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Brant Sanderlin/AJC
Georgia coach Kirby Smart

Kirby Smart is finally exploiting Georgia’s natural recruiting advantage

Cy Brown

Welcome to your one-stop shop for all the relevant UGA football news and takes every Monday through Friday. UGA is finally showing it can be the recruiting juggernaut it’s shown the potential to be for a long time.

There is no competition

I saw something Wednesday that shed some light on why Kirby Smart is on track to have major success at Georgia, and why that success has eluded the Dawgs in the recent past. It all comes down to UGA finally taking advantage of the natural advantage it has on the recruiting trail.

Alex Kirshner had a really good post the other day on SB Nation looking at the percentage of elite college football talent coming out of each state over the last five years. The top 3 are the states you’d expect: Texas, Florida and California. But coming in a solid fourth is the state of Georgia, with 8.5 percent of all blue-chip talent coming from the Peach State over the last half-decade.

Screen Shot 2017-01-25 at 11.19.36 PM
Yearly totals and percentage of blue-chip prospects from each state over the last five years. (Alex Kirshner/SB Nation)

In that one chart you can see why UGA has always been regarded by so many as a sleeping giant. The top 3 states all have multiple major programs vying for in-state talent, and Georgia doesn’t.

Georgia is the most talent-rich state without at least three major programs. Florida has to out-recruit FSU and Miami. Southern Cal has to outmaneuver UCLA and Stanford. Texas has to beat out A&M and TCU. But Georgia really has no one to best in-state. (By running the triple-option, Tech implicitly admitted a while ago it was done recruiting the same way as everyone else, so it is hard to count the Yellow Jackets.) So, the Bulldogs already have a leg up on keeping in-state talent in-state, and if they can do that, they’ll inherently have one of the most-talented rosters in the nation.

In the past, UGA has failed to capitalize on this natural advantage by recruiting poorly in-state. This season is the first in a while that UGA is really dominating Georgia, because Smart has made it a point to do just that. The Bulldogs currently hold commitments from five of the top 10 prospects from Georgia, according to 247Sports, and could end up with six or seven after signing day. That’s a huge jump when you consider UGA only averaged three of the top 10 players from Georgia over the past five years.

Getting prospects out of Georgia is a double whammy. As I’ve stated over and over, recruiting is a zero-sum game. Look back over the last five years and most of the top prospects in Georgia were going to Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee, South Carolina and Ole Miss, all teams UGA plays on an annual or at least fairly regular basis. Keeping Georgia prospects in Georgia not only strengthens the Dawgs, it weakens their foes.

We’ll never know why Mark Richt and his staff did such a poor job of recruiting in-state during the latter part of his tenure in Athens. Whether he decided not to recruit it as hard as he should have or just got beaten by out-of-state schools on a regular basis doesn’t really matter because the end result was the same. By failing to take the easy money that is Georgia’s top players, by choice or not, Richt handicapped the program.

Now, Smart is working to reverse that trend, and he picked a fantastic time to focus on Georgia’s in-state prospects. This class from Georgia, which UGA has cleaned up in so far, is the most-talented crop from the state in a while. Ten percent of the nation’s blue-chip prospects in 2017 come from Georgia.

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Percentage of blue-chip prospects from each state year by year. (Alex Kirshner/SB Nation)

Basically, Smart is dominating in recruiting this season because he’s doing the obvious and exploiting Georgia’s natural advantage. Instead of trying to duke it our on a national or even regional level, Smart is locking up players at home, players that on average are better than their peers from surrounding states. It’s just good business. And it should be the strategy every year. Go hard for the top 20 or so in-state prospects, and if Georgia can sign 60 to 70 percent of them — which Smart will do this season — it’s going to have a damn fine football team.

Welp, that’s all, folks

Another Georgia loss. Another refereeing controversy.

Georgia basketball lost to Alabama, 80-60, Wednesday night at Stegeman Coliseum, pretty much sealing its fate as a non-tournament team. But while the loss will probably be enough to dash Georgia’s March Madness dreams, much of the post-game talk was about another refereeing controversy, as Mark Fox was ejected from the game in the first half.

With about two minutes left in the half, Georgia’s Jordan Harris was called for a carrying violation. Fox ran on the court to protest the call and was hit with a technical foul by official Jeffrey Anderson. Fox continued to shout at the ref and received his second technical just seconds later, sending him to the locker room early.

Maybe it was a carry, and maybe it wasn’t, but Fox’s protestations probably had more to do with Georgia’s general treatment by SEC officials this season. Carrying is a call that can be made almost every time down the court just because of the way guys dribble these days, so most refs let it slide. Fox could have seen the call as another ticky-tack call in a line of them going against Georgia the last few weeks. First, there were all the touch fouls on Yante Maten that sent him to the pine early against Florida, then there was horrible handling of the clock by refs at the end of the A&M game. When you see your team get called for something almost no one gets called for after going through all that, it’s understandable to be a bit miffed.

I think that’ll put a cap on any last tourney hopes, though. Barring at least one win against Kentucky and going perfect against Florida, South Carolina and Arkansas, I don’t see any way Georgia can play itself in. Let the speculation over Fox’s future in Athens commence.

It doesn’t get much worse

Over on SB Nation’s “Read Option” newsletter, Jason Kirk looked at the 10 worst games from this past college football season. It will come as no shock to anyone who sat through the whole thing, but the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party made the cut.

Florida 24, Georgia 10 and all other SEC East games not involving Tennessee or maybe Kentucky: Nationally, only three games this year featured two Power 5 teams both gaining fewer than 250 yards.

One was N.C. State-Notre Dame, which was extremely good. Another was Michigan-Iowa, which was close, dramatic, important, and full of comedy for the soul.

The other was Florida-Georgia, which was none of those things. Ignore UF’s 24 points. I have no idea how they were achieved. No one does, because no one paid attention. Sometimes America is wise.

Hey, at least UGA finished top 10 in something.

Diamond Dogs at SunTrust Park

For fans itching to see a game in the Braves’ new digs, SunTrust Park, their first chance to go will involve the Georgia Bulldogs. Georgia baseball will play Missouri on Saturday, April 8, in the first event open to the public at the new ballpark. That’s a head-to-head pairing with the Masters, so it may be difficult to get a ton of folks out of the house for this one. But if you wanna check out the new stadium and see a Dawgs game in the process, this is your best bet.

ICYMI

Good dog

Keep digging, little dude. You’ll get to China one day.