Friday, May 23, 2014
Tale of the tape: Texas-Texas A&M
By Damon Sayles
There are those who believe the rivalry between Texas and Texas A&M is dead because the two programs are no longer in the same conference.
Texas and Texas A&M are both after Kendall Sheffield, the No. 2 CB in the nation.
Those people are misguided. And emphatically incorrect.
Two words in February by new Texas head coach Charlie Strong helped light a new spark in the rivalry between two of the most respected programs in the Lone Star State. When asked about A&M’s recruiting methods -- which includes coach Kevin Sumlin making player visits in a helicopter dubbed the “Swagcopter” -- Strong said the Longhorns didn’t need to be a “gadget program,” as the university and its prestige still was enough to attract recruits.
The rest of the spring and the upcoming summer will be perfect opportunities to gauge where both programs stand among some of the elite athletes who are still uncommitted. Which school will dominate in recruiting the 2015 class?
CB Kendall Sheffield: Sheffield has his choice of schools, and both schools are high on his list. The nation’s No. 2 cornerback is eager to prove himself. The Aggies, who struggled in the secondary in 2013, could use a player of Sheffield’s magnitude. Can Texas A&M land him, or can the Longhorns make the right recruiting pitch to bring him in? He’s a fan of both coaches.
LB Malik Jefferson: For Jefferson, Texas and Texas A&M seemed to be the teams to beat early. Both teams could use a quality linebacker like Jefferson, but the Longhorns who had issues stopping the run last season. When defensive tackle Daylon Mack and safety Justin Dunning, his good friends, committed to the Aggies, many believed he would follow. Jefferson has taken his time with the process, and this will continue to be a great recruiting battle between the Longhorns and Aggies.
WR DaMarkus Lodge: When Lodge announced his top-10 list in January, Texas A&M made the cut and Texas did not. Before that announcement, many believed Lodge was a lock for Texas. Lodge said he didn’t know the new Longhorns staff at the time. It’s uncertain if there’s still time for the Longhorns to win him over. Texas A&M might have an inside track, as former Cedar Hill High School teammate LaQuvionte Gonzalez just finished his freshman season at A&M.
CB Kris Boyd: Boyd is excited about having an offer from Texas, but when he raved on Twitter about a new offer from Texas A&M last week, many believed it wasn’t a matter of if, but when he would commit to the Aggies. The Longhorns, however, still believe they are strong contenders in the race for Boyd, and Strong has proven -- before coaching a game for Texas -- that he can recruit against anyone. Whichever school wins will get a solid cover corner.
DT Du’Vonta Lampkin: When Lampkin decommitted from Oklahoma in April, the fight for Lampkin seemed to focus on three schools -- Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma. Lampkin has said several times that the Sooners are still very much alive in his recruiting, and his decommitment was a chance for him to see other schools. The Longhorns and Aggies both could use a quality defensive lineman, and Lampkin would be a valuable get.
What Sumlin is selling: Recent success in college football’s best conference tends to be an easy sell, particularly when dealing with the in-state players. The program has been successful in the SEC, and it’s been able to boast about producing several NFL players in recent years. Sumlin also can sell early playing time to athletes, as six true freshmen and two redshirt freshmen started at least one game in 2013. Sumlin isn’t worried about seniority; he’s worried about playing the best athletes, winning games and giving his team a chance to win championships and bowl games.
What Strong is selling: Ask Strong about his objective and he’ll be the first to admit that he wants to bring a new mental attitude to the program. The Strong era hopes to have a similar, if not better, win-loss percentage as the Mack Brown era, and he’s selling his résumé to recruits and his knowledge of the game to the coaches of recruits. At Louisville, Strong compiled a 37-15 record in four seasons, but it was his 23-3 record in his final two seasons that wakes up recruits who are somewhat unfamiliar with him. Add that in with the extensive tradition the Longhorns have and it makes for a believable pitch. Strong is ready to show off what he thinks is an improved program -- and at the same time, quiet his critics.
2015 prediction: The first year for a new coach at a well-known program typically is tough, but Strong has been just fine. However, look for Texas A&M to grab a few more of the top prospects from Texas -- at least in comparison to its Austin counterpart. Many athletes want to see the Longhorns on the field before they make a final decision, and this advantage favors the Aggies in the short term. Texas A&M might have to focus on is making sure its top in-state targets choose not to commit to other programs. Oklahoma is a hot ticket for athletes right now, as is Baylor, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. TCU also is a school to watch, as it got off to a very hot start with 2015 recruiting. And then there are the out-of-state powers such as Alabama, LSU, Ohio State and Stanford, which have recruited the state well.