Bill Shanks

Smart getting better talent for Georgia

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs finished 8-5 in his first season with the program.
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs finished 8-5 in his first season with the program.

Kirby Smart was hired a year ago to make Georgia a better football program. It had been good, very good at times, but simply not good enough. In a conference in which teams must be great, Georgia was hardly a great team.

It’s unlikely Georgia will be ranked in the final AP top 25 rankings next week (and it shouldn’t be). That would make it the third time in four years and the fifth time in eight years that Georgia will not even be ranked in the final top 25 rankings.

If a program has been ranked in the final rankings only three times in the past eight years, it just has not been very good. That’s something Georgia fans don’t want to admit, but it’s true.

Smart will have a lot to improve on in his second year. Hopefully, he learned a lot in his first 12 months on the job. Just like you hope a quarterback makes his biggest jump in improvement from season one to season two, Georgia fans hope the same holds true for head coaches.

The main thing Smart must do is improve the talent on Georgia’s roster. You might think that was not the issue, but it has been the main problem — not only getting the best talent to Athens, but making the talent the Bulldogs get become better players once they are on the roster.

Yes, Georgia has had highly rated recruiting classes. The Bulldogs have averaged having a top 10 class during the past 15 years. But amazingly, sometimes that’s just not been good enough.

For example, last year they were ranked 10th in the country by Scout.com and 11th by Rivals.com. But those classes were both ranked as the fifth best in the SEC. Well, if a team is getting the fifth-best talent in the SEC, it will be playing in the Liberty Bowl.

So, recruiting must get better. The Bulldogs must bring in better talent. We all know one indisputable indictment of the previous regime was the emphasis on skill players instead of the line of scrimmage. You undoubtedly thought of that while if you watched the first half of the Liberty Bowl on Friday.

This year, Smart has followed his mentor Nick Saban’s blueprint at Alabama and prioritized the offensive line. Georgia has six linemen committed so far, and it may be Georgia’s best group ever.

The past few weeks have seen a surge in Georgia’s commitments, with two big gets Sunday, and then Monday, the Bulldogs flipped a player who had pledged to LSU. They are doing it with pageantry and flair, with videos and promises. The UGA commitments, who might be the best recruiters, are calling themselves ‘savages,’ and they are promising more is to come.

According to Scout.com, Georgia has commitments from nine on its top 100 list. They have commitments from two five-star prospects, 20 four-star players and only one three-star commitment. Eleven of the 23 commitments were ranked in the top 10 at their position.

Now we know recruiting isn’t everything. Prospects must be coached up. We must see three-star prospects become four-star players, and four-star prospects must become five-star players. But step one in the process is to get prospects with talent on campus. Georgia seems to be doing that now.

Smart was known as a relentless recruiter at Alabama. That’s one reason he got the job at Georgia. And while Georgia fans have been through great recruiting classes before, there does seem to be a difference in the class that is shaping up this year.

No program may overtake Alabama while Saban is there, but if Georgia can be right there in getting prospects with the Crimson Tide, they’re winning half the battle. The other half will be fought in the fall, and that’s the championship Georgia fans are waiting for.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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