Inherently subjective recruiting rankings, naturally, are no guarantee of subsequent success; there is, as they say, many a slip betwixt the cup and the lip, but, if bringing in an impressive haul on the human resources front in February offers no ironclad assurances, it at least is not without its predictive value. Not every chef is capable of preparing a gourmet meal, but the ingredients are prerequisites to the effective implementation of any recipe. Bear Bryant noted that "you've got to have chicken to make chicken salad," and Lyndon Johnson observed that there was a measurable difference between chicken salad and certain other poultry byproducts.
The Georgia Bulldogs began the day with 23 players verbally committed to come to Athens, and, by the noon hour, signed letters of intent had been received from all 23 of them. The addition of Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., linebacker Kent Turene brought the ranks of Red and Black signees to 24, of whom 18 were Peach State natives. When the 19th local product, Columbus running back Isaiah Crowell, became the day’s 25th signee for the ‘Dawgs, a football season full of question marks gave way to a national signing day ending in an exclamation point, suddenly signaling the apparent arrival of the winter of Bulldog Nation’s contentment.
In short, Georgia’s 2011 recruiting class contains both quality and quantity, meets the program’s immediate needs, and fulfills much of the promise of the coaching staff’s ambitious "Dream Team" concept. For a program that hasn’t done much for us lately in the way of turning potential into production, it was a big day. With all due apologies to Charles de Gaulle, plebiscites are no way to run a country, as direct democracy has a way of sliding rapidly down the slippery slope leading to the adoption of a mob mentality, but the region’s blue-chip prospects just voted with their ball-point pens, and that crucial constituency delivered a critical victory at the ballot box in the referendum that took place today in Bulldog Nation.
Many message-board mainstays who are giddy with negativity have spent months stating their case for a verdict of no confidence to be rendered against the Mark Richt regime, and even some presumably disinterested observers have characterized the Georgia skipper dismissively as "declining," but the players he hopes to coach for the next several seasons answered the critics with a swift, "Not so fast, my friend!" This is why anyone asserting that this latest highly-ranked recruiting class is "par for the course for UGA" is failing to see the forest for the trees; no Red and Black staff has recruited under such duress since 1995, when Ray Goff had to try to persuade prep prospects with a sword of Damocles marked "significant improvement" dangling above his head.
A little under a month ago, I expressed my belief that national signing day would be a critical day for Mark Richt’s future in Athens. At the time, it looked like the Bulldogs were going to whiff on a number of headliners in putting together their 2011 recruiting class; now, with Georgia having inked a top ten group of signees, that future looks at least slightly brighter, and the hot seat seems at least slightly cooler, than before. It is early yet to proclaim this the break point between past disasters and future championships, but, if the dream becomes a reality, this likely will be the day we look back on as the first on which we could say it was morning again in Bulldog Nation.
This much, at least, is as certain as such things can be: absent extreme attrition, someone is going to win a bunch of football games with this batch of Bulldogs. I hope that someone is Mark Richt, whose continued fervor for coaching no longer can be gainsaid, even among his most unforgiving critics. Each loss has brought forth fresh, harsh, and novel calumny from those eager to elide every benefit of Coach Richt’s tenure; for instance, his famous coolness under fire, which evinced the resting heart rate of a marathon runner or a jewel thief and demonstrably produced milestone victories in places like Knoxville, Tuscaloosa, and Auburn, suddenly became, in the eyes of many, the indifference of a skipper who had lost his fire for football. Apparently, Coach Richt’s calm outward demeanor yet masks a passion his players still see, and to which this class of prospects responded emphatically.
Though there remains much work to be done in cooking the dinner, we need not entertain today the doubts we had a year ago about the ability of the dean of SEC coaches to shop for the groceries.