Only time will tell whether Georgia's 2017 class has Tide-like impact

Only time will tell whether Georgia's 2017 class has Tide-like impact

February 3rd, 2017 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Georgia football coach Kirby Smart discusses his 2017 signing class Wednesday as Bulldogs fans look on inside the Butts-Mehre Athletic Complex.

Photo by Cory A. Cole

ATHENS, Ga. — Kirby Smart's first full recruiting cycle as Georgia's head football coach is now complete.

Now, the obvious question.

Can his first full class of Bulldogs signees have an immediate impact similar to Alabama's first full recruiting class under Nick Saban in 2008, when Smart was beginning an eight-year run as the Crimson Tide defensive coordinator that eventually included four national championships?

"Please don't," Smart said at even the hint of a comparison during Wednesday's signing day news conference.

Alabama finished a 6-6 regular season in 2007 with four consecutive losses, including a sixth straight setback against Auburn and a stunning loss against the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks. A victory over Colorado in the Independence Bowl kept Saban from enduring a losing debut year, but with a drastic infusion of talent eight months later, the Crimson Tide routed Clemson 34-10 in the inaugural Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic.

The Crimson Tide are 112-13 since the arrival of the 2008 signees, who included three top-100 national prospects — receiver Julio Jones, safety Mark Barron and linebacker Courtney Upshaw — and were stout down the line with offensive lineman Barrett Jones, defensive lineman Marcell Dareus, tailback Mark Ingram, linebacker Dont'a Hightower and safety Robert Lester. Arguably the lowest-rated member of Alabama's 2008 class, tight end Brad Smelley, had a team-high seven receptions in the Tide's 21-0 blanking of LSU in the national championship game to cap the 2011 season.

"The first lesson I can take from that is that really good players play really good," Smart said. "That may have been the most productive class, top to bottom, that I've been around, but we don't really know for sure if we've got good players until they get here."

Barring any mishaps, Georgia will have 26 new scholarship players for summer workouts and preseason camp, with seven having signed as top-100 prospects and 18 among ESPN's top 300 recruits. Trying to equal the success of Alabama's 2008 class might be a stretch — Jones and Lester were a part of three BCS titles in five seasons in Tuscaloosa — but matching a sharp upgrade in results might not.

The Bulldogs finished Smart's debut year stronger than the 2007 Tide by winning four of their last five games, including a 13-7 upset of No. 9 Auburn and a 31-23 triumph over TCU in the Liberty Bowl, to wind up 8-5. They also have a plethora of returning talent, including leading passer Jacob Eason, leading rushers Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Brian Herrien and 14 of the top 15 tacklers.

That alone may make it harder for Smart's first full signing class to evoke memories of Saban's first full crop nine years ago.

"I think that each year has a history and life of its own," Smart said. "You recruit each year independent of the other. The challenges are different each year. Next year, it will be a challenge recruiting offensive linemen. Why? Because we just signed six.

"It's very important that you do a good job explaining your needs, and they do a good job of understanding that there is more to it than just a depth chart."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.


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