How Texas and Georgia returned to national prominence

By Wyatt Vaughn, senior at Holy Cross School; photos by Christopher Taylor; mentored by Sam Joffray

If you would have asked coaches Tom Herman and Kirby Smart where they thought their programs would be in two years, a New Year’s 6 Bowl wouldn’t have been mentioned. But here we are, two years later, with Coach Herman in his second year at Texas, and Coach Smart in his third at Georgia, both playing for the Sugar Bowl. The job was clear for both coaches when they took their respective jobs: Bring their universities back to national prominence. And both have absolutely done so, more so Texas, who got a huge 28-21 win over Georgia in the 2019 Sugar Bowl.

A Look at the Past

Georgia Head Coach, Kirby Smith.

To think that just a few short years ago, now national powers in college football such as Georgia, and Texas were just 8-5, and 5-7, respectively. That all changed however when both universities hired two of the hottest coaches on the market. For Georgia, after a disappointing 2015 season, they fired coach Mark Richt in hopes of taking the next step with a new coach. They quickly found his replacement in Alabama Defensive Coordinator and UGA alumnus, Kirby Smart. For Texas, it was much more complicated than that. After another disappointing season the Longhorns decided it was time to move on from coach Charlie Strong. When Texas looked to find a replacement, Tom Herman became the immediate front runner. Though the Houston head coach was courted by others including LSU, and FSU, the coach had always had his mind set on coaching for the Longhorns.

The Game Within the Game, Recruiting

When put in the situation that Coach Herman and Smart were put in, they will even tell you that the most important thing in building a team is recruiting. And the reason that both teams are here tonight to play in the Sugar Bowl is because these coaches are great at recruiting. In his first two recruiting classes Kirby Smart has outdone himself by bringing in the #3, and #1 rated recruiting classes in 2017 and 2018 respectively. And not just have the classes been ranked highly but they have performed extremely well, with key players such as starting running back D’Andre Swift and Quarterback Jake Fromm. And though that was impressive coach Herman wasn’t far behind. In his first full recruiting class he helped Texas bring in the #3 overall class with players like Quarterback Sam Ehlinger and star Safeties BJ Foster and Caden Sterns. And it isn’t just the big players in each of the classes. It is more about the depth for each class. For Georgia in their last class they brought in 26 new players, 22 of which were rated as a 4-star or above. For Texas in their latest class, they brought in 27 new players, 19 of which were rated as a 4-star or above.

A Look Into the Future

Georgia defensive back angrily screams at teammates after giving up 355 yards in a 28-21 heartbreaking loss to Texas. Photo by: Chris Taylor

Though the Bulldogs suffered a heartbreaking loss on this night, one thing is clear, they are here to stay. With great talent returning next year, including key players like QB Jake Fromm, and RB D’Andre Swift. And on defense they return former 5-star outside linebackers Adam Anderson and Brenton Cox who will both become sophomores next season. The Bulldogs seem to be an early lock for the SEC East next season, but that is not the goal for UGA. What is the goal, you ask? Beat Alabama. If UGA can finally get the Crimson Tide off their back next season in the SEC Championship it will almost guarantee the Bulldogs a spot in the playoff. For the Longhorns, their outlook is a lot like Georgia’s. They are an early favorite to win their conference, but they have to get past Oklahoma to verify themselves as contenders, like Georgia with Alabama.

Although one team was crowned champion tonight, there were no losers in this game. With great head coaches at the helm, both Texas and Georgia will be in the national spotlight for years to come. And either of these teams might even be back here in New Orleans in 2020, when the College Football Playoff returns to the Sugar Bowl.