Recruiting: The ideal class?

Today, based on recruiting analysts' rankings, The University of Texas will sign the top class of football prospects in the nation. Way back in mid-July of '01, that the Horns would reel in their second-in-four-seasons No. 1 group of prospects was anything but certain.

Sure, Texas already had 11 commitments -- QB Billy Don Malone, OLs Neale Tweedie and Bret Valdez, TE David Thomas, WR Dustin Miksch, DTs Earl Anderson and Sonny Davis, DE Lyle Sendlein, LBs Brian Robison and Marcus Myers and ATH Clint Haney -- but the class at the time had few highly-rated members. At least five -- Malone (who would eventually decommit, as would highly regarded but academic risk Anderson), Miksch, Robison, Myers and Haney -- could be considered part of Mack Brown's yearly group of "summer camp sleepers." Over the next six-and-a-half months, though, the Horns would land verbal pledges from a who's who of the state's and nation's top prospects, culminating with Flower Mound Marcus WR Robert Timmons, the 18th pledge over that period and commitment No. 27 overall, two days before Signing Day.

Timmons' commitment capped off an incredible recruiting run that saw just about every Texas target opt to play in Austin.

But return again to mid-summer. In the July 18 edition of the Inside Texas Fax Service, going on the assumption that UT would sign at minimum 25 players in Feb. '02, I wrote that the Horns were in position to take at least 14 more prospects (and quite possibly more) over the next six-and-a-half months.

I identified the "ideal group" of 15 as QB Vincent Young, DT Marco Martin, DT Rodrique Wright, DE Larry Dibbles, DE Travis Leitko, DE Chase Pittman, DE Bryan Pickryl, "partially because the Horns would wrest him away from home-state school Oklahoma," OL Justin Blalock, RB Albert Hardy, WR Timmons, WR Marquis Johnson, LB Marvin Byrdsong, LB Garnet Smith, CB Donald Burgs and ATH Edorian McCullough. That list, though, required the following disclaimer on my part: "Of course, there's still tons of time between now and Signing Day, so some of the names may drop off of this list and others may be added. Regardless, the Horns seem well positioned to haul in another top national class."

Well, I had the top national class part right, but few names dropped from that "ideal group." Matter of fact, Texas snagged 12 of the above. Only Leitko (Notre Dame), Byrdsong (Mississippi State) and Burgs (Colorado) will not play their college ball on the Forty Acres. And it's hard to count any of those three as a miss: Leitko, who may have ended up elsewhere even if the Horns had pursued him to the end, got caught in a numbers crunch at DE; Byrdsong, always a longshot because of qualification issues, will play in the SEC for professor Jackie Sherrill; and Burgs never pushed the top of the coaches' get-list. Midland Lee TE Eric Winston (Miami) represented UT's only true "loss" down the recruiting stretch.

The "wins" kept coming, though. In addition to the 12 studs listed above -- all of whom earned some national top 100 mentions -- Brown and staff also hauled in standouts LB Aaron Harris, who vaulted near the top of the state and national lists with a spectacular season, RB Selvin Young, Colorado DT Kasey Studdard, DE Tully Janszen, LB Michael Williams and DB Matthew Melton. Harris picked the Horns over the Aggies, Young, Janszen and Williams chose UT over OU and Studdard spurned Gary Barnett and home state Colorado to come to Austin. Several other prospects, including Dibbles, Pittman, Pickryl, Blalock, Smith and McCullough turned down the Sooners to become Horns.

Some are calling this Longhorn group the greatest Signing Day haul since scholarship limits. Most, if not all, recruiting analysts, say it's the best bunch by far in this year's race. Its ultimate success on the football field will determine whether that lofty praise is warranted, but to quote Brown from a previous Signing Day, "Whether you're No. 1, 5th or 10th, it's better than being 50th, it's better than being 116th, because as you study it, normally the teams that are in the top 10 in recruiting are in the top 10 at the end of the year." Texas earned its first top 10 finish in almost two decades after the '01 season and there's no doubt that that on-the-field success is partially attributable to the No. 1-ranked '99 class, plus the top-five-rated classes from '00 and '01. This latest February No. 1 should ensure that the Horns remain in the hunt for the early January No. 1 for years to come.

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