As the National Letters of Intent started rolling in on Wednesday across America, the hopes of every Big 12 fan started to become reality: the Big 12 conference got back to protecting the state of Texas.
Make no mistake, since conference realignment took place in its latest go around, with Nebraska, Missouri, Texas A&M and Colorado all bolting, and TCU and West Virginia coming in, the Big 12 has not had the stranglehold on the Lone Star State like it did a generation ago. Plus, technology has made it as such where everything is less regionally and geographically centric than even 10-15 years ago. Combine those two and it’s been a bit of a perfect storm that has harmed the Big 12 in recent years.
But the Big 12’s perceived, and somewhat real, regression over the past six to seven years has been driven by the SEC’s and the Big Ten’s ability to enter Texas and pluck away some of the top recruits that previously were destined for the Big 12 conference. Conference realignment expanded the SEC to the west with the addition of Texas A&M and opened the door for the rest of the conference. Meantime, the national blue blood have also ventured south, as places like Michigan and Ohio State lose talent in their own states, mainly do to a rapidly changing economic climate that has seen population growth rates decline or be non existent in the Midwest.
This has resulted in one Big 12 team making the College Football Playoff (Oklahoma, 2015) over the first three years of its existence, with zero wins. Also, in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Big 12 had fewer players drafted (14) than the American Athletic Conference. Once again, it wasn’t all fair to say the Big 12 was a bad football conference based on these facts alone, but they certainly did not help the image at all.
To make matters worse earlier this year, here’s what happened in 2017: none of the top ten players rated by 247Sports signed with Big 12 schools. Zero.
Instead, these recruits chose places like Florida State, Ohio State, Stanford, LSU, Texas A&M and Notre Dame. The highest-ranked player in the state to attend a Big 12 school was offensive guard Jack Anderson, who attended Texas Tech.
In fact, the Big 12 landed just six of the top 25 in the state of Texas in last year’s class. In addition to Anderson, those players included safety Robert Barnes (Oklahoma), wide receiver Jalen Reagor (TCU), guard Tyrese Robinson (Oklahoma), quarterback Sam Ehlinger (Texas) and wide receiver Tylan Wallace (Oklahoma State).
Fast forward to this week and the Big 12 has fared much better in Texas, with many thanks to Tom Herman and his staff in Austin.
The Longhorns have landed the top 5 players in the state in safety BJ Foster, cornerback Anthony Cook, safety Caden Sterns, cornerback Jalen Green and wide receiver Brennan Eagles. Boom. Texas has two more in the top 10 in safety DeMarvion Overshown and wide receiver Al-vonte Woodard. That’s seven of the top 10 players in the state going to the Big 12, all to the Texas Longhorns.
Also, the three remaining in the top 10 could end up in the Big 12. Wide receiver Jaylen Waddle is “warmest” on Alabama and Texas A&M, but TCU is in the mix. Safety Leon O’Neal Jr. is “warm” on Oklahoma, as well as Texas A&M, Clemson and Georgia. Then there is wide receiver Joshua Moore who seems destined for either Texas A&M or Florida.
As of right now, the Big 12 has 13 of the top 25 players in Texas, with six of those top 25 still uncommitted. If the Big 12 can even pick off 2-3, that would be at least 15 of the top 25 players from Texas ending up in the Big 12. That’s enormous. It’s also the next step for the Big 12 to bring back its national respect.
I believe that started on the field last season, when the Big 12 went 4-2 in bowl games and started changing the narrative, even if folks didn’t want to believe it. This year, the Big 12 had eight of its ten teams earn bowl eligibility, including the Oklahoma Sooners as the #2 seed in the College Football Playoff.
It’s all starting and continuing to head in the right direction for the Big 12 conference. Now, just keep the momentum going.