AUSTIN, Texas -- The benchmark for elite Texas recruiting classes is and might always be 2002.
The consensus No. 1 class in the nation featured a kid from Houston named Vincent Young plus 10 others who would go on to start in Texas’ 2006 Rose Bowl national title win over USC.
Since then, coach Mack Brown has signed five more classes that earned top-three rankings from ESPN. His 2014 class, currently the nation’s best and biggest, has a chance to join that impressive company.
Former ESPN 150 quarterback Connor Brewer was Texas' first commit in the 2012 class.
All five of those top-three ranked classes have had one notable trait in common: Each were already in terrific shape going into the month of May, both in talent and pure numbers.
This current class started earlier than ever in Brown’s tenure. It already has 14 committed and is still in the hunt for a large group of elite uncommitted prospects, including more than 10 ranked in the ESPN 150.
Having 14 on board is nice, but nothing new for the Longhorns. The five top-three classes -- 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2012 -- all had 15 or more of its eventual signees committed by May 1.
There might be nothing inherently special about this date, as no event or deadline that sets it apart. It does serve as a good barometer for progress, however.
The spring evaluation period ends and 7-on-7 football begins in May. In the past two years, nearly 60 percent of the state’s four-star prospects had picked their college by the end of May.
That percentage could very well be higher than ever before, but keep in mind that each of those five top Texas classes since 2006 dashed out of the gate early with pledges in February.
The class of 2012, for example, started off with a commitment from quarterback Connor Brewer on Feb. 7. By the start of May, 14 other eventual signees had joined him. The biggest fish of them all, No. 2 overall recruit Johnathan Gray, pulled the trigger on April 22.
That class finished with 28 signees, which made it unlike any of its highly touted predecessors to some extent. In those four other years, Texas locked up its sizeable classes in the spring and then held steady until the fall season.
In fact, the Longhorns’ 2010 class already had 19 signees on board by May 1 and, after defensive end Reggie Wilson on March 20, didn’t land another one until October 29. It didn’t need to, as Texas finished with a class of 25 and a No. 2 national ranking.
That class also set an impressive gold-star standard. The Longhorns finished with 15 ESPN 150 signees in 2010 and haven’t had a top-three ranked class without signing at least eight.
The 2014 edition only has two, defensive end Derick Roberson and quarterback Jerrod Heard, in the fold thus far. Securing many more will be a must if this Texas class hopes to finish among the nation’s best once again.
By the way, what about that 2002 class? The Longhorns’ standard-setting group, the one that set the table for a national title, picked up its first commit, offensive lineman Brett Valdez, in April of 2001. Texas didn’t begin landing the bulk of its commitments until later in June.
Back then, this was considered early recruiting, which just goes to show you how much the recruiting game has changed.
It’s also a good reminder that, no matter how highly this 2014 class is ranked next February, it won’t go down as one of Brown's best without producing some more national title contenders.