Stars matter? Georgia, TCU both excel in player development
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Based solely on the recruiting rankings, this national championship game between No. 1 Georgia and No. 3 TCU is the most lopsided in the nine-year history of the College Football Playoff.
The Bulldogs are a recruiting juggernaut, brimming with four- and five-star high school players.
The Horned Frogs have some blue-chippers, but they’re more likely to rely on players who outperform their prospect pedigree.
“Yo, man, in football stars don’t matter at all,” TCU star cornerback Tre Hodges-Tomlinson said Saturday during media day for the CFP title game. “It’s all about development once you get to college.”
The defending national champion Bulldogs (14-0) face the upstart Horned Frogs (13-1) on Monday night at Sofi Stadium in Inglewood, California. The rosters are built differently in recruiting, but both teams pride themselves in player development.
According the 247 Sports’ talent composite, which uses recruiting ratings to rank college football rosters, Georgia had the second-most talented roster in the country behind Alabama in 2022.
No surprise there. Kirby Smart’s team has been pulling in top-five ranked recruiting classes since he returned to his alma mater as head coach in 2016. Georgia has 15 players who were five-star recruits, including All-America defensive tackle Jalen Carter, and 53 four-stars.
TCU’s roster is the 32nd most-talented in the country, according to the composite, right behind Georgia Tech and Missouri and just ahead of Utah and Michigan State. The Horned Frogs’ one player who was a five-star recruit is reserve linebacker Marcel Brooks, a transfer from LSU.
The difference in recruited talent between Georgia and TCU is the widest for any CFP title game matchup since 247 started its talent composite in 2015 — and it’s not even close.
The previous biggest disparity was in 2015, when Alabama was No. 1 and Clemson was No. 13.
So Georgia is an elite recruiting program and TCU is a developmental program, right?
“I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle,” Smart said. “It’s a narrative that gets put out there. But I talk to our players about it all the time. Our best players on our team are not (necessarily) our most highly rated players.”
Quarterback Stetson Bennett is the most obvious example. A former walk-on at Georgia, Bennett left to go play at junior college before returning and becoming a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Bennett was the offensive MVP of the semifinal victory against Ohio State in the Peach Bowl. The defensive MVP was safety Javon Bullard, a three-star recruit.
What attracts the blue-chip recruits to Georgia is a track record of developing players who end up in the NFL.
Freshman defensive tackle Bear Alexander, a four-star who played his senior year of high school at IMG Academy in Florida, said he was compelled to play college football in his home state at Texas A&M. Recent results swayed him.
Both Georgia starting defensive tackles from last year’s team, Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt, were first-round draft picks, and Carter has a chance to be a top-10 selection this year.
“Of course, JD, Jordan Davis was a three-star from Charlotte,” Alexander said. “So just seeing the development of those guys, it kind of makes you not want to get lost in recruiting and take the developmental part more serious.”
On TCU’s roster, receiver Quentin Johnston is the player who had the most juice in recruiting, a top-100 national recruit who chose the Horned Frogs over Texas.
Quarterback Max Duggan was also a four-star recruit, one of 16 on TCU’s roster.
Both Duggan and Johnston were recruited to TCU by former coach Gary Patterson and decided to stick with the Frogs and not transfer after the school’s winningest coach was forced out at late in the 2021 season.
New Frogs coach Sonny Dykes, who coached against TCU three times in four seasons while at SMU, saw plenty to work with when he moved from Dallas to Fort Worth.
“I knew they had good players,” Dykes said. “Felt like maybe they hadn’t played to their potential for whatever reason. And so it was attractive to me just because I knew there was some talent on the team.”
Hodges-Tomlinson is in many ways the epitome of what TCU football has been for much of the past two decades.
A former three-star recruit who was switched from safety to cornerback in college and became a star. Hodges-Tomlinson, the nephew of Pro Football Hall of Famer and TCU great LaDainian Tomlinson, won the Thorpe Award this season as the best defensive back in the country.
TCU guard Steve Avila was a three-star who redshirted as a freshman and turned into an All-American as a fifth-year senior.
Linebacker Dee Winter was a receiver in high school who TCU decided would be better off on the other side of the ball. He grew into 230-pound linebacker and was defensive MVP of the Fiesta Bowl semifinal victory against Michigan.
“It’s measurables first,” said inside receivers coach Doug Meacham, who was a holdover from Patterson’s staff. “I’m not sure what he is, but he’s 6-3 and 210. What is he? I don’t know. Let’s take him as an athlete and figure it out later.”
No matter what the recruiting rankings suggest, Smart knows what he sees on film.
“TCU has a team full of really good football players,” he said. “And I watched those guys play, and the way they play is so much more important than who wanted them out of high school. Who cares?”
Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/ap_top25
Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.