ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia football coach Mark Richt was at the podium talking about his most up-to-date list of signees when an audible “Ugh!” erupted from the corner of the meeting room populated by assistant coaches.
That this outburst from offensive coordinator Mike Bobo (quickly muffled into some kind of cough) happened to coincide precisely with the moment an in-state target named Andrew Williams announced his intention to play for Southeastern Conference rival Auburn illustrates the passion of sport’s most bizarre “event” – National Signing Day.
Winners and losers are announced in a hail of three-, four- and five-star recruits that may or may not be as good as the former two-star (Russell Wilson) who just won the Super Bowl.
“Recruiting rankings should come out after your senior year in college,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. “Then it’s based on production, not potential.”
Of course, football programs are made or doomed by all those signatures on national letters of intent, but the exact nature of what transpired Wednesday will take years to determine. That doesn’t stop the so-called “experts” and their masses of drooling followers from fretting and fawning over the scorecards.
Or coaches from declaring all-out victory.
“We exceeded our needs,” Clemson’s Swinney said.
“We’re excited about our guys,” chimed in Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson.
“We’re just really thrilled about the guys we brought in,” said Georgia’s Richt.
“We had an outstanding class,” South Carolina’s head ball coach Steve Spurrier declared.
Of course they all did. Nobody has ever had a bad recruiting performance on signing day.
“It’s like having a baby,” said former South Carolina coach Lou Holtz during ESPNU’s exhausting 11 hours of live coverage. “You don’t know whether you have a doctor a lawyer or a thief. What you do know is you have a baby. Same thing with a prospect. He could be an All-American or he could be a flub.”
Any fans stressing over the loss of one so-called four-star defensive end from Eagles Landing Christian miss the point. It’s not one or two guys, it’s depth that matters. A team needs to hoard dozens of prospects hoping a handful pan out. Which ones will or won’t is the most inexact science in sports.
If you place stock in such things, Alabama won the day (as usual) with the most “can’t miss” prospects while Louisiana State trailed just behind with the presumed No. 1 running back and wide receiver. The SEC dominated with seven programs ranked in the top 10, including Georgia (anywhere from seventh to 12th depending on your preferred recruiting source).
So by that measure, the Bulldogs lost ground in its own conference.
Clemson ranged from 13th to 28th, South Carolina from 17th to 30th and Georgia Tech from 47th to 60th.
Who really knows?
The most interesting dynamic of signing day are the regional battles. With such fertile recruiting territory, it’s difficult for Georgia (and impossible for Georgia Tech) to protect its borders from poachers. Perhaps most distressing for the Bulldogs was seeing just how much success neighbors Auburn, Clemson and South Carolina – all rivals on the 2014 schedule – had raiding the Peach State.
Clemson signed five of Georgia’s top 15 prospects, including five-star Deshaun Watson from Gainesville who is ranked the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the nation. The Gamecocks locked up five prominent recruits from Georgia, including linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams and defensive end Dante Sawyer. Auburn netted five four-stars from across the border.
“We signed five of the top 15 players in Georgia – that’s more than any other school,” said Swinney, perhaps rubbing it in on his opening day foe, who signed only four on the Rivals list.
The Bulldogs, however, snuck into South Carolina to steal early-enrollee quarterback Jacob Park from Goose Creek – rated as high as the fifth best pro-style prospect. The Palmetto State lost five more of its top 10 recruits to the likes of Alabama, Florida State, Texas, Oklahoma State and Florida.
Worry is the perfect word for the recruiting wars. In Athens, whatever excitement that was generated from the morning signings of two of the supposed six best running backs in the country (Sony Michel and Nick Chubb) was subdued by the long wait on the 21st and final piece of the Bulldogs class.
“Please almighty Bulldawg please deliver us Lorenzo Carter,” wrote one Georgia fan among the last-minute pleas flowing on Twitter.
Carter wasted no time reaching for the red Georgia cap. And there was no confusion about the noise that erupted inside the Bulldogs’ coaching offices.
“I heard the screaming and screeching so I figured it was good news,” said Richt.
Time will tell.