Coming off its first losing season since 1996, Georgia is poised to sign the most illustrious recruiting class Mark Richt has assembled, which is saying something when you consider two 2006 signees were among the top dozen taken in the 2009 NFL draft. Obvious question: Who saw this coming?
Said Chad Simmons, the Southeast recruiting analyst for Scout.com/FoxSports: “I am a little surprised … but I’m not that surprised.”
If we’ve learned anything this past month, it’s that the Georgia program might be in a weakened state but that the Georgia name remains a powerful thing. Four different SEC programs have accounted for the past five BCS titles, and yet Georgia, at least on Signing Day 2011, seems positioned to stand with any of them.
Said Simmons: “I don’t think wins and losses make a difference. There’s a chance Georgia, which was 6-7, will outrecruit Auburn, which won the national championship.”
Said Jeff Dantzler, the astute Athens radio man: “This is the most important recruiting class coach Richt has ever had, and it’s one of the most important in Georgia history. And it’s not just because of talent — it’s because of the psyche of our people.”
We pause to insert the disclaimer: Recruiting isn’t an exact science; if it were, Georgia wouldn’t have been 6-7. But such was the discord in and around the program — fans in a tizzy, media (blush) in high dudgeon, the strength coach being re-assigned — that a diminished recruiting class figured to be the next falling domino. But no.
Scout.com ranks Georgia’s class the nation’s seventh-best, and Simmons said there’s a chance the Bulldogs could clamber into the top five. Still in play: The running back Isaiah Crowell of Carver-Columbus, the defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan of Asheville, N.C. and the massive defensive tackle John Jenkins of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
Simmons: “If all the chips fall their way, this would definitely be the top class Richt has had. It would throw over the  one with Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno and Reshad Jones.”
Let’s recall: The calendar year began badly. Having lost the Liberty Bowl to Central Florida on New Year’s Eve, Georgia watched Xzavier Dickson of Griffin and Quan Bray of LaGrange use the Jan. 5 Under Armour All-America Game to announce for Alabama and Auburn, respectively. That prompted even more hand-wringing among Bulldog Nation — and much tut-tutting, it must be said, from this observer — but Richt and Co. have since gotten almost everybody worth getting. How?
“It’s a tribute to these coaches for not giving up, for selling Georgia as still being Georgia,” Simmons said. “They want these guys to be difference-makers, the guy who’ll turn it around.”
We say again: With Richt, recruiting has never been the overriding concern. At issue is how well assembled resources have been marshaled. Which leads to this: Should Georgia land Crowell and Jenkins to go with Ray Drew (defensive end, Thomasville) and Damian Swann (defensive back, Grady High) and Jay Rome (tight end, Valdosta), could the Bulldogs win the SEC East next fall?
Simmons: “These next few days [Crowell is announcing Wednesday, Jenkins not until Saturday] will be big for Georgia. Those are guys who can play for Georgia next year. They’re big pieces in this class. Jenkins is the 6-foot-4, 340-pound nose guard that [defensive coordinator] Todd Grantham needs for his 3-4 defense.”
Let’s see. Big interior lineman from a junior college: Didn’t Auburn just win it all with one of those? (The name was Nick Fairley, in case any Bulldog fans have forgotten.) And a hotshot freshman runner: Didn’t the arrival of Marcus Lattimore lift South Carolina to a breakthrough SEC East crown? Said Simmons: “Crowell can be that same type of player for Georgia.”
We pause here for breath, and also to remember: Georgia went 6-7 and didn’t beat a team with a winning record. But such is the promise inherent in recruiting, and no school knows better than this one. In 1979 the Bulldogs were 6-5. They signed Herschel Walker (running back, Wrightsville) on Easter Sunday 1980; on New Year’s Day 1981, they became national champs.
By Mark Bradley