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Post “We built a program to be sustained.”

Thursday July 21, 2022

In the midst of heartbreak after the 2018 national title game, Kirby Smart told Georgia fans to keep their chins up. “I think everyone can see Georgia is gonna be a force to be reckoned with,” he said. “We’re not going anywhere.”

Now “we’re not going anywhere” can take on a different meaning if you’re at a program like Georgia Tech. But Smart’s message was clear: that 2017 season wasn’t going to be Georgia’s only bite of the apple, and it was only a matter of time before Georgia came out on top. The program had too many advantages and too strong a foundation to fade away. He was correct. Georgia maintained a high level of play from 2018-2020 and was well-positioned to compete for and win the 2021 national championship.

Now that Smart and Georgia finally won that elusive title, Smart wants to remind everyone that he really meant it on that cold night in January 2018. Title or no, Georgia is not going to concede any ground.

“We didn’t build this program on hoping for one-year wonders,” he explained at Wednesday’s SEC Media Days session. “We built a program to be sustained. This program was built to be here for a long time.” The attributes that kept Georgia competitive from 2017-2021 haven’t really changed. Smart isn’t going to make radical changes to how he runs his program, he’s not going to be less-focused on the details, and he’s not going to allow those around him to become complacent. His position is that this year’s team hasn’t earned anything yet, and the accomplishments of last season belong to that team.

But as Blutarsky noted the other day, other programs illustrate the challenge ahead of Smart. To quote Bill Connelly, “Of the past 10 national champions that weren’t coached by Saban, only half have finished in the AP top five the following year.”

If Smart’s Georgia program has one advantage that might help them buck that trend, it’s recruiting. The consistent quality that’s been the hallmark of Smart’s first seven signing classes gives the program its best chance to sustain its place in college football. Smart recognizes this: “We have an unbelievable footprint with which we get to recruit,” he explained. The talent within a 5-hour radius of Athens, augmented by a national reach, has fueled unprecedented success on the recruiting trail. That success allows Georgia to have a reasonable shot at staying close to the top even while losing a record 15 players to the NFL Draft.

To get a rough idea of how Georgia’s recruiting has stacked up against the past ten national champions, let’s look at the Rivals class rankings for the teams that attempted to defend those titles. This is the four-year average (including the incoming class following the title) that should make up the bulk of players on those teams that tried to repeat. Admittedly, this is an extremely crude method and doesn’t account for transfers, redshirts, or early draft entrants – we’re just trying to make a generalization.

2011: Alabama (#1 2009 – #5 2010 – #1 2011 – #1 2012) Avg: 2
2012: Alabama (#5 2010 – #1 2011 – #1 2012 – #1 2013) Avg: 2
2013: Florida State (#2 2011 – #6 2012 – #10 2013 – #4 2014) Avg: 5.5
2014: Ohio State (#4 2012 – #2 2013 – #3 2014 – #9 2015) Avg: 4.5
2015: Alabama (#1 2013 – #1 2014 – #2 2015 – #1 2016) Avg: 1.25
2016: Clemson (#13 2014 – #4 2015 – #6 2016 – #22 2017) Avg: 11.25
2017: Alabama (#2 2015 – #1 2016 – #1 2017 – #7 2018) Avg: 2.75
2018: Clemson (#6 2016 – #22 2017 – #8 2018 – #9 2019) Avg: 11.25
2019: LSU (#8 2017 – #14 2018 – #3 2019 – #4 2020) Avg: 7.25
2020: Alabama (#7 2018 – #2 2019 – #3 2020 – #1 2021) Avg: 3.25
2021: Georgia (#1 2019 – #1 2020 – #5 2021 – #3 2022) Avg: 2.5

You see why you have to exclude Alabama from any analysis. But it seems as if Georgia finds itself in as good of a position talent-wise following their title as any program not named Alabama. This recruiting edge helps to explain Smart’s confidence that Georgia is a program built to be sustained, and it’s the source of the hope that Georgia might be able to avoid the hangover about which Connelly cautioned.

(Since we have the numbers, a few more thoughts…)

  • Since 2011, only one program has signed the #1 class after winning the national title: Alabama. They’ve done it four times. That’s a good way to make sure you’re back year after year after year after…
  • The average non-Alabama signing class following a title ranks only about eighth. Even removing Clemson’s #22 class in 2017, the average is around sixth. A title doesn’t mean a guaranteed top-five class is on the way. Georgia’s #3 class in 2021 is the highest-rated class of any non-Alabama defending champion.
  • Trevor Lawrence and an ACC schedule can take you a long way.
  • Is it fair to ask whether the post-Heisman hangover is a bigger problem for most programs than the post-title hangover?

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