Todd Grantham is absolutely correct. If Georgia could sign every player in state… or even every player they want in state they probably would lose no more than one game a season – if that.
Here comes the difficult part – you actually have to go out and do it, and Georgia didn't this recruiting season. Georgia did not get the job done in recruiting this season, and that will have a direct effect on the future of the program. It is a hard pill to swallow, but it is the truth.
On the last day of the recruiting year a player, Da' Rick Rogers, who had been committed to Georgia for almost seven months, signed with Tennessee. Two of the top three players in the state signed with the Vols… even though UT went through a messy coaching change weeks before Signing day. Schools with a name other than "Georgia" had more players signed from the Peach State top ten than the Dawgs did (Georgia had three – ONLY THREE – players signed from the top ten in state).
Even though the Dawgs had glaring holes at wide receiver they signed only one player at that spot who will enroll this fall – Michael Bennett. They got into a Signing Day battle with Florida State – a program that is notorious for winning recruiting battles on Signing Day – for Christian Green. To no one's surprised he picked the Noles. In fact, it got so bad at receiver that Jordan Akins, the ninth-best receiver in the state, picked Central Florida over the Dawgs (and, yes, he had a committable Georgia offer). I was there for that one live and could not believe my eyes.
Ouch! It was a punch to the gut.
But all of this could have been avoided. This was not about coaching changes – it was about a lack of focus in the summer, which had ripple effects months down the road. It happened on a sunny summer day – the day Georgia was having its annual Dawg Night camp.
It was the first time I can remember that Georgia was doing well with players from Carver – one of the most talented high schools in the state. That day Devin Burns, a skilled player, who lined up at quarterback for the Tigers was coming to commit to the Bulldogs. He was going to commit to Georgia, and Corey Crawford was right behind him.
Madness ensued. It was a public relations disaster for Georgia.
Later in the year the Dawgs made another run at Devin Burns, but it was all for not. Georgia then turned to Hutson Mason, who committed to Georgia. That's when everything started going sideways for Georgia.
If Georgia had taken Burns in the summer, they would have gotten Crawford as well – and Crawford would be a killer in a 3-4. Having taken Burns, they likely would not have taken Mason later in the year. That means Mike Nance and company would have had very little to get angered about with regards to Nash Nance getting passed over in favor of Mason.
Suddenly Da' Rick Rogers was in play because Nance was upset. Rogers would have never been lured to Tennessee because Nance would have likely ended up at Mississippi State or Vanderbilt – not Tennessee – if Rogers wasn't on the table.
The dominoes fall in recruiting, and some times they fall fast and hard. Had none of that happened Georgia would have almost certainly kept Rogers and added Crawford. Suddenly the top ten didn't look so bad because they were not after Markieth Ambles anyway. 56% is better than 33% every day of the week – particularly on Saturdays.
This class, the 2010 class, is not without talent. Alec Ogletree and Garrison Smith are high-end talents. I think T.J. Stripling and Brent Benedict are going to be All-SEC level players at Georgia. Michael Thornton was a much-needed addition to the 3-4. Jakar Hamilton is going to make a huge impact on the 2010 season – huge (I will get to that one later in the month).
My problem with the 2010 class, much like the class of 2007, is that it is more about who Georgia didn't sign rather than who they did. I already talked about Rogers – who will probably be a high-round draft pick in the NFL. Ja'Wuan James was the prototypical body type for left tackle – the Dawgs tried hard, but it didn't work. He's on Rocky Top right now. Georgia lost a fight to Florida for Mack Brown. Jeff Whitaker probably could be traded with Thornton, so no complaints there. Tai-ler Jones would have been a nice addition, but for one reason or another that didn't work, either. Jones, apparently, would rather go to school in frigid South Bend, Indiana than an hour down the road in Athens.
Recruiting is about making the margin of error as large as possible for the future. But Georgia's margin of error with this class, just like the 2005 and 2007 classes, is small – they need production from the top of the lineup. Injuries always affect recruiting classes – other forms of attrition do, too. One of the 19 players signed to this class will be gone soon; one may never make it. Hamilton, a junior college transfer, won't be in Athens in two years. Lonnie Outlaw probably has to get through Georgia Military before he ever gets to Georgia. Benedict missed some of his senior season with an injury – Brandon Burrows missed all of his hurt, too.
That's not running those players down… that's reality. The margin of error with this class is razor thin. It is like the classes of 2005 and 2007 rolled up into one – a small class, with the top player in the state going to Tennessee and with the rest of the top ten going to somewhere other than Georgia.
In 2007, Georgia didn't sign Eric Berry, Allen Bailey, Josh Nesbitt, Jonathan Dwyer, Nick Claytor, D.J. Donley, Antwane Greenlee and Cameron Heyward. Tech signed four players in the top ten – their margin of error was wide. Two of those players are stars – the other two not so much. Georgia, by contrast signed two players in the top ten of 2007: Caleb King and Israel Troupe. Get the picture?
In 2005, Georgia signed another small class – and a slew of the top recruits never played. Tavares Kearney, Corey Moon, Brandon Sesay, Antavious Coates and Ian Smith never, for one reason or another, made a contribution on the field in Athens. A class of 19 was even smaller.
What Must be Done:
There is hope, but Georgia is going to have to change the way they do a few things in order to take advantage of a banner class in 2011.
They need to fight out-of-state intruders.
They need to be far more aggressive than they already are.
They need to lock down several top-name players… before G-Day, which will create a ripple effect in the state for other top recruits.
They need to reclaim South Georgia – home of what I consider the most passionate Georgia fans (the Dawgs did not sign a player from south of Albany). They need to reclaim South Georgia in a very aggressive and powerful way.
A quick look at the top of the state next year shows a pretty good group to work with.
Start with that group. Get the commitments now. They grew up watching Georgia win SEC titles and consistently finish with ten or more wins. One recruit I spoke with recently talked about watching David Greene and David Pollack "when he was little." You have to make sure prospects know that 8-5 is not normal or acceptable at Georgia.
2010 is done. It was time to move on yesterday afternoon (the planning to move forward needed to be done in December and January by the non-coaching staff). Recruiting classes like the 2010 class can be overcome… sometimes overcome more easily than expected. The Bulldogs did an outstanding job with the 2009 class. The margin of error there was very, very wide. The 2008 class was impressive as well. One recruiting class does not make or break a program – good or bad. But two sub-par classes in a row can crush a program. The ditch will be too big in the future with two sub-par classes in a row.