Saturday’s meeting between No. 14 Georgia Tech and No. 8 Notre Dame features two teams ranked among the best in college football.
However, they got here in vastly different ways.
Notre Dame did it by recruiting some of the nation’s best talent. Georgia Tech did it by hiring Paul Johnson.
“We just try to find the best players and go recruit them,” Johnson said during Wednesday’s Atlantic Coast Conference media teleconference. “We do not get hung up on height and length. I am really bad if I see a guy who is a good player on tape, then I think he is a good player. I do not care that he ran a 4.8 [40 yard-dash] at the combine or did not get a high Nike SPARQ score or whatever. Sometimes you hit on guys like that and sometimes you do not.”
While Notre Dame has matched its recruiting production with its Saturday performances this season, the Yellow Jackets are over achieving, at least when it comes to recruiting rankings.
Over the past five years – the recruiting classes that form each team’s current roster – Notre Dame finished among the top 8 in four of five seasons. The Irish finished ranked 16th in the 2012 team recruiting rankings.
Georgia Tech hasn’t come close to matching that recruiting success.
During that five-year span, Notre Dame’s average recruiting ranking was eighth while Georgia Tech’s was 53rd.
Yet, the Yellow Jackets have won 13 of their last 16 games and have four league titles in Johnson’s seven full seasons at the school.
Johnson, who won five league titles in five years at Georgia Southern before coaching at Navy in the eight seasons before he took the Tech job in 2008, wasn’t accustomed to recruiting the nation’s elite talent.
Instead, he recruited prospects who fit his style of play.
“The biggest thing to me about recruiting, and that is why I get such a kick out of trying to rank, nobody knows how hard those kids are going to work when they get to school and how much better they are going to be,” he said. “Nobody stays the same. They are either going to better or they are going to get worse. And, nobody knows how hard they are going to work.
“When you move up in competition, if you have always been the fastest and the biggest, but you do not have any work ethic, it is not going to work too well for you when the level moves up and everyone around you is big and fast. I think, sometimes, we get a lot of guys with chips on their shoulder, sometimes we get the guys who are bigger and faster and they are good players. It is just kind of a combination. But, I think that is true for everybody in recruiting except maybe for 10 or 11 teams.”
Whatever the strategy, Georgia Tech’s recent recruiting efforts have paid off.
Saturday’s depth chart includes 25 players from Tech’s two most recent recruiting classes. The Class of 2014 (sophomores and redshirt freshmen) includes 13 players in the three-deep while 12 true freshmen are expected to participate. The Class of 2014 finished ranked 47th while the 2015 class was 43rd, a five-year best.
Johnson’s lowest rated recruiting class at Georgia Tech, the class of 2013, is represented by just five players on the depth chart, while the 2011 and 2012 classes have 10 and 11, respectively.