Five Final Thoughts on SEC Recruiting

Recruiting is over and, as a coach once told me, everybody’s class is filled with players “who all come highly recommended.”

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But before we turn page and begin to focus on Spring football, please allow your humble correspondent to share some final impressions SEC Recruiting for 2018:

1—You can’t be surprised at what Kirby Smart is doing at Georgia: Last June I was at a social event when a big Georgia fan asked me with a straight face: “Is Kirby going to make it?”

Really. That was the question after Smart’s first season at Georgia, when the Bulldogs went a disappointing 8-5. It was a strange season where the Bulldogs could not close out several games (Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech) they should have won. These things happen with first-year head coaches who most of the time don’t know what they don’t know. If you know anything about Kirby Smart’s background you knew he was going to fix that.

I assured the questioner that “Kirby is going to be just fine.”

Today we can say that Smart is better than just fine after his second team won the SEC championship, won the national CFP semifinals in the Rose Bowl, and then came within one play of winning the national championship. Then, just one month later Georgia signs the No. 1 recruiting class in the country.

Smart hired a very good staff when he got to Georgia. He is a relentless recruiter. The only question now is how the Bulldogs use their talent base to rebuild after a dream season. In just two years he has put Georgia in a position for a nice run.

Bulldog fans are optimistic and they should be. Still, having said all that….

2—Nick Saban and Alabama aren’t going anywhere: Alabama’s run of No. 1 recruiting classes came to an end last Wednesday and the Crimson Tide instead had the No. 6 class. OMG!!!!!

But the fact is that Saban, as has been the case for a long time, has a bunch of great players just waiting on their turn. It is also a fact that true freshmen played a huge part in Alabama’s national championship win over Georgia. The point is: Don’t read too much into one signing class. Alabama will still be the preseason No. 1 and the Tide closed strong on Wednesday signing Patrick Surtain, Jr., the nation’s most highly-ranked cornerback.

No question that Georgia has closed the gap and is in the best position to challenge Alabama’s dominance of the SEC. But, as a coach once said, it’s a process.

3—The early signing period is here to stay: Coaches, by their very nature, are against change. They hate the unknown, which is why most coaches were against the early signing period in December. But after it was over and these coaches saw how much their workload in January was reduced, they realized it was a good thing.

The presence of an early signing period in December, when about 70 percent of the top recruits signed, took some of the drama out of national signing day on Wednesday. And, IMHO, that’s a good thing.

I do have some questions about the early signing period:

**--Will it stay on the third week in December?

**--Now that we’ve seen a cycle, will fewer players sign next December and choose to wait? No question that coaches used their leverage to get guys to sign early.

**--If the numbers stay high, does December become the REAL National Signing Day?

4—For a conference that is supposedly overrated, a lot of really good players seem to go to SEC schools:

Think about this: There are 65 Power Five schools but of the ESPN top 300 players, almost a third of them (92) signed with the 14 schools in the SEC.

In the final ratings, the SEC had five of the top 16 and nine of the top 27 recruiting classes in the nation.

Two SEC schools (Alabama, Georgia) met for the CFP national championship while another (Auburn) beat both of them in the regular season.

But I keep hearing that the SEC isn’t very good from top to bottom. Well, to that I say….

5—The SEC is about to get a lot better: Yes, the SEC was top-heavy last season. Alabama, Georgia, and Auburn were a significant cut above everybody else. All three of those teams, when healthy, could beat anybody.

Yes, Tennessee and Vanderbilt were both 0-7 in conference play when they met last November. Florida was a train wreck. Arkansas and Texas A&M let their coaches go.

Now look where we are after national signing day. In the SEC East there is no doubt that Florida (No. 13 class) and Tennessee (No. 23 class) are going to be better under new coaches. Keep an eye on South Carolina (No. 18 class) where Will Muschamp is steadily building. The Gamecocks are less than a year away from moving into a $50 million state-of-the art football facility.

In the SEC West I predict Texas A&M (No. 16 class) is going to get better in a hurry under Jimbo Fisher. Alabama will be No. 1 and Auburn will be in the Top 10. Ole Miss made a smart move in retaining Matt Luke while Joe Moorhead will keep things rolling at Mississippi State.

So there you go. Bring on Spring Ball!!!!