GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- When No. 5 Florida hosts Miami on Saturday night, several dozen athletic young men will sit in the bleachers behind the south end zone as guests of the Florida football program. They all want to examine the Gators, but more than a few will pay close attention to the team on the visitors' sideline.
By inviting so many recruits with Florida and Miami on their watch lists, the Gators are taking a big risk but hoping for a big reward. Welcome to any regional rivalry, where an invitation to a recruit can help a team seal a commitment or hand that player to a rival on a silver platter. On Saturday, Florida will face Miami in the first of a trio of 2008 games -- Florida State-Miami and Florida-Florida State are the other two -- that will shape the Sunshine State's signing classes of 2009 and beyond. This weekend, Florida will enjoy the advantage of a 90,000-plus crowd, a visit from ESPN's College GameDay and NCAA rules that allow only the home team's coaches to interact with official and unofficial visitors. "This will be the showcase of the state," Florida coach
But if the Hurricanes pull the upset or push the heavily-favored Gators to the limit, those recruits, many of whom are also Miami targets, may give more consideration to joining the renaissance at The U that the Miami coaches keep telling them about.
The dynamic isn't limited to Florida. The Ohio State-Michigan, Oklahoma-Texas, Clemson-South Carolina and Kentucky-Louisville games are other prime examples of rivalry games that can swing the recruiting pendulum toward one school. Just don't assume a win guarantees a commitment from a particular prospect. Sometimes, the prospect sees something in the losing team that leads him to believe he can help.
Palnt (Tampa, Fla.) tight end
Charles and Columbus (Miami) defensive tackle
Anecdotal evidence doesn't provide a clear answer, either. Class of 2009 offensive tackle
On Saturday, the Gators and Hurricanes won't only try to impress undecided targets. They also hope to convince a few players to change their minds. Escambia (Pensacola, Fla.) running back
Florida coaches invited all these players and their uncommitted counterparts hoping the atmosphere and the Gators make an impression. Still, they know full well the 'Canes will try to take full advantage of their opportunity to quiet The Swamp and make inroads with some of their own recruiting targets. So watch the action on the field Saturday, but understand that the fight for the futures of the programs will be waged in the hearts and minds of the players sitting in the bleachers behind the south end zone.