When the King boys were young, there were two kinds of Christmas mornings.
There were what we called “bicycle” years, when the bounty delivered by Santa was dominated by a shiny new bicycle or some other major gift. And there were other years when there weren’t one or two spectacular gifts but instead we got a whole lot of things we wanted … and even a few we needed.
The years with a new bicycle might have been more exciting, but we never really thought we had a bad Christmas Day.
College football’s national signing day is a lot like that for the Georgia Bulldogs.
Some years the program is rewarded with a burst of national excitement generated by a highly ranked recruiting class topped off by couple of five-star players donning a UGA cap on national television.
And then there are years like this one, in which Mark Richt signed his largest class ever and filled just about all his program’s needs — what my Mom would have called “a very nice haul” — but didn’t get any five-star players and signed only two of the top 10 in-state recruits.
It wasn’t a “bicycle” year, in other words.
Yes, it was tough for Bulldogs fans to watch “SportsCenter” interrupted to show signing announcements by a string of top players, three from the state of Georgia — and none of whom signed with UGA.
Of course, running back Alvin Kamara going with Alabama was expected, and it wasn’t particularly surprising that defensive lineman Montravious Adams followed the man who recruited him for UGA, former defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner, to Auburn. But the loss of much-needed offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil, long considered a lock for the Dawgs, to the sudden, mysterious recruiting mojo of “the University of Ole Miss” (as Robert Nkemdiche called it) was particularly hurtful.
And most of the top talent in Georgia leaving the state — in what’s considered one of the most bountiful years of high school players in quite a while, perhaps the best ever — is disturbing.
Looking at the bigger picture, while the loss of Garner at the height of recruiting season no doubt discombobulated UGA’s efforts a bit this year, the puzzling lateness with which the Dogs have approached some top in-state prospects in recent years, last year’s drastic undersigning (with only 17 players), and the continued lack of emphasis on signing offensive linemen — only four out of 32 players??!! — can be laid at least in part at his feet (along with the relative underperformance of a highly regarded defensive line this past season). So Garner leaving might prove to be a case of one step back this year and two steps forward in the future, with coaches who are more active and on top of things on the local recruiting scene taking his place.
The recruitment of Tunsil also was the latest example of UGA going with the high-risk you’re-our-guy strategy of making one top recruit their entire focus at a position — putting all their eggs in one basket. It worked with Isaiah Crowell at tailback two years ago (though it didn’t pay off in the end when he got kicked out of school and the Dawgs were left sorely lacking in depth), but was an abject failure with Tunsil this year. Watching UGA’s coaches scramble to try to come up with a Plan B when it became obvious Tunsil was going elsewhere was embarrassing.
Still, Richt and company signed a solid, deep class that especially addressed needs at linebacker and in the secondary, even if it was lacking in some of that signing-day which-cap-will-he-pick-up-off-the-table drama that ESPN promotes — and which has skewed media (and fan) perception of the class as a whole. It might not be close to the No. 1 class in the country as Richt defiantly hailed it Wednesday (the various rankings average out to No. 11), but, as Georgia’s head coach noted, “We took care of business in the areas that we needed. We got the guys that are very, very talented and are excited about being here.”
And once they actually start playing games, some of these players could well end up outshining those given five stars by the recruiting services.
Besides, those overall class rankings can be deceptive. Two words: Dream. Team.
Yes, perhaps the case can be made that the attention lavished on signing day’s late deciders is warranted because they tend to be among the best players who are recruited the hardest. Still, the horse-race style coverage tends to overlook some top-quality players who commit early and don’t waver.
Finally, what to make of this whole Todd Grantham soap opera?
While perhaps before signing day Georgia’s defensive coordinator might have seen the speculation about a possible NFL job as somehow enhancing his standing in the eyes of prospective recruits, it’s been reported that rival coaches used it against the Dawgs.
If he stays, you wonder why he endangered the signing of Davin Bellamy, Georgia’s main signing day triumph, by equivocating rather than coming right out and putting an end to the rumors. And if he’s truly leaving, then you have to figure he was at the very least disingenuous with some of Georgia’s signees, if he didn’t outright mislead them.
Frankly, Grantham’s continued dancing around the issue and refusal to say yes or no on signing day makes him look like a bit of a jerk.
UPDATE: I’m off for a couple of days but I stilll have one eye on Athens and was pleased to see that Grantham is staying at UGA … for the time being. That doesn’t mean, however, that I’ve changed my mind about the awkward, unnecessarily distracting way he handled this latest flirtation with the NFL. I’m just hoping the lingering uncertainty over Grantham’s future plans doesn’t come back to bite the Dawgs in recruiting defensive players for next year.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg