Head coach Charlie Strong's first recruiting class at Texas was all about recovery.
Following a string of decommitments in early January, Strong made a late push to land much-needed defensive tackles Poona Ford and Chris Nelson. Additionally, he kept some high-profile commits like 4-star safety John Bonney from heading elsewhere.
Strong did well in a tough situation, all things considered. Texas finished with the No. 17 class in the nation. With just under a month to work with, Strong kept things from falling apart. He deserves credit for that.
Still, the Longhorns took a backseat to Texas A&M when it came to landing the highest number of elite in-state recruits. In fact, the state of Texas was open season for outside programs looking to poach prospects.
In all, the top 50 players from Texas signed with 18 different schools from six different conferences.
The Lone Star State certainly isn't exclusively Big 12 country.
Texas will always be a hotbed for recruiting, so it's impossible to keep every recruit from going elsewhere. That shouldn't be the goal, however. The goal should be to get the best in-state players to come to Austin.
The Horns got six of the state's top 25 players in this signing class, the same number they signed in 2013. In 2010, Texas signed 15 of the top 25 in-state players.
There are myriad reasons for this downward trend. Winning, or lack thereof, is part of it. So, too, is the emergence of A&M in the SEC and other Big 12 programs like Baylor.
However, 2015 will be a chance to start over for Strong and Co., who will be more accurately judged on next year's class.
What does Texas need to do to reclaim its crown on the recruiting trail?
Sell Hope and Optimism
2015 will be an opportunity for Texas to reseize control of the state.
"Next year, 2015, we're coming and we're coming to get everybody,” defensive coordinator Vance Bedford told the Longhorn Network (h/t ESPN.com).
It's not unusual for a first-year coaching staff to see a bump in recruiting right away, especially at a program like Texas. Head coach Art Briles sold hope at Baylor when he inked his first recruiting class in 2008. Six years later, the Bears have a Heisman winner (Robert Griffin III) and a Big 12 Championship.
For the first time in 16 years, the 'Horns have a new direction. What's in: new life and energy in the program. What's out: notions that Texas can't recruit a quarterback or the defense will give up 500 rushing yards on any given week.
Strong and his staff will tell recruits that those are things of the past. What lies ahead is a chance to return to a championship-caliber level. Strong is a good recruiter. He'll be able to sell a new vision to the state's top prospects.
Focus on Defense (Again)
The 2015 class figures to be big, with ESPN.com's Max Olson estimating that Texas will be able to sign somewhere between 25 and 30 players. A good portion of that class should be on defense, especially in the back seven at linebacker and in the secondary.
As it happens, four of the top 10 players in Texas for the '15 class are either a linebacker or defensive back—and three are uncommitted. So much can change in a year, of course. Rankings change, as do commitments.
In addition to selling hope, Texas can sell early playing time to top prospects who would fill a need instantly. With the rise of seven-on-seven camps and the extra reps that accompany it, more skill players are ready to play right out of high school.
Flip Several Texas A&M Commits
This goes along the lines of taking back control of the state. It was not too long ago that Texas was the best at getting prospects to commit early.
Things have changed a bit.
The Aggies already have seven verbal commits for next year and all are top-50 players in the state. Obviously, Texas A&M's '15 class won't be limited to seven commitments.
The Aggies also did a good job of capitalizing on the coaching change at Texas by getting two players—defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson and linebacker Otaro Alaka—to flip and commit late in the recruiting period. Texas needs to return the favor for next year's class.
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com.
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