There’s more at stake Saturday afternoon for No. 3 Georgia than just the Southeastern Conference Championship and a spot in the BCS National Championship.
Alabama has been a juggernaut not just on the field, but also in recruiting.
Since head coach Nick Saban has been at the helm, No. 2 Alabama has averaged a top-five recruiting class each of Saban’s full years on the recruiting trail. They have won two of the past three national championships, with Auburn, another Alabama state school and recruiting foe, winning in 2010.
Georgia defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner said the successes that both Alabama and Auburn have had recently help those two schools keep talent within their state’s borders, which presents a challenge for other SEC schools.
“Obviously, the state of Alabama is very allegiant,” Garner said. “A lot of the kids there, they grow up either Alabama or Auburn. When both programs are doing well, it’s very hard to go in and get the elite guys. We’ll go over there and dibble and dabble and try to get that hook in the water, and just see if we can get any type of nibbles. If there’s a kid that shows some interest in Georgia then obviously we’ll recruit him.”
Garner added Alabama’s population of high school talent is another challenge for recruiters.
“It presents some difficult challenges because they don’t have the number of kids in (Alabama) as they do in the state of Georgia," Garner said. "It’s a smaller pool and those kids grow up with certain allegiances.”
Left tackle Mark Beard is the only native Alabamian on the Georgia roster. But Alabama's roster includes 20 Georgians. Numbers-wise, the Bulldogs haven't been able to break into Alabama talent like the Crimson Tide have in Georgia.
Garner credits that success to Alabama and Nick Saban, rather than putting the fault on Georgia's recruitment strategy.
“Alabama does an outstanding job in all phases of their program,” Garner said. “You look at Coach Saban and that’s his motto, is excellence. I think they do an excellent job in all areas — recruiting, development, coaching, so they’re often imitated by a lot of people. They set benchmark that people are always trying to strive to.”
If Georgia defeats Alabama, it could turn the recruiting tide in Bulldog favor, and kickstart a recruiting and championship dynasty in Athens.
When asked about that possibility, Garner said he’s focused on Saturday’s game more than anything right now. He’s eager for his present team to take advantage of the opportunity on the field Saturday.
“I always think that [the SEC Championship] just speaks volumes for where you are as a program,” Garner said. “I think it sort of serves as a validation for where you [are], because I think Alabama is held in a high regard. Obviously, if you go out and compete with them, then it’s somewhat of a validation. I’m excited about it for these young men. It’s a great opportunity for our guys. I think they will step up and rise to the occasion.”