Sometimes, a recruiting class says everything you need to know about the current status of a program.
Alabama is on top of college football, and Nick Saban hauled in another No. 1 class. Texas is a declining empire and ended up with a class that the Ottoman Empire would have appreciated, all while the hot program in College Station cleaned up. Michigan has a husky, Midwestern coach as a means to distance the program from the Rodriguez years, so it signed a class heavy on regional recruits and linemen. Lane Kiffin, the hotshot - looks, pedigree, charisma, connection to his program - repeatedly flatters to deceive. So did his 2013 class, which lost part after blue chip part in the aftermath of a massively disappointing season. Missouri fans can look at either their results this season or their recruiting class and wonder, "what the hell have we gotten ourselves into?"
Perhaps no program's recruiting class quite sums the status of the program like Georgia's does (full class here). The program is good, not great. On the field, the Dawgs have won the East Division in each of the past two years, albeit while losing to South Carolina both years, taking advantage of the flaming wreck in Knoxville, gutting out narrow wins in Jacksonville that were barely fit for human consumption, and avoiding games against the titans of the West. Georgia was competitive with LSU in the 2011 SEC Championship Game for a half before getting crushed in the second half; it took the eventual national champion to the limit in 2012 in a classic.
The glass half-full approach is that Georgia has won its division and posted double-digit win totals in each of the last two years; the glass half-empty view is that Georgia had the talent and the schedule to win the league and play for the national title, but missed the boats.
The Dawgs' 2013 recruiting class echoes the current state of the program. Georgia finished 12th according to Rivals, 12th according to 247, 10th according to ESPN, 10th according to Scout. How mad can you be about a class that has 15 Rivals four-star players?
Well, if your goal is to win the conference, finishing sixth or seventh in the league in recruiting isn't going to cut it. If Mark Richt is going to have to get past Florida and then LSU, Alabama, or Texas A&M to win a third SEC crown, then bringing in less talent than those four programs is a problem. 2013 could be viewed as a one-year blip after Georgia signed excellent classes in 2011 and 2012, or it could be the failure to sustain the momentum that would have the Dawgs competing with the elite of the conference (and therefore the nation).
More importantly, Georgia missed a golden opportunity in that the 2013 in-state class was outstanding and the Dawgs whiffed on it. There was a quartet of five-star players in the state, including consensus No. 1 and Georgia fan Robert Nkemdiche, and Georgia didn't sign a single one of them. The Dawgs signed only one of the top 10 players in-state, which is one fewer than Alabama (probably understandable given the Tide's success and Kirby Smart's ties to the state), Auburn (mildly perplexing given the Tigers' coaching change, but somewhat explicable given proximity and assistant Rodney Garner's move), and Ohio State (Columbus is 568 miles from Atlanta and yet Urban Meyer is still beating Richt).
You want an illustration of why missing out on blue-chip players matters?
What was the difference between success and failure in the last two seasons for Georgia? Jarvis Jones' performances against Florida. The two wins over the Gators ended the Dawgs' miserable stretch against their arch-rival and decided the division title both times. How would Georgia fans feel about their program right now if they had not been to the SEC Championship Game since 2005? And it's as clear as a stripper's heels that Jarvis Jones was the reason why the Dawgs won those games. Jones' combined line against the Gators: 18 tackles, seven sacks, three forced fumbles. In two games in which the Georgia offense struggled and in two games won by one score, Jones was the difference.
Now is the part where I mention that Jones was the No. 4 weakside defensive end and No. 3 player in the state of Georgia when he came out of Carver High in Columbus in 2009. That only one player in Georgia's 32-man class - Tray Matthews - has credentials like Jones did. That both Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, the tailback tandem that energized the Georgia offense in 2012, were similarly touted, as was the team's best receiving threat (Malcolm Mitchell), the team's second-team all-SEC offensive lineman (Chris Burnette), the three-year starter at quarterback (Aaron Murray), and the star inside linebacker (Alec Ogletree).
Each of the aforementioned six players - the core of the 2012 Dawgs - got 6.0 ratings from Rivals, the level that only Matthews touches in the 2013 class. If you want to believe the babbling of a know-nothing columnist who's not much on the new-fangled notion of empirical data, then be my guest. It just struck me kinda funny that someone could watch Georgia over the past two years and conclude that recruiting elite talent is not critical.
Georgia fans find themselves in the same spot I described before the SEC Championship Game. The program's results are good, but not great. Mark Richt is good, but not great. The 2013 recruiting class is good, but not great.
There's no doubt which adjective applies when one commits to the G. Is that enough? It should be, but one can't help but obsess about the little extra that's missing.
Look through SB Nation's many excellent college football blogs to find your team's community.