How State of Texas Has Become Recruiting Hotbed for SEC Football

Ben Kercheval@@BenKerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterJanuary 25, 2016

Alabama head coach Nick Saban, second from left, and players celebrate after the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Clemson Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. Alabama won 45-40. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Associated Press

He didn't know it at the time, but in 2012, then-Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds boldly predicted something that, nearly four years later, would stand tall as the "Dewey Defeats Truman" of modern-day college football. 

Texas A&M, along with Missouri, was officially leaving the Big 12 that year to join the SEC. Pretending this wouldn't affect the Big 12 or its hub in the state of Texas, Dodds told Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman the SEC's footprint would expand ever so slightly to "a sliver down the East side" of Texas:

Kirk Bohls @kbohls

When it was said SEC expanded its footprint into Texas by adding A&M, Dodds said, "They have a sliver down the East side" of Texas.

Here we are in 2016 and, without a doubt, Dodds severely underestimated what losing Texas A&M would do to the Big 12 in myriad ways. One consequence that has hurt the Big 12 as much as anything is how the conference has fallen behind in recruiting in the state of Texas. 

Namely, the SEC has made itself quite at home in the Lone Star State. There's an argument to be made this is as important (or detrimental, depending on your point of view) as the Big 12's membership dilemma. 

Go back seven years to 2009, and you get a better idea of what the state of Texas meant to the Big 12 regarding talent acquisition. Why '09? On national signing day that year, Oklahoma was recently removed from playing for a BCS championship. Less than one year later, Texas would play for the national title. Though the Sooners and Longhorns came up short against Florida and Alabama, respectively, this was during the era in which the top of the Big 12 was producing big winners on the field and on draft day. 

(In 2010 alone, the Big 12 had five top-10 picks in the NFL draft. Three of the top four came from Oklahoma.)

A glance over the '09 prospect list in Texas shows just how dominant the Big 12 was at keeping homegrown talent in the conference. In all, the Big 12 landed 39 of Texas' top 50 recruits, including 17 of the top 25 prospects. The SEC reeled in seven prospects (six within the top 25), the Pac-12 hauled in two, and two more went to programs outside the power conferences. 

Top 50 Prospects in Texas—2009
ACCBig 12Big TenPac-12SECOther
0 (0 Top 25)39 (17 Top 25)0 (0 Top 25)2 (1 Top 25)7 (6 Top 25)2 (1 Top 25)

In short, the Big 12 claimed 78 percent of the top prospects in Texas. Nearly four out of every five top-25 recruits went to Big 12 programs. 

Now fast-forward to this year with signing day just a couple of weeks away. The landscape of Texas recruiting is dramatically different. With nine top-50 Texas recruits yet to make their commitments (binding or otherwise), the Big 12 can claim 16 players. The SEC, 17. 

Additionally, Texas has just four* verbal commitments among those top 50 players. For reference, Alabama and Ole Miss also have three verbals, while LSU has four. Texas A&M has six. Therein lies the biggest concern regarding the SEC's presence in Texas: It's not just the Aggies doing damage. 

Top 50 Prospects in Texas—2016
YearACCBig 12Big TenPac-12SECTexas A&MIndependent/Group of Five
20160 (0 Top 25)16 (7 Top 25)1 (1 Top 25)4 (1 Top 25)17 (8 Top 25)6 (2 Top 25)3 (2 Top 25)
20150 (0 Top 25)24 (12 Top 25)2 (0 Top 25)3 (3 Top 25)19 (10 Top 25)13 (5 Top 25)1 (0 Top 25)
20141 (0 Top 25)23 (9 Top 25)1 (1 Top 25)5 (3 Top 25)16 (9 Top 25)10 (6 Top 25)3 (2 Top 25)
20131 (1 Top 25)22 (10 Top 25)4 (3 Top 25)4 (2 Top 25)17 (8 Top 25)13 (7 Top 25)2 (0 Top 25)
20122 (1 Top 25)32 (18 Top 25)1 (0 Top 25)2 (1 Top 25)13 (5 Top 25)8 (4 Top 25)0 (0 Top 25)

(*It is worth noting, however, that Texas head coach Charlie Strong is a late bloomer in recruiting. This is the complete opposite approach from former Longhorns coach Mack Brown, who generally got kids to commit early. Strong closed hard and fast on the 2015 class and could do the same this year.) 

It was always reasonable to assume the SEC would have an increased impact in Texas recruiting because of A&M. That's a matter of simple numbers shifting from one conference to another. The Big 12 claims A&M's recruits in '09; the SEC claims them in '16. 

What people like Dodds probably didn't foresee was other SEC programs getting a bigger chunk of the recruiting pie. Granted, programs like Arkansas and LSU always had some presence in Texas because of geographical proximity, but it would be naive not to notice the wealth has spread. In 2013, following A&M's first full season in the SEC, the Aggies had 13 of the SEC's 17 top-50 Texas recruits. For '16, A&M has six of 17. 

Though the data charted references 247Sports, Dan Wolken of USA Today and Allen Kenney of Blatant Homerism noted similar trends using Scout.com and Rivals.com rankings:

247Sports Recruiting @247recruiting

Scout's #Race2NSD takes a look at #Big12 recruiting now that the dead period is over. https://t.co/8ZuiLNmVo5 https://t.co/bWpwunfqGl

Dan Wolken @DanWolken

Bad trends for the Big 12. Nobody recruiting at an elite level, really. https://t.co/CvQ8vviQf7

Allen Kenney @BlatantHomerism

4 players total in new rivals 100 committed to big 12 schools; sec has 4 in top 13 https://t.co/42yi9AYjN1

The point being, the Big 12 no longer has a vise grip on its own recruiting territory. Yes, nearly every program in major college football recruits Texas in some capacity, but the newfound diversity is noteworthy. 

How did this happen—beyond the typical conference infiltration, that is?

Winning is the simplest of theories. From 2006-07 to 2012-13, the SEC won seven straight BCS championships. Auburn played for an eighth in 2013-14. Because of this, people viewed the SEC as the strongest conference in major college football, usually by a country mile. The best conferences tend to attract the best talent. 

Anyone who thinks that perception reign is over is sorely mistaken. Thanks to Alabama's 45-40 win over Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship, the SEC's perception is as bolstered as it's ever been, even if the East division was significantly weaker. 

Meanwhile, Clemson routed the Big 12 champion, Oklahoma, in the Orange Bowl. 

Will it take a Big 12 team to win a national championship for the trend to reverse? Does Oklahoma or Texas—even Baylor or TCU—need to win the whole thing for the Big 12 to take back Texas on the recruiting trail?

It's too early to say. Even if, for example, the Sooners won a title next year, it could take another five years before we know for certain if the Big 12 has fixed its recruiting issue. 

There's also the matter of exactly where blue-chip prospects are coming from—and they're not coming from Texas in the volume you'd think. Per a recent SportSource Analytics heat map, a large concentration of top-tier players came from the southeastern part of the United States: 

SportSourceAnalytics @SportSourceA

A map of where 4 & 5 star recruits (247 composite score) in '14 & '15 recruiting classes were from & who signed them https://t.co/LZG1klh60U

Individually speaking, Texas is still a hotbed for talent, but the SEC region is loaded as well. Moving forward, the SEC is beginning to get the best of both worlds, while Big 12 programs are simply trying to win their own territories. 

That's not the right combination for the Big 12. 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports unless noted otherwise. 


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