ATHENS – It’s that time of year, with attrition beginning and some recruits beginning to sign, that these two words begin to take center stage: Roster management.
There are always two key numbers to remember, one of them hard, one soft:
The hard number: 85. That’s the NCAA limit on football players who a school can have on scholarship.
The soft number: 25. That’s the SEC signing limit per year, but it doesn’t mean a team is strictly limited to 25. Because the SEC rules allow teams to “back-count” early enrollees – if there’s room the previous year – you can go well over 25 players in one signing class. But that’s only if you under-signed in previous years and have early enrollees. Still confused? OK, think of it this way: You can sign no more than 125 players over a five-year period, and depending on the early enrollee situation, there is a limit each year, which won’t be much over 25. Still confused? That’s OK.
So where does Georgia stand?
The soft number: How many Georgia can sign
The expectation has always been that the Bulldogs can and will sign more than 25, but not many more. They signed 23 players this year, including Tyler Catalina and Maurice Smith (although they apparently don’t count towards the limit*), and five of the players were early enrollees who could back-count. But the previous year – Mark Richt’s final signing class at Georgia – there were 30 players signed, seven of whom enrolled early and could back-count … okay let’s stop there.
The bottom line: Georgia seems to be operating under the assumption that it can sign around 27 or 28 players, if it chooses to do so. And as of the moment I’m typing this sentence, Georgia has 19 announced commitments – one of whom, junior college OT D’Marcus Haynes, has signed.
The hard number: That 85 scholarship limit
This is a number without wiggle room, but it’s often easy for outsiders to compute wrongly, because they don’t know who’s actually on scholarship. And for that we give you the example of Joseph Ledbetter.
No, not Jonathan Ledbetter, the standout defensive lineman who will be a junior next year. Joseph Ledbetter, his older brother, transferred from a lower-division school into Georgia before Jonathan signed – pure coincidence, obviously – and then elected to give up football earlier this year. But he remained on scholarship, a team spokesman confirmed, and counted towards this year’s 85 limit.
It’s unclear whether he’ll count towards the limit next season. There are other wild cards, like whether Rodrigo Blankenship gets a scholarship. But there will also be attrition, and it apparently has started with sophomore receiver Shaquery Wilson. (As of this hour the team still hasn’t confirmed it, but no denial has come either.) Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and others may enter the draft. And so on.
So as of this hour, and with the best information at our disposal, the count is Georgia being committed to 66 scholarships for returning players next year: 19 current freshmen, 5 redshirt freshmen, 19 sophomores, 3 redshirt sophomores and 20 juniors, redshirt or no. (Feel free to go through the roster yourself and check my math. I didn’t count Wilson, or Joseph Ledbetter for that matter. I also didn’t count certain walk-ons who haved play a lot, such as Blankenship, Trent Frix and Christian Payne. I did count Aaron Davis, who’s basically a starter, as well as J.R. Reed, the transfer from Tulsa who sat out this year.)
You’ll notice that 66 + 19 (the current commitments) = 85. So if Georgia wants to sign more than that, assuming the math is correct, there will have to be further attrition. And again, that’s likely to happen.
For the first time in awhile, the 85 scholarship limit is worth watching at Georgia. It’s not been a problem in past years because of the massive attrition the program experienced from 2010-13, and the program not signing huge classes to make up for it. But when Jeremy Pruitt arrived a few years ago, teaming up with Mike Bobo and the rest of the staff, they helped prod Richt towards more robust recruiting classes, and that, combined with Smart and his staff’s push, means Georgia finally has that roster management problem that most good programs have.
That should mean better depth going forward for the program. Assuming there isn’t a return of the same attrition problems. That’s a whole other blog post.
*- An earlier version of this story said graduate transfers do count towards the signing limit, but the SEC office has pointed out that the limit only applies to players who sign between Dec. 1 and May 31. Therefore Maurice Smith definitely wouldn’t count, and Tyler Catalina probably doesn’t either, as he enrolled in June. Still, that doesn’t change that people at Georgia are operating under the assumption that they can sign 27 or 28 players, from what we’re told. They may have already figured that into their thinking. The whole thing is complicated, to be honest.