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How Kevin Sumlin and SEC Status at Texas A&M Changed Recruiting in the Region

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The coaching and conference change made a difference.

Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, I covered how Texas A&M's recruiting has changed since its move to the SEC. I noted in that post that it's impossible to separate the effect of the SEC move from the effect of Kevin Sumlin's arrival, hence the headline you see above.

The last section of that piece covers how Texas A&M's quality of recruiting in terms of blue chip recruits—that is, 4-star and 5-star players—has been on the rise. I wasn't just satisfied to know that the Aggies were luring more blue chip recruits. I wanted to know at whose expense A&M was getting this new talent infusion.

I took a look at the last decade of recruiting classes for the major programs in and around the state of Texas who land blue chip prospects from the Lone Star State, as that is the place where TAMU gets most of its players. I specifically looked at Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M, TCU, and Texas Tech. I also broke down the power conferences as wholes, including the SEC (not including A&M) and the Big 12 (not including the singled out programs). The ACC, Big Ten, and "Other", which includes Notre Dame and non-power conference teams, took few enough Texas blue chip recruits that I will not discuss them in depth below.

All figures in this piece come from Rivals.com, to remain consistent with the prior posts this week.

Let's kick this off by talking about where blue chip recruits from Texas go. Here are their top destinations in terms of what percentage of them went where.

Season 1st Destination 2nd Destination 3rd Destination 4th Destination
2006 Texas, 28.6% Oklahoma, 14.3% SEC, 11.9% OSU, 9.5%
2007 Texas, 41.5% SEC, 17.1% OU/TAMU, 9.8% -
2008 Texas, 22.4% Oklahoma, 18.4% Pac/TAMU, 12.2% -
2009 Texas, 23.6% SEC, 16.4% Oklahoma, 10.9% Big 12/Other, 9.1%
2010 Texas, 35.2% Texas A&M, 13.0% OU/SEC 11.1% -
2011 Texas, 35.7% Oklahoma, 16.7% Big 12/TTU, 9.5% -
2012 Texas, 35.0% Texas A&M, 17.5% Bay/Pac/SEC/TTU, 7.5% -
2013 Texas A&M, 26.7% Texas, 20.0% B1G/Pac/SEC, 8.9% -
2014 Texas A&M, 27.6% Texas, 20.7% SEC, 13.8% Pac-12, 10.3%
2015 Texas A&M, 21.7% Texas, 19.6% OU/SEC, 13.0% -

As a reminder, "SEC" never includes Texas A&M, and "Big 12" doesn't include any of the Texas or Oklahoma schools.

It should come as no surprise that Texas recruits largely either stay at home or only cross the northern border to Oklahoma. Something you may not have realized is that SEC schools were already getting into the state for talent pretty regularly long before the Aggies switched conferences. Also, check out how Texas Tech appears only in 2011 and 2012. Tommy Tuberville may have been a bad fit in Lubbock, but he did the most high end recruiting of the school's recent run of head coaches.

"Big 12" only appears sporadically and never after 2011. That alone shouldn't be surprising since I basically gutted it of its top Texas recruiting schools, leaving behind Iowa State, the Kansas schools, and the like. Its appearances largely have to do with now-departed Nebraska and occasional bursts from Kansas State. With B1G-era Nebraska having phased out a lot of its Texas recruiting, Bill Snyder as content as ever to win without blue chips, and West Virginia's inability to land VHTs from the southwest, the "Big 12" leftover category has just one Texas blue chip signing since 2012. That is one definite area where some recruiting capacity has freed up for others to move in.

Perhaps the most noticeable change is TAMU taking over for Texas in the top spot in 2013. Each year since that one has its own story. In 2013, UT only signed 15 players while A&M signed 32. That'll make a difference. In 2014, it was a transitional class for new Longhorn head coach Charlie Strong. In 2015, Strong used some of his old connections to open up new opportunities and signed four blue chip recruits from Florida plus one from Georgia. Turn just those Sunshine State players into Lone Star State players, and UT would've taken the crown back last year. Only 60% of Texas's blue chip signees came from its home state this past February; the previous low in the last decade was 82.4% in 2012.

Now, I'm going to break things down into two eras: 2006-11 and 2012-15. I'm going to show you how the various schools' and conferences' abilities to pull in blue chip recruits from Texas have changed.

Team TX BC Pct. 2006-11 TX BC Pct. 2012-15 Difference
Texas A&M 8.5% 23.1% 14.6%
Baylor 2.5% 6.9% 4.4%
Pac-10/12 6.4% 8.8% 2.4%
TCU 2.1% 2.5% 0.4%
SEC 11.7% 10.6% -1.0%
Texas Tech 4.9% 3.8% -1.2%
Oklahoma State 5.3% 2.5% -2.8%
Oklahoma 13.4% 7.5% -5.9%
Big 12 7.1% 0.6% -6.4%
Texas 30.7% 23.8% -7.0%

The gains total 21.8 percentage points, while the losses total 24.4 percentage points. The remainder of the losses is explained by individual and non-sustained events involving schools not listed here, such as when Florida State and Notre Dame randomly take Texas players or when now-Houston head coach Tom Herman helped Ohio State get three of them in 2013.

The combination of Sumlin and the SEC led Texas A&M to be the biggest gainer here. The Aggies used to only sign 8.5% of the blue chip recruits in Texas on average, but now they get 23.1%. That is still behind Texas's 23.8% in the same span, but only just. I will note that the SEC is mostly flat but slightly down. The theory that A&M joining the SEC would result in a flood of top talent out of the state to the conference's other teams is not supported by the data.

The Aggies aren't the only gainer. Baylor has done better too, which makes sense given the leap the program has made under Art Briles. The Pac-10/12 enjoyed an uptick as well, although it's kind of a funny thing. That conference has been taking about three or four Texas players a year consistently through the last decade, but the total number of blue chip recruits per year in Texas was smaller from 2012-15 than it was in 2006-11. Sometimes a fraction increases because the numerator gets bigger, but here, it's because the denominator got smaller.

I already noted that the non-Oklahoma/Texas Big 12 fell off, and I discussed UT as well. Oklahoma is the other big loser here and is probably the single best candidate for the question of who is losing because Texas A&M is winning. It signed at least six Texas blue chip recruits in all but one year from 2006-11, but it signed two, three, and one from 2012-14 right as TAMU was suddenly signing a lot more.

OU finally recovered with six in its 2015 class, but it is possible—though nothing I could possibly prove—that the recovery had a lot to do with Strong looking more to the southeast and using his program's home state less for blue chip talent. There also is the matter of Bob Stoops's staff having gone a bit stale in recent years, as evidenced by many of the changes that happened this past winter. OU only ended up with five of its 24 commitments coming after the earliest of those changes, though, and just two of the five were blue chippers. Let's come back to Oklahoma in the next section.

To finish, I wanted to see if the trends of recruiting Texas blue chip players corresponded with changes in blue chip recruiting outside the state. And for this, I left the conferences out of it to avoid getting bogged down with extraneous information about how programs like Washington State and Kentucky recruit.

I'm going to throw a table in front of you now and then explain what it means.

Team Overall BC Change TX BC Change Non-TX BC Change
Texas A&M 24.8% 14.6% 10.1%
Baylor 7.0% 4.4% 2.6%
TCU 0.2% 0.4% -0.2%
Oklahoma State -5.1% -2.8% -2.3%
Texas Tech -7.1% -1.2% -5.9%
Oklahoma -12.0% -5.9% -6.0%
Texas -19.6% -7.0% -12.7%

Look at the top row only for now. The proportion of Texas A&M's 2012-15 recruiting classes that was made of blue chip recruits went up 24.8 percentage points versus 2006-11. The Aggies' classes had been made up of only 23.2% blue chippers before 2012, but since 2012 they've been made up of 48.0% blue chip recruits.

The percentage point increase breaks down like this: 14.6 percentage points of the increase are due to blue chips coming from inside Texas, 10.1 percentage points of the increase are due to blue chips coming from outside Texas, and 0.1 percentage points of the increase are due to rounding weirdness in Excel.

Go down a row. Baylor's recent classes have seen a seven percentage point increase in their blue chip content. Roughly two thirds of that comes from increases in Texas blue chip recruiting, while about a third is due to increases in blue chip recruiting outside Texas. Look at Texas Tech. The Red Raiders' classes have roughly the same proportion of Texas blue chippers in them, but they've fallen way off in bringing in top talent from outside the state.

Now, let's get back to Oklahoma. Only 29.2% of its 2013 class and 33.3% of its 2014 class were made of blue chip recruits from anywhere, which is far below its blue chip percentages from before those years as well as below the 58.3% it had in 2015. Those figures also tend to support a narrative in which OU suffered due to A&M's rise for a couple years before a rebound that clearly didn't come at the Aggies' expense. So does the fact that, according to Rivals.com, 64% of the blue chip players Sumlin signed in 2013-14 also had offers from OU, compared to just 33.3% of the blue chips the school signed the three classes prior. That last stat must be taken with a grain of salt, though, given that information on who had offers from whom gets sketchier the farther back in time you go.

One program I haven't discussed yet is Oklahoma State. Its blue chip rates are just down across the board from 2006-11 to 2012-15. Its run of signing Texas blue chip players in the prior period went 4-3-2-2-2-2. In the latter period, it's been 0-2-1-1. As with Oklahoma, more of the blue chip players A&M has landed of late had Oklahoma State offers than in the past (with the same caveat about offer data applying here).

I'll finish this all up with Texas. Many of Mack Brown's late career classes had very high percentages of blue chip players: 75.0% in 2007, 70.0% in 2009, 84.0% in 2010, and 72.7% in 2011. Sumlin's best so far at A&M has only been 61.9% (his 2014 class). Brown's final two classes fell some, with 60.7% 2012 and 60.0% in 2013. He'd had classes in that range before—52.0% in 2006, 60.0% in 2008—but not twice in a row. Strong's transitional class only had a 26.1% blue chip percentage, reflecting both the difficulty of transitional classes and the bottom falling out of Brown's program.

Strong got it back up to 51.7% in 2015. That's a nice rebound, but it's not back up to the level of most of Brown's final classes. We'll see where that goes in the future, as well as to what extent that it matters. Louisville just put 10 Strong recruits into the NFL, and only one of his four classes there rated above the 40s at 29th overall in 2011. It's possible that A&M's recruiting rise means a new normal where Texas's blue chip percentage tends to be in the 50s and 60s instead of 60s and 70s, while at the same time improved coaching and development by Strong and his staff means UT wins more games anyway.

Ultimately, so much that goes on in recruiting is interrelated that teasing out the precise effect of something like A&M's conference and coaching switch can be difficult to nail down. The only way to know for sure would be to interview every recruit and have them analyze their own decisions based on many different factors, and even that won't tell you everything because people lie on surveys and don't always realize the true motivations behind their choices.

I feel comfortable in saying that A&M's recruiting gains came at the expense of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, and those gains probably were in large part just beating out those schools for players. The gains did come some at Texas's expense too, but in addition to beating out the Longhorns for players, some of that had to do with the natural recruiting decline that comes from a long coaching tenure's decay and some of it was from Strong looking outside the state far more than his predecessor ever did. A&M's advances don't appear to have hurt TCU or Baylor, while I'd call the data regarding Texas Tech inconclusive.