For college football programs, especially ones in the major conferences, home games are the foundation of the fiscal budget. With stadiums that hold close to or even more than 100,000 people, some of the more prestigious programs can bring in five million or more in revenue per home game. Then there are the obvious inherent advantages of playing at home versus on the road. So why are these schools lining up to play at a smaller, neutral site stadium?
Five-star DE Lorenzo Carter will likely be going to a school that will provide him with another opportunity to play in the Georgia Dome.
The answer is simple: recruiting exposure.
The Georgia Dome, home to the Atlanta Falcons (for now), is also the host for several prominent college football matchups each year. The Chick-fil-A Bowl and SEC Championship game both take place at the Atlanta venue, and since 2008, two teams have kicked off the college football season in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at the Georgia Dome. With every college in the country trying to tap into the fertile recruiting grounds of the Peach State, the opportunity to showcase your program in Atlanta is immensely valuable, especially for out-of-state schools trying to convince parents they will have a chance to see their sons play close to home at least once.
In the last five years, five programs, Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia Tech, have played in the Georgia Dome twice in the same year. Five programs have played in the Georgia Dome twice in the last five years, with three playing three times. Alabama leads all schools, having played five times in the Georgia Dome since 2008. These programs have come away with some impact prospects from Georgia during the recruiting cycle in which they played at the Georgia Dome.
In 2008, Alabama and Clemson played in the Kickoff Classic, Florida and Alabama played in the SEC Championship, and LSU and Georgia Tech played in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The Crimson Tide would go on to sign five prospects from Georgia in the 2009 class, including All-American offensive lineman Chance Warmack. LSU signed two prospects from Georgia, including All-American linebacker Kevin Minter. Clemson signed only one prospect from Georgia that year. Florida signed none. Georgia Tech signed 14 in-state prospects that year, including five All-Conference selections and second-round draft choice Stephen Hill.
Five-star recruit Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross), considered the No. 1 prospect in Georgia by 247Sports, played in the Georgia Dome last fall, leading Norcross to its first state championship in football. The 6-foot-5, 238-pound defensive end has a top three of Alabama, Florida and Georgia, three schools that could provide another chance to play in the Georgia Dome.
“It is really important to have the opportunity to play in front of your friends and family, and having played in the Georgia Dome for the state championship last year, it is a place I feel comfortable competing,” Carter said. “The pressure will be on me to perform though, and that is something I would look forward to.”
In 2009, Alabama and Virginia Tech opened the season playing in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic, Alabama played Florida in the SEC Championship game, and Virginia Tech played Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Alabama signed five prospects from Georgia in that class, including three that were named starters on the depth chart this week for this year’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic versus Virginia Tech. The lone player from Georgia signed by Virginia Tech that year is Detrick Bonner, who is slated to start at free safety this season. Florida signed three that figure to play a pivotal role this season in running back Mack Brown and linebackers Neiron Ball and Michael Taylor. Tennessee signed five from Georgia in the 2010 class, including starting running back Rajion Neal and All-SEC offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James.
Top 247 prospect Cortez McDowell (Locust Grove, Ga./Locust Grove) is committed to Tennessee, and the four-star safety says he would consider himself lucky to be able to return home to play.
Nick Saban and Alabama will get another opportunity to impress area recruits when they take on Virginia Tech in the Georgia Dome on Saturday.
“It would be a humbling experience for myself,” McDowell said.
In 2010, LSU and North Carolina played in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic, Auburn played South Carolina in the SEC Championship, and Florida State and South Carolina played in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. LSU and North Carolina did not sign anyone from Georgia in the 2011 class. Auburn signed five, including starting wide receiver Quan Bray, starting tight end C.J. Uzomah, starting star hybrid Justin Garrett and Gabe Wright, listed as a co-starter at defensive tackle. Florida State signed three players from Georgia that year, including starting strong safety Tyler Hunter and starting right guard Tre Jackson. The Gamecocks signed 10 from the Peach State, including All-SEC tight end Rory Anderson, starting safety Kadetrix Marcus and starting linebacker Marcquis Roberts.
In 2011, Boise State and Georgia went head-to-head in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic, LSU played Georgia in the SEC Championship, and Auburn played Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Boise State did not sign anyone from Georgia. Starting left guard Vadal Alexander and long snapper Reid Ferguson were both signed by LSU out of Buford High School that year. Georgia signed 11 in-state prospects that year, which includes starting fullback Quayvon Hicks, starting punter Collin Barber, and the entire two-deep at both outside linebacker spots. Auburn signed five prospects from Georgia, including starting cornerback Joshua Holsey. Virginia signed backup quarterback Greyson Lambert and reserve defensive back C.J. Moore.
Last year, two games were playing in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic, with Tennessee taking on NC State and Clemson playing Auburn. Alabama played Georgia in the SEC Championship, and Clemson returned to the Georgia Dome to take on LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Four prospects from Georgia were signed by Tennessee, with cornerback Cam Sutton being listed as a starter this week as a true freshman NC State signed three from Georgia in the 2013 class. Clemson signed four from Georgia, including a pair of Top247 running backs in Tyshon Dye and Wayne Gallman. Even with a head coaching change late in the cycle, Auburn signed five from Georgia, including two five-star defensive linemen in Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson, as well as JUCO quarterback Nick Marshall, who won the starting job this fall. Alabama signed three from Georgia, including Top247 running backs Alvin Kamara and Tyren Jones. Georgia signed 22 from their own state, including starting cornerback Brendan Langley and starting safety Tray Matthews.
Top247 wide receiver Demarre Kitt (Tyrone, Ga./Sandy Creek), like Lorenzo Carter, was able to help his team to an undefeated season last fall that culminated in winning the Class AAAA state championship at the Georgia Dome. Kitt, committed to Clemson, would be glad to return as a member of the Tigers.
“It would be a great honor considering I have been watching those games since I was young,” Kitt said.
Alabama will take on Virginia Tech in this year’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic, and one of the top prospects in Georgia for the 2015 will be watching. Defensive end Mekhi Brown (Columbus, Ga./Carver), a 247Composite five-star prospect, has already given his verbal commitment to play for head coach Nick Saban. He hopes it comes with a chance to take the field at the Georgia Dome as well.
“To be able to play in the Georgia Dome would be an honor and a privilege,” Brown said. “And honestly it would also be a very humbling experience.”
Expect colleges to continue to compete for a chance to play in the Georgia Dome, and the recruiting advantages that come with it, for years to come.