ATHENS -- The old saying, which Mark Richt will repeat from time to time, is that its not how you start, but how you finish. When it comes to this recruiting season and this National Signing Day, however, Richt is likely to preach the opposite.
The Georgia football team will sign at least 30 players, 13 of whom are already on campus and have been taking classes. But when it comes to the final, highly rated targets, the Bulldogs are struggling to the finish line.
Reuben Foster, the star inside linebacker, already announced for Alabama on Monday night. Offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, considered as late as last week as a near-lock for Georgia, is expected instead to sign with Mississippi. Tailback Alvin Kamara is expected to pick Alabama.
Georgias best hope for a five-star recruit is Dooly County defensive tackle Montravius Adams, but Auburn and Clemson are also reportedly high on Adams list.
So what will happen if Georgia does miss out on the major prospects and has to settle for the current class? Recruiting analysts, a look at history, say it shouldnt be considered settling.
Theyve addressed some needs, ESPN analyst Tom Luginbill said. It is a large class, so the goal is to hopefully hit on between 75 percent and 80 percent of the guys on an optimum year that you bring into your class. On the low end of the scale, you hope to hit on roughly 60, maybe slightly above, percent of each and every class. The bigger your numbers are, obviously, the more opportunities you have for success in that area.
Defensive back and inside linebacker were the biggest needs, and those will be filled. Safety Tray Matthews, already enrolled, has a chance to fill one of the two starting safety spots. And while the Bulldogs lost out on Foster, Ryne Rankin and Reggie Carter, two more early enrollees, have a chance to start, as well.
On the offensive side, receiver Tramel Terry (yet another early enrollee) and Jonatham Rumph (a junior college prospect who will sign Wednesday) are solid four-star prospects. So is tailback A.J. Turman, who will be immediate insurance for Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.
The team hopes that Brice Ramsey, already enrolled, is the quarterback of the future. In fact Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell called Ramsey the linchpin of the entire class.
As in, the biggest question mark, Farrell said. Your quarterback is always the guy you need to hit on. If you miss on two in a row, youre in big trouble.
The one area that could end up very worrisome is the offensive line. Georgia was depending on Tunsil, who could have been the new starter at left tackle. Instead the team has scrambled to make a late run at George Adeoson of Alpharetta.
Then again, history is filled with unheralded players who blossomed into stars and five-star prospects who were busts.
And while it hurts to miss out on the high-profile in-state prospects, the recruiting analysts feel that can be overrated.
Theres gonna be a lot of attention in this guy leaving the state and that guy leaving the state. But at this point Georgia produces so many prospects annually, and Atlanta is a transient area where people may not have allegiance to Georgia, its going to happen, people are going to leave, said JC Schurburtt, the national analyst for 247sports.com. I think its unrealistic to think Georgia is going to sweep the top 10 kids every single year.
Everyone recruits the state of Georgia. From Alabama and Auburn to Clemson and Florida and Florida State -- Ohio State. From coast to coast, Scout.com analyst Chad Simmons said. Sure, Mark Richt, like any coach at Georgia, would lock the borders down and get every elite recruit. But its just not possible.
Entering signing day, Georgia will rank ninth nationally, according to the 247sports composite rnakings. But if the day goes as expected, it will likely fall out of the top 10, supplanted by the likes of Ole Miss.
That would mean the first year not finishing in the top 10 since 2010, when the Bulldogs were 11th. That class doesnt look much better a few years later: Alec Ogletree became a star, and Michael Bennett, Garrison Smith and Kenarious Gates have all been starters. But only four starters (not counting Ken Malcome, who started last season but has since transferred) came from that class.
Last year Georgia finished fifth, despite only signing 19 players. Four of them were five-stars (Keith Marshall, John Theus, Jordan Jenkins and Josh Harvey-Clemons).
Two years ago Georgia finished sixth, signing 26 players. The two five-stars in that class were Isaiah Crowell (dismissed from the team after one season) and Ray Drew (hasnt played much yet). But seven others either started or played a key role in the SEC championship nail-biter loss to Alabama. In retrospect, Malcolm Mitchell was a five-star player. Linebacker Amarlo Herrera and cornerback Damian Swann are proving to be that way, too.
So for Georgia, while there may be no way to sugarcoat the disappointment of the final players it was targeting, it can lean on the fact that by signing so many this year, it increased the chances of finding a star.