David Ching: Georgia
This is stating the obvious, but if a program is to compete with Alabama, it has to recruit like Alabama. Because nobody in the SEC has stacked class upon class the way Nick Saban has (average ESPN recruiting class ranking over the past five classes: 1.2), the Crimson Tide have run away from the pack over the past few years. But if we’re looking for teams that pose the greatest immediate threat to Alabama’s reign, it has to be one that recruits consistently. That trims your options to six most likely contenders: LSU (average ESPN recruiting class ranking over the past five classes: 5.8), Georgia (7.4), Auburn (8.8), Florida (10.6), Texas A&M (11) and Tennessee (13.6). If I have to pick one out of that group, give me Georgia, which I view as a potential recruiting giant that might have recently woken up. The Bulldogs usually signed top-10 classes under Mark Richt, but it’s possible that the class Kirby Smart just signed after his first full recruiting cycle was as good as any from the Richt era. Smart’s recruiting base is as fertile as it gets, and he coaches in the lesser of the SEC’s two divisions. If he can reel in a few more classes of the same quality as the one he just brought to Athens, Georgia could become a true thorn in Alabama’s side.
Greg Ostendorf: Georgia
In the short term, I think it’s Auburn. With quarterback Jarrett Stidham onboard, the Tigers have a legitimate chance to beat Alabama and win the West. However, looking over the next five years, I like what Smart is doing at Georgia. He’s landed two very good quarterbacks in Jacob Eason and Jacob Fromm, which is a must if you want to beat Alabama head-to-head. He took back the Peach State in recruiting and landed the No. 2 class nationally last month. There’s no telling how good they can be if they can continue to recruit at that level. The biggest thing, though, is that they’re in the East. It’s much easier to come out of the East right now, and you might not have to play the Tide until the SEC championship. The jury is out on Smart as an SEC coach, but the way he’s building his program is similar to how Saban did it when he first got to Tuscaloosa.