Guerry Clegg

A new rivalry gets hotter, South’s oldest rivalry gets even hotter - blazing hot

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn talks to Mark-Antony Richards after Richards announced he’s going to play college football with Auburn, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019 in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Todd J. Van Emst)
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn talks to Mark-Antony Richards after Richards announced he’s going to play college football with Auburn, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019 in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Todd J. Van Emst) AP

I’ll leave the detailed analysis and debate to those who devote their lives to watching tape, interviewing players and coaches, and everything else that’s entailed in the craziness of football recruiting.

If this recruiting class follows the pattern of everyone before it — and it will — then there will be busts and pleasant surprises, injuries and transfers and other causes of attrition.

Baseball used to label certain prospects “can’t miss.”

That is, until too many of them did miss. So that phrase has gone the way of the complete game shutout. That said, last week’s national signing day (and I refuse on principle to capitalize it unless the banks close) revealed some trends or underscored some developments. Interestingly, there is one common denominator among these trends: the Georgia Bulldogs. Well, and Kirby Smart in particular.

Starting with …

The battle for the top spot

Last year, Smart and Georgia served notice as they knocked Alabama out of the top spot in the national rankings. The last SEC team to finish ahead of Alabama in recruiting was Florida. That was 2010.

So it was kind of a big deal. So much for that. Alabama is back on top, at least according to 247sports.com’s rankings. Georgia fans would note that rivals.com has the Bulldogs with a slight numerical edge.

Here’s what really matters. Alabama and Georgia have played each other for the national championship and the SEC championship in the past two years. Both games came down to the final play. Both teams have to replace several starters and key players. But Alabama and Georgia have out-recruited everyone else in college football over the past three years.

There’s nothing to suggest that this trend will change any time soon.

Deep South’s oldest rivalry gets chippy

Georgia and Auburn have long had something of a sibling rivalry. Oh, it can get pretty nasty among the fans in our area. For the most part, though, the coaching staffs have been fairly cordial.

That is starting to change. One could argue the first shot was fired after Auburn beat Georgia at home in 2017, prompting Tigers coach Gus Malzahn to gloat, “We beat the dog crap out of them, didn’t we?”

Georgia winning the next two games against Auburn, including the 2017 SEC Championship Game, was enough to foster Malzahn’s dislike for the Bulldogs. But snatching George Pickens, the coveted wide receiver, away from Auburn last Wednesday created bad blood. Some of Auburn’s players, Coynis Miller and Anthony Miller, suggested on social media that Georgia bought off Pickens.

“Just know we know,” Schwartz tweeted.

Malzahn fanned the flames when he said, “We’ve got a lot of big-time receivers that are young. That’s not going to bother us.”

Malzahn is right, and it’s one player, no matter how good Pickens could be. But as much as Georgia and Auburn go head to head in recruiting, Georgia signing Pickens and Auburn’s response will not be soon forgotten by either coaching staff.

Georgia Tech awakens

It’s not so much that Georgia and Georgia Tech go head to head in recruiting for many players. But new Tech coach Geoff Collins has served notice. The Yellow Jackets will not concede to anybody.

Tech probably never will rank in the top five in recruiting. But Collins has made his presence known within the state, and he’s going to land some recruits that in the past 10 years never would have considered Georgia Tech.

The battle for the East gets tougher

Georgia has won the East the last two years, partly because the Bulldogs were that good, but partly because Tennessee and Florida have been down. The Gators finished eighth and the Volunteers 12th in the first full recruiting cycles for Dan Mullen and Jeremy Pruitt, respectively. The recruiting intensity will only grow as they start focusing on the 2020 classes. That tight end Eli Wolf decided to transfer from Tennessee to Georgia won’t exact ease any tensions between the schools.

This could get even more fun to watch.

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