A week after suffering a stunning meltdown loss to Southern Miss, the UK football team travels to “The Swamp” for its Southeastern Conference opener against Florida on Saturday.
The Southern Miss squad that defeated the Wildcats boasted zero players ranked higher than three stars as recruits. Florida’s roster features 32 such players.
The Gators had top-10 national recruiting classes, according to Rivals.com, in 2012 (third), 2013 (fourth) and 2014 (eighth) before dropping off to 23rd nationally in 2015, following the firing of head coach Will Muschamp. Florida’s class earned the No. 14 ranking nationally in 2016, the first full class under Coach Jim McElwain.
Here’s a breakdown of where the Gators’ players were ranked as recruits, with some comparisons to how they stack up — recruiting-wise — to UK’s roster (all rankings from Rivals.com):
Florida has five five-star players, 27 four-star players, 37 three-star players and six two-star players on its roster. The Gators’ number of four- and five-star recruits (32) is exactly double that of Kentucky’s (16).
By comparison: UK has one five-star recruit (freshman offensive lineman Landon Young), 15 four-star recruits, 49 three-star recruits and 10 two-star recruits on its roster this season.
Florida lists a total of 27 starters on the offensive and defensive units (with three “either or” position battles heading into the UK game). Three of those starters were five-star recruits, 15 starters were four-star recruits and nine starters were three-star recruits.
By comparison: UK also lists 27 players as starters on the offensive and defensive units. Six of those players were four-star recruits in high school: Wide receiver Dorian Baker, quarterback Drew Barker, running back Boom Williams, tight end C.J. Conrad, and safeties Mike Edwards and Marcus McWilson. Another 16 starters were three-star recruits, two were two-star recruits, and three others were unranked in high school (left tackle Cole Mosier, fullback Will Tom Collins and nickelback J.D. Harmon).
Stars of the show
The five former five-star recruits on Florida’s roster are junior linebacker Alex Anzalone (No. 28 overall in the class of 2013), freshman defensive lineman Antonneous Clayton (No. 27 in 2016), sophomore offensive lineman Martez Ivey (No. 4 in 2015), sophomore defensive lineman Cece Jefferson (No. 20 in 2015) and junior defensive back Teez Tabor (No. 10 in 2014). Anzalone, Ivey and Tabor are all listed as starters, and Jefferson is listed as one of Florida’s second-string defensive tackles.
Quarterback Luke Del Rio is one of eight sophomore starters for the Gators, and it took him awhile to find a home in Gainesville. Del Rio was considered a three-star recruit and the No. 28 pro-style QB nationally in the class of 2013 after his senior season for Valor Christian in Denver, where his father, now-Oakland Raiders Coach Jack Del Rio, was a coach with the Denver Broncos at the time. Luke Del Rio passed up scholarship offers from Oklahoma State, Oregon State and Colorado State to walk on at Alabama. He spent one season there (as a redshirt) before heading to Oregon State, where he was granted immediate eligibility and played in three games in 2014. He transferred to Florida in 2015, sat out one season, and was named the starter for the 2016 season. Del Rio was 29-for-44 passing for 256 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions in his Gators debut, a 24-7 victory over UMass last week.
Son of a Cat
The only Kentuckian on the Florida football roster this season also has a UK connection.
Junior defensive back Garrett Stephens was an unranked recruit in the class of 2013 who chose a preferred walk-on spot with the Gators over opportunities to play at UK, Louisville and Northwestern.
Stephens was a standout for St. Xavier High School in Louisville, scoring five defensive touchdowns during his time with the Tigers. He sat out the 2013 college season as a redshirt and appeared in a total of six games in 2014 and 2015. New head coach Jim McElwain granted him a scholarship before the 2015 season.
Stephens is the son of Dwayne Stephens, who was on the football team at UK.