Texas A&M already has the nation's biggest recruiting class for 2012, with 21 players committed to next February's class. Of that group, 11 are on the ESPNU 150 Watch List. The official 150-man list is scheduled for release on June 8. I got in touch with our national recruiting director, Tom Luginbill, this week to break down the developments in College Station.
What are your impressions of this class right now?
Well, the first thing that jumps out is it's stunningly large. Usually you don't see this many verbal commitments out of anybody outside of usually the University of Texas, so it's very clear that they're making significant inroads within the state and seem to be resonating in a positive manner faster than ever before.
I would venture to say that there will be a minimum of five guys in the first edition of the ESPNU 150 that will be Texas A&M verbal commits. [Ed. note: The ESPNU 150 and position rankings are scheduled for a June 8 release.]
Now, with that being said, and here's the part we focus an awful lot on: Everybody seems to have the fixation on that five-star and four-star guy. But the reality of the situation is that the bulk of the roster of a top 25 team isn't made up of those guys. It's made up of the guys who were in the middle third and the bottom third of your class. Because if you took an 85-man roster and spread it over the course of four years and you have 3-4 classes with 20 guys in each class and the top 4-6 were five-star guys, that's only making up a quarter of those 85 guys, if that.
So the strength needs to come from the middle third or the bottom third of the class, and I would say that from probably the sixth or seventh guy down -- you get out of the way of the Matt Davises and the Trevor Knights and the Trey Williamses -- if you start looking at the next 6-8 guys, that's where I think the strength is at. And as good as the top-level and the big-name guys are, you look at the middle range guys in this class, and that's what stands out to me as being really impressive.
Where do you see this class once you release the first set of rankings?
That is so hard to answer, because first and foremost, I'll tell you this: The single thing I most despise doing is class rankings. Because it's nothing other than a projection on paper and it means absolutely nothing, but fans eat it up. So we recognize that. If I were to sit here and tell you, OK, we're going to be coming up on June 1 and ESPN said they wanted me to do a top 10 classes, there would be no question that this would be a class right now that would be in the top 5-7. No question. Where that stands come next February? You just don't know.
What were your impressions of the Aggies' 2011 class last year that signed in February?
I think last year was when you kind of started seeing maybe the transition of this coaching staff really cementing themselves, because it takes time to do that. That's not an easy thing to do. So we were impressed with it. We thought it was one of the top classes in the country. Not any, in my opinion, at the top end of the scale. Last year's class did not have anything near the top end of what this class looks to have right now. Twenty-three guys ended up signing with them. I'd say the top half of those guys are bona fide, BCS conference-caliber potential starters who can win games for you. This class this year, in comparison, could have 4-6 potential difference makers on top of what I mentioned earlier about that middle third that can be so important.
Why has recruiting for them been so much better this year?
It's a difficult question to answer, but I would venture to say that, again, the cohesiveness of the staff working together for an extended period of time and the type of individual that's out there. What programs are doing now is they're going out and they're getting that young, energetic grinder to hit the road, find players, resonate with the prospects, their parents and the high school coaches.
So, I think it can be attributed to the kind of staff he's put together, and the selling approach. Whatever they're selling, in terms of how they approach prospects -- because they've got to battle Texas, they've got to battle Oklahoma, to some degree they have to battle Oklahoma State with their emergence and Tommy Tuberville is making it tougher out at Texas Tech -- but whatever it is they're doing as far as the sales pitch of what they have to offer, for whatever reason, seems to be hitting home stronger than the predecessors, at least since R.C. Slocum.
It's tough to know exactly what that is, but there's something there that's obviously happening that hasn't been happening before.
If you put yourself in Mike Sherman's shoes, what would you be selling?
I would be selling tradition, BCS conference affiliation, the ability to contend for a conference championship. The facilities are as good, if not better, than any within the conference and within the country. There's a lot to offer. The following there is about as good as it gets.
If you're going to bring a kid in on an official visit, bring him in on a home game weekend, because that's an impressive atmosphere. So, I don't think there's any point in selling bowls. Everybody's going to bowl games. There's got to be something that sets you apart, and I think A&M has always been one of those schools that maybe has resources other programs don't that can give them an edge.
How much better can this class get then? How much more room will they have to sign a few more guys?
It's all going to depend on their numbers, because you can only go so far. You can manipulate your scholarships, you can oversign if you need to and you know you're going to be able to make room, but it's really more about the numbers. I wouldn't anticipate this class being any bigger than 26-29 total prospects, so they're going to be pretty close to being done. I don't think that they're too far off from that right now.
The difference right now, in my opinion, between Texas and Texas A&M, is when it comes to verbal commitments, very, very few times will Texas have to fight to keep a guy. They don't see guys swaying. They don't see guys decide to decommit. I think that's going to be more of a challenge for Texas A&M than it's going to be for the Texas Longhorns. Not only fulfilling the rest of the class, but the challenge of maintaining this level of a class over an extended period of time could be one of their greatest recruiting challenges.
It's a long way between now and February.
A question I get a lot is, with Texas falling last year, what is it going to take for Texas on the field before you really start seeing some problems on the recruiting trail for them?
I think you would have to see successive down seasons. I don't think there's any question about that. They're in such a unique position within the state, because there's not that constant battle to keep kids once they've committed, because they can get them so early and because they put so much time into their summer camp circuit. And they're seeing so many of these kids who have wanted to be a Longhorn since they were in the sixth grade.
They get them into camps as an eighth, ninth and 10th grader, and by the time it comes to their class, they know who they're going to get a couple years in advance, and they can kind of focus their efforts on the next class and beyond. And until that apple cart gets upset, if you will, you're not going to see too much of a significant change in Texas recruiting, unless you see successive losing seasons.
How many is successive?
I think you'd have to see a minimum of, not counting last year, another two after this. If you count last year, three total before you see a significant drop.
And if that happens, it obviously benefits everyone in the conference, but I think it would benefit A&M and Oklahoma the most.