ATHENS, Ga. – Georgia’s Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall is usually bustling on the first Wednesday of February. Coffee and doughnuts typically await a throng of fans mingling among the exhibits as they wait to hear the latest news off the fax machine on National Signing Day.
Georgia didn’t bother to put out the doughnuts Wednesday as everyone expected a fairly anticlimactic day for the Bulldogs, who already secured 20 elite recruits in the inaugural early signing period in December. Roughly 82 percent of the potential Division I-A signees, according to ESPN, had already signed letters of intent before Christmas.
Georgia already had more incoming recruits enrolled in Athens this semester (9) than they had spots remaining to give (2) on Wednesday.
Whatever luster was stolen from National Signing Day, however, didn’t stop Georgia from getting even bigger. The Bulldogs sailed past the NCAA scholarship limit of 85 as blue-chip players kept donning Georgia caps in their high school gyms, with six more Bulldogs on the board.
The Bulldogs added its eighth five-star recruit to its class, flipped linebackers originally committed to Alabama and Michigan, and locked up two longtime out-of-state commitments that were feeling the pressure to stay home.
“One of the things that helped us today is we were able to get a lot of our work done in December,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “We were able to focus our contact attention on the four or five guys we needed to target.”
In total, Smart signed the undisputed top-rated class according to every recruiting service as the Bulldogs usurped the crown usually held by Alabama. Though Smart said that number doesn’t “float my boat.”
“I’d trade the No. 1 (recruiting) ranking for that last No. 1 ranking in the college football polls,” Smart said. “That’s what’s important is what you do on the field.”
How good is Georgia’s class? In flipping Lee County linebacker Otis Reese from Michigan, the Bulldogs took away what would have been the Wolverines highest-rated recruit. He’s either the 12th or 14th rated incoming Bulldog, depending on which recruiting ranking you prefer. Fourteen Georgia signees ranked among the top five in the country at their position.
“We’re excited about the things we were able to accomplish today,” said Smart.
In the rich get richer vein, Clemson pried five-star wide receiver Justyn Ross out of Alabama, as Dabo Swinney’s Tigers’ 17-man class includes the top rated player (according to ESPN or Rivals) from six different states including Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Ohio.
There were only 33 five-star players in the nation if you count up all the guys from every recruiting analyst, and 14 of them will be playing for either Georgia or Clemson.
That could get a little disheartening for fans of South Carolina and Georgia Tech, which failed to land any top-100 recruits. The Gamecocks’ best get was four-star defensive lineman Rick Sandidge, who by the time he announced his signing Wednesday afternoon had already lost the numbers game at Georgia.
The Gamecocks, however, did slip inside the top 20 in every recruiting ranking with its 22-man class – from fifth to seventh in the SEC, giving them more building blocks for Will Muschamp to work with.
Georgia Tech gathered its usual collection of predominantly three-stars, which is a good way to get coach Paul Johnson to bristle about the subjective ranking system.
Yet Johnson had no complaints about the new early and late signing system, enjoying the opportunity to focus on hitting his target numbers and getting out to schools in a time when they used to be swamped trying to nail everything down on one date.
“I think it’s a win-win for everybody,” Johnson said. “Certainly there was a lot less drama, at least for us.”
Smart certainly wasn’t complaining about the “anticlimactic” conclusion of the two-part signing saga despite the challenges of sandwiching the early signing date in between winning the SEC Championship and preparing for the college football playoff.
“It’s hard to argue with the results we were able to achieve,” said Smart, who will have to figure out a way to pare down his scholarship count to 85 before the 2018 season and leave four previously celebrated signees disappointed in some fashion.
The new system might not have been worthy of coffee, doughnuts and loitering around the football offices waiting for the papers to come in. We may see that things balance out more evenly between the early and traditional signing days as players and coaches figure out the logistics of everything.
Regardless, you won’t hear much grumbling from Georgia and Clemson fans about the maiden voyage.