominique Easley (6-2, 255) of Staten Island, N.Y.

The state of Florida produces the second-most Division I football signees in the country behind only Texas, and a team could finish with a top-five recruiting class without leaving the Sunshine State. But Florida flexed its national recruiting muscle by signing the No. 1 player out of several of the biggest talent-producing states in the country, including California (Powell) and Pennsylvania (Floyd).

All told, the Gators still signed the bulk of its No. 1 class from within the state borders, but 12 of its 28 signees came from out of state.

Florida's No. 1 recruiting class is deep at more positions than just the defensive line. Florida is bringing in five defensive backs ranked in the top 10 nationally at their respective positions. No. 2 safety Matt Elam (6-1, 205) of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. was an early commitment to Florida who briefly switched to Florida State after Meyer's announcement.

The Gators' other top-rated defensive backs include No. 5 safety Jonathan Dowling (6-4, 185) of Bradenton, Fla., No. 5 cornerback Jaylen Watkins (6-0, 175) of Cape Coral, Fla., No. 7 cornerback Joshua Shaw (6-1, 180) of Palmdale, Calif., and No. 9 cornerback Cody Riggs (5-10, 165) of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

It's not all defense for Florida's top-ranked class, though. Five-star wide receiver Chris Dunkley (5-11, 170) of Pahokee, Fla., is a cat-quick, open-field runner who excels at making people miss. Four-star running back Mack Brown (5-11, 190) of Lithonia, Ga. is a breakaway threat who has the speed to get to the corner on even the fastest defenses. Four-star tight end Gerald Christian (6-3, 230) of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. is ideally suited to one day fill the role held by Aaron Hernandez in 2009.

Florida's No. 1 finish in 2010 marks the third time in the last five years the Gators have finished in the top two, also claiming the No. 1 spot in 2007 with players such as Hernandez and defensive end Carlos Dunlap.

Florida had its hands full with the two premier programs in the Big 12 as Oklahoma and Texas took turns making a run at the No. 1 spot that Florida took over in early January.

While being ranked No. 1 much of the year, Oklahoma fell to No. 3 as Texas and Florida added several of its top players after New Year's Day. But Oklahoma had a Signing Day surprise of its own when it plucked five-Star linebacker Corey Nelson (6-1, 200) off of Texas A&M's list, thereby drawing the ire of the Aggies and 'Horns in one move.

While the Gators and Longhorns are deep at skill position players, Oklahoma looks poised to bring some smash-mouth football back to the wide-open Big 12 with the nation's No. 1 offensive line class, featuring five signees rated four stars by Scout. Powerful interior line prospects Bronson Irwin (6-5, 315) of Mustang, Okla., and Adam Shead (6-4, 320) of Cedar Hill, Texas headline Oklahoma's top-ranked offensive-line haul.

The Sooners typically make a living recruiting the state of Texas, but Oklahoma ventured out to the left coast to pluck three top players from the San Diego area. Five-Star wide receiver Kenny Stills (6-1, 180, 4.36) and hard-hitting linebacker Tony Jefferson (6-0, 210) join five-star running back Brennan Clay (5-11, 195) to give Oklahoma three of the West Coast's top prospects and an influx of speed that could be put to use early in Norman.

The University of Texas finished just behind Florida and Oklahoma with an interesting contrast of signees that could be a preview of BCS matchups to come. While Florida went heavy in the defensive backfield with seven signees at corner and safety, Texas signed six wide receivers and another all-purpose athlete who could be the best receiver of them all.

Five-star receivers Mike Davis (6-1, 175) of Dallas and Darius White (6-4, 195) of Fort Worth, Tex join five-star athlete Demarco Cobbs (6-2, 205) of Tulsa, Okla., as key members of the Longhorn Class of 2010.

Davis and White complement each other well with their varying skill set. Davis is a catch-and-run receiver who gets excellent separation in his routes and is ideal in the slot. White is the bigger, more physical receiver, causing mismatches in virtually any position on the field with his size.

Cobbs is a blend of Davis and White, and while rated as the No. 3 safety nationally by Scout, he could end up as the big-time running back Texas has lacked the last several years. Or he could join his fellow five-stars to form one of the most potent passing attacks in the country. Cobbs gives the Longhorn coaching staff a lot of options.

Texas is no stranger to Scout's top 10, with four such finishes in the last five years.

A pair of the SEC's most heated rivals round out the top five for the Class of 2010.

Alabama checks in at No. 4, its third straight top-five finish. With the results on the field to validate the recruiting pitch off of it, the Crimson Tide show no sign of slowing down. Alabama looks to have locked up its quarterback of the future with Scout's No. 2 ranked, five-Star QB Phillip Sims (6-2, 215) of Chesapeake, Va. Sims set the all-time passing record in Virginia and will look forward to throwing to a bevy of young receivers joining him in this class.

Four receivers are a part of the Alabama class, including Galena Park, Texas import DeAndrew White (6-0, 170), who is ranked 13th in the country by Scout.

Those accustomed to seeing Alabama's smothering defense won't be disappointed. Demarcus Milliner (6-1, 185) of Millbrook, Ala. has the size and hitting ability of a safety with the hip turn of a corner; fittingly, Milliner is ranked No. 1 by Scout at cornerback. Milliner is joined by Scout's No. 6 corner Johnavon Fulton (6-0, 175) of Manning, S.C., and four-star junior college transfer Dequan Menzie (6-0, 180) of Mississippi's Copiah-Lincoln.

Checking in at No. 5, Auburn is doing its part to make sure Alabama doesn't run off and hide in the SEC West. Head coach Gene Chizik and staff took an adrenaline shot to Auburn's recruiting efforts in their first full year. Auburn's infusion of talent spans across its entire team. Auburn has 12 players rated four stars or better by Scout, and those 12 players are spread across nine different positions.

No player personifies the versatility of this class better than five-star wide receiver Trovon Reed (6-0, 180) of Thibodaux, La. Reed filled a need at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl by volunteering to play corner during the week, a position he had very limited experience. By all accounts, he was the best corner in attendance. Scout's No. 2 running back Michael Dyer (5-10, 195, 4.49) of Little Rock, Ark. is another player who should step in and see playing time right away.

Auburn's front seven on defense also features several players who could be on the field as freshmen including four-star defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker (6-4/295) and any one of five linebacker commits including LaDarius Owens (6-3/230) of Bessemer, Ala. and Jake Holland (6-1/228) of Pelham, Ala.

Of all of Auburn's recruits though, none is being counted on to have an impact as great as Scout's No. 1 junior college quarterback Cameron Newton (6-6, 245, 4.52) of Texas' Blinn College. Newton offers a run/pass option that could be the difference between a good season at Auburn and a great one in 2010.

Auburn's No. 5 finish represents its highest-rated recruiting class ever on Scout.