Alabama, Georgia cultures provide separation on recruiting landscape

Georgia photo by Tony Walsh / Georgia football coach Kirby Smart looks on as Alabama’s Nick Saban speaks during a media session before this past January’s national championship game in Indianapolis. Saban’s Crimson Tide and Smart’s Bulldogs have the nation’s top two recruiting classes entering Wednesday’s start to the early signing period.

Alabama and Georgia have the top two recruiting classes in the Southeastern Conference -- and nationally -- heading into Wednesday's start to college football's early signing period.

Shocking, right?

Should Nick Saban's Crimson Tide finish with the No. 1 class after the traditional signing date on Feb. 1, 2023, it would mark their 10th time on top in the last 13 years. If Kirby Smart's Bulldogs wind up with the highest-rated class, it would be the third such occasion in six years.

Does it even need mentioning that Alabama and Georgia have won the past two national championships on the field? What is it about these two programs that allow them to keep thriving at such an elite level when more and more players seek quicker avenues to playing time?

"Playing for championships means more than individual accomplishments, and there seems to be an understanding in that culture that if everybody plays well, all the other stuff will take care of itself," ESPN recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill said earlier this week. "If these players perform to the best of their abilities and win championships, the players earn a marketable value that turns into name image and likeness (NIL), and if you can get your team to understand that and not look at it the other way around, I think that's nirvana.

"You've hit the jackpot, because we're in this climate right now where everything is 'me, me, me' as far as money and deals, but Georgia and Alabama -- you also have some of that at Clemson and Ohio State and with others out there -- have a core foundation that the team comes first and that championships matter."

Miami is No. 3 in the team rankings, with Texas, LSU, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Clemson rounding out the top 10. The SEC accounts for six of the top 15 classes with Florida at No. 11 and Texas A&M at No. 15, but Jimbo Fisher's Aggies are a long way from the No. 1 status they attained in the 2022 recruiting cycle.

The Aggies followed their top national haul with a 5-7 season that included a last-place finish in the Western Division.

"They're dealing with a level of negativity that nobody saw coming that was completely out of left field," Luginbill said. "Their performance on the field has crushed them. They've lost more than 20 players out of the transfer portal, so you're looking at them with 13 commitments right now, and they've got a ton of work to do with a roster that is probably not overly pleased.

"The ones who have remained have a lot of work to do to start performing to the standard that people expected, but the top half of those 13 players are players everybody in America have widely coveted, so they're still doing something right."

Doing something right while Alabama and Georgia seem to be doing everything right.

Georgia lost 15 players to the NFL this past spring yet didn't delve into to transfer portal to produce a second straight 12-0 regular season and the first 13-0 start in program history. The Bulldogs have only lost one player this month to the transfer portal, with reserve defensive lineman Bill Norton from Memphis deciding that Arizona would be his next locale.

Alabama has missed out on the College Football Playoff for only the second time in nine years, but the Crimson Tide did not have any players opt out of the Citrus Bowl following the 2019 season and do not have any opt outs heading into the Sugar Bowl against Kansas State on New Year's Eve afternoon.

"It's not an easy thing to do in this climate, when accolades are showered upon these young players," Luginbill said, "and it's so easy for them to get caught up in that. It's the culture in the locker room. It's the players holding each other accountable, and at the end of the day, it's about winning.

"When your best players are your most committed players, then playing in the Sugar Bowl is every bit as important as playing in the College Football Playoff."


How the SEC programs lined up as of Tuesday afternoon in the 247Sports recruiting rankings (national rank included):

1. Alabama (1)

2. Georgia (2)

3. LSU (5)

4. Tennessee (9)

5. Florida (11)

6. Texas A&M (15)

7. South Carolina (17)

8. Arkansas (20)

9. Auburn (26)

10. Mississippi State (27)

11. Ole Miss (33)

12. Missouri (37)

13. Kentucky (46)

14. Vanderbilt (49)

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