We are now inside one week to go before National Signing Day and for just about every college football program, these next 7 days are the most important of the year. Having a great coach is vital, but having great players is paramount. Just look at the past national champion teams and how many of those players are now stars in the NFL. Make no mistake, next Wednesday will sway the futures of fans, coaches and programs alike.
If you want proof, look no further than new UGA head coach Kirby Smart’s press conferences in his first month on the job. He has mentioned recruiting over 100 times in his public appearances since taking over the Bulldog program in mid-December. He knows what it takes to win a championship as he has four to his credit. He knows great players make great plays. His new staff at Georgia is filled with great recruiters. We will have a first look at how great they are 7 days from now.
When a program endures a coaching staff change, history tells us recruiting suffers. There just isn’t enough time between December and the beginning of February to overcome months and years worth of work by the previous staff. If Smart and UGA were to finish with their 2016 class ranked in the Top 10, that would be quite the victory. A Top 5 finish would be downright amazing.
True, Mark Richt and his staff laid some nice groundwork. Jacob Eason and Isaac Nauta (both consensus 5-star recruits) were basically sewn up a year and a half ago. But Smart and his group kept them from flipping and have UGA in the final group for five more 5-star players. If UGA can grab just 2 from that list, you would have to really tip your cap. You would also have to admit that the biggest difference between the new staff and the old was a tireless effort on the recruiting trail. Mark Richt could never close like what Kirby might do next Wednesday.
There are multiple debates about which new coach will have the most success. It is interesting that many of the new, young coaches hired by top programs (Clay Helton at USC, Smart at UGA, Muschamp at South Carolina and Justin Fuente at Va Tech) are all known for being great recruiters. Mark it down – whichever coach recruits the best in these first few years will have the shortest road to success. Whether they can sustain that success will depend on how they prepare and progress those players once on campus. But the program to watch in the fall of 2016 and 2017 will be the one that wins this February 3rd.