(Update III after Isaiah Crowell’s announcement, 2:30 p.m..)
ATHENS – The plan was to build an invisible fence along state borders. Mark Richt did that. He kept the best players that carry a Georgia postmark. He created a highlight for the program. He made folks forget, even if for a day, what has happened on the field in the last two seasons and, worst of all, what happened Dec. 31 against a Conference USA team.
There’s really only issue left unanswered: What does it mean?
College football teams don’t win games in February. If that were true, the Bulldogs would regularly play in BCS bowls. Think of national letter of intent day as a trip to the grocery store. A great cook can spend $40 and create a wonderful meal. A bad cook can spend $100 and hand you something south of Chef Boyardee.
Ingredients haven’t been the problem at Georgia. According to Scout.com, one of the major recruiting services, Richt’s classes since 2002 have ranked 9, 11, 6, 4, 4, 17, 5, 4, 21. Another service, Rivals, has had the Dogs 3, 6, 6, 10, 4, 9, 7, 6, 15.
In the last two seasons, this is what it got Georgia: 14-12 overall, 7-9 in the SEC and bowl trips that are the culinary equivalent of SpaghettiOs: Independence and Liberty — words we hold close to our heart at all times except bowl season.
Richt won in recruiting. He landed one of the top classes in the nation, punctuated by the best running back around: Isaiah Crowell. That means a lot today. But it won’t mean bupkis at kickoff against Boise State in seven months unless Richt can turn them into a winners.
This recruiting class raises the expectation level. It’s unfortunate that much pressure and onus has been placed on one class, but Richt somewhat created that when he labeled the potential group of Georgia state all-stars his, “Dream Team.” There’s nothing wrong with sound bites and catch phrases to get fans and recruits excited. But the downside to labels like “Dream Team” is it puts a glare on 17- and 18-year-old kids who’ve never even had a spring practice, let alone played in a college game. The term “Dream Team” was created in 1992 for an Olympic basketball team that was comprised of grown men — mostly future Hall of Famers.
In announcing his decision to go to Georgia over Alabama, Crowell said, “I’m gonna be a Dog.” He wasn’t alone in the state. Nineteen of Georgia’s 25 players are from Georgia, including four of the top five in the state and 15 of the top 41 (according to AJC rankings). Nationally, Georgia’s class is a consensus top six. It’s Richt’s perceived best class since at least 2006 (Knowshon Moreno, Matthew Stafford, et. al.), although Richt feels it could be the best of all.
“We all know our season wasn’t the best, and there have been a lot of things we have had to battle — maybe a little bit more than other years when it comes to recruiting,” he said. “But I really believe this class will end up being the most talented and best bunch in the 11 years now.”
There is hope.
There also is a possible trapdoor.
Have you ever tried to predict what an 18-year-old will do any day of the week? How about any hour? Some consider NFL drafts a guessing game. Recruiting makes NFL drafts look like an exact science.
From 2001 to 2010, Georgia recruited 21 “5-star” athletes, according to Scout. For every Stafford, A.J. Green and Leonard Pope that you show me, I’ll show you a Caleb King, an Akeem Hebron and a Darius Dewberry.
The “stars” mean nothing if players don’t develop physically, mentally and emotionally. We’ve seen the trapdoor in Athens.
Here are some more numbers for you: 63, 73, 73, 114, 54, 63. Those were the rankings of TCU’s last six recruiting classes. The Horned Frogs went 36-3 in the last three seasons, including two BCS bowls.
Boise State’s last eight recruiting classes ranked 73, 72, 73, 78, 57, 64, 60, 97. The Broncos’ record in the last five years: 61-5 with two BCS bowls.
I know. TCU and Boise State don’t play in the SEC. But it doesn’t change the point: Those schools are doing more with less. Georgia has been doing less with more.
Richt got people excited Wednesday, not an easy feat these days. But if the resumes of this recruiting class don’t translate into victories, grades and rankings quickly will be forgotten. What happens next is what matters most.
By Jeff Schultz