Locally, the story of Signing Day 2014 stands to be more of the same. Georgia, which has compiled the nation’s eighth-best recruiting class according to Rivals, will do rather well; Georgia Tech’s haul – Rivals rates it the 46th-best – will be less imposing. That’s a don’t-stop-the-presses headline on the order of, “Atlanta area has trouble coping with snow.”
Again according to Rivals, not since February 2000 – Jim Donnan’s tenure as Georgia’s coach would end 10 months later, and George O’Leary would leave Tech a year after that – have the Jackets finished with a higher-rated signing class than the Bulldogs. That’s not surprising. Even in the days of Bobby Dodd, Tech was always the program that sought to do more with less. What’s notable is how wide the expanse between the schools has become.
Per Rivals, Georgia’s average signing class over the 13 years Mark Richt has worked in Athens ranked a rounded-up No. 9 nationally; the average Tech class, compiled under three different coaches, ranked a rounded-up 52nd. The highest-rated Tech class since 2000 – the 18th-ranked 2007 bunch, compiled by Chan Gailey in his final season, with Jonathan Dwyer, Derrick Morgan, Morgan Burnett and Joshua Nesbitt – was lower than Georgia’s lowest-rated. And about here, you’re doubtless saying, “No wonder Georgia beat Tech on the field 12 of those 13 years.”
Well, yes. The head-to-head record bears out what Rivals and our eyeballs have told us: Georgia has superior manpower. But if we look a bit harder, we see:
Over those 13 seasons, Georgia won two SEC titles, played for its conference championship five times and graced a BCS bowl three times. Over the same span, Tech won one ACC title (since forfeited), played for its conference championship three times and graced a BCS bowl once. Tech had one 10-plus win season and didn’t finish above 13th in the final Associated Press poll; Georgia cracked the AP top 10 five times and had eight 10-plus win seasons.
And if we note that recruiting rankings showed Georgia, on average, finishing 42 spots ahead of Tech over 13 years, we might think Tech received more bang for its letter-of-intent. Bill Bender of Sporting News found that, over the BCS’s 16 years of existence, Georgia had the nation’s ninth-best winning percentage and second-best (to LSU, barely) among SEC teams. The Bulldogs were the winningest program not to play for the BCS title.
Meanwhile, Tech finished with the 26th-best record over those 16 seasons – two spots behind Clemson, one ahead of Notre Dame. In sum, Tech greatly outperformed what recruiting rankings would have led us to believe. (Here we insert the boilerplate disclaimer that playing in the ACC isn’t quite the same as existing in the SEC.)
Georgia plays better football than Tech. That’s a given. But if we go by Signing Day, Georgia doesn’t fare any better than we’d have a right to expect. Playing for any BCS title was largely a function of timing and luck – Richt’s one-loss 2002 SEC champs were shut out of the BCS title game, while six other one-loss SEC teams and the two-loss LSU of 2007 reached that exalted stage – but we can’t say that the Bulldogs rose above their station. We can say that about Tech.
The flip side is that, the 2007 class aside, Tech hasn’t recruited nearly as well under Gailey or Paul Johnson as a major program based in a bountiful Southern state could or should have. Yes, the scholastic requirements of a technical institute differ from those of a broad-based state university, but Bill Curry, who played and coached at Tech and who coached at two SEC state universities (Alabama and Kentucky), recently noted the Jackets have long said “we won’t use academics as an excuse.”
In seven recruiting classes under Johnson, Tech has landed no five-star recruits and 11 four-stars, as adjudged by Rivals. (This includes one four-star commitment for 2014.) Gailey’s class of 2007 included eight four-star commitments. That was the exception – Gailey’s other five classes totaled only five four-star recruits – but it was an exception indicating that better is possible.
Over the past year, Tech has sought to upgrade recruiting, hiring more staffers and broadening its reach. A class ranked 46th-best wouldn’t seem an overwhelming return, though it trumps last year’s 85th. But imagine if the Jackets could consistently land in the 30s. They just might be able to beat Georgia on the field once every four or five years and have it not come as a surprise.
Where Georgia and Georgia Tech ranked in national recruiting, as rated by Rivals.
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.