While signing day for the 2013 recruiting class is still a couple of months away, this time of year is buzzing with the increasingly popular JUCO talent crop. After suffering its fourth decommitment just over a week ago, the Texas Longhorns need to jump on the talent still available in this part of the recruiting landscape.
Head coach Mack Brown has signed only four JUCO commitments in his 14-year tenure but expect that number to increase after his 2012 success. Last year's signees Brandon Moore and Donald Hawkins each made significant impacts at defensive tackles and left tackle respectively, becoming two of Texas' most reliable players.
With the recruiting class suffering after yet another subpar season, Texas may have to rely on similar success from its JUCO haul in 2013. While expecting a Cam Newton-type impact is unreasonable, the 'Horns will have some holes to fill in both its recruiting class and regular rotation after 2012 comes to a close.
Following are five junior college recruits, both long shots and locks, that could come in and make an immediate impact for the Longhorns.
Four-star tight end Geoff Swaim is Texas' first and only JUCO signing thus far for 2013, and he should fit nicely into a role as the every-down tight end the team has been missing.
After Durham Smythe decommitted just over a week ago Texas was quick to lock up Swaim, who made his commitment official on Wednesday. At 6'5" and 250 pounds, he is both a tough run-blocker and a big target over the middle for whoever is under center next season for the 'Horns.
This is a welcome sign for a tight end position that has been a revolving door for Texas in 2012 with D.J. Grant, M.J. McFarland and Greg Daniels. Grant and McFarland were the receiving tight ends brought in on passing downs while Daniels, a former defensive end, was mainly utilized in power formations. Each player was effective in their respective roles but made Texas slightly more predictable on offense.
Swaim fits in either situation, giving the offense the ability to run or throw out of any set. Unless McFarland proves he can be relied upon as a blocker between now and September, Swaim should be the starter the moment he steps on campus.
Safety Shaquille Fluker, the No. 2 safety in ESPN's Junior College 100, is another player that would immediately start for the Longhorns. But for that to happen, the Longhorn coaches have some serious work to do.
Fluker is exactly what Texas needs at the position after stalwart Kenny Vaccaro leaves for the NFL. He hits hard, can play inside or out and at 6'2" can handle just about any cover asked of him.
Unfortunately Fluker is the dictionary definition of a long shot for the 'Horns. Not only is he already committed to Georgia, but he cancelled a December 7 visit and seems dead-set on the SEC. Bad news for a Texas team that is already having to move corner Quandre Diggs to safety and has lost out on its two main recruiting targets at the position.
Luckily for Mack Brown and his staff, time is on their side as Fluker does not graduate until May. Until then Brown and, namely, defensive backs coach Duane Akina need to do whatever they can to get Fluker to switch his commitment. Akina's track record of getting his guys to the league is Texas' main bargaining chip here, and hopefully that is enough to get this talent on campus in the summer.
After allowing nearly five yards per carry on the season, the Texas front seven needs a serious upgrade. Defensive tackle Marcus Hardison, the No. 5 overall prospect, could provide the run-stuffing ability and depth needed to do just that.
Hardison, like Fluker, is another longshot for the 'Horns and someone that they have probably not put in near enough effort to obtain. He has been recruited by everyone and their mother, and Texas is the only school he is considering that has yet to offer him. But he has only taken only one official visit and could be a major coup for the 'Horns should they make the effort.
Texas is probably set at the position for next season with sophomore Malcom Brown and last year's JUCO signee Brandon Moore, but depth never hurts. And with 2013 commit A'Shawn Robinson seriously considering switching to USC, the Longhorns could find themselves lacking for talent at the position beyond the two starters.
Despite Bryan Harsin's departure the Longhorns are still focused on becoming a power football team, and signing massive tackle Desmond Harrison would certainly help accomplish that in 2013.
Standing 6'8" and 310 pounds, Harrison is an imposing presence at the tackle position and is actually expected to sign with Texas. This is good as no Longhorn offensive lineman outside of Trey Hopkins and last year's signee Donald Hawkins should consider themselves safe after struggling against better defensive fronts in 2012.
Texas does still have great depth at the tackle position with last year's starter Josh Cochran, sophomore Kennedy Estelle and a 4-star recruit on the way in Kent Perkins. However, the Texas offensive line has a long way to go before it can truly dominate a game so the more competition the better.
The final JUCO prospect that could come in and make an immediate impact for the Longhorns is quarterback Nick Marshall, though the ripple effect of his signing may be more trouble than he is worth.
Marshall, the No. 59 prospect according to ESPN, is the third junior college quarterback that the 'Horns have contacted after the suspect play of David Ash and Case McCoy. Marshall, a former cornerback, was primarily a pocket passer in high school but has added the ability to gash the defense with his legs. Good thing since he runs a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash.
Marshall's signing would give Texas a quarterback that runs the option extremely well, giving the position a running aspect that the team has lacked the past three seasons. Unfortunately the side effects of taking on Marshall could send the quarterback position to a state of even further chaos.
The Longhorns already have scholarships committed to five quarterbacks once highly-anticipated recruit Tyrone Swoopes arrives on campus. There is some indication that redshirt freshman Jalen Overstreet will transfer after this season, and Marshall's arrival might cause fellow redshirt Connor Brewer to do the same. And then there is 2014 commit Jerrod Heard, who looks like the real deal and is playing some great football right now.
This would all be OK if Marshall was a surefire home run, but he is not. Against junior college competition, he completed less than 60 percent of his passes and threw 20 interceptions. In short, the team may as well stick with Ash's 68 percent accuracy and seven interceptions against 20 touchdowns.
Unless the coaches are seeing something in Marshall that other are not, it is probably best to continue to develop what they have. He is a sensation runner so they must decide how much they value that aspect of his game.