The Texas A&M Aggies finished with the No. 18 ranked recruiting class according to the 247Sports Composite. It was a disappointing finish for a program that had finished in the top 11 spots each of the last three years. There are more worrying aspects to the finish, though.
Simply from a pride standpoint, it stings that the Aggies were seven spots behind the Texas Longhorns. It's the biggest deficit in ranking they've had since Kevin Sumlin's transitional class of 2012, when UT was second and TAMU was 16th. In the three years between then and now, A&M either finished ahead of Texas or, in the case of last year, just one spot behind it.
As I pointed out last year in a large piece about recruiting in the state of Texas though, the Horns' success last year hinged a decent amount on Charlie Strong mining his old SEC East stomping grounds and pulling four blue chip recruits from Florida and another from Georgia. In the Lone Star State, Texas A&M won the blue chip battle by getting ten of them to Texas's nine.
Well, that changed a lot this year. Texas stayed local with nine of its 11 blue chip signings this year coming from its home state. Texas A&M was only able to get six blue chip recruits from the state, the first time it lagged behind the Horns since 2012. There weren't a shortage of top rated players in Texas either, with the 52 blue chips available being the most since 2010's 54.
I speculated in that piece from last year that Strong might continue to mine the southeast, which would mean less competition from the Longhorns for top Texas recruits. That speculation, for this year anyway, was dead wrong. Strong's only out of state blue chippers were from Louisiana and California.
I also pointed out in that piece that SEC schools, not counting A&M itself, weren't getting more prospects out of the state of Texas after the Aggies' inclusion in the conference than before. There has been a theory out there that TAMU joining the SEC would allow other SEC teams to start getting more top prospects from the state. As of the 2015 recruiting class, that simply hadn't happened.
Well, 2016 appears to be the year when the barbarians finally broke down the gate. Non-A&M SEC schools landed 13 of the 52 blue chip prospects, an even 25% of them. Since 2006, the previous high was 17.1% of them in 2007. Alabama and Ole Miss each got four, LSU got three, and Arkansas and Florida each got one. Now, Florida's signee Tyrie Cleveland (who flipped yesterday from the University of Houston) spent most of his childhood in Jacksonville, FL, so he's not a true Texan. But factoring him out still leaves the non-A&M SEC schools with 23.1% of the Texas blue chippers, and that's still a clear high for the past decade.
Sumlin has been struggling to break through and get back up to the level he had in his first year when his team went 11-2 and actually finished second overall in the S&P+ rankings. Three quarterbacks have transferred out over the past two years, and now he's had his lowest rated class of his tenure. Texas is getting back to focusing on Texas—although it's uncertain how much longer Strong will be there. Supposedly the Longhorns would like replace him, if it came to that, with Tom Herman, who just got two blue chips and nearly got a third to the AAC's Houston. There likely wouldn't be any drop off of Longhorn recruiting in Texas for more than a year.
And on top of all that, Alabama, Ole Miss, and LSU collectively signed more Texan blue chip recruits this year than A&M did. If there was a wall of separation on the east border of Texas keeping out the SEC West, it's in bad shape if it's still standing at all.
Not only was the rank of 18 a disappointment, but the details don't bode well for the Aggies either. One year is only one year, of course, so we'll have to see if the past trends reemerge. It could be, though, that A&M's recruiting success of 2013-15 was as much a byproduct of instability of at Texas and the ability to sell the SEC brand during a time before SEC West schools had many ties inside the state as it was about Sumlin's ability to recruit. And not only that, but Sumlin's staff has lost great Texas recruiters in recent years without replacing them with other great Texas recruiters.
If so, Sumlin is going to need to work extra hard to get things back on the right track. At some point that $5 million-per-year contract is going to be less a reason to keep him from taking an NFL job and more a reason to get rid of him for underperforming his salary rate.