Just two years ago, Texas A&M was unstable.
It had just hired head coach Kevin Sumlin, had a four-man quarterback battle in spring practice and was making the transition from the Big 12 to the big, bad SEC.
Former Texas athletics director DeLoss Dodds had some harsh words for the Aggies as they walked out the door: In 2012, he told Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman that the SEC expanding its footprint to Texas would only include "a sliver down the east side" of the state.
Twenty wins, two bowl wins—one of which was over former Big 12 rival Oklahoma—and one Heisman Trophy later, the Aggies have surged past the Longhorns and not only established themselves as the top program in the state but one of the most visible programs in the country.
My, what a difference 22 months makes.
William Wilkerson of LonghornDigest.com asked four anonymous high school football coaches in the state a series of questions pertaining to new Longhorn head coach Charlie Strong, his relationship with high school coaches, the direction of the program and where it stands in the state pecking order.
Their responses should surprise you.
Not only was Texas A&M a unanimous pick for the top program in the state but Baylor was unanimously chosen as the No. 2 program.
The same program that had a sub-.500 record every season from 1996-2009.
"Coach B" had this to say in the anonymous survey:
I hate to say it but they are third behind A&M and Baylor. Because they are Texas it is an easy gap to close if there is any. I think there is a bigger gap between Texas and Texas A&M. But that can close in a number of ways. It will be interesting to see how A&M responds without Johnny Football, and it will be interesting to see how Texas responds with Strong.
He's right in the sense that the tables could turn in a hurry and that A&M might be at their peak at the same time Texas is in the bottom of the valley. If they are, and Strong gets Texas going again, it still won't be the same.
The Aggies have finished with top-10 recruiting classes after each of their first two seasons in the SEC and have the nation's top class in the current 247Sports team rankings. Team rankings 11 months from national signing day are certainly fluid but it's safe to say that the move to the SEC has paid off for the Aggies, considering their average team recruiting rank in the five seasons before taking a snap in the SEC was 21.8.
Will A&M suddenly forget how to recruit if Strong gets Texas going again?
My B/R colleague Ben Kercheval correctly pointed out that Strong has his work cut out for him trying to win back high school coaches in the wake of Mack Brown's departure. But that doesn't necessarily mean it will come at the expense of A&M.
In fact, it will more likely come at the expense of Baylor, since Texas is a talent-rich state and the Aggies are now playing in a different playground than the Longhorns.
As time goes on, more and more young players will associate Texas A&M with the SEC. Longhorns will probably say that the burnt orange carries more weight than that SEC patch on the jerseys of Texas A&M's players, which may be true in the case of some prospects.
But not all.
According to Chip Patterson of CBSSports.com, the SEC more than doubled the next-best conference last season in the NFL draft, sending 63 players to the draft. The Big 12 had 22, three of which were Longhorns.
That's the exception to the rule, and Texas will surely send its fair share of prospects on to the next level when it's at its best. But the allure of the best competition and coaching in college football will still be too much for prospects to ignore.
Texas A&M isn't "little brother" anymore. It's owning Texas. The days of being the little brother are over, and the worst-case scenario for the Aggies is to be "1B" to Texas' "1A" when the Longhorns are at their best.
A sliver of East Texas? Not so much.
Try the whole state.
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