A couple hours later, Texas picked up a commitment from 3-star LB Cecil Cherry of Lakeland (Fla) Victory Christian. Cherry, a former Tennessee commit, told our Jason Higdon (who broke the news) he couldn’t wait any longer to jump on board with UT so he could help Charlie Strong recruit other players in Florida.
In those two hours before Cherry committed, some Texas fans thought UT’s 2015 recruiting class had disintegrated like water hitting a witch in the Wizard of Oz.
Life as we knew it was over. Done.
Just imagine the reaction on Friday if 5-star OLB Malik Jefferson announces he plans to attend somewhere other than Austin?
Air and water supplies will be cut off. There will be perpetual darkness. Texas recruiting class will draw comparisons to Incarnate Word.
Welcome to the world of recruiting in the post-Mack Brown era, in which real-live recruiting battles at positions of need, with unknown outcomes, are still playing out and will probably continue all the way to February. There will undoubtedly be more surprises – good and bad – more commitments and de-commitments.
Depending on which players come or go, some Texas fans will proclaim the 2015 class sinks the program one minute and saves it the next.
Here’s my advice: If you have the stomach to follow recruiting, prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
But know whoever comes in that 2015 class is going to get developed. That’s the track record.
I’ll refer you to Louisville’s 2011 recruiting class.
It was ranked No. 33 nationally by Scout and produced the backbone of the UL teams that went 11-2 in 2012 (blasting Florida in the Sugar Bowl) and 12-1 in 2013 (blasting Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl). Of the 21 in the class, 12 became starters, including leading WR DeVante Parker. Five others have contributed.
Those signed in 2011, included NFL first-round draft picks QB Teddy Bridgewater and S Calvin Pryor as well as this year’s Thorpe Award winning safety Gerod Holliman, who has an NCAA record-tying 14 interceptions heading into UL’s game vs Georgia in the Belk Bowl Dec. 30.
For some, it’s not easy to trust a coach who just went 6-6 to find and develop the talent that will take Texas back to living in the Top 10. But no one has more invested in that mission than Strong and his staff.
Right now, Texas has the nation’s 15th-ranked class in 2015.
Texas needs offensive linemen and has 6 committed, even with the defection of Weathersby.
Texas desperately needs defensive backs – preferably big corners who can get physical with WRs in spread offenses and knock them off their routes. Those recruiting battles continue.
Win or lose on Malik Jefferson … win or lose on DeAndre McNeal this week, there are still big names on UT’s board who we will continue to cover and try to provide the latest updates.
Plain and simply, some of Texas’ fans are strung out after five straight years of deep-fried mediocrity at the QB position, on the offensive line and on the field, period (punctuated by 6-6 this season). They no longer have confidence in the process. They just scream, “Run for your lives!” – at any piece of bad news.
Texas’ 69-9 run from 2004-09 might as well have happened when hunters used their slingshots in pterodactyl blinds.
“I’m not worried about recruiting,” Charlie Strong said after the regular season.
Why? Because those who come will get developed – as young men and as players. We saw that this season in DT Hassan Ridgeway, LB Steve Edmond, S Jason Hall and even on the offensive line. And say what you want about Tyrone Swoopes, he showed improvement (vs UCLA, Iowa State, at Texas Tech, at Oklahoma State). Lots of inconsistency (Baylor, OU, K-State, TCU, even from 1st half to 2nd half vs WVU). But also improvement.
Strong knows exactly what he wants at every position on the field. He has always found players who love the game, who are hungry, tough and are willing to put in the work.
Everywhere he’s been, his players have gotten better and have turned into a hard-edged football team. The NFL scouts I talk to on a regular basis can’t wait to see Strong develop his own recruited players. They see the change in attitude in the program.
“No one’s calling Texas soft anymore,” one NFL scout told me. “That was one of the best tackling teams in college football this season. Remember all the missed tackles the past two years? A lot of the same players were out there this year.”
Win or lose this week on the recruiting trail, Texas has a coach and staff whose players get better. And once this staff has a chance to work with a room full of talented QBs who are in competition, the bar graph of the program will turn up – and stay up.
No matter what happens on the recruiting trail this week.
SUSPENSION OF Arkansas SAFETY COULD HURT HOGS
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema announced last week that two Razorback defenders – starting safety Rohan Gaines and backup CB Carroll Washington – are suspended from the AdvoCare 100 Texas Bowl for violating team rules.
In talking to former Razorbacks QB Matt Jones, now doing radio in Arkansas, he told me the loss of Gaines would undoubtedly impact the strength of the Hogs’ defense right up the middle.
UA’s run defense has been excellent the last six games, limiting opponents to an average of 3.1 ypc, including lockdown performances in a 14-13 loss to Alabama (32 carries, 66 yards, 2.1 ypc), a 17-0 shutout of LSU (32 carries, 36 yards, 1.1 ypc) and 30-0 shutout of Ole Miss (33 carries, 63 yards, 1.9 ypc).
“Gaines is really good in run support,” Jones said of the junior safety, who ranks fifth on the team in tackles with 59.
Gaines also had a 100-yard INT return for a TD in Arkansas’ 30-0 win against Ole Miss.
A freshman – Josh Liddell (6-1, 204) – is likely to start in Gaines’ place.
OVERSTREET IN ‘OTHER’ FINAL FOUR
Former Longhorn RB Jalen Overstreet scored the game-winning TD for Sam Houston State on a 1-yard run with 4:03 left in a 34-31, come-from-behind victory over Villanova in an FCS quarterfinal playoff game Saturday.
Overstreet, a sophomore for the Bearkats, has 105 carries for 723 yards (6.9 ypc) and 7 touchdowns in a backup role to starting senior RB Keshawn Hill (183 carries, 1,124 yards, 6.1 ypc, 18 TDs).
Next up for Sam Houston State is a playoff matchup against three-time defending FCS champ North Dakota State in the Fargo Dome at 7 pm CT Friday on ESPN2 … in college football’s OTHER Final Four.
MORE UPDATES ON FORMER LONGHORNS
* Joe Bergeron finished the season as the leading rusher for 9-3 Texas A&M Commerce with 158 carries for 923 yards (5.8 ypc) and 12 TDs.
Sanders also faces a charge of improper photography taken during the alleged attack.
Both former UT receivers face up to 20 years in prison if convicted on the rape charges. Meander is due in court on Wednesday, while Sanders is scheduled to appear on Jan. 23.
I was told Meander, if his legal troubles will allow it, would like to transfer to Washington State, where he was committed originally out of Amarillo Palo Duro HS, before enrolling at Texas.
NEW UT CENTER STRIVING TO CHANGE ATHLETE BEHAVIOR
The new Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation unveiled by UT on Monday has some ambitious goals to change often destructive behavior by athletes by:
#1 … Working to identify destructive behavior in student-athletes long before they reach college.
The center plans to work with high school coaches to develop a training and certification program “on how to detect, intervene and correct troubling or violent behavior” in student-athletes.
The NFL has been awash in player behavior headlines, including domestic abuse that led NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to meet with UT coach Charlie Strong about how Strong advocates and enforces his “Five Core Values.”
The new UT center will also work with officials from the National Domestic Violence Hotline on this initiative.
#2 … Giving student-athletes tools to make better financial decisions after they leave school.
This one gets me every time, but a 2009 Sports Illustrated study showed 78 percent of former NFL players are bankrupt or undergoing severe financial stress within two years of retirement from football. And 60 percent of former NBA players are bankrupt within five years of retirement.
One of the key goals of the new Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation is to help provide common-sense life skills for student-athletes, including financial basics that lead to smart monetary decisions after school.
“Like credit card debt,” said UT president Bill Powers.
#3 … Researching decision-making by athletes
The center will encourage and promote faculty and student-driven research that includes case studies related to decision making by athletes.
“By blending two areas in which UT has long been strong – athletics and leadership training – we are creating an important nexus of study and training,” Powers said Monday at a press conference announcing the Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation.
The center will be headed by Daron K. Roberts, a former UT-Austin student government president and NFL assistant coach. Roberts currently serves as both a lecturer in UT Austin’s College of Liberal Arts and as an analyst on the Longhorn Network.
SPEAKING OF DEPLORABLE ATHLETE BEHAVIOR …
... Tyreek Hill IS DONE AT OK STATE
From Bedlam legend after a 92-yard punt return for the game-winning touchdown in an upset of OU in Norman to criminal suspect 5 days later after being charged with felony assault by strangulation for allegedly punching and choking his pregnant girlfriend.
Credit Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy for taking swift action in the matter, which is obviously heightened in the wake of ALL the recent domestic violence headlines in college football and the NFL.
The work of UT’s Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation can’t begin soon enough.
AROUND THE 40 ACRES …
… CAM RIDLEY seemed to play with more confidence and was one of the few bright lights offensively for Texas in a sloppy, 19-turnover, 57-29 victory over Texas State Saturday.
Ridley scored 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting after scoring 1 point and grabbing 2 rebounds in 16 minutes at Kentucky.
Two problem areas still persist for Ridley, however. He needs to grab more boards. He only had 4 vs Texas State and hasn’t more than 6 rebounds in any game this season.
Ridley has to be stronger with the ball and stop turning it over. He had 4 of those 19 TOs vs Texas State and is averaging twice as many turnovers (2.6) as blocks per game (1.3).
Last season, Ridley averaged 1.6 turnovers per game and 2.2 blocks per game.
… WOMEN’S HOOPS is 8-0 with a win on the road at No. 1 Stanford and a win at home vs. No. 4 Tennessee.
Karen Aston’s team is ranked No. 3 – the Longhorns’ highest ranking in 10 years.
UT plays McNeese State at home on Wednesday at 7 pm (LHN) before traveling to Little Rock to face No. 4 Texas A&M (11-0) in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Sunday at 12:30 pm CT (SEC Network).
Aston’s got a complete team:
… Size down low in 6-5 leading scorer Kelsey Lang (13.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg)
… A versatile forward in senior, 1,000-point scorer Nneka Enemkpali (12 ppg, 8.6 rpg)
… Two, freshmen McDonald’s All-American, cut-throat, killer guards in Ariel Atkins (10.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and 5-foot-4, crowd-favorite, 3-point sniper Brooke McCarty (7.0 ppg, .429 from 3-point range)
… A bench 10 players deep (Aston has 10 players averaging at least 13 minutes per game)
… Suffocating defense giving up only 51.4 ppg and 33 percent shooting to opponents while reaching 8-0 with an average margin of victory of 25.4 ppg.
… And the anticipated return of 6-7 junior F Imani McGee-Stafford, who averaged 10.8 ppg and 7.3 rpg last season. McGee-Stafford had surgery Sept. 5 to reinforce her left tibia and is expected to return after the start of Big 12 play, which begins Jan. 3 at home vs Kansas.
So what’s not to love about UT women’s hoops right now?
Well, Aston told me she’s worried about attendance “from a recruiting standpoint.”
Last season, the Big 12 led all conferences in women’s college basketball attendance (4,530 per game).
Here’s a look at the Big 12’s leaders in women’s hoops avg attendance from the 2013-14 season:
#1 … Tennessee … 11,038
#2 … Iowa State … 9,916
#8 … Baylor … 6,881
#13 … OU … 5,632
#14 … Texas A&M … 5,513
#21 … K-State … 4,484
#27 … Texas Tech … 3,885
#30 … Texas … 3,382
This season, Texas is averaging 3,495 at home games. But that’s only because of its fourth annual “40 Acres Field Trip” on Dec. 8 in which 4,876 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th graders from across Austin were admitted to the Texas-Southern game.
Aston wants to know what it will take to get more Longhorns’ fans to come check out the nation’s No. 3 women’s team?
“We had to do our part and improve the product,” Aston said. “But we’ve done that. So has Rick (Barnes). I hope our fans will give us a chance and come out and support us. It makes a big difference to the players and in recruiting.”
For those who have been to UT hoops games this season, they know the game-day experience isn’t what it used to be. The men’s games have D.J. Mel and the women’s games have D.J. Honeycomb. Aston is hoping you’ll want to experience it for yourself at least once.
MY HEISMAN VOTE …
I’ve considered it an honor and a privilege to be a Heisman Trophy voter since accepting that honor in 2004. (And, yes, I voted for Vince Young in 2005 and was very vocal about it.)
This year, I narrowed my list of potential Heisman finalists to:
Arizona LB Scooby Wright (153 tackles, 11.8 tpg, 14 sacks, 27 tackles for loss)
* Louisville S Gerod Holliman (NCAA record-tying 14 interceptions)
* Alabama WR Amari Cooper (115 receptions, 1,656 yards, 14 TDs)
* TCU QB Trevone Boykin (30 TD passes, 7 INTs, 642 yards rushing, 8 TDs on the ground)
And then I went about really breaking down those players' numbers in games that mattered most to their teams and I came away with three players in this order:
1) Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
2) Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU
3) Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
I always hope the Heisman voters wait until the final games are played on Championship Weekend before sending in their votes.
If they had, I think more votes would have gone to Boykin, who truly had a special year (30 TD passes, 7 INTs, 642 yards rushing and 8 TDs on the ground), in helping TCU go from a 4-8 season to 11-1 in a new offense.
Cooper (115 catches, 1,656 receiving yards and 14 TDs) came up big, time and time again, including 60 minutes of "Heisman moments" in a 55-44 win over Auburn with 13 catches for 224 yards and 3 TDs.
Ultimately, Mariota's 38 TD passes and 2 INTs as well as his 669 rushing yards (5.7 ypc) and 14 rushing TDs were simply overwhelming in helping Oregon become a championship-caliber team.
And Mariota's selflessness embodies the Heisman Trophy's credo as the "outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity."
SOME TEXAS BOWL THOUGHTS …
As many know, or maybe you don't, the SEC - NOT the bowl games - determine whether the SEC's final six, bowl-bound teams will play in the Outback, Taxslayer, Belk, Texas, Music City or Independence bowls.
Thus, after Texas accepted a bid to the Texas Bowl on Dec. 29, the SEC could have put Texas A&M in the game against the Longhorns.
That would have made the Texas Bowl one of the most, if not THE-most, talked-about bowl game of the postseason by re-igniting the bitter rivalry between two of college football’s most bitter divorcees.
But, sadly, as I had reported two weeks earlier from a source I trusted, the SEC wasn't going to put Texas A&M in a bowl game against Texas.
I was told the SEC didn't want to give Charlie Strong the chance to bolster recruiting with a win over Texas A&M or LSU. In 2012, it was Texas looking to avoid a Cotton Bowl matchup against the Johnny Manziel-led Aggies.
This fight between Longhorns and Aggies - like Mayweather and Pacquiao - is still not ready to be made apparently.
With Arkansas getting bowl eligible with surprising, back-to-back shutouts of LSU and Ole Miss to reach 6 wins, the Razorbacks represent a perfect opponent for Texas in the SEC's mind.
The Hogs this season finally ended a 17-game losing streak in SEC play and are looking for a bowl win to help spark recruiting. Nothing would help Arkansas jumpstart recruiting in Texas more than a win over … Texas.
Texas, and inconsistent QB Tyrone Swoopes, probably would have had a better matchup against Texas A&M, which struggles to stop the run. Arkansas held Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss below 100 yards rushing.
That’s not what Texas wanted to hear. Because if UA is that stout on defense on Dec. 29 at NRG Stadium, and the Horns can’t run? It means Swoopes is going to have to make some plays with his arm – just like against TCU. … Oh, nevermind.
ONE LAST THING …
MICKEY ROURKE WENT ALL THE WAY TO RUSSIA TO FIX A FIGHT …
How else was a 62-year-old actor going to beat up a 29-year-old boxer?
DONALD STERLING: DEAD OR ALIVE? …
Alive. We know this because he pulled out of a toy drive in Watts because of, what else? - racial tensions
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