It seems like more often than not in the past few years, media outlets, cough, ESPN, cough, will take every chance to promote the SEC, while taking a dig at the Big 12. There is no better example of that than what happened on and after National Signing Day.
They touted the statistic that the SEC brought in 97 ESPN 300 players (the top 300 recruits in the country), while the Big 12 only hauled in 27.
Then, they send out SEC-mouthpiece Paul Finebaum to tell us why the Big 12 is dead.
— HCS (@Heartland_CS) February 4, 2017
Now, there are reasons that this is happening. First off, ESPN is still likely pissed off at the Big 12 for trying to jerk its chain during the whole expansion process. Expanding would have cost ESPN and Fox Sports $20 million per year per team, which in a day and age when ESPN is losing subscribers at an alarming rate, is not something they ever wanted to do.
Then, there’s the idea that some folks want there to only be 4 “Power Conferences”. That would allow the College Football Playoff to make more sense and bring in the 4 winners of each conference. By de-legitimizing the Big 12, it starts the media manipulation that the conference is nothing more than a tweener between the “real” power conferences and the Group of 5 schools.
So, is there any legitimacy to the Big 12’s lack of success on the recruiting trail?
Well, yes and no.
Sure, you’d like to see your favorite Big 12 team welcome in as many 4 and 5-star recruits as possible. But, the landscape has changed as such where the Big 12 is no longer in a position of power. Texas A&M moving to the SEC opened the talent-rich state of Texas to the SEC West and even SEC East schools. No longer are the best players in Texas likely to stay close to home and play in the Big 12.
Of the top 10 players in Texas in the class of 2017, only one, wide receiver Cedarian Lamb, is going to play in the Big 12 (Oklahoma). Instead these players have chosen Ohio State, Florida State, Notre Dame, LSU, USC and Arizona State.
Now, this past fall was unusually bad for Texas Big 12 schools. This is the first year in 49 years that no Texas college team finishes the season ranked in the Top 25. The Longhorns are a mess and Charlie Strong was fired after Texas finished with three-straight losing seasons for the first time since the 1930’s. TCU and Texas Tech were down as well. Then there was Baylor, who was trying to fight through a major scandal and still recruit well.
Texas high school football coaches react
I spoke with a couple of the top high school coaches in the state to get their perspective.
Euless Trinity head coach Chris Jenson told Heartland College Sports, “I’ve coached long enough to have experienced the “pre-internet/social media” days (the good-old-days) and now the current “Too much information, I can contact/be contacted by anyone on the globe at any time” days. Before email and social media, kids stayed local more often simply due to the fact that colleges couldn’t logistically recruit coast to coast like they can now. Even in the “dead” recruiting periods, kids are flooded with dozens of nationwide ESPN games every week and social media propaganda that allows out-of-state schools to get their “hooks” into the Texas talent pool.”
So, when you combine technological improvements with the A&M move to the SEC and Texas Big 12 schools being down, you have a perfect storm for why the Big 12 may not be recruiting at as high a level as it once did.
Meantime, Lake Travis head coach Hank Carter didn’t seem as concerned, saying, “these things tend to cycle up and down. Several Texas schools are trending up, in my opinion, for next year so we’ll just have to see.”
There’s no doubt there is plenty of truth to that statement as well. One of Charlie Strong’s biggest mistakes when coming to Texas was not hammering the Texas recruits from the get-go. He began his first recruiting class with trying to hit up the state he knew best: Florida. This bothered many Texas high school coaches.
On the flip side, Matt Rhule, who has been an A+ hire thus far by Baylor, knew his deficiencies in the state of Texas and wisely hired many high school coaches to help round out his staff and help on the recruiting trail. This paid off big time for the Bears in the 2017 recruiting cycle.
Big 12 coaching
Despite there being some truth to the Big 12’s lack of recruiting top talent in recent years, the reality is that it hasn’t hurt them enormously on the field. Just look at this past bowl season. Oklahoma smoked Auburn (who finished second in the SEC West). Meantime, Kansas State, one of the worst recruiting teams in the Power 5, beat Texas A&M, one of the best recruiting teams in the country.
Kansas State has always exceeded expectations when comparing recruiting class to on-field product. Bill Snyder keeps big, quality lineman in-state, and finds his skill position players from under-recruited parts of Texas and the junior college level.
Even Oklahoma State, who has had big-time success under Mike Gundy, never finishes all that high in the recruiting ranks.
So, maybe these rankings, in many cases, are vastly overrated. As much respect as I have for Rivals, Scout, 247, ESPN, and others, they just don’t evaluate as well as coaches do. So, what do the “stars” next to a players name really even mean? So much of these star ratings are based on how often a player is seen and analyzed at various summer camps.
West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen said it best on National Signing Day, ““I get such a kick out of all these recruiting services, recruiting rankings and who’s got the top class. They think this kid is better than that kid but it’s nothing but someone’s opinion. We don’t pay attention to recruiting rankings and quite honestly, that’s for fans.”
For the most part, Holgorsen is right. Sure, Alabama brings in top classes and has won 4 of the past 8 National Championships. But so many schools that recruit well, according to the services, notoriously underachieve, including Texas A&M, UCLA, Notre Dame, Georgia and others.
Knowing the Big 12/Texas landscape
Lastly, there is no conference that has more coaches with ties to Texas than the Big 12. Not just head coaches, but assistants, recruiters, etc.
So the Big 12 teams don’t get as wrapped up in which player is listed as a 4 or 5-star by the recruiting services. They know the high school coaches, players, character, and real quality of hundreds of players across the state better than anyone.
A recruiting service may call Player X a 3-star, but to Oklahoma State or Texas Tech, they know this guy can help immediately and is really a “4-star”, whatever that even means!
So, all in all, yes, I’d like to see the Big 12 do better on the recruiting trail in the coming years and I really believe they will. Tom Herman has made it clear his focus for recruiting to Texas will be keeping the best in-state players. We’ve already mentioned Matt Rhule’s killer staff at Baylor. Bob Stoops always lands a couple of big-time recruits from the state, and hopefully TCU will continue to as well.
And last but not least, yes, media manipulation is well underway to try and destroy the Big 12. The more top recruits from Texas they can push to other conferences, the quicker they can try and undermine the Big 12. Don’t ever forget that angle!
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