Whatever Happened to FSU as Five-Star University?
For the vast majority of the 21st century, the question regarding FSU football recruiting and five-star prospects was simple: How many will the Seminoles sign this year? Elite talent consistently found its way to Tallahassee, as, from 2000-2017, no program in the country inked more five-star high-school recruits than the 'Noles.
Here are the 10 schools that signed the most five-star prospects from 2000–17:
1. Florida State: 56
2. USC: 54
3. Alabama: 47
4. Florida: 41
5. Ohio State: 37
6. Georgia: 35
7. Texas: 33
8. LSU: 30
9. Tennessee, Miami: 25
During that timespan, there was only one Seminole class (2007) that did not include a five-star, and in every year except '07, and 2011—when the Seminoles signed "just" one five-star—the 'Noles landed several five-stars in each class.
How did they sustain such success? Well they had a pretty good buildup to the new millennium. From 1987-2000, Florida State finished every single season ranked in the top five of the final AP Poll. That incredible feat, along with a pair of national titles in '93 and '99, vaulted FSU into the 2000s.
And the 'Noles took advantage on the recruiting trail. In the first three classes of the decade, Florida State inked 16 five-stars. But as time was running out on Bobby Bowden's amazing coaching career, it was also expiring on the FSU dynasty in what would become known to many Seminole fans as the "lost decade."
But the 'Noles eased their eventual coaching transition by bringing in Jimbo Fisher ahead of the 2007 campaign to serve as quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator, head-coach-in-waiting and another important role, however unofficial, that he fulfilled regardless: lead recruiter.
Fisher was able to call upon more than a decade of recruiting as an assistant in the SEC West with Auburn and LSU. He boasted an undefeated season in his first season with the Plains' Tigers (under Terry Bowden, which provided a nice tie to Bobby and FSU), and a national title with the Bayou Bengals. The doubt that often haunts programs during a coaching change was tempered by the fact that prospects knew who was taking over for the elder, legendary Bowden.
When Fisher was named head coach in January of 2010, he only increased the volume of the elite-recruit pipeline flowing to Tallahassee, nabbing 13 five-stars in his first three classes. And he rewarded recruits' confidence in him with results. After signing six five-stars in 2012, Fisher won FSU's third national title, in 2013, with starting lineups on both sides of the ball that saw every player get a shot in the NFL. And that makes for a rather effective recruiting pitch, which he used to sign 13 more five-stars between 2013-2017.
But when Fisher leveraged a deal with Texas A&M and left the 'Noles before the '17 season concluded, he took his recruiting prowess with him to College Station. It's not that his replacement at Florida State, Willie Taggart, was a poor recruiter. Taggart inherited an extremely difficult situation from Fisher, including a start date just days before 2017's Early Signing Period (ESP).
Taggart was unquestionably put behind the eight ball with the lackluster culture fostered by Fisher prior to the latter's departure. And prospects took notice when the Seminoles broke their own bowl streak, the country's longest, which meant missing out on postseason play for the first time since 1981. FSU's 2018 campaign ended with a 5-7 record and the program's first losing season since 1976.
Taggart didn't last through the 2019 schedule, the conclusion of which saw Mike Norvell tapped for the FSU job mere days before December's ESP.
It's tough to salvage a class—much less improve upon it—when you're handed the keys that close to signing day and amid program turnover and turmoil.
Which brings us to now, and how after FSU signed more five-stars from 2000-2017 than any other school, they've since inked fewer than any other program. Specifically, zero in the last three classes. Florida State is the only program in the top 10 of signing five-stars during that aforementioned period that hasn't inked a single one since. The Seminoles went from No. 1 to none.
Given the talent-rich Sunshine State, one might guess that elite prospects are opting for UF and Miami. But that's not really the case—the Gators and Hurricanes have each signed just one five-star in the last three classes combined.
But geography does have something to do with FSU's slide. Check out the top-five schools to have signed five-star prospects during the Seminoles' drought, beginning in 2018:
1. Georgia: 16
2. Clemson: 11
3. Alabama, Ohio State: 9
5. LSU: 7
That's right—the Bulldogs have secured as many five-stars in the last three classes as Florida State did to begin the millennium.
Excepting the recruiting juggernaut that is Ohio State, every other school is in direct regional competition with the 'Noles for prospects. FSU is a southeastern program like the Bayou Bengals, shares a border with both UGA and 'Bama, and competes for the ACC Atlantic with red-hot Clemson.
Every one of those teams has been on an absolute tear recently. The national champs since Florida State won it all in 2013:
2014: Ohio State
And Georgia, though without a national title since 1980, has won the SEC East the last three seasons, while being edged by the Crimson Tide in overtime for the 2017 national championship.
The numbers bear it out: these programs win because they have the best talent—and they have the best talent because they win. It's a great formula that really works for you when you're on top, but a difficult cycle to disrupt when you're not.
As far as recruiting goes, FSU commanded the summit for the better part of the 2000—and now it's faced with an uphill climb from a distinct valley.
UGA has been resurrected. Clemson is a new blue blood. Alabama is Alabama. LSU is the defending champ. Florida State, after leading the pack for the vast majority of the 2000s, is now faced with an unenviable challenge on the recruiting trail that reflects one it's often encountered on the field of late: playing catchup.
For more on the Seminoles' recent recruiting problems, check out my piece on the QB prospects FSU has signed from the high-school ranks in the last decade.