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Monday, January 28, 2013
Texas recruiting misses: 2008

By Carter Strickland

AUSTIN, Texas -- Recruiting is all about choices.

Some are good. Some are bad. And sometimes teams don’t even get a chance to make a choice. Players just want to go elsewhere.

With all that in mind, HornsNation decided to take a look at the top players in Texas, as rated by ESPN, who did go elsewhere – aka not the Texas program -- in the past five years. It’s a look back at what could have been.

Andrew Luck
Houston product Andrew Luck helped revive Stanford.
Player: Andrew Luck
Position: Quarterback
ESPN ranking: No. 61 in ESPN 150
Schools interested: Rice, Northwestern, Purdue
Signed with: Stanford

Might as well start with the biggest miss. Well, even that can be argued. Luck didn’t win the Heisman like the other big miss of the 2008 class. But he was the NFL’s top pick and rejuvenated Stanford’s program.

All of Luck’s accomplishments are made more difficult to swallow for Texas fans because the Longhorns really didn’t even go after the Houston (Stratford) product with that much gusto. Never mind that he was the No. 61 prospect in the ESPN 150 back in 2008. And it wasn’t that Texas wasn’t completely uninterested in Luck. The Longhorns got him to campus. But they didn’t offer. Apparently the Longhorns weren’t sold on Luck or the idea of recruiting a quarterback in 2008.

The class, which was rated No. 11 by ESPN, did not feature a quarterback.

Instead Texas’ top priorities were wide receiver. They grabbed three of ESPN’s top 150 in D.J. Grant, who became a tight end, as well as Dan Buckner and DeSean Hales, two players who didn’t make it through all five years at Texas.

The Longhorns were set at quarterback with Colt McCoy. Even if they had recruited and somehow signed Luck, it is not a certainty that he would have helped Texas stave off the down years if 2010 and 2011. Luck would have redshirted 2008 and sat behind McCoy in 2009. Texas signed Garrett Gilbert in 2009. There is a question as to whether Gilbert or Luck would have been McCoy’s backup and played in the 2009 title game. Gilbert was the higher rated prospect, and Texas still might have wanted to give him a shot.

Almost assuredly there would have been a quarterback battle heading into 2010. It would be natural to project Luck the winner. But Gilbert was very talented. And a quarterback battle can erode the confidence of a player and make for strange choices.

At worst Luck would have been the starter midway through 2010. By then the Texas coaches had lost the team and maybe not even Luck’s transcendent talent and leadership ability would have been able to pull the program from the brink.

Robert Griffin
Robert Griffin III, of Copperas Cove, Texas, won a Heisman Trophy at Baylor.
Player: Robert Griffin III
Position: Quarterback
ESPN ranking: 40th rated quarterback
Schools interested: Houston, Kansas, Nebraska, Tennessee
Signed with: Baylor

Now, all these years later, Texas coach Mack Brown said he doesn’t even remember having a conversations with his staff about what position best suited RG3 back when he was a recruit. So he was labeled an athlete. And that is what Texas offered him as. There is some controversy among the staff at the time as to who was responsible for the miss. Larry Mac Duff, the defensive coordinator, had RG3’s hometown of Copperas Cove, Texas, as part of his territory but said he was not part of the quarterback evaluation that year, so the blame does not lie with him.

And again, Texas had McCoy and was already keeping an eye on Gilbert at nearby Lake Travis High. Plus the Longhorns did not put a high priority on QB in the 2008 class.

Had RG3 come to Texas it is not a certainty that he would have ever been given a shot at quarterback. Texas was invested in McCoy as the present quarterback and Gilbert as the future. Plus, with hindsight being 20/20, it has become clear that the staff had allowed its acumen in evaluating and placing talent to erode by this time of their tenure.

LaMichael James
LaMichael James, of Texarkana, Texas, helped lead the Oregon Ducks to the BCS Championship Game in January 2011.
Player: LaMichael James
Position: Running back
ESPN ranking: No. 24 running back
Schools interested: Minnesota, Mississippi State, TCU, Nebraska
Signed with: Oregon

Texas typically only takes the top prospects in the state at running back, and James wasn’t in the top three. James was not ranked in his state or the region by ESPN. Still, then-running backs coach Ken Rucker got a personal look at James. Additionally, Texas did not have a big-time running back in their sights. (They signed Tre Newton and Jeremy Hills, two players rated lower than James. Jermie Calhoun, the state’s top-rated RB prospect that year went to Oklahoma. But Texas decided to pass.

James went on to become one of the most prolific rushers in the FBS at Oregon and an NFL running back.

Texas almost certainly could have used James. McCoy led the Longhorns in rushing in 2008 and was second in 2009. James was the Pac-10’s offensive freshman of the year in 2009 and rushed for 1,546 yards. Texas' leading rusher, Newton, had 552 rushing yards.

Had Texas signed James and exploited his talents, the team might not have been so reliant on the pass during that 2009 season. That, in turn, might have forced Alabama to play the run instead of just McCoy in the title game. Of course, McCoy was injured in that game trying to run an option.

James might have also been able to help take the pressure of Gilbert in 2010. Again, a running game would have allowed Texas to be balanced and Gilbert to have a release valve of some sort. Instead the Longhorns kept dropping back to pass, and Gilbert kept throwing it to the other team.