To be great, teams have to win games on the field. And to do that, teams have to have great players. Part of the comes from coaching. The other part comes from talent acquisition, which in the case of college football means recruiting.
Miami is located in the most fertile recruiting ground in all of America. There are more than 200 FBS level recruits in South Florida's tri-county area (Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties) each year. That's nearly 2.5 FULL COLLEGE ROSTERS worth of available recruits within a 90 minute drive of the Coral Gables campus each year. Yeah, that's a lot of talent.
After he was hired by Miami, I wrote that Mark Richt was a class maker, not a class saver (scroll to bottom of article). What I meant by that is this: Richt's knowledge, experience, reputation, and performance both on the field and in recruiting give him the ability to recruit to a high level. He's not a place holder. He's not a "hire him and hope we can tread water" guy. His presence raises the profile of Miami and makes the Canes a serious player for elite level recruits all over South Florida and the country.
If you look back at the last few players to commit to Miami you'll see what I mean. In the 2016 class, 4-star WR Sam Bruce reaffirmed his commitment to Miami over Ohio State, 4-star LB Zach McCloud recommitted to Miami, 3-star (borderline 4-star) TE Jovani Haskins committed to Miami, 4-star DE Pat Bethel committed to Miami, 3-star ATH Malek Young (a U.S. Army All-American) committed to Miami, 4-star WR Ahmmon Richards (also a U.S. Army All-American) recommitted to Miami over Alabama, and 4-star S Romeo Finley committed to Miami over a host of schools. All of those moves happened after Richt was hired. That's damn good.
Now, looking at the 2017 class, Richt and his staff have done a great job building this class early. Among this class, which is currently ranked 3rd overall by 247sports, the Canes have 2 QBs committed, including their #1 overall target in 4-star N'Kosi Perry, 4-star ATH DeeJay Dallas committed to Miami on Saturday afternoon over Alabama, Michigan, and others, got top OL prospect Zach Dykstra from Iowa away from the Hawkeyes, and have the top DL in SoFLA, 4-star Jon Ford, committed as well.
On top of that, with the new staff in place, Miami is being mentioned by more and more top prospects. Just look at 5-star RB Stephen Carr, or 4-star WR Jerry Jeudy, or 5-star DE Jarez Parks, or 4-star S Daniel Wright, or 4-star LB De'Andre Wilder, or 4-star RB Anthony McFarland, or 4-star CB Marco Wilson, or....well, the list goes on, but you get the point. It's been a while since the Canes were serious players for a top 5 recruiting class, but this year seems to be trending that way.
Getting Miami on the radar of more top SoFLA and national recruits is a great thing. That should always be the foundation of this team -- majority of roster from SoFLA and carefully chosen out-of-state additions -- and I'm ecstatic that Richt and his staff give the Canes the authenticity that has been absent for the past few years.
The main way, however, that I see things changing for the Canes on the recruiting front is that recruits will no longer be able to play games with Miami as they did when Al Golden was coach.
It was widely known in recruiting circles that players would "pimp" Al Golden's Miami for an offer (some would even commit) in the hopes that their recruiting profile would be raised through their connection to Miami, and would then help them get the offer they really wanted. I'm not going to name names, but if you check the SOTU archives of articles I've written, you'll see that on your screen more than a couple times.
It's one thing to play recruiting games on Al Golden, a man who did well cleaning up the program but never connected with the recruiting base or style Miami should really have. It's a completely different thing to play recruiting games on Mark Richt.
Now, I'm not going to say that all the recruiting games will disappear completely by virtue of Richt now being Miami's coach. South Florida kids are a special breed, and I mean that in both a positive and negative way. They play the "percent committed" game more than any other group of kids in America ("I'm 85% committed to [insert school]" type thing). That won't fully go away no matter who the coach happens to be.
But, Mark Richt and his staff have the cache and track record of success where they're not being passive viewers of the recruiting scene, but active participants who make moves and shape the way recruiting happens.
The last few commits have been highly coveted players, and Miami is now in position to end the 2017 recruiting cycle where they started it: with a class ranked in the top 10.
Mark Richt's staff has done a great job early to close on talented players, position Miami to be a top tier recruiting school, solidify themselves on the recruiting scene, and craft and implement a clear recruiting identity. Now we get to see where they go from here.
And that, friends, should be an exciting ride.