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Georgia football coach Kirby Smart listens to a question about his No. 1 recruiting class during Wednesday afternoon's news conference in Athens.
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Even during the busiest moments of the recent college football recruiting cycle, Georgia coach Kirby Smart knew he couldn't complain.

There were too many counterparts who would gladly trade places.

Smart's Bulldogs compiled the nation's No. 1 signing class for 2018, adding six signees Wednesday to the 20 from college football's first early signing period on Dec. 20-22. Those early signees came on the heels of Georgia's first Southeastern Conference title in 12 seasons and coincided with on-campus workouts for the program's first trip to the Rose Bowl in 75 seasons.

"It's hard to argue with the results we were able to achieve," Smart said Wednesday in a news conference, "and I think it was a blessing to be in the situation we were in. We lost a week on the road recruiting because of the SEC championship game, and I would think people that didn't play in the SEC championship game would get a huge advantage by being out that week, which is close to a signing date.

"We lost that, but we also gained the momentum of the exposure, so I liked that part of it."

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Smart's stellar haul, which consisted of seven of the nation's top 25 players in the 247Sports.com composite rankings, knocked Alabama off its perennial perch in SEC recruiting. The Crimson Tide topped rival Auburn for the league's second-best class, signing five defensive backs to replace the six who are setting their sights on the NFL.

Alabama has finished with the No. 1 class nationally nine times under Nick Saban, who admitted multiple times in recent weeks he was adjusting to the two separate signing opportunities.

"It made the recruiting a lot more intense in December, when we were trying to practice and get ready for the playoff," Saban said Wednesday. "Now it's really intense, too, because there are fewer players available and fewer players to fall back on.

"The combination of those two things has made this a really different management."

In late December, ESPN recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill said roughly 72 percent of high school prospects elected to sign early, which was a sizable number nobody expected in this inaugural cycle. Stability reigned in the SEC as the eight programs with the same head coaches from a year ago averaged 17 early signees. The six SEC schools with new head coaches averaged 11.

"I really like it," Luginbill said earlier this week as a guest of "Press Row" on Chattanooga's ESPN 105.1 FM. "I think it has helped the coaches and helped the programs that were able to put resources in other areas. I think it has limited expenditures as far as coaches being on the road, which is a positive, and I think the players feel pretty good about it by and large.

"Those who were ready to pack it in were able to go ahead and move forward."

Smart admitted Wednesday he was studying video of 2019 and 2020 prospects while 2018 recruits were signing. Georgia already has seven commitments, including three five-star talents, for its 2019 class that is currently No. 1 in the 247Sports team rankings.

"The one thing we've got to look at moving forward is what will happen to a kid if there continues to be a significant number of assistant coaches changing in the month of January, because we saw an awful lot of that," Luginbill said. "Is that going to be something that scares kids off from signing early? I'm interested to see how that plays out in the course of time."

In addition to the early signing date, the recent recruiting cycle included last month's addition of a 10th assistant coach.

Only time will tell whether the second recruiting cycle with two signing dates will produce similar numbers to the one just finished. What is certain is Smart just set a very high bar as far as successful juggling acts.

"There were some challenges there for us, but I really don't think it's about us," Smart said. "I think it's about the student-athletes and whether it was better for them. I actually think what happened is that it narrowed the scope of a lot of top programs onto certain guys, and it created more pressure on the remainder of the people who weren't signed, so the pressure went from being dispersed among 20 players to being on three or four players for every team.

"That was tough to go through with some of the families of the guys you finished with, because they had a big burden on them. As for the high school coaches, I think it was beneficial."

Dunbar leaving Tide

Alabama defensive line coach Karl Dunbar is leaving after two seasons to become defensive line coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Dunbar is the fourth Alabama coach to leave after its latest national championship, joining secondary coach Derrick Ansley (Oakland Raiders secondary coach), offensive coordinator Brian Daboll (Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator) and Jeremy Pruitt (University of Tennessee head coach).

Dunbar went to Tuscaloosa after working the previous 11 seasons in the NFL.

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

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