However, I've never seen such a significant shift in recruiting fortunes in such a short time as what I'm seeing with Texas A&M as compared to traditional recruiting powers Texas and Oklahoma. I was also told a long time ago that if you want to really understand the health of a program's recruiting efforts, interior defensive line is the measuring stick. Why? Because there simply aren't many quick, explosive 280-300+ pound athletes in the population that can excel at the high D-1 level.
Let's be honest here. While coaches and recruitniks pour over hours of tape and camp workouts to identify the best prospect to offer a scholarship, the reality is that there are enough 5-foot-9 to 6-foot-2 fast athletes in the state of Texas to adequately fill most D-1 rosters at DB, RB, LB, and WR. I know I'm oversimplifying the situation, but generally any of the Big 12 or SEC programs in the state can easily get a solid 3-star or low 4-star athlete at those positions that can have a productive college career.
And while identifying an elite offensive tackle with the footwork to play at a high D-1 level can be a challenge occasionally, the state does have a steady supply of 280-320 lb. prospects to man the offensive line. Just a couple of years ago, Texas generated no fewer than 10 Top 200 national prospects at OL.
Even at the all-important QB spot, the proliferation of passing offenses and 7-on-7 leagues has started to produce a significant crop of elite signal callers in the state, and with QB's now unwilling to attend the same school as other highly-rated QB's, the odds of most Big 12/SEC programs landing a very good quarterback every couple of years is surprisingly high these days.
But quick 300 lb. defensive linemen just don't grow on trees. It's a rare physical combination. In any given recruiting cycle, there may be 1-2 elite interior defensive linemen. In a good year there may be three or at most four. In a down year there may be only one or even none when you factor in academic qualification.
And because of the chronic shortage at DT, teams are always looking to stack talent when the opportunity exists. Basically, defensive tackles become the rarest and highest-valued commodity on the recruiting market and it serves as a true litmus test of where programs stand in the pecking order of 17-18 year-old recruits. It's the most competitive position. So let's look at the Aggies over the past five recruiting cycles from 2010 to 2014 at DT with numbers and average star ratings at that position.
Class No.4&5 stars DT Star Rating 2010 0 2.50 2011 1 4.00 2012 0 3.00 2013 3 4.00 2014 2 4.00 (Gets one of Willis/Frazier)
Here's what the Longhorns have done in that same time frame.
Class No.4&5 stars DT Star Rating 2010 2 3.67 2011 2 4.50 2012 2 3.75 2013 0 0.00 2014 0 3.00 (No 4-star listing Texas)
Here's what the Sooners have done in that same time frame.
Class No.4&5 stars DT Star Rating 2010 2 3.67 2011 3 4.00 2012 0 0.00 2013 0 3.00 (Huggins academics – not included) 2014 0 2.00 (No 4-star listing OU in Top 5)
So to summarize, in the three classes from 2010-2012, the Aggies signed one 4-star dt in 2011 and he was a hybrid dl that is no longer on the team (Hatten). But that changed in 2013 when A&M nabbed all three 4-stars in the state. And in a down year for DT's in 2014, A&M quickly landed the only 4-star on the state's board and are poised to land another out of state 4-star. Looking to 2015, the Ags are already poised to nab the state's top DT in Daylon Mack and they sit in good shape with other top DT's Ross Donelly and Duvonta Lampkin.
Now, let's look at Texas. The Longhorns dominated DT recruiting from 2010-2012 stacking six 4&5-star prospects which effectively shut out the Aggies in that time. However, when A&M's fortunes turned in 2013, so did Texas' ability to sign the few DT's in the state. In fact, the Longhorns were shut-out in 2013. If you were a Horn fan, that may not be so concerning after three straight stellar DT classes. However, the warning lights should be going off now that the 2014 is taking shape. Texas has commitments from three DT's already, and all are 3-stars with no 4-star prospects still in play for this class for now. That's two straight classes with no elite DT signees. That will not show up in 2013, but it will start to show its effects in 2014.
However, that's nothing compared to what Bob Stoops and the Sooners are facing along the interior defensive front. OU loaded up on defensive tackles in 2010 and 2011 with five 4&5-star prospects. But Oklahoma's drought started a year earlier in 2012 and shows no sign of changing anytime soon. In 2014, Stoops has one two-star DT commit and no 4&5 star recruits listing OU in their top five.
Again, it's very logical. Texas A&M flipped the landscape and have started stacking the scarce DT resources and that has not left the competitors with any elite prospects. In fact, it's a convincing statistic of how much A&M has captured the minds and hearts of high school football players.
Sure, Texas will get its share of elite DB and WR recruits in 2014 because the state is flush with quality talent at those positions, so A&M's advantage is camouflaged to some degree. But there's no hiding what is occurring at DT, the most important position in recruiting.
One more note on OU looking past the DT discussion that reflects just how far the Sooners have fallen in the state of Texas. In 2010, OU landed 10 4-5 star prospects from the lone star state. That number slightly declined to seven in 2011, and fell further to only one elite recruit from Texas in 2012. They added three 4-5 stars in 2013 and to date none in 2014. So, that's 17 elite lone star recruits signed in 2010 and 2011 combined compared to a total of four the past three classes. That should make any OU fan quiver, because Texas prospects have always been the energy of the Crimson Machine for the past 60 years.
So keep your eyes on the 2015 DT's. If A&M can continue to corner the market on DT's in the state, that is bad news for both OU and Texas. And if it's bad news for those two, then it's bad news for the Big 12 Conference. The Big 12 only works with both OU and Texas being relevant on the national stage...and that hasn't been the case over the past couple of years, and they won't be relevant if they can't change the recruiting landscape versus A&M. While Texas has plenty of talent to go around at most positions, it doesn't at DT, and we've learned that without elite DT's a program has a hard time competing for a national championship or staying in the Top 10.