Texas A&M joining the SEC has changed the Texas recruiting dynamic, not only for the Aggies, but for the Longhorns, Sooners, and Razorbacks as well.
Even though they have a lot of the same systemic advantages as their more successful brother in Austin, the Aggies are long known as the team to do less with more.
They have money out the wazoo, a huge enrollment, great facilities, a recruiting base stacked with talent, crazily passionate fans, an opaque set of bizarre traditions, but they don’t have a lot to show for it.
Historically speaking, Texas owns them. Oklahoma owns them. Arkansas owns them. Each of those teams beat the Aggies more than 60% of the time.
The Longhorns have owned Texas recruiting since the beginning of recorded history. They could coast through recruiting season with confidence of landing a top ten class. A cruise through Scout.com shows Texas with two #1 ranked classes, and four #3 ranked classes in recent years.
In fact, from 2002 to 2012 their lowest ranked class was in 2008, coming in at #16. Texas averages out to a #6.7 ranked class during that time period.*
Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and everyone else were basically fighting for what Texas didn’t want. Sure, every now and then someone would win a recruiting battle with Texas for a highly ranked kid, but as a general rule Texas simply picked first.
Texas has the brand, the legacy, the tradition, the facilities and the money to simply outclass the other nine D1 schools in Texas, other schools in the Big 12, and schools from outside Texas who are by definition, not Texas.
Any kid that Texas went after hard either wanted to get away from home or was a legacy to another school to end up anywhere else. Often as not, that was A&M or Oklahoma. Arkansas, and any of the other schools that recruit Texas were left sucking hind tit in pulling top talent out of the state. The hell of it is, that Texas is so talent-rich, even those kids are often very, very good football players. Some of Arkansas’ all-time great players are from Texas. Same for Oklahoma.
The only advantage in Texas recruiting that Arkansas has had since it joined the SEC in 1992 was that it was in the SEC – Home of National Championship football.
Since the BCS era began in 1998 – the only era that today’s recruit has any living memory of – the SEC has won nine National Championships. Aside from the SEC, only the Big 12 has more than one championship with two. Oklahoma won it in 2000 and Texas won in 2005, which marks the last time a non-SEC school has won it. Every other conference in the land has more losses in the BCS-CG than wins.
And the craziest meta-stat of them all is that the SEC has put 10 teams into the BCS Championship game with only one loss – LSU lost to Alabama in 2011. Even when the SEC loses, it wins.
A similar metric appears when you consider BCS Bowls. The SEC has more total wins and a higher winning percentage than any other conference. Folks outside the SEC are tired of hearing it, but the SEC is really is the best conference in America. The on-field results prove it.
At any rate, the only real advantage that a team like Arkansas had in Texas recruiting is long gone. A&M now claims that ground as the SEC team for Texans. Texas kids who might have been torn between home-state loyalty and the desire to play in the best conference in the universe can now do both.
That is a powerful thing.
Now teams that engage in Texas recruiting must not only battle the Longhorns, the Aggies, the other eight D1 schools in Texas and home-state loyalty, but they have to compete against the whole Texas-school-in-the-SEC thing too.
This year at least, Texas A&M won that battle. The 2013 Aggie class is ranked 16 positions ahead of the Longhorns. Only twice between 2002 and 2012 has Texas A&M won that battle, in 2008 by one position and in 2003 by four positions.
With the #6-ranked class of 2013, the Aggies have the second-highest ranked class in the SEC and outstrip the entire Big 12 by at least nine positions over the #15 Oklahoma Sooners who have the highest ranked class in the Big 12.
Top 25 Recruiting Rankings for 2013 – 2002
* all rankings via Scout.com
We can attribute part of that to numbers, timing and dumb luck. Texas only had 10 seniors graduate this past year, so the number of scholarships they had to offer is down a bit, and their two-deep is pretty solid. They were looking for very specific players this year.
Add to that, the Longhorns had a dismal season in 2012 and the Aggies had a magical one. Johnny Football won the Heisman Trophy. It all combines to create a perfect storm in favor of the Aggies.
Even so, it cannot be denied that SEC dominance has changed the Texas recruiting dynamic. The Longhorns are going to have to compete for highly ranked recruits. They get no more layups on the recruiting trail. The field between the Longhorns and the Aggies has been leveled.
And for teams like Arkansas, it’s been tilted even further. It is a much steeper hill to climb.
Allow me a brief digression: I am of the firm belief that Johnny Football’s Heisman should have been given to the Aggie offensive line. And they should break off the stiff-arm and send it to former coach Mike Sherman. That offensive line reminded me of the 2010 Auburn O-line – talented, deep, experienced, and they stayed healthy. With two likely 1st round draft picks in Jake Matthews (staying for his senior season) and Luke Joeckel (declared for the NFL), senior center Patrick Lewis and two sophomore guards with experience, the Aggie offensive line was the real reason for A&M’s success in 2012. It’s not taking anything away from Manziel and his amazing year to say that without that great offensive line and the way they kept him on his feet, things could have gone very differently for him in 2012.
The Big 12 in decline.
The Big 12 was duct-taped together from the old Big 8 and pieces of the old Southwest Conference. It was a genuine powerhouse conference for a time, but the defection of Texas A&M to the SEC signals that its time as a nationally relevant conference is over. The Big 12 has allowed the Longhorns to run roughshod over the conference for too long now to know any better. Anyone that could have stood up to them has bailed out.
It took 76 years, but Arkansas got sick of it and bailed out on Texas before the 1992 football season, resulting in the death of the Southwest Conference. Nebraska walked out on Texas after 15 years and was playing in the Big 10 by 2011. Texas A&M finally divorced Texas before the 2013 season after 97 years of loving togetherness.
With the defections of the power programs at Nebraska, A&M and Missouri, an uneven revenue sharing plan, bitter resentment over the Longhorn Network, and the Longhorn bullying, the conference finds itself in a precarious position. It can’t even hold a conference championship game anymore because it doesn’t have the NCAA mandated 12 team minimum.
Texas has killed one conference already, the old SWC, and is on the verge of killing a second one. Nobody will put up with a bully forever, even when it is couched in an “aww shucks” good ol’ boy Texas drawl. Except Oklahoma. They seem just fine with it.
Its ultimate demise is a near certainty now. A dominant team in Austin, its sidekick in Norman, and a bunch of little brothers to pick on is not a sustainable situation for the conference. The Big 12 is on the verge of being irrelevant. It may be there already.
The Big 12′s decline can be laid squarely at the feet of Texas for all the reasons outlined above, and for this Arkansas boy, there is a pretty good amount of schadenfreude in that. And the fact that The Longhorn Network, for all the animosity that it has caused, is a dismal failure, is cake. Tasty, tasty cake.
The BCS era is near the end. The Playoff era is about to begin.
With the Big 12 in decline, it’s is an open question if they will get a spot at the playoff table, short of an undefeated team. You know that the Big 10 will get a team in. The PAC 12 too. The SEC will get at least one team in the four-team format.
That leaves the Big 12 battling for a position with the Big East, the ACC and a bunch of non-AQ schools. Not optimal.
Allow me a second brief digression: For years, on your internets and on your talk radios, there have been vocal Razorback fans clamoring for Arkansas to bail out of the SEC and join the Big 12. Their reasoning being that it would be an easier path to a National Championship and that the travel costs would be cheaper. “It’s a better fit!” they would proclaim. “Look at the map!” they would shout.
First, with a 9-2 ratio of National Championships for the SEC, the first reason is obviously incorrect and second, have you ever been to Manhattan, Kansas or Ames, Iowa? I’d rather go to Starkville, Mississippi or Knoxville, Tennessee. At least you can get good BBQ there.
Giving up all the advantages and stability of being in the SEC for the instability of the Big 12 and an uneven share of revenue is just silly. I think it is some sort of Stockholm Syndrome effect on people who miss being bullied by the Longhorns and who still believe The Cotton Bowl is the highest goal possible for the Razorbacks. Also, their wives love to shop in Dallas. Anyway…
What it all means to Razorback Recruiting.
You see it all over the internets, you hear it on the sports talk radios, and my Uncle Earl says it every other time he opens his mouth: “We have to recruit Texas bettah!”
Texas recruiting will always be an important area for the Razorbacks. With the changing recruiting dynamic, will it be harder to pull top talent out than it has been in the past? Or considering the relative weakness of the Big 12, can it be easier? The answer is unclear for now, but it is clear that Texas A&M in the SEC has changed the nature of Texas recruiting.
Texas recruiting aside, Florida, Louisiana and the Midwest can be equally important and fruitful recruiting grounds for the Hogs.
Florida has more talent than it knows what to do with, and Coach Bielema has had sustained success there. Louisiana is loaded with talent and should get a lot of attention from the Razorback staff. The midwest is the area that Bielema knows best and Hog fans can probably expect it to get a lot of attention as well. When you factor in the degradation of the Big 12. It is safe to assume that at least some of the highly ranked recruits in Big 12 territory will want a spot at the SEC table? Probably so.
Coach Bielema has put together an impressive staff of recruiters and coaches. With all Arkansas has to offer, there is no reason they can’t go anywhere in the country and have success in selling the program.
In short, if Bielema and Staff can pull 3-4 players out of Florida, land a handful of Texas kids, perhaps a couple out of Louisiana, and sprinkle in a Midwest recruit or two, Arkansas can be competitive in the SEC.
Patrick Houston’s brain is trying to kill him, so his doctor suggested that he write things down as therapy. What you see above is a result of that. You’re welcome.
Patrick lives in Little Rock with his wife Kyran, their three sons and Rosco the dog. You can follow Patrick on the Twitters.