If you follow college football, you cannot ignore recruiting. Even if you think it’s overblown, attention must be paid. As Jamie Newberg, the ESPN recruiting analyst, said Monday: “Those stars [rankings for each recruit] do mean something. You just have look at the national champions the last 10 years to know that.”
Then this: “But then you look at a guy like [Virginia Tech's] Frank Beamer — he’s never in the Top 10 [of recruiting rankings] but he gets the guys who does what he wants … Paul Johnson has done a good job in that way, too.”
Paul Johnson, as we know, coaches Georgia Tech, and Tech is often seen as an afterthought on National Signing Day. The SEC schools load up on five-star guys and the Jackets make do with lesser lights, and when you look at the rankings — and we all do — Tech is never in the Top 10. But here’s Newberg on this Tech class, rated the nation’s 57th-best by Scout.com: “This is a typical Tech year … They find a way to get it done.”
Newberg mentioned two Tech commitments — and here we stipulate that commitments aren’t binding until somebody signs something; Wednesday is National Signing Day — to buttress the point: Francis Kallon, a defensive lineman from Central Gwinnett who committed to Tech before ever playing an organized game, and Travin Henry, a receiver from Cook County who committed Sunday night.
“Kallon is one of the best stories I’ve ever known,” Newberg said. “And I watched tape of Henry last night, and I thought, ‘Holy smoke! Where did they find this guy?’ He’s big. He can be another Stephen Hill or Demaryius Thomas.”
Georgia, as we also know, is rather different: The Bulldogs do pursue the big names, and if there’s any consensus on this class it’s that it’s good on big names. Georgia has garnered promises from the top players in Florida (offensive lineman John Theus) and North Carolina (running back Keith Marshall) but has, as of this writing, only 16 commitments. Which could, suggested Chad Simmons of Scout, be the reason for the disparity in the Bulldogs’ ranking.
Both Scout and Rivals.com have Georgia 21st nationally. ESPN tabs the Bulldogs fifth. “I’m not exactly sure how ESPN goes about it,” said Simmons, “but one thing that could put Georgia down is that they have only 16 commitments. Miami has 32, Alabama has 27, South Carolina has 25. It’s strictly a numbers game on the top end.”
According to Tom Luginbill, the former Tech quarterback who is ESPN’s national recruiting director, numbers are the least of it. “The difference between us and everybody else is that we don’t look at it as a mathematical equation,” Luginbill said. “We dissect the current rosters of the teams — where they’re devoid of talent, what they need to do to address needs and have they done it? … Our way doesn’t allow us to fall back on a numerical head count.”
In ESPN’s considered opinion, Georgia has filled needs nicely. Luginbill mentioned defensive tackles John Atkins of Thomson and Jonathan Taylor of Millen as fits “in the zero technique [meaning nose tackle]” for Todd Grantham’s 3-4 defense. And the addition of Marshall and Todd Gurley should offer depth at tailback, a position at which Georgia ran thin in 2011.
Ran thin? Despite the presence of Isaiah Crowell, the crown jewel of last season’s banner class? Well, yes. Crowell had one of the strangest rookie years in the history of humankind — he was named the SEC’s top freshman, but his absences, due to suspension and injury, left Bulldog fans wanting much more.
Said Simmons of Marshall and Gurley: “These two guys are high school All-Americans. They’re going to push [Crowell] to make him better. I don’t think he maybe he worked as hard as he should have. Marshall is the No. 1 running back in the country — he has the same type of notoriety as Isaiah, the same type of offers.”
The widespread belief is that Georgia could still spring some Signing Day surprises. “It’s a good class right now, but they have to add some pieces,” said Simmons, and he mentioned linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons of Lowndes and offensive lineman Avery Young of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., both of whom are uncommitted.
Said Newberg: “It leads to a very intriguing Signing Day for Georgia.”
You’ll recall that Georgia’s class of 2011 was so loaded it was christened the Dream Team, and many of those heralded signees have yet to make a splash. Is another banner crop needed so soon? Yes, Newberg said. “The SEC is so competitive you can’t afford a down year. Alabama is recruiting at such an unbelievably high level, you’ve got to at least stay with them.”
If you follow college football, you must take heed of recruiting, and for that reason Signing Day is the single biggest date on the college football calendar. But I’m guessing you knew that already. I’m guessing you’ll stay tuned.
By Mark Bradley