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Post Signing Day wrap

Thursday February 2, 2012

There’s a tendency to equate a successful class with a frenzy of Signing Day activity. If you make more noise, you get talked about on the Signing Day shows, and the casual fan thinks, “job well done.”

While Georgia fans might mope about Avery Young or wonder what happened to all of the flips and rumors of mystery signees that always get people going leading into Signing Day, it’s useful to see what other people are saying about Georgia’s efforts:

  • It is, by most accounts, the third-best class in the conference and one of the top 10 in the nation.
  • The class contains five of Phil Steele’s Top 100 incoming freshmen. Only five programs had more.
  • Georgia’s 2012 signing class includes the top-rated prospect from Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and arguably Florida.

As Radi Nabulsi pointed out yesterday, ESPN actually ranks the 2012 class higher (relative to the rest of the nation) than it did the 2011 Dream Team class. Of the players who are rated less than four stars, you’re including a couple of kickers and a fullback – positions of need where even the best rarely get much attention from recruiting analysts. Pretty much every guy signed makes sense; you can see how each fits into the needs and identity of the program.

If there’s a flaw in the class, it’s in quantity rather than quality. If you put faith in the accuracy of the Recruiter’s Roster (and we do), you’re looking at about 61 returning scholarship players. Add the 19 members of the 2012 class, including early enrollees, and you’re right at about 80. Even if there were zero attrition between now and the start of the season, Georgia is well shy of the 85 scholarship limit. Zero attrition would be an extremely rare and exceptional offseason. So it’s likely that the Bulldogs will enter the season with between 75-80 scholarship players (before deserving walk-ons are placed on scholarship.)

Is that a big deal? After all, no team plays all 85 players. SEC teams aren’t even allowed to dress more than 75 (home) or 65 (road) for conference games. If it didn’t matter, teams wouldn’t get bent out of shape over losing a couple of scholarships in NCAA sanctions. If it didn’t matter, oversigning wouldn’t be nearly the issue that it is. This is where your future is developed. It’s the redshirts and the special teams contributors.

A total consistently lower than the limit means that the ones you do sign had better count. It’s how you end up with walk-ons at linebacker or safety after just an injury or two. Remember that this class is in the context of a depth situation that was already thin. Georgia hasn’t come close to the 85 limit for a couple of years. The Dawgs were around 80 scholarship players in 2010, even lower in 2011, and they start 2012 already in a position to make half a dozen walk-ons very happy. It’s a metaphor we’ve used before, but imagine a probation period of three years with a reduction of five scholarships. That’s Ohio State territory, and it’s a condition that’s more or less self-inflicted at Georgia.

A 2012 class with fewer than 20 signees wasn’t the intended strategy. You can identify 5 or 6 guys that the Dawgs would have gladly taken on Signing Day. One would have hoped, for example, for more than three offensive linemen – not only are you replacing the three seniors; you’re also plugging the hole left by Brent Benedict. The class wasn’t also heavy on defensive backs or interior linebackers, and those will be areas of concern sooner than later.

Of course the staff could have found a few guys to take those spots and make everyone feel better about the numbers, but there were no Plan Bs this year. That’s fine in that it gives the staff the room for quality players in the future, but sooner or later that room has to be used. Offensive line aside, Georgia met enough needs to be in good shape for the 2012 season. Looking much beyond the short-term shows the big job ahead.

The opportunity – and the need – is there for a big 2013 class. There is room for several early entrants that would count against the 2012 class. There are just 14 seniors, but you can pretty much count on a few juniors heading to the NFL after next season. With just a normal amount of attrition, the 2013 class should easily hold at least 25. Now can the staff – which did a great job identifying and closing on the 19 they did sign – widen their net and bring in that same quality to a larger haul in 2013?

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