January is almost upon us and that means the dead period for face-to-face contact will lift in the middle of the third week of that month.
UGA will need to have the bulk of its new coaching staff under Kirby Smart in place by then. That will be go-time for UGA’s recruiting class for the Class of 2016. Can the program really sign multiple 5-star prospects this year?
That depends on a few of the biggest recruiting battles up ahead. We’ve found five where it looks like UGA is not considered a clear favorite at this time.
This list shouldn’t be considered the five best players UGA could possibly sign, but more so the recruits whose decisions will test the recruiting might of the new UGA coaching staff.
UGA’s 5 biggest recruiting battles for 2016
Derrick Brown, 5-star DT, 6-foot-4, 315 pounds (Lanier High School, Sugar Hill, Ga.)
Schools to beat: Auburn, Alabama and Tennessee
There has been significant jockeying in the high-stakes race for Brown over the last 24 hours. The uncertainty regarding the retention of defensive line coach Tracy Rocker had UGA looking like a longshot for Brown. Now that he’s been retained for the 2016 season, UGA returns to a more favorable position for Brown. The 5-star prospect makes sure to point out he’s still wide open, but the general sense here is he’ll decide between UGA, Auburn and Tennessee. His recent visit to Alabama only complicated the issue. The fact he kept coming back to UGA for so many unofficial visits during the season shows a lot.
Prediction: UGA (with Rocker)
Demetris Robertson, 5-star ATH, 6-1, 175 pounds, (Savannah Christian, Savannah, Ga.)
Schools to beat: Stanford and Alabama
The race for Robertson seems like a three-way steel cage match. Stanford is in one corner and that’s his stated leader, but that carries an asterisk. Robertson — a sharp student who takes AP classes — still needs to be accepted into Stanford. He’s also never been to Palo Alto, Calif., either. The Crimson Tide also lurks in the ring. Robertson was committed to Alabama for almost a year. The Kirby Smart factor had a lot to do with that situation and he’ll now be recruiting him to UGA. That’s a big plus. That said, the cards on the table seem to change weekly for Robertson. He’s going to have a very tough decision.
Prediction: Stanford (upon admittance) over UGA
Tre’ Nixon, 4-star WR, 6-1, 170 pounds (Viera High School, Viera, Fla.)
Schools to beat: Florida, Penn State and Texas A&M
Nixon — like Robertson — is being recruited at a position of need. That escalates this battle because UGA must sign a cadre of big-play receivers to pair with 5-star quarterback Jacob Eason for the next three to four years. Florida and Penn State look like the favorites for Nixon because UGA does not have a wide receivers coach in place under Smart. That’s not doing them any favors with Nixon. New offensive coordinator Jim Chaney did fly down to visit Nixon right before the dead period.
Prediction: Penn State over Florida
Brian Burns, 4-star DE, 6-4, 215 (American Heritage, Plantation, Fla.)
Schools to beat: Florida and Florida State
UGA might have had a slight lead for Burns about a month ago, but that’s old news. Burns is an instant-impact pass rusher at the next level who hails from the same prep program which has sent Isaiah McKenzie, Sony Michel and Marshall Morgan to UGA. Yet who’s the defensive coordinator? The retention of Rocker helps here, but the real stabilizer is also the news on Kevin Sherrer’s return. Burns will be in that Leonard Floyd role as the Swiss-Army-Knife defender who lines up everywhere. Florida has made huge gains with Burns of late and might actually be the favorite. UGA will be in it until the end because of his connection with McKenzie and Michel, plus the fact it was the first school to recruit him for that Floyd role. That’s what he wants to do on Saturdays.
Prediction: Florida over UGA for now
Ben Davis, 5-star ILB, 6-3, 240 (Gordo High School, Gordo, Ala.)
Schools to beat: Alabama and LSU
UGA leads here and that’s a bit of a surprise given that Davis is the son of the all-time leading tackler in Alabama football history. Davis is as good as it gets at the position and can line up all over the defense and make plays. Some coaches at the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic labeled him the best they had ever seen. That makes sense given he’s the nation’s top prospect at his position. Davis has a great relationship with Smart and his UGA lead recruiter is Sherrer. He was blown away by his UGA official visit this year and already connects well with the current UGA commits. Yet there’s that whole “Sweet Home Alabama” thing to overcome. If he comes back to UGA in January for an unofficial visit, that shows UGA really has a shot.
Prediction: Alabama over UGA
Other huge UGA recruiting battles of note: 4-star DT Michail Carter (UGA vs. Alabama); 4-star DB Shyheim Carter, Sr. (Alabama, Ole Miss, UGA); 5-star ATH Mecole Hardman, Jr. (UGA vs. Alabama); 4-star LB Jaleel Laguins (UGA commit but Alabama, Florida and LSU loom large), 3-star DL David Marshall (UGA vs. Auburn); 5-star TE Isaac Nauta (UGA vs. Michigan); 4-star OL E.J. Price (UGA, Auburn, Michigan State, USC); 3-star WR Tyler Simmons (UGA, Alabama, Cal); 4-star RB Devwah Whaley (UGA, Arkansas, Texas); 5-star OLB Lyndell “Mack” Wilson (UGA, Alabama, Florida)
Jeff Sentell covers UGA football and UGA recruiting for AJC.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play Between the Hedges.