Miami’s Mario Cristobal 1, Florida’s Billy Napier 0. That’s a problem, Gators

Let’s be very clear: This isn’t about money.

This is about coaches.

Enjoy those grown men Twitter feuds. Live vicariously through boosters with millions throwing around stupid cash in NIL world.

We’re all missing the point. All things being equal, recruiting is still about relationships and selling a program.

Right now, it’s Mario Cristobal 1, Billy Napier 0.

In the high-stakes world of recruiting in the state of Florida — at the most important position in the sport, no less — Cristobal and the Miami Hurricanes took a big step this weekend by landing 4-star QB Jaden Rashada.

Two new coaches, two blue blood programs, one elite quarterback recruit left from the top 20 quarterbacks in the 2023 class, according to the 247Sports composite.

A genuine last man standing moment in the crosshairs of where college football lives and dies: recruiting.

Earlier this spring, I spoke with Cristobal about how he could pull Miami out of a 2-decade tailspin. His first response: recruiting.

“We are never going backward again,” he said.

Florida, meanwhile, still is struggling to gain a foothold under Napier. His first recruiting season can be excused because of the limited window of opportunity provided with a coaching change.

This 2023 class is still limited in its scope, but there was plenty of time — 6 months — to make a mark with not only Rashada but other quarterbacks Napier and his staff zeroed in on.

The Gators made the final four with No. 1 overall recruit Arch Manning (he signed with Texas), and offered all 6 5-star quarterbacks ahead of Rashada: Malachi Nelson (USC), Nic Iamaleava (Tennessee), Dante Moore (Oregon), Jackson Arnold (Oklahoma) and Christopher Vizzina (Clemson).

If you’re willing to give Napier the benefit of the doubt because he hasn’t coached a game at Florida, neither has Lincoln Riley at USC, Dan Lanning at Oregon and Brent Venables at Oklahoma. Lanning and Venables have never been head coaches. And Clemson signed Cade Klubnik, the No. 1 recruit of the 2022 QB class and still landed Vizzina.

Again, this isn’t about NIL money. When you reach this point of NIL deals in recruiting, the money is nearly the same.

That’s what frosted Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher more than anything when Alabama coach Nick Saban claimed the Aggies “bought” their entire record-breaking 2022 recruiting class. The loaded word “bought” was bad enough. The insinuation that the only way Texas A&M could’ve landed such a class was with the help of money pushed Fisher over the edge.

Because everyone knew the rules when NIL was approved on July 1, 2021, and everyone was allowed to play by those rules. The rules: There are no rules.

Fisher believes his staff recruited better than other staffs when all things were equal. And make no mistake, all things are equal when you’re dealing with the money being thrown around for 5-star quarterbacks.

Even though mega Miami booster John Ruiz denied it, and even though the Gator Collective denied it, you better believe Rashada earned money to sign with Miami. And there’s not a damn thing wrong with that — because those are the rules.

“There’s a ton of gray area relative to what you can do, what you can’t do,” Napier said last month of the NIL process. “There’s no manual, no parameters. You’re living in a land with no laws.”

Both of Miami’s current commitments for the 2023 class — 3-star Emory Williams and Rashada — are taking part in the national Elite 11 competition in Los Angeles.

The Canes also landed Jacurri Brown in the 2022 class, a 4-star quarterback Cristobal signed who also had an offer from Florida.

More disconcerting for the Gators: The Florida quarterback room is thin. There’s projected starter Anthony Richardson, backup and Ohio State transfer Jack Miller — and not much else.

So where does this leave Florida for 2023? The transfer portal is the first stop, but there’s also a possible connection remaining in the 2023 recruiting class: 4-star Penn State commit Marcus Stokes.

Stokes, who stars at Tim Tebow‘s Nease High School in suburban Jacksonville, is a lifelong Florida fan … and doesn’t have an offer from Florida. He’s also at the Elite 11 camp in Los Angeles.

No matter what you’ve heard, recruiting isn’t about money at this level. It’s all the same.

It’s about old-school relationships and recruiting, and right now, Miami isn’t going backward again.

Florida is still looking for its first major step forward.

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