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Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Horns fighting off A&M for control of state

By William Wilkerson

If the state of Texas threw a sock hop for all of its universities, the Longhorns would be the popular student with the fancy, expensive attire that purposely arrived late to garner attention.

It'd turn heads, sure, but the buzz of the dance would be about that student with the flashy makeover (Texas A&M) who brought his hoity-toity friends one can tell aren’t from these parts (the rest of the SEC).
Mack Brown
Mack Brown and the Longhorns have owned recruiting in the state of Texas for the past several years.
The gossip by the punch bowl would then center on one question: Who ends up being the more popular student by the end of the dance?

If you take what happened over the course of the 2012-13 season and what continues to transpire on the 2013 recruiting trail, the easy answer would appear to be the Aggies.

They’ve got it all going for them right now from their bling (Heisman Trophy winner) and “Ag Swag” (top-10 finish to a season that ended with a walloping of the same Oklahoma team that torched Texas in October) to their cool new acquaintances who get everything they want (namely national championships) and hip parents (Kevin Sumlin’s locker room celebration after their win over Ole Miss speaks for itself).

That popular student (Texas) isn’t used to this type of attention being shown to one of its neighbors. Its last name is Jones, after all, and it's used to others trying to keep up with it.

But that’s what a few years of not reaching expectations will do to you. (Texas is 22-16 over the past three seasons.)

So how to does the popular student divert the attention back to itself? By mixing in a dose of what made it popular in the first place (10-plus-win seasons, high NFL draft picks, national championships and BCS bowl game appearances) with an added emphasis of keeping up with the new trends.

The Longhorns took a huge step in keeping up with those trends in August, when they began to officially offer scholarships to juniors before their visits in February for the first time in the Mack Brown era.

Back in August, just before fall camp, Brown acknowledged that the staff constantly evaluates its recruiting approach and that “you can’t be afraid of change,” which led to this shift in recruiting philosophy.

“[2014] seems to be a great class,” he said then. “A number of those young men wanted to go ahead and commit, and all of the guys were worried that we had not offered them. And then you get into the approval, the offer, how long do you wait and it's six months' difference, and we felt like we had a great hold on the evaluation process, and we had about a two-week discussion. Very honestly that was a pretty big change for us, and we felt like it was best for the time and moved forward and did it and feel good about where we are and moving forward with it.”

The return on those early offers has been impressive. Texas already has six 2014 commitments, with each being an ESPN Watch List member.

But the results are also alarming from Texas’ perspective if you look at what Texas A&M has done.

The Aggies already have three commitments (OLB Josh Walker, OLB Hoza Scott and ATH Nick Harvey) from players who also have Texas offers. Conversely, Texas has just one 2014 commitment that also has an A&M offer (Demetrius Knox).

It’s difficult to form an answer to the popularity question based off that small a sample size, especially with 12 uncommitted 2014 prospects still out there with offers from both schools. Their decisions will weigh heavily on how this question is answered.

In the meantime, the popular student (Texas) needs to talk to its new chaperone (Major Applewhite, who was promoted to co-offensive coordinator and will call plays in 2013) about changing up the music (offense) to the sock hop to something a little more edgy (spread, anyone?) and get out on the dance floor.

“We have gotten back to eight wins the last two years. We have a chance to get nine now, but it's time to take another step, and we are not an eight-win program,” Brown said before the Alamo Bowl. “I mean, that's not who we are. So the guys know that we need to step it up and do better, and they know offensively we would like to score more points. We really struggled last year offensively, did much better this year, but there's another step out there we need to take.”

Own the dance floor and others are bound to follow, right?