- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
Texas’ fall from grace as a recruiting superpower should’ve been swift and painful.
In 2010 and 2011, the Longhorns went a combined 13-12. There’s no escaping that number. For opposing coaches looking to do some negative recruiting against UT, it doesn’t -- or at least it shouldn’t -- get much easier than that.
They could say Mack Brown was losing touch or that he could retire at any moment. They might argue that no matter how many new assistants he brings in or how many changes he makes, the program is trending in the wrong direction.
Yet, despite everything that has been wrong with Texas -- real and perceived -- the Longhorns signed the nation’s No. 3 class in February, and the No. 5 class the previous year.
Texas hasn’t stopped selling the tradition and family atmosphere it offered before this two-year dip, but one thing has changed: Early playing time is now easily attainable.
Since that brutal 5-7 season in 2010, Texas has played a total of 34 true freshmen. That’s 70 percent of its signees in the past two years earning immediate playing time.
Those who have inked letters of intent with the Longhorns in the past two years have said they did so to bring the program back to prominence, to return it to national title contender status.
In order to get back to that plateau, Brown had to adjust his philosophy.
His staff’s tradition of locking up the majority of its class by summer’s end was trashed in 2011 for a full-out assault that saw 10 signees give their pledges in December or later. That included eight who were previously committed elsewhere, highlighted by a rare signing-day steal of LSU commit Shiro Davis.
Texas has pursued junior college transfers more than ever before. The Longhorns have accepted commitments from 2014 prospects earlier in the recruiting cycle than at any time in Brown’s history at UT. After years of sticking to the same approach, UT coaches have embraced change.
And so far, it’s working. The Longhorns seem to be inching closer to their previous prestige. But plenty of schools are lining up to threaten their recruiting dominance in the state of Texas.
Texas A&M and first-year coach Kevin Sumlin have a program with considerable buzz right now, and one that has fared quite well on the recruiting trail in 2012. And then there are the rest of the Aggies' new SEC cronies. Alabama, LSU and the rest of the league have hit this state hard in 2012 and have offered most of Texas’ top prospects. The Longhorns are in for some legitimate recruiting battles going forward.
The Longhorns will continue to have the pick of the litter in their state every February as a new recruiting cycle begins, but losing battles for four key in-state ESPN 300 prospects this year did teach a lesson.
Texas lost cornerback Maurice Smith (Sugar Land, Texas/Dulles) to Alabama, athlete Dontre Wilson (DeSoto, Texas/DeSoto) to Oregon, receiver Robbie Rhodes (Fort Worth, Texas/Southwest) to Baylor and defensive end Torrodney Prevot (Houston/Alief Taylor) to USC.
Those battles served as a reminder that Texas can’t get everyone it wants just yet. Not until it starts contending for national titles again.
But the nosedive is over. Now it’s up to Texas’ recent recruiting classes to decide what comes next.