While he might never say it publicly, Kirby Smart was brought to Georgia to be Nick Saban. And in his first full year as head coach, he’s on a similar track to Saban.
Neither coach had great on-the-field results in Year 1 — Smart went 8-5; Saban went 7-6 — but both put together stellar recruiting classes in their first full year.
While Smart and Saban both did a great job of piecing together commitments shortly after being hired, they both flexed their recruiting muscles the year after. It was then they able to fully put their fingerprints on the recruiting programs and chase the recruits they targeted.
If National Signing Day were today, Smart would have put together the SEC’s statistically greatest first full class in the 247Sports composite era. The Bulldogs were third in the 2017 recruiting cycle as of Tuesday, with 301.11 points. Those points come from recruits in the class, so the more higher-rated recruits a team has, the higher number of points its class has.
Only one first full recruiting class ever broke 300 points. That was Urban Meyer’s 2013 Ohio State class, and Meyer was a proven coach after winning two national championships at Florida. To better understand the importance of a first full recruiting class, here is what Saban had to say about his 2008 group.
“That class is special to me. It’s probably one of the best recruiting groups we’ve ever had. Everyone evaluates recruiting and the say you have the No. 1 class or this class or whatever. I don’t know what they said about that class, but if you look at after the fact and evaluate what they did which is what I evaluate it on and that was one of the best ever. I think the thing that makes it special for me is that we weren’t any good when those guys came to Alabama. We had just gone 7-6 and struggled through the season and lost to UL-Monroe and it was a really, really tough first year. Those guys all trusted and believed in what could be accomplished and what the program could do to benefit them and to prove something. So that’s why that group is special to me and there was no question that that was the group that helped us turn the corner and helped us become a nationally recognized program.”
Kirby Smart, 2017 points ranking: 301.11, currently 3rd
Names to remember: 5-star DB Richard LeCounte, 5-star OT Isaiah Wilson, 4-star RB D’Andre Swift, 4-star DB DeAngelo Gibbs, 4-star QB Jake Fromm
Georgia’s class draws heavily from the state of Georgia, as the Bulldogs secured commitments from 13 of the top 20 players in the state. And that number could grow to 15 if Georgia lands 5-star DT Aubrey Solomon and 4-star DE Markaviest Bryant.
For Georgia’s class to pass Meyer’s mark, Smart would need a commitment from either Solomon, 4-star WR Nico Collins, or a combination of Bryant and 4-star LB Leonard Warner, assuming Georgia doesn’t lose any commitments.
Georgia legend Kevin Butler, who worked with Smart this year as an undergraduate assistant, attributed Smart’s ability to secure players from Georgia as a reason for a bright future.
“His focus on the state of Georgia has been very clear and I think that’s where the success is coming from,” Butler said. “I think the previous staff, they assumed they were going to lose players from the state so they just didn’t chase them. You can field a pretty good team from the state of Georgia.”
The last time former Bulldogs coach Mark Richt had a recruiting class finish in the top-3 of the national rankings was 2006. That class featured Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno.
We’ve compiled how all the current SEC coaches did in their first full recruiting classes, as well as a few other significant coaches. And Smart’s current class very well could top them all.
The gold standard
Urban Meyer, 2013 points/class rank: 303.27/2nd
Names to remember: 5-star S Vonn Bell, 4-star DE Joey Bosa, 4-star RB Ezekiel Elliott, 4-star CB Eli Apple
So Meyer and Smart aren’t apples to apples, as Meyer had proved he could win. But the 2013 class produced two top-5 five picks in Bosa and Elliott. It had another top-10 pick in Apple and included quarterback J.T. Barrett.
Ron Zook, 2003: 298.87/1st
Names to remember: 5-star WR Andre Caldwell, 5-star QB Chris Leak, 4-star S Reggie Nelson, 4-star DE Jarvis Moss
Bet you weren’t expecting to see this name near the top of the list. Despite Zook’s struggles at Florida, he’s the Gators’ only coach to grab the No. 1 ranking. Given the 2017 class rankings, it appears Smart won’t be able to pass Zook in the standings.
Jimbo Fisher, 2011 points ranking/class rank: 296.41/2nd
Names to remember: 4-star RB Devonta Freeman, 4-star WR Kelvin Benjamin, 5-star DT Timmy Jernigan, 3-star QB Jake Coker
So Fisher gets an asterisk of sorts since he was head coaching in-waiting before Bobby Bowden retired. But he hauled in a monster class that was full of contributors on the Seminoles’ 2013 national championship team.
Nick Saban, 2008 points ranking/class rank: 289.05/3rd
Names to remember: 5-star WR Julio Jones, 4-star DB Mark Barron, 4-star OL Barrett Jones, 4-star DE Marcell Dareus, 4-star RB Mark Ingram
Saban has a point when he calls this class the best. It produced five first-round NFL Draft picks, while the Notre Dame and Miami classes that ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, combined for one. The 2008 Alabama class won two national championships, one as sophomores and again as seniors.
Urban Meyer, 2006 points ranking/class rank 287.34/2nd
Names to remember: 5-star QB Tim Tebow, 5-star WR Percy Harvin, 4-star LB Brandon Spikes
Meyer’s first Florida class produced a Heisman Trophy winner and two national championships. Only Saban’s first class can match that list of accolades.
Modest beginnings for championship teams
Mark Richt, 2002 points ranking/class rank: 244.84/9th
Names to remember: 5-star DT Kedric Golston, 4-star TE Leonard Pope, 2-star CB Tim Jennings
Times greatly changed since Richt’s first full recruiting class. A ninth-place finish in 2002 was good for second in the SEC, behind Tennessee and the No. 3 class in the country. In 2017, Texas A&M has the No. 9 class. That is good for fifth in the SEC. This class won two the two most recent SEC titles for Georgia, once as freshman and again as seniors.
Les Miles, 2006 points/class rank: 253.55/9th
Names to remember: 3-star LB Perry Riley, 3-star LB Kelvin Sheppard, 4-star DT Charles Deas
Miles’ first full class finished in the same spot as Richt’s first full recruiting class. While it lacked the star power of his later classes, 2006 recruits played key roles on the Tiges’ 2007 national championship team.
Gene Chizik, 2009 points/class rank: 274.54/6th
Names to remember: 4-star QB Cam Newton, 5-star Michael Dyer, 4-star OT Shon Coleman, 3-star CB Chris Davis
Chizik was not around to see them graduate, but these players made up key pieces on two separate teams that played for the national championship. Chizik rode Newton and Dyer to the 2011 BCS national title. Gus Malzahn used Davis (he of Kick-6 fame) and Coleman to get to the national championship game in 2013.
Contemporary SEC coaches, sans Saban
Bret Bielema, 2014 points/class rank: 215.62/29th
Names to remember: 4-star OT Frank Ragnow, 4-star DT Bijhon Jackson, 3-star WR Jared Cornelius
While Malzahn got to build off a national championship appearance, Bielema had to build off a winless SEC season to pitch recruits. He ended up with the 11th-best class in the SEC but brought in guys who guided Arkansas to three consecutive bowl games.
Gus Malzahn, 2014 points/class rank: 277.02/6th
Names to remember: 5-star RB Roc Thomas, 5-star LB Tre Williams, 4-star OG Braden Smith, 4-star QB Sean White, 3-star RB Kamryn Pettway
Malzahn used the national championship appearance to secure the No. 6 class in the country. Some of the high-end players, notably Thomas and WR Duke Williams, didn’t worked out. But the offense was made up of lower-ranked guys like White and Pettway who got the Tigers to the Sugar Bowl this season.
Jim McElwain, 2016 points/class rank: 260.96/12th
Names to remember: 4-star DE Antonneous Clayton, 4-star WR Tyrie Cleveland, 4-star QB Feleipe Franks, 3-star OL Jawaan Taylor
There’s good news with McElwain’s first full class. The Gators saw solid contributions from guys in their freshman years, but it’s also way too early to make a definitive ruling on the class. And yet compared to the previous three Florida coaches’ first full class, those of Muschamp, Meyer and Zook, McElwain’s class was the lowest ranked.
Mark Stoops, 2014 points/class rank: 225.47/22nd
Names to remember: 4-star QB Drew Barker, 4-star DT Matt Elam, 4-star RB Boom Williams
Despite going 2-10 in his first season at Kentucky, Stoops put together a stellar recruiting class in his first go-round. Williams led the team in rushing this season, and a number of 2014 recruits helped get Kentucky back to a bowl game.
Ed Orgeron, 2006 points/Class rank: 224.92/16th
Names to remember: 4-star OT John Jerry, 3-star Ath Dexter McCluster, 3-star DE Greg Hardy
Orgeron first full class at LSU will be for the 2018 cycle, so we looked back at his 2006 team at Ole Miss. A year after famously landing Michael Oher, Orgeron put together a solid class that led to success for Houston Nutt and put a number of players in the NFL. The problem was that Orgeron wasn’t able to stick around to see the success.
Dan Mullen, 2010 points/class rank: 203.86/33
Names to remember: 4-star OT Damien Robinson, 4-star DE Kaleb Eulls, 4-star Ath Matthew Wells
It wasn’t Mullen’s best class but Mullen has never been able to land the talent some contemporaries have. That hasn’t stopped the Mississippi State from developing into a winner, as Mullen got the Bulldogs to a bowl game in every year since his 5-7 2009 campaign.
Barry Odom, 2017 points/class rank: 179.94/41st
Names to remember: 3-star Ath Darron Davis, 3-star WR Jafar Armstrong, 3-star C Case Cook
Like Smart, Odom is also in the process of putting together his first full recruiting class. However, Odom lacks the pedigree of Smart. Worse, football talent in Missouri is nowhere near what it is in Georgia. And the Tigers are coming off a 4-8 season, as opposed to Georgia’s 8-5.
Hugh Freeze, 2013 points/class rank: 275.5/8th
Names to remember: 5-star OT Laremy Tunsil, 5-star DE Robert Nkemdiche, 4-star WR Laquon Treadwell
This class brought a lot of success to Ole Miss, as its members were key pieces in beating Alabama in two of the past three years and the Rebels’ winning the 2016 Sugar Bowl. But it has brought its fair share of problems. The NCAA has been investigating Freeze and the Rebels for Tunsil’s recruitment.
Will Muschamp, 2012 points/class rank: 287.00/4th(2017: 225.47/15)
Names to remember: 5-star OT D.J. Humphries, 5-star DE Jonathan Bullard, 4-star DE Dante Fowler, 4-star DB Marcus Maye
Muschamp is in his first year at South Carolina and his current class is 15th, which is a big improvement for the Gamecocks. But his 2012 class at Florida surpassed that. It produced a number of first-round draft picks and NFL pros, including Fowler, Humphries and Bullard.
Butch Jones, 2014 points/class rank: 274.76/7th
Players to remember: 4-star DE Derek Barnett, 4-star WR Josh Malone, 4-star S Todd Kelly Jr., 4-star RB Jalen Hurd
Jones’ first full Tennessee class produced a number of talented players, most importantly Barnett. He went on to break Reggie White’s school record for sacks. And while this group didn’t win an SEC East title, it did bring the Volunteers out of the dark days of Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley.
Kevin Sumlin, 2013 points/class rank: 267.79/9th
Players to remember: 5-star WR Ricky Seals-Jones, 4-star DE Daeshon Hall, 4-star QB Kenny Hill
Sumlin took over the Aggies the year they jumped into the SEC. He won 11 games and helped guide Johnny Manziel to the Heisman Trophy, which produced the country’s No. 9 class. After a nine-win campaign as freshmen, the class won eight games in each of its final three years.
Derek Mason, 2015 points/class rank: 183.15/46th
Players to remember: 4-star LB Josh Smith, 4-star DB Donovan Sheffield, 4-star QB Kyle Shurmur
Of all the current SEC coaches, Mason had the worst first full class, as it came in ranked 46th in the country. Odom could change that if Missouri fails to add elite recruits; it currently has no hard commits above 3-star ranking. Vanderbilt had three 4-star recruits, including Shurmur.
Outside the SEC
Jim Harbaugh (Michigan), 2016 points/class rank: 280.38/6th
Dabo Swinney (Clemson), 2010 points/class rank: 209.53/28th
Pete Carroll (Southern Cal), 2002 points/class rank: 250.90/8th
Brian Kelly (Notre Dame), 2011 points/class rank: 269.31/9th
|Urban Meyer||Ohio State||2013||2nd||303.27|
|Jimbo Fisher||Florida State||2011||2nd||296.41|
|Hugh Freeze||Ole Miss||2013||8th||275.5|
|Brian Kelly||Notre Dame||2011||9th||269.31|
|Kevin Sumlin||Texas A&M||2013||9th||267.79|
|Ed Orgeron||Ole Miss||2006||16th||224.92|
|Dan Mullen||Mississippi State||2010||33rd||203.36|
All rankings come from the 247Sports Composite rankings.