The world of college football recruiting is a dark place.
Young adults barely old enough to drive are incessantly evaluated, carefully dissected, and comprehensively tested. College coaches and staff with seven-figure paychecks tirelessly scour the nation for that next fix — that next bundle of players who will bring success to the field and subsequent revenue to their respective schools.
All the while, recruiting specialists dot the landscape with their tools of criticism or approval thoroughly sharpened, ready at a moment’s notice to assign an incoming college freshman with as many gold, shiny stars as they see fit.
And perhaps in no other conference in the country is recruiting fiercer than in the Big 12. Since its creation nearly 15 years ago, the Big 12 has seldom been dominated by teams other than Texas and Oklahoma — and the recruiting numbers have reflected this.
However, while the national spectacle that is college football recruiting once again culminated in the rich teams becoming even richer, National Signing Day did prove to be fruitful for some Big 12 teams other than the conference’s duo of traditional superpowers.
Note: National rankings presented reflect those released by Rivals.com around the time this slideshow was published.
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Recruiting is no doubt a tedious and arduous task, but no one in college football makes it look easier than Mack Brown.
The Longhorns, situated smack dab in America’s steamiest hotbed for Division I talent, seldom miss out on the state’s most coveted recruits, nor do they seem to expel much energy in amassing outstanding classes year after year.
Like a meat connoisseur at a butcher shop, Brown and his staff are afforded the luxury of picking and choosing Texas’ most-seasoned prep players, nearly rendering the host of other FBS programs within the state utterly helpless — and this year was no different.
The Longhorns landed six of the state’s top 10 players, including Plano five-star defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat (pictured), who was considered by some recruiting services to be the best prep player in the nation.
Toss in coveted linebacker Jordan Hicks (West Chester, OH), as well as 19 other players who earned four or more stars, and Texas seems well-positioned to not only resume its stranglehold on the Big 12 but contend for national titles for seasons to come.
The Longhorns averaged a gaudy 3.92 stars in this class and finished National Signing Day behind consensus No. 1 Florida and USC, who shot up the charts by inking a number of five-star prospects at the last minute.
Grade: A+ — No one will dispute that the Longhorns are a recruiting juggernaut, especially in their home state. But, then again, consistently pumping out nationally-ranked classes should take minimal effort when every one of the 400 or so FBS-caliber recruits that come out of Texas each year would sacrifice a body part to become part of your program.
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If there’s one team that even remotely comes close to flashing its recruiting prowess in the Lone Star State as effortlessly as Texas, it’s Oklahoma.
Bob Stoops once again looked south for the necessary pieces to keep his well-oiled machine in Norman running fluidly, plucking more than half (16) of his class’ 29 commits from the state.
Among the key components of Stoops’ latest haul include highly touted Wichita quarterback Blake Bell (left), who could end up pushing backup quarterback Drew Allen for playing time behind starter Landry Jones, and athlete Justin McCay (Shawnee, KS), the No. 1-rated player from the state of Kansas, who turned down offers from the likes of Florida, Georgia, Notre Dame, and Oregon to stay closer to home.
Oklahoma’s class may not have the same cache or star power as that of Texas, but the Sooners nonetheless did another ho-hum job pulling in an impressive national ranking while addressing many needs, particularly along the offensive line and with depth at defensive tackle.
Grade: A — Whoopty doo, I say. So the Sooners landed another class loaded with offensive playmakers and defensive studs. Stoops and Co. pull the same trick every year.
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I’ll say this for head coach Mike Sherman: The man can recruit.
I don’t know if it’s Sherman’s NFL spiel or the possibility that kids look at A&M as a safety in the event they’re turned down by Texas, but since Sherman has arrived in College Station in November of 2007, the Aggies have placed no lower than 22nd in Rivals.com’s national recruiting rankings (16th in ’08; 22nd in ’09).
Now entering his third season at Texas A&M, Sherman appears to be on the precipice of putting his own personal stamp on the program. Nearly history are the players selected by former head coach Dennis Franchione, and this 2010 class could be the pillars for what Sherman has already managed to build during his short tenure.
At first glance, it would appear that the Aggies were fed the Longhorns’ scraps, settling for a trio of players among the state’s top 10 that Texas didn’t have time for. However, take a closer look, and you’ll see that the crown jewels of this class serve as one huge indication of where Sherman wants to take his program.
Attempting to architect a more pro-style offense anchored by physical play up front, Sherman was able to sign three of the top four offensive linemen from the state, including Luke Joeckel (Arlington) and Jake Matthews (Missouri City) — each of whom were named starters for last month’s U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
The remaining member of the trio is coveted tackle Cedric Ogbuehi (pictured), who was lauded for his performance in the Army All-American Bowl against Texas signee Jackson Jeffcoat and Florida signee Ronald Powell.
Grade: A (minus) — If you listen hard, you can almost hear the gap between the Aggies and the Big 12 South bullies slowly beginning to close.
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You could argue that Gary Pinkel and his staff have long been the conference masters of unearthing rare diamonds in the rough, particularly when it comes to the state of Texas (see Chase Daniel, Sean Weatherspoon, and Danario Alexander), but the Tigers flipped the script a bit this year in snatching up a bevy of playmakers who weren’t exactly under the radar.
Missouri was once again active in Texas, signing heralded running backs Marcus Murphy (DeSoto) and Henry Josey (Angleton), as well as four-star offensive lineman Mitch Morse (Austin), linebacker Jared Parham (Coppell), and promising receiver Bud Sasser (Denton).
But MU’s efforts really took flight within its own state. The Tigers continued to tighten their seal around Missouri, landing five of the state’s top 10 players and each of the top three, including standout offensive lineman Nick Demien (Wentzville) and Liberty receiver Marcus Lucas (pictured).
Based purely on ratings, this recruiting class promises to be Pinkel’s best yet in his near-decade in Columbia, but two signees in particular could be an indication that MU may be pulling back the throttle a bit on its high-octane spread offense.
In addition to signing 6’2”, 215-pound Arkansas running back Greg White, the Tigers received a late commitment from defensive end Matt Hoch (Harlan, IA), who decommitted from Iowa in December after learning Missouri sought to utilize his skills as a tight end/H-back hybrid for what could be a few power-running wrinkles in the offensive game plan.
Grade: B+ — Sure, the Tigers missed out on some of their targeted in-state recruits (Chase Rome - Nebraska; Trey Millard - Oklahoma), but it still appears as if Pinkel is beginning to reap the spoils of MU’s recent run of success in the way many expected him to several years ago.
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When Bo Pelini arrived in Lincoln in late 2007 as the head coach of Nebraska, he brought with him a mentality that served as a rebirth of what Cornhusker football used to be during the program’s glory days.
Now two seasons into his endeavor, Pelini is building momentum within his program, and this 2010 class should do well to provide adequate sustenance.
What may be seen by some as prejudice toward the skill positions, Pelini’s latest class includes only one running back to go along with its one wide receiver (both of which are four-star recruits, by the way), but it is filled with potential gangbusters along the offensive and defensive lines that epitomize Nebraska’s brand of football.
Among the first members of this class to sign a letter of intent was coveted juco offensive lineman Jermarcus Hardrick (Fort Scott, KS), who spurned several SEC suitors, including Florida, LSU, and Ole Miss, in favor of the Huskers.
With impressive speed for his size, the 6’7”, 315-pound Hardrick is seemingly talented enough to leap straight into the two-deep roster with both feet, but he won’t be the only newcomer worthy of consideration for immediate playing time.
Per Pelini’s obsession with defensive linemen, this class includes six, but the best of the whole lot may be Chase Rome (pictured), a four-star defensive tackle whom the Huskers stole from rival Missouri’s backyard in Columbia.
An early enrollee, Rome (6’3”, 290) already has the size, and Nebraska is hoping his potential for an immediate impact will compensate for the last-minute change of heart from five-star Portland defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa, who looked to be a sure thing before choosing UCLA on Wednesday.
But the surprises for the Cornhuskers on signing day were also pleasant. Thought to have been a solid commit to Western Kentucky, four-star prospect Brion Carnes (Bradenton, FL) caught everyone off-guard when he signed with Nebraska to give Pelini a welcomed addition to a class that would have otherwise been void of a quarterback.
Grade: B — It’s clear Pelini and the Huskers are recruiting according to their defensive philosophy, and rightfully so. Still, someone has to explain to me the reluctance to secure weapons for an offense that is clearly light on ammunition.
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Gone from Stillwater are quarterback Zac Robinson, tackle Russell Okung, and receiver Dez Bryant, and Oklahoma State returns only five starters from an offense that was one of the most balanced in the Big 12 a season ago.
Add to that the nine starters on defense that won’t be back, and it’s easy to see why the Cowboys were able to assemble such a large class.
As good and as versatile as Robinson was, Oklahoma State may have found his heir apparent in Johnny Deaton (Tulsa, OK), who was rated by Rivals.com as the nation’s No. 6 dual-threat quarterback and the seventh-best player in the state.
And though Okung was the kind of dominant tackle that comes along only once in a lifetime, OSU loses three other starters up front; hence the six incoming offensive linemen from this class.
And then there’s the matter of replacing Bryant on the edge of the offense, where the Cowboys, despite featuring plenty of youthful depth at the position, further replenished their reserves by signing a foursome of speedy wideouts.
But the headliners of this class may each ultimately make his impact on the other side of the ball. In addition to California four-star defensive back Malcolm Murray (No. 8 pictured), OSU was able to land a number of highly-rated “athletes,” which is a fancy way of saying the kid can play on either side of the ball.
Justin Gilbert (Huntsville, TX) and Joseph Randle (Wichita, KS) both have the speed and talent to at least contend for a spot in a defensive backfield that loses three of its four starters from a season ago.
As solid as this class may be, it took a huge, unexpected hit on Wednesday when four-star defensive tackle Calvin Barnett (Tulsa), who was previously the class’ landmark find as the state of Oklahoma’s top-rated player, switched his commitment and ultimately signed with the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Grade: B (minus) — Losing Barnett so late in the game hurts, and his presence in the middle would have given the Cowboys an attitude on defense that has been often missing in Stillwater. The good news is that OSU seems to have found the talent capable of replacing its departing stars sooner rather than later.
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To be polite, since the inception of the Big 12 in 1996, Baylor has been nothing more than a doormat for opposing teams.
For years, blowout losses and near-winless seasons abounded, but head coach Art Briles has managed to turn the tide somewhat thus far in his brief tenure. As a result, those kids who merely stopped in Waco to fill their tanks en route to Austin, College Station, or elsewhere are now giving pause to the Bears.
Briles’ third recruiting class won’t soon be proclaimed as the one that forever changed the Bears’ gridiron woes, but there are some intriguing prospects that have the potential to make an impact.
With seven starters due back from last season’s offense, including breathtaking quarterback Robert Griffin, Briles and his staff placed a heavy emphasis on defense, where the Bears will lose nine starters to graduation.
Helping to soften the blow of losing All-Big 12 performer Jordan Lake, Briles landed a huge prospect in local safety Ahmad Dixon (pictured), who was being heavily pursued by a host of programs that included Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, and Texas. According to scouting reports, the 6’1”, 194-pound Dixon has the look of an immediate contributor, whether it’s on special teams or at the third level of the Baylor defense.
And he’ll be joined in Waco by a pair of fellow four-star defensive backs. Together with Dixon, Tyler Stephenson (Lancaster, TX) and Prince Kent (Chatham, VA) are the prized pieces in a 22-member class that features as many as 14 players that are currently projected to play defense for the Bears.
Grade: B (minus) — The Bears no doubt geared their efforts towards outfitting their defense to handle the Big 12’s plethora of spread offenses, but Art Briles was careful not to pass on the chance to surround Griffin with some skill on offense.
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The Tommy Tuberville era in Lubbock has officially begun, and though some Red Raider faithful will surely miss the unabashed tactics of the departed Mike Leach, this incoming class may take away some of the sting of their former leader’s messy termination.
We begin at the epicenter of the Texas Tech roster, where at quarterback the Red Raider were able to pry in-state product Scotty Young (pictured) from the grubby mitts of the Texas Longhorns.
Rated by Rivals.com as the No. 10 pro-style quarterback prospect in the nation, Young, who threw for, um, nearly 4,500 yards and 64 touchdowns as a senior, already has the look of the next great Tech gunslinger.
On defense, where Tech lags behind Big 12 South powers Oklahoma and Texas, the Red Raiders picked up seasoned help in the form of monstrous 6’7”, 275-pound defensive end Scott Smith (Butler County C.C.), as well as four-star defensive back Tre’Vante Porter and Jackson Richards, who was rated as the nation’s No. 23 weakside defensive end.
Grade: C — It won’t be long before Young is winging 70 passes a game for Tech, but it remains to be seen whether the Tuberville regime is able to bring in the necessary defensive pieces to make the Red Raiders a consistent player in the Big 12’s premier division.
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Barely free of the nasty aftermath that littered Lawrence following the divorce between former head coach Mark Mangino and the athletic department, the Jayhawks are in the middle of a transitional period, and it showed in recruiting.
Mangino’s successor, Turner Gill, did what he could when he wasn’t busy assembling his staff on the fly, but a class that could have been defined as nothing more than mediocre was only saved because of a pair of unexpected additions in the final minutes of the recruiting process.
The Jayhawks went heavy on the defense this season, scoring a quartet of defensive linemen that included ends Jaqwaylin Arps (Denison, TX) and Pat Lewandowski (Overland Park, KS), and four-star receiver Keeston Terry (Blue Springs, MO) was a big pick-up for the offense.
But the heart and soul of this class could very well end up being two players that Kansas could have easily been without. Missouri running back Brandon Bourbon (pictured) and cornerback Dexter McDonald (Kansas City, MO), rated sixth and 12th overall in the state of Missouri, respectively, each rescinded on previous offers to become late additions to KU’s 2010 class.
The 6’2”, 205-pound Bourbon committed to Stanford back in August but began to favor Kansas when he became closer with Jayhawks running backs coach Reggie Mitchell. McDonald, who initially committed to Illinois before switching his pledge to Missouri in late December, presumably switched his allegiance because of Mitchell, who recruited McDonald while the assistant head coach at Illinois.
Grade: C — Bourbon and McDonald save this class from receiving a lower grade. Still, even as a Missouri fan, I have to give Gill and his staff credit for not only securing their own recruits, but retaining those who could have easily jumped ship following Mangino’s dismissal.
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Considering what he accomplished in his inaugural season, it appears Paul Rhoads is the man for the job in Ames. Now the next —and, perhaps, more daunting — task that lies ahead involves transferring that success into recruiting.
Attracting kids to play for a lower-tier program in the Big 12 is a tough-sell. Iowa State did manage to scoop up three of the top 10 prospects from the state, but Rhoads and his staff were beaten to the punch by in-state rivals Iowa and Northern Iowa when it came to the true upper-echelon recruits.
Anybody who knows football also knows that Rhoads will soon enough make his share of consistent noise on the recruiting trail, but at this early stage in his efforts to resurrect the program, how much is to be expected?
In addition to its mild success in the state of Iowa, the Cyclones raided the juco ranks, securing seven players who were previously enrolled in community colleges. While this tactic implies Iowa State may be overly desperate for immediate help, it did nonetheless yield some worthwhile talent.
Anthony Young (San Marcos, CA) was highly rated on Rivals.com’s list of the top 50 junior college prospects and should contend for a spot in the secondary, while Athens, Texas, receiver Chris Young (pictured) should provide the ever-improving Austen Arnaud with a legitimate target in the Cyclones’ passing attack.
Grade: C (minus) — Given the unstable nature of the Big 12 North, yesterday’s pretenders can easily become tomorrow’s contenders. And Rhoads definitely has the Cyclones headed in the right direction, but for the program to achieve staying power, he’ll have to prove he can build on the successes he experienced with this class.
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Don’t be fooled by the Wildcats’ seemingly sparse class. True to Bill Snyder’s philosophy, Kansas State relied heavily on recruits already equipped with experience, adding an additional 10 players who previously played at the junior college level.
Granted, raiding community colleges and small-time institutions for players who have but two years of eligibility left isn’t exactly an ideal way to effectively build the foundation of a program, but Snyder has used the strategy to his advantage before, so there’s no reason to think he can’t do it again.
Among those junior college players who could see instant time is 6’4”, 302-pound defensive tackle Javonta Boyd, formerly of Butler County Community College in El Dorado, Kansas. Rated No. 43 on Rivals.com’s list of top 50 junior college players, Boyd committed to KSU in August while being pursued by Cincinnati, Clemson, and Georgia, among others.
Also of note is four-star defensive end Adam Davis (Hutchinson C.C.). At 6’1”, Davis may be a bit undersized for the position, but at 249 pounds, he could easily slim down to give the Wildcats some much-needed experience and depth at linebacker.
On offense, the key find has to be DeMarcus Robinson (pictured), a four-star running back from Wichita. Not regarded as a back who will run away from defenders, the 5’9”, 192-pound Robinson is instead projected to be a viable option between the tackles for the Wildcats’ power running style.
Grade: D+ — I understand what Snyder is attempting to do by bringing in older players who are already mature physically, but having to replace a large group of players every two years has to get somewhat bothersome. Plus, a team in a BCS conference, even one in a rebuilding stage like Kansas State, should never find itself lagging on the recruiting trail behind programs like Colorado State, Memphis, and Fresno State.
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Trial and tribulation have unfortunately earmarked Dan Hawkins’ time at Colorado, but as the instability in his program has spread, the more numerous the roadblocks on the recruiting trail have become.
And it all seems to have manifested in the form of a dreadful 2010 class, which must have some in Boulder shaking their heads and clamoring for sweeping change.
It wasn’t long ago that despite his team’s suspect play on the field, Hawkins was still managing to get it done by luring quality players to his program. In 2008, Rivals.com rated Colorado’s class as No. 16 in the nation, led by five-star running back Darrell Scott, who has since transferred. However, that ranking plummeted to 48th in 2009 and still further this year, as the Buffs check in at No. 65.
Colorado’s class does feature FBS-caliber players, but the big, fat zero that falls under the column that reads “Four Star Commits” indicates either Hawkins is no longer able to hook the larger fish, or more and more recruits are becoming aware of the increasingly fragile state of the CU program.
California native Nick Hirschman (pictured) appears to be a viable option to possibly help clear up the convoluted picture at quarterback behind starter Tyler Hansen. He’ll be joined by promising running back Tony Jones (Ramsey, NJ), whom the Buffaloes somehow stole from Rutgers, UConn, Boston College, and at least one or two other Big East programs.
Grade: D (minus) — What else do I have to say here? Thanks to a contract extension signed in 2008, it’s possible Hawkins could be in Boulder through the 2012 season, but all that means is the program could incur further scrutiny and hardship. If there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s that the Buffaloes are one solid season away from re-entering the recruiting picture for some of the top recruits in Colorado, who have been way too quick to wander out of state in the past couple years.
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