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Georgia Football Recruiting 2013: Mark Richt, Border Wars And Stability

Georgia football recruiting is off to another solid start. UGA blog Dawg Sports joins us to break down their 2013 class progress.

ATHENS, GA - NOVEMBER 12:  Head coach Mark Richt of the Georgia Bulldogs celebrates a field goal against the Auburn Tigers at Sanford Stadium on November 12, 2011 in Athens, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GA - NOVEMBER 12: Head coach Mark Richt of the Georgia Bulldogs celebrates a field goal against the Auburn Tigers at Sanford Stadium on November 12, 2011 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Georgia football recruiting has had quite the two-year run, following the 2011 "Dream Team" with another solid class this February. And the Dawgs are in shape to sign another strong class in 2013, with a handful of elite commits already on board.

I sat down with the Georgia recruiting experts from Dawg Sports to chat about UGA's efforts on the recruiting trail:

Georgia signed a consensus top-15 class of 19 kids. Did this meet your expectations, exceed them or fall short?

Personally, it met my expectations. For many Georgia fans, I imagine the class was a disappointment. But ultimately the coaches filled every need on the board. They signed six members of the Rivals 100. The class included a variety of under-the-radar guys who could nevertheless be significant contributors, like fullback Quayvon Hicks, punter Collin Barber and kicker Marshall Morgan. As Tommy Tuberville once said, if you get 15 guys in a class who can play meaningful snaps in the SEC, you’ve done your job as a staff. I don’t know if we’ll get 15 out of a 19 player class into heavy rotation, but I’d be surprised if 10-12 didn’t become fixtures. Given the pall over the Bulldog staff throughout much of the recruitment of the class of 2012, that’s fairly impressive.

What misses from the 2012 recruiting cycle must now be addressed in the 2013 class?

I believe the coaches would have liked to have signed more defensive backs and offensive linemen in the 2012 class. The problem is that, at least in Georgia, it just wasn’t a great class for either position. The Bulldog coaches have already secured verbal pledges from three defensive backs for 2013 (Steven Nelson, Shaq Wiggins and Tray Matthews), and are still after several top prospects including Ridgeland safety Vonn Bell and Kell safety/corner Brendan Langley. The state of Georgia is pretty stacked with offensive linemen in the class of 2013 as well. Mark Richt and his staff are also on the prowl for outside linebackers, for reasons I’ll explain momentarily.

What positions that were not a need in 2012 (due to returning players) will now be a need in 2013?

Inside linebacker. Georgia returns 4 players for 2012 who started at some point at the two inside linebacker spots in 2011: Seniors Christian Robinson, Mike Gilliard and Shawn Williams, and junior Alec Ogletree. The bad news is that all four are likely gone after this season. While there are some guys on the roster who the coaches really like to step into those spots (like sophomores Amarlo Herera and Ramik Wilson), there just aren’t enough of them. They need bodies. In another serendipitous recruiting coincidence, the state of Georgia just happens to have a handful of great ILB prospects in this class, including Reuben Foster of Troup County and Johnny O’Neal of West Laurens, both of whom Georgia will recruit up until they sign or there’s a restraining order issued. In the Peach State that’s just how we do things.

Georgia is one of the most talented states, but it also has legitimate competition on each border. FSU and UF to the South, Auburn and Alabama to the West, Tennessee and others to the North and Clemson and South Carolina to the East. Are expectations that Georgia can ever lock down the top prospects in the state unrealistic given all the competition in close proximity? If so, how much of that has to do with Georgia kids growing up fans of schools that are geographically closer to their home than Athens?

While we're on the topic, I have to bring this up: Geno Smith, Kurt Freitag, Dillon Lee, Brandon Greene, Dakota Ball, Dalvin Tomlinson and Adam Griffith. Six fairly major kids out of Georgia sign with the Tide (plus Griffith). How does that happen? Does it seem to you like there is greater state loyalty in some of the surrounding states (specifically referring to the difficulty in pulling kids out of Alabama)?

Isaiah Crowell was from Columbus, which is essentially in Alabama (seriously, the rest of us Georgians have been trying to make this official for years). Trent Richardson is from Pensacola. How did Florida State miss on him? The fact is that in the modern era of recruiting no head coach can really "close the borders." Heck, Auburn, coming off a national championship, got precisely 0 of Rivals' top eight players in the state of Alabama. The Crimson Tide, on the way to their own crystal football suitable for display at the Prattville Wal-Mart, split the top six instate with Florida State, three to three.

And nobody locks down the borders like LSU, right? Right? At least that’s the old saw on the recruiting trail. LSU signed one of the top five Louisiana prospects according to Rivals, and a measly three of the top 10, despite being ranked at or near the top of the polls for the entire recruiting period and having a coach who’s half man, half herbivore legend.

Nowadays kids know what’s beyond the state’s borders. They have friends they meet at camps like The Opening and NUC events and a dozen others who come from all over the place. They tweet and Skype and a lot of other stuff that and old guy like me would probably have to look up on Urban Dictionary, except that I’d misspell said stuff and end up looking up something disgusting and have to explain it to my wife. But I digress.

The point is that the "border wars" meme is a meme and nothing more. Sure Georgia would do a lot better in some parts of the state if Clemson, Auburn and Tallahassee weren’t all within 45 minutes of the Georgia line. The ‘Dawgs would also do a lot better if all six million Atlantans were actually born and raised there. And if Mark Richt looked more like Elizabeth Banks and less like Helen Hunt with a butt cut. Sadly this is not the case.

As for that list of Alabama signees, {insert sour grapes comment here} Georgia never seriously pursued half of those guys {end sour grapes comment, whilst following with specific further grapy goodness}. Brandon Greene got a commitable offer once it became clear late in the process that we needed another tackle. Griffith never got an offer because Marshall Morgan was the first commit for 2012. Ball was option B behind Jonathan Taylor from day one, if not option C behind John Atkins.

Dillon Lee, on the other hand, was a weird, painful situation. His brother Dallas was going through some tough times before emerging as a contributor on the offensive line in 2011, and prior linebackers coach Warren Belin (now with the Carolina Panthers) didn’t offer him. When Kirk Olivadotti got the job, Lee was his first offer. Sadly it was too little too late, and will likely come back to haunt the Richt regime. I think Saban got a real football player in Dillon Lee, and it just makes me sick. Of course we got a real football player in Malcolm Mitchell, and I’m sure that just soggies up Kirby Smart’s cornflakes as well.

Geno Smith was really the only one of those guys who got an early Bulldog offer and a concerted recruiting effort yet decided unequivocally to go elsewhere. The truth of it is that Georgia gets the clear majority of the instate guys it really goes after. But when the state produces 100+ FBS signees every year, the ‘Dawgs just can’t sign them all. Where they’ve made mistakes in the past is in not offering as many of them as possible early on. But we’ll talk about that below.

For more on UGA football, visit Georgia blog Dawg Sports, plus SEC blog Team Speed Kills and SB Nation Atlanta.

Who are the top prospects on Georgia's board?

It's a really, really deep year in the state of Georgia. Grayson defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche is probably the top player in the country this year. However when Grayson coach Mickey Conn has had players of Nkemdiche's caliber they have tended to go to Conn's alma mater, Alabama. If Nkemdiche doesn't end up in Tuscaloosa, he'll likely go to LSU. Georgia will recruit him to the end, but I've essentially already taken him off my board. Instead the action for Georgia is elsewhere on defense where Dooly County defensive lineman Montravius Adams and Troup County linebacker Reuben Foster are both consensus national top 10 players.

Georgia is also in hot pursuit of Lake City (Fla.) Columbia offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil. While Tunsil will be a tough pull, he is close with longtime Bulldog commit Derrick Henry out of Yulee, who would be a top target had he not been so solid for so long. Georgia also already locked up Goose Creek, South Carolina receiver Tramel Terry and Camden County quarterback Brice Ramsey, who would both be top targets had those targets not already been hit. The 'Dawgs will also likely take a shot at national level bluechippers at positions of need like cornerback Vernon Hargreaves out of Tampa (where Georgia has recruited well recently), receiver Marquez North out of North Carolina and linebacker E.J. Levenberry, Jr. out of Virginia.

Coach Richt has been in Athens for 11 seasons now. Aside from how college football recruiting has changed on the whole, what changes, if any, have you seen in Richt's recruiting style? Have his hiring practices of late trended more toward coaches who are also top recruiters?

The Richt era has been marked by a distinct lack of coaching turnover. Longtime assistants Mike Bobo and Rodney Garner, for example, have been stalking the same high school corridors for over a decade in red and black. New defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is an intense guy on the field, and we’ve seen that carry over into his recruiting. The signing of Jordan Jenkins out of Harris County (which weirdly borders the state of Alabama) this year was all Grantham.

As far as changes to Richt’s M.O., I think the biggest one has been offering more guys sooner. There was a time when Georgia was painfully slow to offer, especially instate. The fear (one which has come to pass at least once) was that we’d have to turn a guy down when he wanted to commit and end up burning an important bridge in the process. Like a reluctant Romeo waiting to say "I love you," Mark Richt wanted to make sure that when he said "I’m offering you," he really meant it.

In the process he spent a lot of time playing catchup on kids who Nick Saban, Dabo Swinney and others had offered months before. This year that’s not been the case. I mentioned that offensive line is a position of need for Georgia. By March 1, 2012, Georgia had offered more instate offensive linemen for the class of 2013 than they did in total for the class of 2012. That’s before anybody showed up at a spring junior day or a summer camp and earned one on the grass in Athens. Rodney Garner drove to Dooly County to offer five-star defensive tackle Montravius Adams himself last month. Part of this is that Georgia has more scholarships to give in 2013 than in 2012. But I think part of it is also the lesson learned from having to play from behind up to Signing Day.

A lot of analysts have noted that Georgia's on-field performance in 2011 (10-4) wasn't really four wins better than its 2010 campaign (6-7) because of a variety of factors like a much easier schedule, fumble luck, etc. But a lot of fans and recruits don't see that. They only see record.

How important was it for Georgia to have the bounce back year in 2011? Does the program now have momentum on the recruiting trail because of the 2011 campaign? If so, how important is it for UGA to take advantage of another easy schedule (No Bama, No LSU, No Arkansas) and establish itself as a 20-win team over a two-year stretch?

We've dealt with this easy schedule nonsense at Dawg Sports in the past. So I'm not even going there. Suffice it to say that we've watched Tennessee and Florida stumble, fart and fall into the Georgia Dome after playing an easy slate that we Bulldog fans collectively could not give fewer damns than we currently do about that issue.

And anyone who watched all all 12 regular season games in 2010 and all 12 in 2011 knows that 2011's iteration was a very, very different team, at least outside the Georgia Dome. The 2010 Georgia Bulldogs would have folded at halftime against Florida, would not have beaten Auburn like a Singaporean jaywalker and wouldn't have won 10 games in a row under any circumstances.

All that being said, 2011 was huge. Fielding a top five defense nationally proved that the defensive overhaul under Todd Grantham could work. Aaron Murray emerged late in the season as a QB who can win games rather than fumbling them away. All that yielded some momentum on the recruiting trail, but it's fragile momentum. 2012 will be just as important for Mark Richt and crew, largely because Georgia may return as few as nine starters on defense headed into 2013. The staff needs to buy some good will with a veteran offense, veteran defense and coaching staff that seems to be clicking.

Thanks again to Macon Dawg from Dawg Sports. Make sure to stop on over for your UGA recruiting fix.