- Dave George Palm Beach Post Sports Columnist
It’s always going to be a little bit about Georgia when people talk about Mark Richt.
On Wednesday, for example, the closing chapter of 2018’s two-part recruiting process delivered a national ranking as high as No. 5 but always in the top 10 for Richt’s Miami Hurricanes, according to which major scouting website you favor. It’s been a decade since UM collected a haul like this, and that’s a very nice headline for the coach.
Meanwhile, in much larger letters, being written in the sky from coast to coast, the Georgia Bulldogs are a clear No. 1 in the nation this recruiting cycle, adding seven premium five-star high school prospects to a team that pushed Alabama to the limit in last month’s national championship game.
Kirby Smart, the coach who followed Richt at Georgia in 2016, is suddenly doing the leading.
Big picture, this transformation of National Signing Day into one long Dawg Day Afternoon is more of a problem for new Florida coach Dan Mullen and the rest of the SEC than it is for Richt.
That’s because Miami made it all the way to No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings last November without playing anyone from that league. The rivals that the Hurricanes need to worry about instead are Clemson and Florida State, and Richt’s 2018 recruiting class ranks right in between those ACC heavyweights, or maybe just a bit ahead of them.
So we’ll call it an impressive day for Miami, recapturing some of the momentum that was forfeited in the three consecutive losses that ended 2017, and leave it to Richt and his staff to prove the long-range significance of what they have done here.
After all, the Pittsburgh team that so easily ended the Hurricanes’ 10-0 run last year had recruiting classes ranked anywhere from 29th nationally to 65th in the past four cycles. Wisconsin, the team that hammered Miami in the Orange Bowl game, has consistently been ranked as a 30-something recruiting class in recent years.
It’s more than restocking a roster each February with new talent. It’s refining and reevaluating what you’ve already got.
Richt was shown the door at Georgia because, in large part, his bosses weren’t convinced they were getting enough in that area. According to the Rivals scouting website, the Bulldogs were outside the top 10 just three times in Richt’s 15 years as the Bulldogs head coach and yet it never added up to a spot in the national title game.
If Richt gets there with Miami, it won’t take 15 years of trying. For one thing, he would never last as long in Coral Gables as he did in Athens.
Every competitive environment is different, from national perception to expectations, and it’s never more apparent than on signing day.
Central Florida, for instance, is coming off a 13-0 season and a bowl win over Auburn, but still the Knights are working hard with new coach Josh Heupel to stay within the top 75 nationally with this recruiting class.
On the other hand, Southern California, with its glamorous name and winning tradition, is solidly back in the top 10, according to the various recruiting sites. Frequent coaching changes don’t impact that much. Neither does the fact that the Trojans had their last great run, a 12-1 season with a Rose Bowl win, when Pete Carroll was coaching them a decade ago.
Looking around the state, Willie Taggart really saved the day for FSU following Jimbo Fisher’s departure for Texas A&M. The Seminoles’ recruiting class ranks just outside the top 10 nationally, and that’s after slumping down into the 60’s at the worst of it. Taggart has Tampa ties from his days as South Florida coach and drew some kids in from California and Washington, too, from the hustle he most recently put in as Oregon’s coach. The ACC won’t be kicking FSU around any longer.
Mullen seems to have done better in his first year with Florida than Jim McElwain did in his own rushed recruiting debut there. The Gators’ big get came during December’s early signing period, when quarterback Emory Jones chose Florida over FSU and Alabama. Maybe he won’t be sensational, but what Mullen needs, and what Florida has needed for years, is a quarterback who is solid and capable of growing into the job. No major college team can thrive without that bare minimum.
As for Florida Atlantic, the numbers nuts who do these national rankings aren’t all that impressed with Lane Kiffin’s class overall, but to me it figures he will continue to do more with the Owls’ shorter list of transfers and three-star prospects than any other coach in Conference USA can do. That includes Butch Davis of FIU, who according to the 247Sports site, has the No. 68 class nationally, right behind Power Five programs Boston College, Kansas State and Arizona State.
Hey, it’s a risky game for all of us, from the real experts to the hit-and-run commenters like me, predicting the behavior patterns and the future production level of teenagers.
In the same way, you can be the most advanced and honored scientist in the world, but when mixing unstable elements in a large-scale experiment like this one, there are bound to be some regrettable accidents.