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February 1, 2011

Talk about Dream Teams...

After signing with Georgia in 1980, the absolute HEAD of all heads of classes
was still everyone's desire (even when sporting an early 80's Urban Cowboy look).

As Georgia is attempting to finalize a Dream Team of a recruiting class, a friend of mine and fellow Bulldog follower suggested I rank the all-time incoming recruiting classes in Georgia football history.  Which class owned the top spot wasn't difficult to figure; however, determining the rest of the top ten was a challenge, especially since every incoming class from the very beginning of UGA football was considered.

Among the factors used in determining the top classes were the number of impact players, their individual and collective success while at Georgia, and the number that would eventually play at the professional level. 

Although very little, I also took into consideration players' NFL careers and those incoming Bulldogs that might have eventually found success at another school.  I also selected at least one class from each of the last six coaching eras: Mehre, Butts, Dooley, Goff, Donnan, and Richt.

After pouring over decades of incoming classes, choosing my opinion of the 20 to 25 best, narrowing that down to a top 10, and ranking them (below), I've discovered something rather interesting and near astonishing about my list:

Six of the seven classes from my No. 2 through No. 8 signed with UGA prior to only the first or second season of a new coaching regime.  The one exception - 1998 - was prior to just the third season of Coach Donnan.  Let me add, Donnan's first class (1996: Champ Bailey, Orantes Grant, Patrick Pass, Marcus Stroud, etc.) just missed my top 10.

Does this suggest that very talented players, for whatever reasons, are often collectively attracted to a program with a fairly or brand new coaching staff?  Rather, as my friend suggested, are coaching staffs more inclined to recruit and work harder when new on the job?  Or, is it only a coincidence?    

1) 1980
Head of Class: RB Herschel Walker
Supporting Cast: DE Freddie Gilbert, OT Jimmy Harper, DB Terry Hoage, OT Winford Hood, TE Clarence Kay, LB Tommy Thurson, OT/DT Mike Weaver, FB Scott Williams, RB Barry Young

Even if you were to stick Walker with 28 run-of-the-mill (at best) players, this class may still rank in the top 10, simply because of the signing of Herschel - maybe the greatest college football player of all time.  Notwithstanding, even without Walker, this class (which made up half of the 22 starters in 1983) produced a 10-1-1 record as seniors and a No. 4 national ranking...Two redshirted signees - Weaver and Williams - would switch positions prior to their senior seasons and were two of the top players on the 1984 team...About a year ago, this class was ranked 11th best (3rd in the SEC) in the history of college football recruiting.  

2) 1965
Head of Class: DB Jake Scott, DT Bill Stanfill
Supporting Cast: DT Tim Callaway, FB/LB Happy Dicks, DG Steve Greer, HB Kent Lawrence, QB Billy Payne, DB Penny Pennington, DB David McKnight, end David Rholetter

After a season on the freshman Bullpups squad, three signees - Lawrence, Payne, and Stanfill - would promptly start on the 1966 SEC championship team and would capture another conference crown just two seasons later...Lawrence is still considered one of the greatest all-purpose players in Georgia history, Payne (who came to UGA as a quarterback) starred at both offensive (1966-1967) and defensive (1968) end, while Stanfill is perhaps the Bulldogs' best defender ever.  Scott and Greer wouldn't play until 1967 but both would become All-Americans (Greer in his fifth year of '69)...The cast above doesn't include perhaps the most touted of the bunch - Charlotte's Rick Arrington - who split time with starting quarterback Kirby Moore at the beginning of the '66 season, decided to transfer to Tulsa, and would eventually play in the NFL.

3) 1998
Head of Class: ATH Terrence Edwards, OL Jon Stinchcomb
Supporting Cast: LB Boss Bailey, DB Terreal Bierria, QB Quincy Carter, OL George Foster, LB Tony Gilbert, DL David Jacobs, RB Jasper Sanks, DB Tim Wansley, LB Will Witherspoon

It must be at least a decent class when one cannot decide who is its "head": Edwards, the SEC's all-time leading receiver, or a four-year starter, three-time All-SEC lineman in Stinchcomb...This class also included Nate Hybl, who would quarterback Oklahoma to a Rose Bowl win, and Kawika Mitchell - an eventual second-round pick out of South Florida, who just finished his eighth season in the NFL...Donnan could always lure top-notch talent (all 11 starters from his 2000 defense would play in the NFL), however, it never translated to a conference championship.  In 2002 under Richt, with much of this class still around as fifth-year seniors, the Bulldogs finally realized their potential. 

4) 1939
Head of Class: HB Frank Sinkwich
Supporting Cast: HB Lamar "Racehorse" Davis, end George Poschner, guard Harry Kuniansky, guard Walter Ruark, end Van Davis, tackle Gene Ellenson, kicker Leo Costa

The rationale why Wally Butts, an assistant on Georgia's 1938 team, was kept around and promoted after Joel Hunt's single season as head football coach was because Butts was familiar with UGA, the state of Georgia, and could flat-out recruit.  This was immediately evident with the signing of his first class of '39.  As Bullpups, they went undefeated, outscoring their opponents 166 to 6.  After an average campaign as 1940 varsity members, this group was primarily responsible for Georgia's combined 20-2-1 record in 1941 and 1942 and the program's first two bowl appearances. 

5) 2001
Head of Class: DL David Pollack
Supporting Cast: DB Greg Blue, LB Thomas Davis, WR Fred Gibson, QB D.J. Shockley, LB Odell Thurman

Of Georgia's last four first-team All-Americans on defense through the 2010 season, three - Pollack, Davis, and Blue - were members of the '01 class.  Throw in Thurman, Gibson (still ranks second at UGA in career receiving yards), and D.J. Shockley, who might have had the best single season ever by a Bulldog quarterback (2005), and this turned out to be a rather fine class. 

6) 1990
Head of Class: RB Garrison Hearst
Supporting Cast: LB Mitch Davis, WR Andre Hastings, LB DeWayne Simmons, DL Bernard Williams, OL Steve Roberts, TE Shannon Mitchell

Although the 4-7 Bulldog football team of 1990 might have been the school's worst of the last 50 years, on a positive note, many newcomers (primarily because of injuries and suspensions) saw immediate and valuable playing time.  This paid off for a 9-3 "Operation Turnaround" in 1991 and the team's first 10-win season in nine years in 1992.  Unfortunately, Hearst, Hastings, and Simmons had departed by 1993, and this class suffered through a 5-6 season as seniors.

7) 2002
Head of Class: OL Max Jean-Gilles
Supporting Cast: DT Kedric Golston, OT Daniel Inman, CB Tim Jennings, TE Martrez Milner, DB Demario Minter, DL Quentin Moses, TE Leonard Pope, LB Tony Taylor

Although there is no signee that clearly stands out from the '02 class, except for maybe Jean-Gilles, eight of the newcomers would receive All-SEC recognition during their time as Bulldogs (most of all incoming classes in my top 10).  Collectively, Georgia was 44-9 and won two SEC championships from 2002 through 2005, and, for the fifth-year players from this class, a 9-win season in 2006 capped their careers.

8) 1928
Head of Class: end Vernon "Catfish" Smith
Supporting Cast: tackle Bobby Rose, guard Red Maddox, FB Jack Roberts, guard James Patterson, HB Spurgeon Chandler, QB Austin Downes, guard Milt "Red" Leathers, guard Jasper Bennett

Of Georgia's starting eleven in 1929, eight of them were sophomores and signees from the '28 incoming class.  Nicknamed the "Flaming Sophs" since a few of these sophomores had red hair (including "Red" Maddox and "Red" Leathers), this class led Georgia to a combined 15-4-1 record as juniors and seniors...The 1931 Bulldogs, at one point during their season (and before major polls), were considered the best team in all of college football.   

9) 1957
Head of Class: QB Fran Tarkenton
Supporting Cast: center Phil Ashe, HB Fred Brown, guard Pat Dye, FB Bill Godfrey, HB Bobby Walden

The '57 class went undefeated as Bullpups - Georgia's first perfect freshman team since the 1939 newcomers nearly 20 years earlier.  As juniors in 1959, this class was the primary reason for the Bulldogs' diamond-in-the-rough-type season when, amidst 15 years (1949-1963) of typically sub-par play, Georgia recorded a 10-1 mark in capturing the SEC...Brown departed ranked third at Georgia in  career all-purpose yardage (only behind Sinkwich and Charley Trippi), Dye was an All-American, while Tarkenton became a legendary quarterback in the NFL.
10) 1974
Head of Class: FB Ben Zambiasi
Supporting Cast: OG George Collins, DB Johnny Henderson, DB Bill Krug, RB Kevin McLee, DT Ronnie Swoopes, DB Billy Woods

Besides its aggressive play and catchy name, what also made the Junkyard Dogs defense of 1975 enchanting was the fact the unit was assumed in the preseason to be dreadful...but you know what they say about assuming.  Five 1974 signees made up almost half of the starters on Erk Russell's fiery defense only a year later.  As juniors, they helped Georgia win an SEC title...Although their senior season of 1977 was a losing campaign, McLee became the school's all-time leading rusher (for four years) while Zambiasi, Collins, and Krug were all recognized as first-team All-Americans...This class also included the talented Tony Flanagan - Georgia's first African-American quarterback.  


straydog said...

Nice post Patrick, what I would like to really see is a breakdown of how the recruiting classes of the top 5 BCS teams over the past 5years stack up, especially Auburn. How many 5,4,3 star recruits each team had on their starting 22 players.

Anonymous said...

Patrick, this post shows a lot of effort and insight. Hopefully, the Class of '11 will in time be close to the '80 Class.
Old Dawg