When it comes to analyzing college football recruiting, it’s best to take the macro view.
Sure, there are plenty of stories about five-star players who fizzle and three-star recruits who make All-America teams. Exhibit A: Georgia’s signing class of 2015. Trenton Thompson was widely considered the best player in the country. Deandre Baker was just another guy. Now, Thompson’s career appears to be over, while Baker is likely to be a first-round NFL draft pick.
Even so, the total numbers tend to be reliable predictors of success. Alabama has consistently dominated in recruiting since Nick Saban’s arrival in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide are favored to win their sixth national championship under Saban.
Anyone who things that’s a coincidence probably also thinks Bobby Petrino is a pretty swell guy.
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Taking the macro view, here are some takeaways from Wednesday’s national signing day for the early signing period.
▪ The Alabama-Georgia rivalry is growing
For all those Mark Richt who claimed he had just as much talent as Alabama, the numbers say otherwise. Georgia consistently ranked in or close to the top 10 – better than most SEC schools but measurably behind Alabama. Thus, while Alabama was winning or at least playing for championships, Georgia was winning 10-11 games and Richt was fired.
So now that Kirby Smart and Georgia are consistently recruiting on Alabama’s level, it’s significant. It does not mean that Georgia is destined to win a national championship. But it does suggest – if the trend holds up – that the SEC and national championships for the next few years will have to go through Alabama and Georgia.
Consider this. They have played twice in the past 11 months and just two touchdowns separate the two teams. Both teams lose the same number of seniors who were on the depth chart for SEC Championship Game. Both teams could lose some juniors to the NFL draft or by graduate transfer. Alabama’s rising juniors comprised a signing class that was ranked No. 1 by the recruiting analysts, while Georgia’s was No. 3 (right behind Ohio State).
Georgia’s 2018 class was No. 1 in the country, while Bama’s was No. 5. Now Alabama is 1, Georgia 2 and likely will hold those positions once the classes are completed in February.
▪ Saban proved once again why he’s the master
Last year was the first year of the early signing period. By his own admission, Saban didn’t adjust his strategy well enough, hence the drop from first to fifth. Not only did Saban have to develop a new plan, but he also had to do so with almost an entirely new staff.
▪ Gus Malzahn has a really tough job
Auburn’s signing class is ranked No. 11 by 247 Sports. Pretty good, right?
Pretty good until you consider that four teams the Tigers play every season had better classes: Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M (No. 3) and LSU (No. 4). Three others – Mississippi State (19), Arkansas (20) and Ole Miss (23) – are ranked in the Top 25. Those latter three schools all made significant jumps in recruiting from the previous year. One common denominator? All three had first-year coaches, as did Texas A&M and LSU (once Ed Orgeron’s interim tag was removed).
Add to that the top non-conference opponents for the Tigers for the remaining six years of Malzahn’s contract: Oregon in Dallas, North Carolina in Atlanta, at Penn State, home against Penn State, at California, then home against Cal.
The constant speculation about Malzahn’s job status toward the end of the season didn’t help recruiting efforts. The speculation didn’t stop until Malzahn addressed it last week at his first news conference for the Music City Bowl. That suggests there really was something to the rumors that Auburn officials were trying to renegotiate Malzahn’s contract.
Beyond a public vote of confidence by athletic director Allen Greene, which came across as compulsory at best, Auburn let the Malzahn situation twist in the wind much longer than it should have.
That might have been OK under the traditional recruiting calendar where everything was centered on the first Wednesday in February. But with the early signing period, there’s no question Malzahn and his staff had to spend valuable recruiting time reassuring prospects that they weren’t about to be fired, or on the hot seat next season.
▪ Georgia Tech’s Geoff Collins has a lot of work to do
A LOT of work. Paul Johnson’s last recruiting class ranked 10th out of 14 teams in the ACC. Collins’s first class ranked 11th in the ACC. That’s zero reflection on Collins, who had about two weeks to evaluate the current recruits as well as the returning rosters, while hiring a staff and reconstructing a depth chart with an entirely new offense.
▪ The ACC is falling behind the SEC
Just a year ago, it looked like the ACC was almost the SEC’s equal. Yeah, not so much now.
Alabama signed as many five-stars (three) as the entire ACC combined (Clemson two, Florida State one). Bama signed 22 four-stars to 20 combined for Clemson and FSU. Georgia and Alabama signed as many five- and four-stars (44) as the entire ACC.
Again, it’s one signing class, and there certainly will be busts. But get used to seeing Alabama and Georgia playing with the national championship on the line.