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UF success rooted in recruiting

Few programs have had the kind of two-sport success Florida has had in the last decade in football and basketball. With a pair of national titles in each sport, two BCS bowl appearances and three straight trips to the Elite Eight mixed in, athletics director Jeremy Foley has the Gators perched firmly atop the college sports world.

Landing great players has been a big reason why Billy Donovan's 17-year run at Florida has featured unprecedented success for the Gators' men's basketball program.

Billy Donovan has been a 17-year stalwart for a basketball program he essentially built from the ground up, while Foley has had a smattering of success with a handful of football coaches.

Urban Meyer guided the Gators to two national titles from 2006-2008 while Donovan was dominating the hardwood. Now, with Meyer gone, Will Muschamp has taken over the Florida program and helped re-establish it as a national contender.

Florida's success can be traced directly to the recruiting trail.

The core of the team that took the Gators to the Sugar Bowl a year ago came from a star-studded 2010 recruiting class that finished as the nation's best, according to

With future first-round NFL Draft picks Sharrif Floyd and Matt Elam highlighting Urban Meyer's 2010 class, Muschamp molded the Gators into an outstanding defensive unit. In fact, his fifth-ranked defense in 2012 was able to cover up an offense that ranked just 103rd nationally.

"I think it was impressive what Muschamp and staff did," national recruiting director JC Shurbutt said. "It took a year, but when they went out to College Station and won in that atmosphere, you could really tell that not only were the Gators talented, but that talent was coming together and playing as a team.

"The Gators by and large played together and like the talented bunch they are during the 2012 season. Because of that, Florida ended up signing one of the top classes in 2013, turning several high-end prospects away from schools they were previously committed to."

Muschamp has tried to address the offensive shortcomings on the field in the past few years with the addition of players like running backs Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor, receivers Ahmad Fulwood and Demarcus Robinson and offensive tackle D.J. Humphries.

Florida and Will Muschamp swiped five-star Dante Fowler from rival Florida State late in the recruiting cycle and the rising sophomore is on his way to being a difference-maker in Gainesville.

If the Gators hope to duplicate their 2012 success, they'll need those younger players to step up as major contributors.

Jones has the tough task of replacing Florida's first 1,000-yard running back since 2004. Muschamp, for one, has few doubts he'll be able to do it.

"I think Matt Jones is on the verge of being a big-time back in the Southeastern Conference," he said in May on a spring speaking tour.

For Florida's offense to take the next step, though, it's not the running game that needs to improve. The Gators racked up 188 yards per game on the ground a year ago.

The passing game?

Well, it was abysmal. Florida threw for just 146 yards per game, ranking 113th nationally.

While some of that falls on the shoulders of quarterback Jeff Driskel, he needs more help around him. When Florida's offensive line got banged-up midway through the 2012 season, the Gators sputtered. Not having play-making receivers also crippled the offense.

Driskel believes those things will fix themselves with the addition of talented freshmen like Robinson and Fulwood, along with offensive line transfers Max Garcia and Tyler Moore.

Class of 2014 quarterback commit Will Grier is approaching five-star status and shined at the recently-completed Elite 11 quarterback camp. He's from North Carolina, a state that has been very good to Florida's football recruiting efforts over the years. The last North Carolina quarterback the Gators signed- Chris Leak- won the 2006 National Championship.

"We have more guys that can stretch the field," he said following the team's spring game. "We have good team speed at the receiver position. Our line is blocking a lot better."

Meanwhile, Muschamp's menacing defense looks poised to plug right along despite losing seven starters. The third-year coach has recruited well, particularly up front.

Behemoth bookend linemen Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard will take over on the edges after impressive freshman campaigns, while fellow sophomore Antonio Morrison will man the middle at linebacker. All are players Muschamp recruited.

And the secondary should be solid with the return of NFL-caliber cornerbacks Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy.

"If you factor in the raw talent, plus the ability of the Florida defensive coaches (and Muschamp himself) to identify and develop said raw talent, one has to think that the Gators will be pretty stout on that side of the ball for years to come," Shurburtt said. "I think it's one of the premier programs in the country for defensive players without a doubt."

Most importantly, the recruiting pipeline Muschamp has established at Florida doesn't look like it's going to stop flowing any time soon.

The Gators already boast commitments from five-star running back Dalvin Cook and their quarterback of the future in four-star North Carolina prospect Will Grier.

Muschamp and his staff also have Florida positioned nicely for receiver Ermon Lane, offensive tackle David Sharpe, defensive end Lorenzo Carter and cornerback Adoree' Jackson. All are rated five-star prospects by

While Muschamp has had to deal with the transition of the team from one coach to another and the ensuing roster turnover and scheme changes that came with it, Donovan has faced no such task.

Sure, he had to replace a trio of Top 10 NBA Draft picks following his back-to-back national titles.

But after a two-year hiatus from the NCAA Tournament following the title run, Donovan's Gators returned guns blazing. Four Big Dance invites and three Elite Eight appearances later, he has Florida poised to contend for another national title.

He has done it with a lineup littered with former McDonald's All-Americans.

Kenny Boynton, Vernon Macklin, Mike Rosario, Brad Beal and Patric Young helped put the Gators back on the map in the last four years.

Young returns for his senior season in the fall, while Donovan adds two more McDonald's All-Americans to the roster in point guard Kasey Hill and power forward Chris Walker -- though Walker is still completing work to become eligible academically.

That duo, coupled with the veteran-laden roster Donovan has assembled partly though talented transfers, could facilitate Florida's return to the Final Four.

"If Hill plays up to his potential at Florida and he has a top-line athlete like Walker, Florida will have two of the most talented players in the country to go with the talent already there," national recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer said. "The Gators will be able to compete with any team in the country."

The way Donovan's recruiting right now, they should be able to compete at the top level for years to come.

Florida currently boasts commitments from 2014 five-star guard Brandone Francis and four-star guard Chris Chiozza.

Donovan also has the Gators in the mix for five-star players Justice Winslow, Jahlil Okafor and Kevon Looney, as well as four-star prospects Leron Black, Malik Price-Martin, Abdul Malik Abu and Riley Norris.

If he lands even one or two of those guys in addition to Francis and Chiozza, the Gators will have one of the top recruiting classes in the country.

That's something Florida fans have gotten plenty familiar with lately.

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