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Kirby Smart Is the New King of Recruiting

Georgia just signed one of the most absurdly talented college football recruiting classes of all time. Are the Bulldogs set to rule the SEC?

Kirby Smart clapping and wearing a visor Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Where were you when you realized that Kirby Smart had become the undisputed king of recruiting?

Maybe it was when the newly minted Georgia head coach swiped star quarterback recruit Jake Fromm from under his former boss’s nose in March 2016. Maybe it was when the Bulldogs rode that true freshman to an appearance in January’s national championship game. Or maybe it was Wednesday, when Smart put the finishing touches on the top-ranked 2018 recruiting class, usurping Alabama, which had earned that distinction every offseason since 2011. Over the past seven years, the only thing more certain than Bama securing the no. 1 recruiting class has been Nick Saban placing a Coke bottle on the podium during each of his in-season press conferences.

The Bulldogs owned this recruiting cycle, landing seven (seven!) five-star players, including more top-25 prospects than any program has signed since ESPN began to track high school football prospects in 2006. The star of the crop, Justin Fields, is the top-rated dual-threat quarterback in the country and the no. 2 overall recruit in the Class of 2018, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings.

Meanwhile, Tyson Campbell — the no. 2 cornerback and the no. 12 overall prospect in the nation — should strike fear into SEC offensive coordinators’ hearts for the next few years. Just look at these highlights.

The theme of Georgia’s class is Flip ’Em. Fields was a former Penn State commit before declaring for Georgia in October 2017. Three other five-star talents (running back Zamir White, offensive tackle Cade Mays, and guard Jamaree Salyer) seemed Clemson-bound before Smart convinced them to sign with the Dawgs. Top prospects such as defensive end Adam Anderson (LSU), running back James Cook (Florida State), cornerback Divaad Wilson (Florida), linebacker Otis Reese (Michigan), and defensive end Brenton Cox (Ohio State) were all committed elsewhere until Georgia came knocking. The biggest moves, however, came at Alabama’s expense.

First, four-star cornerback Nadab Joseph flipped from Bama to Georgia in December, a mere 15 days after he had issued his verbal pledge to the Tide. A day later, tight end Luke Ford picked the Bulldogs instead of Bama. And on Wednesday, linebacker Quay Walker spurned Saban and his staff for the Dawgs — embarrassing Tennessee in the process — after committing to the Tide in June. Earlier this month, Walker told SEC Country that he’d been looking forward to playing for former Alabama defensive coordinator and current Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt, and added that the Tide’s depth at linebacker played a role in his wavering commitment.

Despite Alabama’s losses on the recruiting trail over the past few weeks, it still finished with a top-10 class and two of the top-six rated players in the country. The Tide won’t struggle to field outrageously talented players, given that they just won the national championship on the backs of true freshmen like quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and wide receiver DeVonta Smith.

But what the Bulldogs managed to pull off in the 2018 recruiting cycle could shape the SEC landscape. Georgia almost won the national title this season, Smart’s second on the job. Considering the star-studded class that’s about to arrive in Athens, it’s a safe bet that the Dawgs will remain in College Football Playoff contention for many years to come.