Big 12 is back to dominating recruiting in the state of Texas – On The Trail
In 2004, Adrian Peterson was the No. 1-ranked high school recruit in the country. Because Peterson hailed from Palestine, Texas, he seemed predestined to star in the Big 12. Ultimately, Peterson picked Oklahoma over Texas, then almost became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy while leading the Sooners to the national title game.
Since the league’s inception, Texas high school players like Peterson have long been the Big 12’s lifeblood. Whether delivering stars or providing quality depth, the Lone Star State armed the Big 12 with the arsenal to compete with any conference in college football.
That all began to change in 2011. Texas A&M bolted the Big 12 for the SEC the following season, opening the floodgates to the east. And as SEC powers made inroads, Big 12 recruiting began to crater.
From 2006-11, the Big 12 had signed 73 percent of the national top 150 recruits that came from the state of Texas. In the six years that followed, the number plummeted to 43 percent.
But there are signs to suggest those trendlines have already started to reverse. And that the Big 12 is on its way back to dominating recruiting in the Lone Star State once again.
Look no further than last month.
During the inaugural early signing period, the Big 12 inked 15 of the 24 Texas players ranked in the top 150 nationally. With five more such unsigned players either committed to or strongly considering Big 12 schools, that number could balloon even more next month.
“It’s pretty simple: The shiny new product of the SEC wore off,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy told ESPN.com while likening SEC recruiting in Texas to the recent fad of the hoverboard. “Everybody rode them around for two or three years — now you don’t see them anymore. The newness has worn off.”
The evidence backs that up.
The SEC’s arrival into Texas recruiting began to culminate in 2014 and 2015, when the conference bagged the state’s top three players in back-to-back years. In 2016, the SEC clobbered the Big 12 in Texas, landing eight of the top 15 players in the Lone Star State, even with only one signing coming from the Aggies.
But for 2018, outside of A&M’s two signees, the SEC so far has signed only one top 30 Texas player in Alabama-bound defensive tackle Bobby Brown.
As a result, Texas, Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU all have top 20 classes with Texas-laded groups. Oklahoma State is right behind them having signed the top-rated quarterback from the Lone Star State in Denton, Texas, product Spencer Sanders.
Gundy said his staff has noticed the interest level in SEC schools drop even more dramatically for Texas recruits in the 2019 and 2020 classes, as well.
“The players we recruit, when it first happened, when A&M jumped over, it was, ‘OK, I’m infatuated with LSU or Ole Miss or Mississippi State or whatever,’” Gundy said. “We’re not seeing that as much anymore. We’re seeing that we’re back to competing against the people in this part of the country. That’s the direction it’s going.”
And nobody has capitalized more than the Longhorns, who have reclaimed their perch atop the Texas recruiting trail under coach Tom Herman.
Ranked third at the moment, Texas boasts its best class since 2012, when it also finished No. 3. In the years in between, the Longhorns produced only one top 10 class. This year, Texas has roared back instate.
A year after failing to sign a single top-10 player from the state during the transition from the Charlie Strong era, the Longhorns currently own signatures or commitments from five of the state’s top 10 players, and 10 of its top 20.
Underscoring their dominance, the Longhorns have cashed in on the coaching change at Texas A&M from Kevin Sumlin to Jimbo Fisher, and signed six of the seven ESPN 300 players from Houston — matching their total in Houston from the past five years combined.
The Longhorns could bolster their stockpile even more next month if they’re able to sign defensive end Joseph Ossairunning back Keaontay Ingram and defensive tackle Keondre Coburnall ESPN 300 and top 20 Texas players.
“Successfully recruiting the best players in Texas is paramount for the Big 12’s success,” Herman said to ESPN.com. “That has been the case since the league’s inception and always will be.”
When the Big 12 was at its peak, it was collectively recruiting the top players in Texas, like Peterson or Vince Young, who propelled the Longhorns to the 2005 national title.
Not coincidentally, as the Big 12’s recruiting efforts in Texas have slipped this decade, so too has the league’s standing on the whole. Not since 2009 has the Big 12 played for a national championship. And just last April, the league embarrassingly produced only 14 draft picks, not just an all-time low for the Big 12, but one fewer than the American Athletic Conference did.
Yet on the heels of Oklahoma’s run to the College Football Playoff behind another Heisman winner in Baker Mayfieldthe Big 12 seems to be on the upswing. The league claims a 9-5 bowl record the last two years, and should have a much better draft showing come April.
But most critical to its future, the Big 12, after several relatively lean years, appears to be taking back its most coveted hotbed.
“The state of Texas is Big 12 country, period,” Gundy said. “I think you’re going to see that … the product of the SEC has worn off.”