In looking for a way to reconcile a recruiting class that met needs and replenished the scholarship numbers with the lackluster results landing top targets, I settled on this: it’s the 2008 season of recruiting classes. Most programs would jump at the chance for a season like the Dawgs had in 2008: 10 wins, a win over the defending champs on their field, and a New Year’s Day bowl victory to close it out. But when the season began with a #1 ranking and the potential of a star-packed offense leading the team to SEC and national glory, it was tough to get excited about the outcome – especially when the three losses laid bare some unpleasant realities about the program.
So it was on Signing Day on Wednesday. There’s every reason to be thrilled with those who signed. It’s almost unheard of for a class of this size not to have many reaches, but Georgia’s signings all make sense. The immediate needs for 2013 were met: there will be impact players coming in at defensive back, linebacker, and receiver. We won’t sweat many of them qualifying – 13 of them are already enrolled. Georgia competed against some of the top programs in the nation for nearly every member of the class.
But when the state was loaded enough to give Georgia a very good shot at landing the nation’s top class, finishing just on the edge of the top 10 doesn’t move the needle. You’ll never get all of the top prospects from a talent-rich state like Georgia, but you also expect to do better than getting just two of the top 15.
It matters. If the whole ranking system is your problem, just focus on specifics. Could Georgia have used an elite tackle to give them flexibility with Gates, a good lineman who’s probably better suited for the interior? Could Georgia have used the state’s top tailback to spell Gurley and Marshall during the grind of the SEC season? Could Georgia’s thin defensive line, which had no answers against the Alabama running game, have used an impact player to rotate in to keep the group fresh for the fourth quarter? Georgia’s Signing Day targets weren’t just extraneous bling; they were all good enough to have very clear roles already defined for them. Georgia fans, of anyone, should understand very well how elite prospects can elevate a program. Even if they don’t all pan out (and they don’t), you increase your odds of finding that difference-maker the more you bring into the program.
We can stop with the 2008 analogy for a minute. That year helped to expose a rotten conditioning program and continued a downward slide on defense. There’s no crisis in Georgia recruiting. Led by the coordinators, the staff is full of strong recruiters. The behind-the-scenes organization is led by the right person, and that organization will be expanded and supported under new NCAA rules. At the same time, that doesn’t mean that Georgia can’t improve its recruiting. They’ll have to take full advantage of the NCAA’s more streamlined rules. There might be tactics used by successful rivals that are worth adapting. The departure of Rodney Garner might have cost Georgia a little at the end, but it also provides an opportunity for a needed re-vamping of everything from how prospects are evaluated to how they are contacted and offered.
We’re not going to rend garments over a strong class that features 14 of the ESPN 300, and hopefully it’s possible to talk about the big misses while giving those who did sign their due. It’s tough to say though whether this class gets Georgia any closer to the top of the conference or even shores up their position at the top of the division. As the 2008 season saw the beginning of the rise of Alabama as the standard against which the rest of the conference had to compete, Georgia’s recruiting only matters in the context of how well the program is stocked to play in the SEC and challenge for its top spot.