ATHENS — Let’s face it. All national signing days feature drama, whether it’s at Georgia or one of its many SEC rivals. It’s why college football recruiting has become the modern-day phenomena in terms of popularity.
And depending on a prospect’s individual personality, they either love the attention or they find it all overwhelming. So they put off their decisions to the last minute either to take as much time as possible to decide or to increase intrigue for dramatic effect.
That seems especially true for the Bulldogs’ 2016 class. Heading into the final weekend of open recruiting — the dead period begins at midnight Sunday — and next Wednesday’s national signing day, there are a lot of unresolved storylines.
Georgia already has two 5-star prospects in the fold in the form of quarterback Jacob Eason and tight end Isaac Nauta, who are already enrolled as midyear qualifiers. But there are at least five other 5-star prospects with whom the Bulldogs’ are considered finalists.
Depending on how those individual scenarios turn out, Georgia could either have one of its greatest classes ever under first-year head coach Kirby Smart, or a pretty good class considering all the changes the program has undergone in the last two months.
“Perspective is really big here,” said Jeff Sentell, who covers UGA’s recruiting for DawgNation.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Not to sound like a Kirby apologist, but for him to pull this off what he has in 60 days, done half as Alabama’s defensive coordinator and half as Georgia’s head coach, is pretty good. To pull off a top 2 or 3 class was going to be pie in the sky to think he could do that.”
ESPN’s Tom Luginbill agrees.
“Too early to tell,” he said. “Winning the state would be ideal and the ultimate goal, but it’s the next class that will ultimately tell you where he and Georgia stands. I would be very careful to make too many judgments on first-year coaches with a month (to work). To me, all is on the right track and the marriage between Eason’s skill set and (Jim) Chaney’s (offensive) philosophy is ideal.”
As it is, Sentell said the class is somewhat “top-heavy” but pretty impressive overall. It is currently ranked No. 8 in the nation, according to 247Sports.com’s composite, which takes into all the recruiting sites ratings.
But it is, as they say, all relative. That currently falls behind LSU (1), Ole Miss (4), Florida (6) and Alabama (7) in the SEC.
If they close well, the Bulldogs could move up. They’re deeply in it — and some might say favored — to land 5-star prospects Mecole Hardman (athlete) and Demetris Robertson (receiver). All indications is Georgia is essentially out of it for defensive tackle Derrick Brown, the state’s No. 1-rated player, though Smart hasn’t given up. He visited him twice on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are mixing it up for two 5-stars from Alabama, Ben Davis and Lyndell “Mack” Wilson. They’re long shots, for sure, but Georgia likely wouldn’t be getting such serious consideration without the Smart factor.
“If you look and say Georgia is going to get potentially the No. 1 athlete, the No. 1 tight end, the No. 1 quarterback, and the No. 1 receiver, anyway you look at their recruiting — especially when you change head coaches and basically overhaul most of the staff — that’s got to be seen as a win,” Sentell said. “It’s got to be seen as a mini-miracle, I would say.”
And it’s not all going to be resolved on national signing day. Robertson has already said he won’t decide until “a couple weeks” after.
Recruiting analysts point to those coaching changes as the primary reason for heightened drama. Not only did UGA change head coaches, from Mark Richt to Smart, but Smart ended up replacing all but two members of the previous coaching staff. Those changes extended to strength and conditioning and much of the support staff.
“To have gone through the amount of coaching changes they have, I think this class held up very well,” said 247’s Rusty Mansell. “And it has a lot more potential going into next week.”
And well beyond. Mansell, Sentell and others are saying that Smart and the Bulldogs are extremely well-placed for 2017. As always, it appears to be a particularly fertile year in the state, and Georgia has been spending as much time addressing next year’s class and those beyond as it has been on this one.
“He is tremendously well positioned for ’17,” Sentell said. “I would be stunned if Georgia doesn’t have a Top 2 or 3 class and maybe even challenge for the No. 1 next year. Smart’s got really really strong relationships and there are a lot of tight-knit high school players in Georgia who are very good and very highly rated that he’s going to be in on.”
But fans are thinking about that right now. They’re acutely attuned to seeing how the ongoing dramas play out, much like they did with Lorenzo Carter and Josh Harvey-Clemons and, going back 10 years, Brandon Miller.
“It’s really about what is Kirby’s signature going to be on this class,” Sentell said. “They’re probably not going to get Ben Davis, but they might get a guy like David Marshall, who Richt never offered, and a couple of other guys. If they held onto Richt, they were probably going to get the same four or five 5-stars anyway.”