The SEC East had one of the least suspenseful races in 2017. In the power conferences, only Wisconsin in the Big Ten West was as obvious a runaway winner as Georgia in the SEC East. The Dawgs clinched an SEC Championship Game spot on the first weekend in November. They finished No. 3 nationally in S&P+, ahead of No. 35 Missouri and No. 60 South Carolina.
This time a year ago, Georgia was emerging as the far-and-away best recruiter in the lesser of the SEC’s two divisions. The Dawgs had the country’s No. 6 class in 2016, an incredible finish for a team that had just changed coaches (from Mark Richt to Kirby Smart) two months before National Signing Day. In 2017, they jumped up to No. 3, signing almost as many blue-chip recruits as the rest of the East combined.
Then the 2018 recruiting cycle happened.
Georgia finished Signing Day with the second-highest-rated class in the history of recruiting rankings.
The Dawgs were No. 2 behind Ohio State heading into the day, but they went ahead and nabbed five-star cornerback Tyson Campbell and four-star receiver Tommy Bush. They flipped the country’s No. 2 outside linebacker, Quay Walker, from Alabama (via an amusing ceremonial fake-out) and another four-star backer, Otis Reese, from Michigan.
It’s the first time in eight years a non-Alabama team has taken the country’s No. 1 perch.
Now that UGA’s the clear best team in the division, the Dawgs are recruiting like they’re about to widen the gap even more.
Florida made a good coach hire. The Gators got Dan Mullen, who won at Mississippi State, which suggests he can someday win at Florida. But he’s starting well behind the eight ball, and even with a pickup of four-star defensive end Andrew Chatfield on Wednesday, the Gators finish No. 14.
New Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt is known as a great recruiter, and he inherits a roster from Butch Jones that’s a lot better than UT’s 4-8 season indicates. But Tennessee finished No. 20. A great start, but not enough to catch Georgia any time soon.
Mullen was as solid a hire as Florida could’ve possibly made, and Tennessee did well to land Pruitt after an absurd search. But college football is like a big race, and Smart was several hundred yards ahead of both already.
Barry Odom’s Mizzou was terrific down the stretch in 2017. Will Muschamp’s South Carolina was competent all season. But neither will ever likely win the East, and as long as Florida and Tennessee are in various states of rebuilding, it’s difficult to envision an SEC Championship in 2018 or 2019 that doesn’t involve the Dawgs.
Only three programs are really Georgia’s peers right now.
- Alabama’s one. The Tide are still going to have the deepest roster in the country next year, and they did just beat Smart’s team for all the marbles.
- Ohio State’s another. The Buckeyes finish with the No. 2 class for a second year in a row. They were No. 3 the year before that.
- Clemson’s another. The last non-Bama team to win a title is also recruiting dominantly. Two of the three highest-rated prospects in 2018 signed with the Tigers in December.
Other than that? Nobody looks comparable to the Dawgs right now.
And certainly not anybody in the SEC East.