Take Two: Smart moves at UGA, make or break for Auburn, Harris
Take Two is back this week tackling a handful of issues in the college football landscape.
Rivals.com National Recruiting Analyst Adam Gorney lays out the situation and then receives takes from Rivals.com National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell and a local expert from the Rivals.com network of team sites.
SMART MOVES AT UGA
Storyline: Kirby Smart has not even coached a single game at Georgia, yet the first-year coach is making significant moves on the recruiting trail and keeping a lot of top talent in-state.
Sure, the Crimson Tide still have the nation’s top recruiting class and Alabama football is not going anywhere, but Smart is making Georgia seriously relevant again by locking up the state.
First take: “Kirby Smart’s recruiting efforts to this point have been impressive, as he’s gone toe-to-toe with his mentor, Nick Saban, and even stolen away a couple of his prized commits. Getting Jake Fromm and Netori Johnson aboard was a key win for the Bulldogs' new head coach, and he just pulled a flip from Will Muschamp and the Gamecocks, as Decatur, Ga. resident Devonte Wyatt joined the class on Monday.
“The excitement in-state is palpable, and it’s not odd to hear top uncommitted players in the Peach State, such as Markaviest Bryant and Jeremiah Holloman, talk about what the Bulldogs could be building.
“Still, recruits and fans alike are waiting and watching closely to see how and if the first-time head coach and his staff are able to elevate the program beyond their previous heights under Mark Richt. It’s a tough act to follow, as the former Bulldogs coach and current Miami head coach was normally bankable for nine to 10 wins a year. Will Smart take the team above that threshold this year? That seems ambitious, and expectations, even from recruits, are tempered in the short-term. Even so, a big step backward will raise eyebrows and could cause talent to begin to explore more proven options.” – Jake Reuse, UGASports.com
Second take: “You have to always protect your borders. Smart took Fromm away from Saban, he took Netori away from Saban so when you’re able to fend off Alabama from coming into your state, you definitely have a pretty big chance of fending off anybody else. A lot of people were worried when he was hired as a first-time head coach how well he could recruit the state and if he’d be able to hold off his former boss, but he’s proven he can, so they’re off to a great start. They’re also in a good position to make a run near the top of the rankings.” - Farrell
AUBURN: MAKE OR BREAK?
Storyline: This might be a make or break season for Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and there are certainly major questions, especially at quarterback and now at running back, but recruiting is churning along well.
The Tigers are currently eighth in the SEC rankings but those numbers are deceptive because Auburn actually is tied for second with LSU in average star ranking, so recruiting is moving forward even with questions around the program.
Auburn has five-star offensive tackle Calvin Ashley committed along with six four-star pledges. The Tigers are far from done – but first things need to be handled on the field and it starts in a big way, hosting Clemson in the season opener.
First take: “Recruits haven’t expressed much concern about Auburn’s future despite having witnessed a six-loss season a year ago. If anything, there’s been optimism. The primary reasons? The new coaches on campus. Malzahn hired Kevin Steele, a well-respected and veteran SEC defensive coordinator, and NFL-experienced Wesley McGriff. The head coach also brought in the personable and recruit-favorite Herb Hand, as well as the young and easily-relatable Travis Williams and Kodi Burns. The new coaches have gelled well with the ones already at Auburn - Scott Fountain, Rodney Garner, Tim Horton and Rhett Lashlee. There’s a chemistry amongst the staff that might not have been there a year ago. And that chemistry is apparent to recruits and their families.
“And then there are the relationships between the coaches and recruits, a result of a different strategy implemented under new director of player personnel Patrick Suddes, who Malzahn hired from Arizona State and previously worked under Saban at Alabama. The staff is building strong bonds with a core of recruits. They haven’t stretched themselves too thin. They identified their top targets early, got the recruits on campus several times since the spring and solidified many commitments in the process. Auburn, with 12 commitments, has set itself up in the preseason that a turnaround during the regular season could result in a top-five class in the postseason.” – Jeffrey Lee, AuburnSports.com
Second take: “It’s a huge year for them. Last year a lot of people bought into what Malzahn was saying about his quarterback. I even picked them to be a playoff contender and last year was a disaster. Your shelf life in the SEC, especially in the SEC West, is pretty short. Gene Chizik was fired a couple years removed from a national championship. They have a lot of questions to answer. They really need to have a great season. They have some positives on defense and they have young talent. The recruiting will continue. They’re doing OK recruiting-wise, but it will start to falter if they have another rough season. This is a real make-or-break season for Auburn.” – Farrell
WILL HARRIS FLIP?
Storyline: Najee Harris is a five-star running back, the second-best prospect in the class and he has the potential to be special – Heisman-special – once he gets to college.
The Antioch, Calif., star has been committed to Alabama for a long time but recently stoked some interest on the recruiting trail after visiting Michigan again. In the college football world of Jim Harbaugh, there is tremendous excitement that Harris might flip to the Wolverines.
But is that realistic? According to one source, it’s unlikely. Others might have different opinions and Michigan – among other programs – aren’t going to stop recruiting Harris because he’s that good.
Will the five-star stick with the Crimson Tide? Flip to Michigan? Or possibly decide to stay closer to home somewhere in the Pac-12?
First take: “Michigan rolled out the red carpet for their BBQ at The Big House and even though it wasn’t all for Harris, it made an impact. Harris’ mother came with him to Ann Arbor and that’s a big deal because she doesn’t travel much. Tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh bonded with Harris and, overall, the visit couldn’t have gone any better for that nation’s top back.
“That being said, he won’t end up at Michigan. Alabama has had his attention for too long and even though Harris is legitimately looking at U-M, it’s not going to change how much he likes the Tide. The bigger threat might end up being from a West Coast program. Antioch is a long way from Tuscaloosa and while Harris seems to have the right mentality to handle going to school far from his mother, it’s easier said than done. Harris could definitely give USC or UCLA a look, or perhaps even Cal, which is just over 30 miles from his home in Antioch.
“At the end of the day, I think Harris sticks with Bama and becomes another name in the long line of stud running backs to play for Nick Saban.” – Brandon Brown, TheWolverine.com
Second take: “He could flip, but I don’t think Michigan is the place he’s going to flip to. It’s a tremendous opportunity up there and Harbaugh is a great coach and does a tremendous job recruiting out West. Harris could stay closer to home. It really depends what some of the big programs out there do during this season - if USC or UCLA have a really surprising year or if Cal has a big year with its running back tradition. Alabama is the perfect fit for him. The assumption is he’s the best running back we’ve seen since Leonard Fournette and he’d be an absolute superstar Heisman-candidate at Alabama if all things went well. But it’s pretty far away. There is a possibility of him flipping but if he does flip, it would be local.” - Farrell