For decades, Georgia has been a state raided from all sides for its rich football talent. Auburn, Clemson, Florida, FSU and Tennessee traditionally have gotten some of their best players out of the Peach State. And the Georgia Bulldogs, as the state university’s team, were most often the competition at the middle of the fray.
But there’s a new opponent with which UGA is trading licks this year. And it’s a tough time to be going toe-to-toe with the Alabama Crimson Tide.
The defending national champions have been on a three-year roll under coach Nick Saban. And unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the Tide has identified Georgia has its new No. 1 recruiting market outside of Alabama.
“It just happened over the last couple of years, since Saban has been Alabama’s head coach,” said Chad Simmons, South recruiting manager for FoxSports.com and Scout.com. “It’s didn’t happen under Mike Shula or Dennis Franchione or Mike DuBose. But Alabama under Saban has made it very clear they’re going to recruit the elite players in Georgia and try to beat Georgia head-to-head for them.”
Just run your finger down the list of uncommitted AJC Super 11 players and you’ll find the head-to-head battles going on between Georgia and Alabama.
The first and most notable is for Carver-Columbus tailback Isaiah Crowell, a five-star prospect considered among the top two or three running backs in America. Crowell, who grew up a Bulldogs’ fan, recently identified Alabama as his leader. Georgia, long thought to be the favorite, is now No. 2.
It’s mostly a Georgia-Alabama scrum for Damian Swann, an AJC Super 11 defensive back from Atlanta’s Grady High. That’s pretty much the case for defensive end Xzavier Dickson of Griffin, who is also still hearing from Auburn and Florida. Defensive end Ray Drew of Thomas County Central and tight end Jay Rome of Valdosta are trying to decide between Georgia and Alabama and a couple other schools.
Meanwhile, elite recruits such as Malcolm Mitchell of Valdosta, Xzavier Ward of Colquitt County and LaMichael Fanning of Harris County all have Alabama and Georgia among their finalists.
And it’s not a fluke.
Saban identified Greater Atlanta and it’s population base of 5.5 million soon after taking over at Alabama in 2007. The Crimson Tide quickly signed on to play in the inaugural Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in the Georgia Dome in 2008 to play Clemson. Then it came back in 2009 and played Virginia Tech.
“Obviously, it’s been made very clear Georgia is an important recruiting area for Alabama,” Simmons said. “And they have the staff to do it. [Defensive coordinator] Kirby Smart coached at Georgia and played at Georgia and he knows the state as well as anybody. And Burton Burns, their running backs coach [and associate head coach] recruited Atlanta and Georgia for Clemson before he came to Alabama. So they know their way around the state and have established relationships with the high school coaches.”
With 16 commitments to date, the foundation of Georgia’s 2011 recruiting class has already been established. But if the Bulldogs want to accomplish their stated goal attracting a “Dream Team” of in-state recruits to Athens, they’re going to have to win the majority of head-to-head battles with the defending national champions.
That was a difficult task even before Georgia got off to a slow start. But the Bulldogs remain the team to beat on their home turf.
“I think Georgia has a very good chance on each one of these guys,” Simmons said. “It depends on how they rebound the rest of the year and if their staff stays intact. That’s probably the biggest thing with these kids. They want to know who they’re going to be playing for. I think you can be pretty certain Alabama’s staff is going to stay intact. Will Georgia’s? That might depend on how they do the rest of the way.”