I’m certainly no recruiting guru, just a blogger who tries to makes sense of bigger picture stuff and trends on some occasions. That being said, it pleases me when I find some validation out there from folks who do follow recruiting more thoroughly than I do.
For me, the most important take away from the 2018 recruiting classes in the short term is that Georgia has seriously impacted the balance of power in the SEC East. As Alex Kirshner noted, this is actually a continuation of a trend that began with Smart’s arrival…
This time a year ago, Georgia was emerging as the far-and-away best recruiter in the lesser of the SEC’s two divisions. The Dawgs had the country’s No. 6 class in 2016, an incredible finish for a team that had just changed coaches (from Mark Richt to Kirby Smart) two months before National Signing Day. In 2017, they jumped up to No. 3, signing almost as many blue-chip recruits as the rest of the East combined.
… and has only accelerated with each succeeding class.
Then the 2018 recruiting cycle happened.
Georgia finished Signing Day with the second-highest-rated class in the history of recruiting rankings.
The Dawgs were No. 2 behind Ohio State heading into the day, but they went ahead and nabbed five-star cornerback Tyson Campbell and four-star receiver Tommy Bush. They flipped the country’s No. 2 outside linebacker, Quay Walker, from Alabama (via an amusing ceremonial fake-out) and another four-star backer, Otis Reese, from Michigan.
It’s the first time in eight years a non-Alabama team has taken the country’s No. 1 perch.
Kirby didn’t have much competition in the SEC on the recruiting front before the coaching changes at Florida and Tennessee and while those two schools had decent transitional classes with Mullen and Pruitt, neither had as good a showing as Smart’s first class. (Granted, some of that disparity came as a result of Richt leaving a much firmer foundation for Smart to build on than what either Mullen or Pruitt had to start with, but, still.)
Bud Elliott describes the gap.
2. Imagine being a fan of Florida or Tennessee right now.
New coaching hires are supposed to come with a large dose of optimism.
Florida signed the No. 14 class, with 12 four-star players, Tennessee signed the No. 20 class, with eight four-stars.
And I won’t say that the honeymoon period is over in Gainesville or Knoxville, but a heavy dose of patience is going to be needed because the talent gap between Georgia and its two biggest division rivals is as big as it has been in 40 years.
- Georgia has signed more four- and five-star recruits in the last two years (42) than Florida and Tennessee combined (36).
- Georgia has signed more four- and five-star recruits in the last two classes (42) than Florida (37) or Tennessee (39) on their own has in the last four years.
- Georgia’s roster is several years of recruiting ahead of the Gators and Vols.
The vast majority of elite players signed in the new Early Signing Period. That means that teams that made coaching changes got hosed. And it came at the perfect time for Georgia.
Florida’s class will be better in 2019, as will Tennessee’s thanks to not having to adjust to a coaching change. But Florida needs to hit home runs in 2019 and 2020 to close the gap with Georgia, and Tennessee is probably an additional year behind.
Dan Mullen and Jeremy Pruitt have a lot of work to do.
Bud’s right; Kirby Smart has been the recipient of some very fortuitous timing. It’s to his credit, though, that he was fully prepared to take advantage. Luck is the residue of design, and all that.
It’s worth noting that Smart’s also screwed with the perception of recruiting success in the division. As Elliott put it, describing Mullen’s first class (which is actually pretty good, considering), “It feels weird talking about a top-15 class as something other than a success, but Georgia has simply raised the bar.”
Pruitt’s already gone on record immediately after this year’s signing day to proclaim that Tennessee’s next signing class will be very highly ranked (lucky for him, there’s a bumper crop of in state high school talent in the 2019 class). To some extent, raised expectations kind of forced his hand there. Smart’s made that a tougher row to hoe. What kind of reaction should we expect from the Vol and Gator fan bases if their teams don’t sign top five classes nest year? Or from Phil Fulmer?
Now, again, all I’m looking at here is the near horizon. Things can and do change over the longer haul. Pruitt does have a reputation as a great recruiter, but is handicapped in most years by a relatively slimmer in state talent base to draw from than Smart does. Dan Mullen remembers what it was like in the day when it was Florida raking in the monster recruiting classes year after year. It’s not unreasonable to expect a Gator bounce back.
But even that won’t be overnight. Over the next two or three seasons, it’s hard to see how, barring epic misfortune, Georgia won’t enjoy a sizable talent advantage over its SEC East neighbors. And if there’s one thing the Process has taught us, it’s that depth rules in this conference.