NCF On The Trail: Georgia Bulldogs

The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting news across the country. Today’s offerings: No. 2 cornerback Iman Marshall announced four of his five official visits on Thursday, but he decided to crowd-source his final visit and that brought out the worst from Oklahoma and Texas fans. Alabama is expected to bounce back with good news on Friday after losing two recruits last weekend, and we continue our tour of the top recruiting happenings on social media.

Boston College coach Steve Addazio remembers an era when players wanted to redshirt as true freshmen to better prepare them for the final four years of their college career.

"Now it's 'I want to play,' " Addazio, 55, said. "If you're talking about not playing them early, the majority are like 'What do you mean?'"

So, the ability to play or possibly even start as a true freshman has become a regular sales pitch for coaches from the Power Five to the Group of Five. It's certainly a tool in the belt for Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. Last week, Fisher alluded to the number of freshmen All-Americans he's coached the last four seasons. Twenty-four hours later, it was on the program's official recruiting Twitter page.

"The last [four] years we've had 14 freshmen All-Americans," said Fisher, condensing multiple outlets' freshmen award teams into one, concise Florida State propaganda poster. "If you come in ready to play, we're willing to put you on the field. It's critical for guys to come in saying 'When I'm the best, I'll play.'"

Fisher has the goods to back up his claims, even if the numbers are obviously skewed to best represent his program. But how does his résumé compare to those coaching some of the country's other top programs?

I tried to come up with a way to accurately discern which schools play the most freshmen and decided true freshmen letterwinners was the simplest and most effective way to crunch the numbers. To earn a letter, a player has to actually play consistently through the season. The disclaimer is each program can use different benchmarks when awarding letters, but there is never going to be a perfect way.

I began with Florida State's, looking back at the 2011-2013 classes. To properly quantify the data from Florida State, I decided I'd look at the five schools ranked highest in the preseason polls that have had its coach in place at least five seasons. Oregon's Mark Helfrich was offered an exemption because he was promoted from within and is in his sixth season with the Ducks. Coaches in place at least five years was the stipulation since an incoming coach might be susceptible to playing the prospects he recruited or having a number of transfers that could open up starting or rotational spots.

The criteria: Each class was looked at and the total number of signees was pared down to just those who enrolled as members of the football team in the fall. Junior college signees were excluded, as were any recruits who were academically or medically disqualified before playing a game. That explains why the total number of freshmen for our purposes might look different than what might be seen on RecruitingNation. Any true freshmen who spent a year at a post-graduate or prep school was also excluded. Redshirt freshmen were disqualified, too.

Bottom line is if the player was not a part of the football team the fall following his high school graduation, he was excluded.

Nearly all of the data was collected after poring through media guides and archives, although the communications departments at some of the schools were also helpful providing numbers and deserve recognition.

So, here is the actual data:

 

It is hardly a coincidence that Fisher and Alabama's Nick Saban, who mentored Fisher at LSU, have identical percentages of true freshmen earning a letter. Fisher and Saban arguably have been the two best recruiters over the last few cycles, and, the data shows those two are not going to keep young talent off the field simply because of age. Nearly half of the true freshmen at Alabama and Florida State lettered over the last three seasons.

Mark Dantonio has built Michigan State into a national title contender in a different manor, relying on experience. Only 12 percent of true freshmen lettered over the last three seasons. Recruiting to Michigan State is not the easy task it is at some other top-10 programs, and the Spartans are not recruiting as many ESPN 300-level players as the likes of Alabama and Florida State.

It should be noted Michigan State, Oklahoma and Oregon don't have quite the recruiting base Alabama and Florida State do.

Inquiring minds want to see how that 45 percent stacks up to some of the other top programs in the country, so even though they did not fit the criteria I looked at a few other schools with coaches in place at least five seasons and lately in the top half of the rankings. LSU was worth a look considering it's Les Miles' 10th season in Baton Rouge and, like Fisher and Saban, has recruited exceptionally well for a long period of time. Mark Richt is in his 14th season at Georgia and, like Miles, usually has a highly-regarded recruiting class. Steve Spurrier is in his 10th season at South Carolina and has steadily improved the Gamecocks' class to the point that the 2015 class is No. 5 nationally. Dabo Swinney has turned Clemson from a perennial disappointment into a two-time BCS bowl participant. And Ohio State and Texas A&M, mainly because it's worth seeing how third-year Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer fares considering he frequently voices his preference to avoid redshirting. Kevin Sumlin is also in the process of trying to build an SEC power that can compete with Alabama and LSU in the SEC West.

 

For the Buckeyes, out of the 69 true freshmen to land in Columbus, Ohio, from 2011-2013, 31 lettered -- the same 45 percent. Looking at just Meyer's two seasons, however, he is decimals ahead of Fisher and Saban at 46 percent (21 out of 46), thanks in large part to 14 freshmen letterwinners in his first season.

Georgia's Mark Richt has a percentage of nearly 50 percent, but the Bulldogs' numbers might be the most skewed. Along with South Carolina, the Bulldogs had several recruits that either did not qualify or spent time at a prep school or junior college. Also, Georgia's long list of dismissals and transfers is well documented, and all of the departures has opened up spots for freshmen to earn immediate playing time.

It is Miles, though, who plays a higher percentage of freshmen than all of the others. Twelve true freshmen lettered for LSU in both 2012 and 2013, and another nine earned a letter in 2011. There were a total of 65 applicable freshmen to enter LSU during that span and 33 of them lettered. That's a percentage of 51 percent.

Certainly the numbers will fluctuate year to year, and coaches at every single program are playing freshmen more frequently than ever before. When taking into account the timeline is over three years, LSU averages just one more freshman letterwinner per season than Alabama and Florida State. For our intents and purposes, though, the data shows which top programs consistently play the most freshmen in this new era of freshmen phenoms.

And, uh, FYI, Alabama has 19 ESPN 300 players prepping for their freshmen season this fall. LSU has 16, and Florida State isn't far off with 13 of their own.

Early Offer: Tough weekend for Tide 

August, 17, 2014
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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting news across the country. Today’s offerings: Alabama doesn’t lose too many recruiting battles, but the Crimson Tide suffered not just one but two stinging defeats over the weekend. Plus, Wisconsin’s classes never grab national headlines but the 2015 class is a good one, and we continue our tour of the top recruiting happenings on social media.


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Scout's Take: WR Stanley to Georgia 

August, 17, 2014
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Georgia has a new, top offensive pledge following Jayson Stanley's decision. Below, see why he's such a key addition to Georgia's 2015 class:


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Scout's Take: DT Ledbetter to UGA 

August, 17, 2014
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Georgia Bulldogs picked up more steam on the trail Saturday night by flipping Under Armour All-American defensive tackle Jonathan Ledbetter from his commitment to Alabama. Read on to see what this means for the Bulldogs:


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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting news across the country. Today’s offerings: A look at how landing Trenton Thompson could help Georgia land even more highly coveted players and who might be next to join the Dawgs' commitment list. Plus, Alabama has the top-ranked class by far, but there's something that could loosen the Tide's grip on No. 1, and our daily tour of the top recruiting happenings on social media.


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Scout's Take: DT Thompson to Georgia 

August, 12, 2014
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Georgia has landed its signature recruit for 2015 in five-star defensive tackle Trenton Thompson. Read on to see what type of impact to expect from Thompson next fall:


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You can sign all the four- and five-star recruits in the world, but none of that matters if you're not able to fill your needs. RecruitingNation takes a look at 2015 recruits who most fill the needs of each of the SEC schools.


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Early Offer: Dawg day Tuesday? 

August, 11, 2014
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Over the years, Georgia coach Mark Richt has taken a lot of lumps from both fans and reporters for his perceived struggles landing the best players in the Peach State. There is some validity to the concerns, because in the eight years ESPN has been covering recruiting, the Dawgs have landed the top player in Georgia only two times.

But keen observers know there’s so much talent in Georgia that missing out on the best prospect in the state doesn’t always equate to disaster. Richt has won plenty of games and knows how to mine other talent-rich states like Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina and key junior college programs, but it still doesn’t erase the fact that Georgia fans want to see the best high school football player in the state donning red and black.

“Back in the '80s and '90s, the No. 1 player in the state at a position would have gone to Georgia in a heartbeat,” said Lawrenceville (Ga.) Central Gwinnett coach Todd Wofford, who has coached high-profile recruits like 2013 Ohio State signee Trey Johnson and 2015 ESPN 300 linebacker and Florida commitment Adonis Thomas.

“Last year the top player in state, Raekwon McMillan went to Ohio State. Two years ago, the No. 1 player in the country, Robert Nkemdiche, went to Ole Miss," Wofford added. "In my opinion, that would have never happened in the '80s and '90s. It was one of those things that if you're from the state of Georgia, you're going to go to Georgia. But that's just not true any more. Georgia is so much more wide open than it ever has been, and that puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the guys in Athens to make sure they get the top kid in the state.”

The good news is that it looks like the Dawgs will in the 2015 class.


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ESPN 300 defensive back Rico McGraw flipped his commitment from Georgia to SEC rival Alabama. McGraw, from Nashville, Tennessee, is a very versatile defender and should provide immediate depth in the secondary for the Crimson Tide.


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video Josh Sweat, the nation’s No. 1 prospect, has lined up all five of his official visits. Sweat said he turned down more than 50 scholarship offers to focus on Florida State, Georgia, Ohio State, Oregon and Virginia Tech. He also said Texas A&M and Auburn are also still under consideration.


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ESPN 300: SEC's must-get recruits 

July, 30, 2014
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The SEC already has commitments from 77 prospects in the ESPN 300, but there are still several key targets available. Whether it's a current commit, a position of need or just the best available player, here is a look at the top must-get recruits for each SEC team.


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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings.

Today’s offerings: Josh Sweat was recently promoted to the No. 1 player in the country Insider and it looks like we won’t have to wait too much longer for the five-star defensive end to announce what schools will make the cut for his top five list. Plus, with an addition of another ESPN 300 prospect on Tuesday, Miami’s class continues to climb the charts.

Handling it the right way

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5-star George Campbell narrows list 

July, 28, 2014
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Five-star athlete George Campbell, a former Michigan recruit, has seen his recruitment skyrocket after backing off his pledge to the Wolverines back in December. Now, the No. 10-ranked prospect has decided to narrow his choices of colleges to 10.


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Early Offer: 2016 targets come off board
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: It’s been said recruits are committing sooner than ever before and the recent run of pledges in the 2016 class proves to some that an early signing period is needed now more than ever. Plus, if you want to know how competitive it is to recruit in the Southeast, just check out the up-and-down two weeks the Florida Gators have had on the recruiting trail.

It’s never too early
Signing day for the Class of 2016 isn’t for another 555 days, but that hasn’t stopped a high number of ESPN Junior 300 prospects from making early decisions. In the last eight days alone, seven of the best players in next year’s class committed, and overall 47 of the top 300 prospects have made their decisions.

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