Georgia Bulldogs: Matthew Stafford

The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Many observers of football in Texas agree the SEC’s impact on the recruiting trail in the Lone Star State is going to only grow in the future. However, not every SEC team is making a beeline to Dallas, Houston and East Texas to recruit. Plus, both USC and UCLA did their best to impress one of the nation’s top corners recently.

Continuing our run-up to Georgia's spring practice, this week we'll review the Bulldogs' five best recruiting classes of the last decade.

Today, we'll look at No. 3: The 2006 class that will forever carry a “what-if” label because of massive potential that was somewhat unfulfilled despite posting two top-10 rankings.

[+] EnlargeMatthew Stafford
Doug Benc/Getty ImagesMatthew Stafford led UGA to a No. 2 final ranking after the 2007 season.
The stars: Five-star quarterback and future No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Matthew Stafford was the headliner, but there were many players in this class who had outstanding careers in Athens. Tailback Knowshon Moreno was one of the most exciting players of the Mark Richt era and the breakout performer on a team that finished the 2007 season with a No. 2 national ranking. Defensive lineman Geno Atkins, safety Reshad Jones, linebacker Akeem Dent and cornerback Asher Allen also went on to have productive college and pro careers.

The contributors: There were many valuable role players in this class: names like receiver Kris Durham, fullback Shaun Chapas, cornerback and return man Prince Miller, linebacker Darryl Gamble, offensive linemen Josh and Chris Davis and defensive end Demarcus Dobbs. Several members of that group made it onto NFL rosters at some point after their time in Athens. Durham was the team's most valuable receiver early in the 2010 season, while A.J. Green served a four-game suspension, and finished that season with 659 receiving yards that helped him pop up on NFL radars after his first several seasons on campus were filled with injuries.

The letdowns: Some of the biggest names in the class (linebackers Darius Dewberry and Akeem Hebron, defensive end Brandon Wood, tight end Naderris Ward) failed to become major contributors in college. Ward, Tony Wilson, Michael Lemon and John Miller all left UGA before their careers were over. Safety Quintin Banks was set back by a series of injuries, derailing what could have been a solid career. And Kiante Tripp never seemed to settle into a position, perhaps wasting a career that could have been more productive had he not shuttled from location to location.

The results: With Stafford and Moreno leading the way, Georgia ranked among the top BCS contenders at the end of the 2007 season – one that ended with the Bulldogs hammering Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl. Georgia opened the next season as the nation's No. 1 team, although injuries and a disappointing defense helped the Bulldogs finish with a disappointing three losses. Stafford, Moreno and Allen left for the draft after that season, and Jones left after the next. The group was full of high-end talent and the early results were mostly positive, but Florida's dominance (BCS titles in 2006 and 2008, an SEC East title in 2009) overshadows anything that this Georgia class accomplished in college.

Ultimate 300: SEC's top classes 

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The SEC has dominated the recruiting world over the past several years. Since 2008, the SEC has had at least three schools finish in the top 10 of the ESPN recruiting class rankings each year. Last year, the conference had an impressive six schools ranked among the top 10 recruiting classes in the country. This year is much of the same, as seven SEC schools are ranked in the top 10.

Here’s a closer look at the five best recruiting SEC schools in the Ultimate ESPN 300.


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Last two classes made instant impact 

February, 5, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia’s coaching staff proved in the last two seasons that it is more than willing to play a newcomer in order to address glaring needs. And as they prepare to put the finishing touches on their 2013 signing class, the coaches can only hope that the newest Bulldogs can be as effective as their predecessors from that last two years at addressing Georgia’s depth concerns.

Mark Richt’s critics might once have had a point when they observed that his coaching staff gave veterans too much of a benefit of the doubt when it came to playing them over talented young players. The last two seasons have neutralized those criticisms, as it’s hard to imagine Georgia having won the last two SEC East titles without extensive contributions from brand new Bulldogs.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley #3 and Keith Marshall
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesFreshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall combined for 2,144 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns in the 2012 season.
Think back to 2011, when John Jenkins’ emergence at nose guard was one of the leading factors in Georgia’s defensive resurgence that carried the Bulldogs to their first division title since 2005. Or how tailback Isaiah Crowell led the team with 850 rushing yards en route to SEC Freshman of the Year honors. Or how Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Conley both made their share of big plays at receiver, as did Amarlo Herrera at linebacker.

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DawgNation on the radio

January, 22, 2013
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With just over two weeks until signing day, the recruiting visits take center stage. DawgNation joined ESPN’s Athens affiliate 960 The Ref to talk about recruiting and more. Some of the topics discussed were:
Listen to the show here.

Top Georgia sleepers 

January, 22, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- With barely two weeks remaining until national signing day, this is a good time to not only project the futures of the respective prospects, but also look backward at players who entered college with modest expectations and performed solidly.

Let’s take a look at five Georgia “sleepers” since 2006 -- when ESPN first started its recruiting enterprise -- who exceeded our expectations after their arrival on campus.


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By the numbers: UGA classes since 2006 

January, 18, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Here’s a breakdown of Georgia’s last seven recruiting classes and what they managed to accomplish in college and beyond:

2006
ESPN top five classes: Florida, USC, Texas, Georgia, Notre Dame
Georgia’s ranking: 4

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Recruiting flashback: Kris Durham 

January, 7, 2013
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Editor’s note: As we approach national signing day and consider the future of Georgia’s football program, we’ll also look backward into the Bulldogs’ recruiting history. During the next few weeks, we’ll talk with several former Georgia standouts about their experiences as recruits. Today we feature receiver Kris Durham, who played for the Bulldogs between 2006 and 2010.

ATHENS, Ga. -- Injuries prevented Kris Durham from becoming the star he hoped to be when he signed with Georgia in 2006, but he doesn’t seem to feel much regret about his time as a Bulldog.

His 659 receiving yards in 2010 as a senior helped him get picked in the NFL draft and he also met close friends Matthew Stafford, Shaun Chapas and Fred Munzenmaier, with whom he roomed in college before playing alongside Stafford and Chapas with the Detroit Lions this season.

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Recruiting flashback: Ben Jones

January, 2, 2013
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Editor’s note: As we approach national signing day and consider the future of Georgia’s football program, we’ll also look backward into the Bulldogs’ recruiting history. Over the next few weeks, we’ll talk with several former Georgia standouts about their experiences as recruits. We begin today with offensive lineman and 2011 team captain Ben Jones.

ATHENS, Ga. -- In the summer of 2007, Ben Jones was one of those prospects who became a rock star on the summer camp circuit.

After dominating some high-profile competition in blocking drills at a prospect camp at Georgia, Jones quickly made himself a household name among recruitniks. But luckily for Mark Richt’s Bulldogs, Jones had a burning desire to play football at his late father’s alma mater -- and he played quickly.

Jones was a starting center for the preseason-No. 1 Bulldogs only a few games into his freshman season in 2008 and essentially held onto the job for the rest of his career. He was an ESPN All-American and All-SEC selection last season as a senior before becoming a fourth-round NFL draft pick by the Houston Texans.

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Game breakdown: Georgia vs. Nebraska

December, 31, 2012
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No. 7 Georgia and No. 16 Nebraska meet on New Year’s Day in Orlando, Fla., in one of the highest-profile non-BCS games of this bowl season. The key to Tuesday’s game might be discerning which of them actually takes that reality seriously.

It’s not the BCS championship game, where Georgia could easily be playing, or the Rose Bowl, which Nebraska expected before laying an egg in a 70-31 loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. But the winning program on Tuesday could very well wind up where it has not been in quite some time.

Georgia was once a top-10 team essentially every season under coach Mark Richt, but it has not finished the season in the Associated Press top 10 since 2007. Likewise, Nebraska finished the season ranked in the AP top 10 eight times in nine seasons between 1993 and 2001, but it has not finished the season there in the last decade.

Let’s take a look at how they might make it there with a victory to inaugurate the new year:

No. 7 Georgia vs. No. 16 Nebraska

Tuesday, 1 p.m.
Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium, Orlando, Fla.
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Records: Georgia 11-2, Nebraska 10-3

Last game: Georgia lost 32-28 to Alabama in the SEC championship game on Dec. 1. Nebraska lost 70-31 to Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game on the same day.

What’s the Story? Georgia and Nebraska are both trying to snap two-game bowl losing skids and end their seasons with a milestone victory of sorts. Nebraska hasn’t won at least 11 games in a season since 2001 and Georgia has only won 12 games twice in school history.

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Q&A: Readers' questions for Luginbill 

December, 7, 2012
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DawgNation took the time to set up a readers' Q&A with ESPN Senior National Recruiting Analyst Tom Luginbill:

chrisarnold09: How much higher do you think Shaq Wiggins would be ranked if he were, say, about 3 inches taller and about 25 lbs heavier?

Tom Luginbill: He’d be higher, but no way to say how much higher, but in the past generally a corner with his skill set if they are above 6-foot-1, 200 pounds (which is what you are proposing) would likely put him into the top 15.

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Stafford, Hairy Dawg reunite 

October, 22, 2012
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ESPN debuted two new "This is SportsCenter" spots today starring Detroit Lions quarterback Matt Stafford and Georgia mascot Hairy Dawg. In one, the former Georgia Bulldog cleans up an apparent Hairy Dawg accident in the ESPN break room. In another, Hairy Dawg steals Stafford’s unwanted leftovers from the refrigerator.

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Random thoughts from UGA-Tennessee 

September, 30, 2012
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia survived on Saturday, but its 51-44 win against Tennessee was hardly a textbook victory.

[+] EnlargeKeith Marshall
Jeff Vest/Icon SMIKeith Marshall and Georgia racked up the yards against UT.
Let’s recap some of the history we witnessed at Sanford Stadium and go over some other key points from the Bulldogs’ (5-0, 3-0 SEC) win that keeps them undefeated going into an enormous SEC East showdown against South Carolina (also 5-0, 3-0 after a 38-17 win against Kentucky on Saturday) next Saturday.

And by the way, if you didn't know already, ESPN College GameDay will be in Columbia for the occasion.

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Gurley's debut among best under Richt 

September, 3, 2012
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ATHENS, Ga. -- If Saturday was Todd Gurley’s Herschel Walker moment, Witney Sherry was Gurley’s Bill Bates.

Walker famously burst onto the college football scene in 1980 when he flattened Tennessee’s Bates on the way to the end zone, sparking Georgia’s comeback win against the Volunteers. Three decades later, Gurley tossed Sherry aside like a ragdoll on both of his touchdown runs as he constructed one of Georgia’s all-time most impressive debuts by a true freshman in Saturday’s 45-23 win against Buffalo.

“I didn’t really think about, ‘Yeah I’m going to score,’ or ‘Yeah I’m going to do this,’ my goal was really to come into the game and play my best without the ball, because if I get the ball, then that’s just going to come natural,” said Gurley, who rushed eight times for 100 yards and two touchdowns and returned his first college kickoff 100 yards for another score.

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Notebook: Redshirt likely for Bauta 

August, 10, 2012
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia coach Mark Richt confirmed after Friday’s practice that true freshman quarterback Faton Bauta is likely in line for a redshirt season this fall.

Bauta is the newcomer in a deep group of quarterbacks that includes All-SEC starter Aaron Murray, junior Hutson Mason, redshirt freshman Christian LeMay and walk-on Parker Welch, so the incoming freshman has not been getting many practice reps this preseason.

“It’s just a matter of learning, and sometimes it is harder to learn when you’re trying to learn with a [small] amount of opportunities,” Richt said. “But we’re not expecting him to have to play for us this year. More than likely he’ll redshirt.”

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