I’ve always been a history buff. As a kid I would sit with my grandfather and watch World War II and Civil War documentaries and stories about explorers from pole to pole. One thing that struck me then and always stuck with me is the extent to which history happens by a confluence of tiny circumstances. One general decides to mount an offensive one day too late. One politician finds just the right phrase in one speech. One inventor passes a schoolyard full of children and is struck by a single momentous idea. And just like that, the course of the world is forever altered.
Let’s be clear, college football is not as important as matters military, civil, and scientific. This isn’t curing cancer. It isn’t world peace. But it matters, at least a fair amount, to those of us who write this site and those of you who read it. And the same pattern that swings the larger cultural history has a way of making itself seen in college football. Every so often circumstances coalesce, in just the right way, to alter the course of the game. We may have seen just such a moment this year. And the Georgia Bulldogs may well be the long term beneficiaries.
So Many Little Pieces.
Kirby Smart is a very good football coach. He’s shown himself particularly adept at the thing Mark Richt struggled with most: keeping his players on a razor’s edge week after week, despite distractions. As a result it seemed that the bigger the stage they played upon the more keen their edge.
Kirby Smart, very good football coach, inherited from his predecessor many very good football players. Say what you will about Mark Richt, he and his staff did not leave the cupboard bare. Players like Roquan Smith and Nick Chubb and Dominick Sanders were well on their way to developing into stars when Smart returned to the Classic City. In all the 2017 Georgia Bulldogs featured 31 seniors, something close to 30% of the entire team.
This meant that the 2017 Georgia Bulldogs featured a ton of veteran leadership and also veteran rank-and-file players. The kind who do not cause distractions and who know what’s expected of them. That large number of seniors also meant that the 2018 recruiting class was always going to fairly large, and that a lot of high school players would be hearing that they were needed to fill the shoes of some of those very good football players.
Kirby Smart and his staff molded those very good football players into a very good football team in 2017. At exactly the moment when they needed to. The 2018 Bulldog recruiting class got off to a slow start. It languished in the bottom half of the league and outside of the national top fifty for several months. Very few players seemed eager to jump aboard during the summer before the season started.
There was a very good reason for that. Coming off an 8-5 season opposing recruiters had a very simple message, one which resounded with recruits: Kirby Smart hadn’t proven he could win big in the SEC. It was, to be fair, a perfectly valid criticism. But it was the only thing Smart, renowned for his intensity, intelligence, and initiative, was missing.
All Falling Into Place.
And then Kirby Smart, very good football coach at the helm of a very good football team, put together one hellaciously good football season. Georgia not only beat its rivals. It beat its rivals so soundly that they felt the immediate need to fire their own football coaches. Those recruits who weren’t quite sure what he could do? They were watching. Intently.
Kirby Smart is a very good recruiter. Did I mention that yet? He’s tenacious. Enthusiastic. And as the 2017 season rolled on he found himself with something to sell to recruits. They responded. Slowly at first. Then with a rush.
When he took the job, Kirby Smart found himself situated right in the middle of a ton of talented football recruits. The state of Georgia usually has more than its fair share of blue chippers. For 2018 however, the Peach State was plum eaten up with them. You couldn’t swing a disgruntled Georgia Tech fan without hitting a four or five star recruit. Smart not only had a good product to sell, but a high quality customer base to call on.
The rumblings started in November that Georgia might end up with a pretty good recruiting class. Then by the time of the SEC Championship Game the whispers were that Georgia might have a very good recruiting class. Maybe even a top five recruiting class.
The Georgia obliterated Auburn in its rematch with the Plainsmen at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It was announced that the ‘Dawgs would travel to the Rose Bowl for a College Football Playoff matchup with Oklahoma. Smart had proven his detractors wrong. He could win big in Athens. In fact he had done it, faster than anyone expected, with a true freshman quarterback. And it became clear that Georgia might have an early signing period of truly staggering proportions.
But the ‘Dawgs weren’t through. Smart & Co. built so much momentum with that early success that blue chip recruits began wanting to be a part of it. Georgia could have signed about as many high caliber recruits as it wanted to.
A couple of statistics for your consideration:
I think the "wow" statistic of the day is this: Otis Reese is a national top 100 recruit. He would have been the highest rated player in Michigan's class. He's the twelfth highest rated in UGA's.— Dawg Sports (@dawgsports) February 7, 2018
Alabama has signed 1⃣6⃣ 5-star players since 2010.— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) February 7, 2018
That's 3 more than any other school in the country. pic.twitter.com/SZbqDPmofH
That last one is significant because Georgia signed half that number in the past month and a half. This is the best recruiting class in UGA history, and it’s not even close. In fact it’s one of the best recruiting classes anyone has put together. I’d wager that only the NCAA and its focus on scholarship numbers prevented this from being the highest ranked recruiting class in modern history.
But if Kirby Smart had not been a very good football coach, a very good recruiter, blessed with a very good football team, and recruiting on a very fertile hunting ground all at once, this class would not have happened. But all those circumstances came together in a rush. The result was truly historic, at least so far as UGA fans are concerned. Kirby Smart and his staff were dealt an amazing hand. And they played it almost perfectly. That’s a rare, rare thing.
What was Kirby Smart doing earlier today while Quay Walker was deciding not to go to Alabama, and poking fun at Tennessee? By his own admission he was watching film of 2019 and 2020 recruits. And that’s the really amazing part. Kirby Smart and his staff may well parlay this historic moment into a program-altering epoch. They already hold an early lead for the top 2019 class, having added one of the nation’s top tight ends today.
Recruiting matters. It matters more than anything. As Tennessee’s Jeremy Pruitt says, the X’s and O’s are easy. It’s getting the athletes to execute it all that’s so hard. If Smart and his staff keep getting them at this rate, they will make life very difficult for the rest of the SEC, including the scowling man in Tuscaloosa. And if they do keep this train rolling, we will look back on this 2017 season, on all the things that somehow went right just when they needed to, as the beginning of it all. Until later . . .