- Jake Trotter, ESPN Staff Writer
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Anyone who still wondered whether Charlie Strong could recruit can stop wondering.
In their first full year in Austin, Strong and his staff have put together a defensive class that is the envy of college football.
The Longhorns alone have seven ESPN 300 defenders committed, and they could add an eighth on signing day in five-star defensive tackle Daylon Mack, who will announce between Texas, TCU and Texas A&M.
The rest of the Big 12 combined has only eight ESPN 300 defensive commits.
This has all the makings of a foundational 2015 class that could finally lead Texas out of the desert and back to the oasis of national prominence.
Except for one gigantically glaring missing piece.
A piece the Longhorns have desperately longed for since the days of Vince Young and Colt McCoy.
That's right, a quarterback.
Despite boasting a remarkable class at almost every other position, Texas heads into signing day week without a quarterback on board, following one big recruiting gamble that backfired.
The Longhorns spent the last month going after Texas A&M commit Kyler Murray, the No. 1-ranked quarterback in the country, only to see Murray stick with the Aggies, where his father was a two-time All-American. It was a worthy gamble. Though only 5-foot-11, Murray possesses a transformational talent that could have changed Texas' fortunes at the most critical of positions.
But this roll of the dice has left the Longhorns in quarterback limbo yet again.
Three days before signing day, the Longhorns now have one final recourse at quarterback in this class: flipping Florida State commit Kai Locksley, who visited Austin last weekend.
Landing Locksley would be better than landing no one. After all, he's an ESPN 300 athlete. But Locksley is not Murray, at least not now. And just like Tyrone Swoopes, Locksley is a developmental quarterback. Not one seemingly ready to impact the Longhorns in 2015.
Texas actually once owned a pledge from a more polished thrower in ESPN 300 pocket passer Zach Gentry, who committed in May. But as Texas went all in on Murray, Gentry flipped his commitment to Michigan. The pro-style quarterback cited concerns the Longhorns were morphing into a spread attack, though he couldn't have been enamored with Texas' full-court pursuit of Murray, either.
If the Longhorns strike out on Locksley, they could still bring in three-star commit Matthew Merrick, if only to add a third passer for depth purposes. But Merrick was slated to grayshirt, underscoring where he fell into the immediate plans.
Either way, unless the Longhorns land a high-profile transfer (Everett Golson? Braxton Miller?) they are essentially back to where they were last season, when they owned one of the three-worst offenses in the Big 12.
After taking over for David Ash, Swoopes gained steam into October, nearly spearheading Texas to an upset of Oklahoma before rallying the Longhorns to a 48-45 win against Iowa State. Swoopes, however, sputtered the rest of the way, and the Texas offense flatlined in losses to TCU and Arkansas to end the season, confirming serious doubts as to whether he could ever lead the Longhorns to a Big 12 title.
After Swoopes, all Texas has coming back is Jerrod Heard, who redshirted last season. Heard was a four-star signee after taking Denton Guyer to a pair of state titles. But unlike Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph and Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes, who shined as true freshmen, Heard, by all accounts, was not ready to step on the field, despite Texas' struggles at the position.
Heard might be Texas' answer at quarterback, and could very well overtake Swoopes for the starting job this spring.
Then again, he might not.
What is known is that Texas will not win the Big 12 again until it gets elite quarterback play again.
This past season, the Longhorns featured arguably the best defense in the Big 12, and that barely got them to six wins.
A dominant defense can take a team a long way in the Big 12. But history has proven it can't take a team all the way to the top.
With this incoming class, it probably won't be long before Strong features another ferocious defense. But without a premier quarterback, that probably still won't be enough.
That's why Strong went so hard after Murray. Virtually everywhere else, this has the makings of an extraordinary signing class.
But without the quarterback, it is not complete.