Today, for the second time since records have been kept, UGA didn’t place a football player on the first or second-team Coaches All-SEC Team. In other words, our eyes didn’t deceive us.
That’s right. Only once before, during a 4-7 season in 1990, have the Bulldogs been entirely skipped on SEC post-season honors. That team was young and inexperienced, but went on to go 19-5 over the next two seasons. It also featured a true freshman starting quarterback.
That UGA didn't have a player on the all-conference lists this fall seems to jab at the “Georgia’s the most talented team” narrative we keep hearing from lazy hot-take talking heads. We shouldn’t allow truth and reality get into the way of our hardened positions (that’s sarcasm just there).
To be clear, Georgia players not appearing on All-SEC teams isn’t to say the team is void of talent. To suggest that would be a mistake. There are most certainly talented players on this team and in this program. Guys like Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Trenton Thompson and Jacob Eason are talented to be sure.
But today’s announcement speaks to reality that we live in - UGA simply isn’t as talented as people think - and certainly not as talented as the media has made them out to be… not right now at least. There is still development to be done; recruiting to be handled.
Georgia, it should be pointed out, had as many All-SEC players this fall as lowly South Carolina - zero. Every other league school had at least one all-conference player. Maybe this is a good lesson. Perhaps some adjustments to the way we (and by “we” I mean people other than me) talk about UGA’s “talent” level should be put in place for a program that’s recruited OK, but not to the level needed to win with what this conference has become.
Georgia never had the players to win the SEC this season - I think we all knew that (and by “we” I mean everyone on Earth). Anyone who thought that was completely delusional, and no one will admit to that now. UGA may have had the players needed to win the SEC East, but two close home losses killed that off before heading to Jacksonville.
What UGA can do moving forward is continue to recruit in a meaningful way. Kirby Smart and company have to continue to develop the players on campus who are high-level players… those listed in the Scout 300. And he must continue to sign them, too.
Also, falling into the trap that a team worse (Vandy) than another (UGA) can’t win is silly. Outliers happen in sports. It also explains why South Carolina beat Tennessee, Penn State beat Ohio State, Florida State lost to North Carolina and Clemson lost to Pitt. The Vols, Buckeyes, Noles and Tigers are vastly, and I mean vastly more talented than those teams, but they lost.
Its sports. These things can happen.
Back to the point: UGA has approximately 85 players on scholarship right now. 43 of them are Scout 300 players - 51%. That’s the exact percentage Mark Richt got in his 15 years signing prospects for the Bulldogs. It can’t be surprising that the talent level in Kirby’s first season is the same as Mark’s average recruiting over the last 15 years - after all the vast majority of the team’s scholarship players, 74%, were players recruited by Richt.
But another consideration to consider is that of the 43 Scout 300 players on campus in Athens right now, 28 (or 65%) are sophomores, true freshmen or redshirt freshmen. In addition, in Kirby’s one recruiting cycle he’s signed 33% of the Scout 300 players on the roster. Needless to say that’s a disproportional amount of the roster. That number should be closer to 20%, or one in five; i.e. how many classes Kirby has recruited to UGA.
In other words, the talent on this team is young. Next season probably won’t be a ton different. If the Scout 300 prospects committed to UGA right now (15) arrive on campus, and the players expected to leave actually do so (Brice Ramsey, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel) are added to those who have expired their eligibility the breakdown will look something like this:
50 of the players on the roster will be Scout 300 players with around 60% of them being sophomores or younger - that’s still a young team. A more talented team (51% of prospects on the this year’s roster are Scout 300 players vs. a projected 58% in 2017) to be sure, but certainly about as young as this year’s team.
And while the talent might not be ideal right now (after all, what new coach inherits “ideal talent”?), it will slowly build to the point where it is ideal… or at least as close to ideal as it can get for these nutball coaches (all coaches are a little nutty).
Speaking of ideal, as a benchmark, Alabama and LSU run away with the best recruiting classes in the SEC over time in terms of top talent. Both programs have over 60 Scout 300 prospects in their program right now. They are the two most-talented programs in the conference by quite a bit. Texas A&M, Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia are all cluttered around the 40-player mark - they all beat one another this season and all finished with three or four losses in SEC play.
The Gators outperformed their recruiting average by winning the SEC East this season over Tennessee, but Florida lost to the Vols in that particular game. But the Gators’ talent is all on one side of the ball - the defense - and that’s not what you want, either. Coaches should recruit to balance their teams, and that’s another “problem” for the Dawgs.
Georgia’s top players, in fact, are all cluttered at particular positions. Of UGA’s current 43 Scout 300 players, 26% of them are linebackers. That’s right - one quarter of Georgia’s top talent plays the same position. Also, too, only four linebackers can play at a time in a game. While linebackers are great to have because they play a lot of special teams, ideally 26% of you top players wouldn’t play linebacker - they would play on the offensive line… which is the position with the most overall players on the team. In addition, the offensive line, which makes up about half of the offense on the field on every snap (five players) has far fewer Scout 300 players (6) than the rest of the offense (16). Again, things out of whack.
The good news is that these sorts of problems are being corrected. Kirby is set to sign nearly as many Scout 300 offensive linemen in 2017 (4) as is currently in the program (6).
So while it is not necessarily stunning that UGA didn’t get a player on the SEC All-Conference list this fall, it would be stunning for that to happen in the future. The high-level numbers are on the rise, and the younger talent won’t be young forever.