Stars matter? Georgia, TCU both excel in player development

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John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES — 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?”

Georgia extends contract for AD Josh Brooks, plans two new football practice fields

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ATHENS, Ga. – On the heels of a second straight national football championship, Georgia has rewarded athletic director Josh Brooks a contract extension that ties him to the Bulldogs through at least 2029.

The athletic association board, wrapping up its annual spring meeting Friday at a resort on Lake Oconee, also announced plans for a new track and field facility that will free up space for two more football practice fields.

Brooks’ new contract will increase his salary to $1.025 million a year, with annual raises of $100,000.

The 42-year-old Brooks, who took over the athletic department in 2021 after Greg McGarity retired, called the Georgia job “a dream for me” and said he hopes to spend the rest of his career in Athens.

“I am extremely grateful,” Brooks said. “I got into this business 20-plus years ago as a student equipment manager. My first job at Louisiana-Monroe was making $20,000 a year in football operations.”

The Georgia board approved a fiscal 2024 budget of $175.2 million, a nearly 8% increase from the most recent budget of $162.2 million and the sign of a prosperous program that is flush with money after its success on the gridiron.

The school received approval to move forward with its preliminary plans for a new track and field facility, which will be built across the street from the complex hosting the soccer and and softball teams.

The current track stadium is located adjacent to the Butts-Mehre athletic facility, which hosts the practice fields and training facilities for the football program.

Georgia lost a chunk of its outdoor fields when it built a new indoor practice facility. After the new track and field stadium is completed, the current space will be converted to two full-length, grass football practice fields at the request of coach Kirby Smart.

“He wants to find efficient ways to practice, and there is a lot of truth to the issues we’ve had with our current practice fields,” Brooks said. “There is a lot of strain on our turf facilities staff to keep that field in great shape when half the day it is getting shade, so that has been a challenge as well. For our football program, it is better to practice on grass fields than (artificial) turf, so to be able to have two side-by-side grass fields is huge. It makes for a much more efficient practice.”

The new track and field complex, which will continue to be named Spec Towns Track, will also include an indoor facility, the first of its kind in the state of Georgia.

Iowa AD Gary Barta announces retirement after 17 years at Big Ten school

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa athletic director Gary Barta will retire on August 1 after 17 years at the university, the school announced Friday.

Barta, 59, is one of the longest-tenured athletic directors in a Power Five conference. He was hired by Iowa in 2006 after being the AD at Wyoming.

An interim director will be announced next week, Iowa said.

In September, Iowa hired former Ball State athletic director Beth Goetz to be deputy director of athletics and chief operating officer, putting her in position to possibly succeed Barta.

“It has been an absolute privilege and honor to serve in this role the past 17 years,” Barta said in a statement. “This decision didn’t come suddenly, nor did it come without significant thought, discussion, and prayer.”

“That said, I’m confident this is the right time for me and for my family.”

Iowa won four NCAA national team titles and 27 Big Ten team titles during Barta’s tenure. The women’s basketball team is coming off an appearance in the national championship game and the wrestling team is coming off a second-place finish at the NCAA championships.

Barta served as the chairman of the College Football Playoff committee in 2020 and 2021.

He faced heavy criticism over more than $11 million in settlements for lawsuits in recent years alleging racial and sexual discrimination within the athletic department.

Lawsuits filed by former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and associate athletics director Jane Meyer led to a $6.5 million payout.

Iowa had to pay $400,000 as part of a Title IX lawsuit brought by athletes after it cut four sports in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the agreement, Iowa reinstated the women’s swimming and diving program and add another women’s sport.

Iowa added women’s wrestling, the first among Power Five schools to compete this year.

A lawsuit brought by former football players alleging racial discrimination within the program was settled for $4.2 million last March, which prompted state auditor Rob Sand to call for Barta’s ouster.

“Gary Barta’s departure is a long time coming given the four different lawsuits for discrimination that cost Iowa more than $11 million,” Sand posted on Twitter.

The university did not allow taxpayer money to be used for the settlement with the former players.

Barta led Iowa through $380 million of facility upgrades, including renovation of Kinnick Stadium, the construction of a new football facility, a basketball practice facility and a training center for the wrestling teams.

Under Barta, Iowa has had just one head football coach (Kirk Ferentz), women’s basketball coach (Lisa Bluder) and wrestling coach (Tom Brands). All were in place when he arrived.

Barta has also come under scrutiny for allowing Ferentz to employee his son, Brian Ferentz, as offensive coordinator. To comply with the university’s nepotism policy, Brian Ferentz reports to Barta.