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Mark Bradley

Fun with recruiting numbers: Is UGA slipping?

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Johnny Football: Three-star prospect, All-American player. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

Johnny Football: Three-star prospect, All-American player. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

In advance of Signing Day, I’ve been playing around with recruiting numbers. (Thanks again to Rivals for the availability and simplicity of their data.) I noted several things, some of which will be presented in a Georgia/Georgia Tech combo-platter column that will be available on myajc.com, our premium site. And, since you asked, here are Rivals’ respective national rankings for the local programs since Mark Richt arrived in Athens:

  • 2001: Georgia 16th; Tech 19th.
  • 2002: Georgia 3rd; Tech 63rd.
  • 2003: Georgia 6th; Tech 50th.
  • 2004: Georgia 9th; Tech 79th.
  • 2005: Georgia 10th; Tech 62nd.
  • 2006: Georgia 4th; Tech 57th.
  • 2007: Georgia 9th; Tech 18th.
  • 2008: Georgia 7th; Tech 49th.
  • 2009: Georgia 6th; Tech 49th.
  • 2010: Georgia 15th; Tech 43rd.
  • 2011: Georgia 5th; Tech 41st.
  • 2012: Georgia 12th; Tech 57th.
  • 2013: Georgia 12th; Tech 85th.

This tells us what we already know: Georgia is, duh, better at recruiting than Tech. The Bulldogs’ annual ranking over those 13 seasons was a rounded-off No. 9 in the nation, while Tech’s was No. 52. If we check Bill Bender’s Sporting News compilation of on-the-field records over the 16 years of the BCS’s existence, we note that the Bulldogs were an aggregate ninth-best in the land (and second-best to LSU in the SEC), which would seem in keeping with their recruiting hauls.

We must also note that Tech had the nation’s 26th-best winning percentage from 1998 through 2013, which would underscore a point made in this space last February: Tech is much better at playing football than recruiting football players.

We also note the following: From 2002 through 2009, Georgia finished second, third, second, second, second, sixth, third and third among SEC programs in recruiting. From 2010 through 2013, it has finished sixth, second, fourth and seventh among SEC teams. It’s projected to finish sixth in the conference (but No. 8 nationally) by Rivals this time.

In the grand scheme, that’s still really good. It’s just not quite as good as Georgia was doing, conference-wise, a little while back. That was when the Bulldogs had both Rodney Garner and Mike Bobo — listed as No. 2 and No. 3 on Jeremy Crabtree’s ESPN Insider ratings of the nation’s best recruiters — on staff. (Garner left for Auburn after the 2012 season.)

Most observers agree that recruiting in the SEC, never a gentle pursuit, got even more intense with Nick Saban’s arrival at Alabama in 2007. Not coincidentally, 2007 was the last year Georgia ranked ahead of Alabama — the Bulldogs were No. 9 nationally to the Tide’s No. 10 — in Rivals’ recruiting ratings. Bama won three BCS titles under Saban. As Bender notes, Georgia was the winningest team never to grace a BCS title game.

We can debate at length what all this means. If recruiting is everything, then how does Alabama — which has finished first in the nation every year save one from 2008 on and is projected to do it again — ever not win the national championship? If recruiting matters so much, then how has middling Tech gone to 17 consecutive bowls? If recruiting is an exact science, then why was Johnny Manziel a three-star prospect?

There’s a part of me that would love to tell you that recruiting is way overblown. There’s another part that is forced to concede that recruiting really does mean something. Every year at this time, I fight to reconcile those two stances. One of these years I might even manage to do it.

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