To salvage a rocky season, Texas football is in need of an 11th hour rally.
Not only on the field, where the Longhorns must win their final two games to earn a bowl berth, but also in recruiting.
Especially in recruiting.
Acquiring more game-changing talent is perhaps the only chance Charlie Strong has of digging out of the hole his program is in, but thus far, his efforts have been decidedly uninspiring this season.
With 11 weeks to go before national signing day on Feb. 3, Texas’ class checks in at 50th-best in the country and, perhaps even more alarming, includes only one recruit ranked among the state’s top 25 prospects. Worse yet, Navasota four-star receiver Tren’Davian Dickson, the national record-holder for touchdown catches in a season, recently flipped his commitment from Texas to Baylor.
Yet defenders of the class believe Strong’s staff is just getting started, and are banking on a flurry of activity similar to last year when Texas, sparked by the Dec. 19 commitment of five-star linebacker Malik Jefferson — the state’s top-rated player — landed 11 four or-five star prospects after the regular season had ended; they had only three four-star commitments entering the offseason. The Longhorns’ class ended up ranked No. 9 nationally in 247Sports’ composite ratings.
“I think they’re in really good shape right now,” said Bobby Burton, publisher of 247Sports. “Surprisingly good shape, given their season.”
Of the state’s top 25 players, Burton counts 10 who have interest in Texas, plus Longhorns commitment Shane Buechele, the state’s top quarterback from Arlington Lamar.
It may not be a stretch to suggest Strong’s fate at Texas might rest in how much talent he can round up by signing day. In August, Strong told USA Today, “I need to have a good class with 2016 to match this class I just had. If I can do that, I’ll have me something.”
Yet, top players aren’t busting down Strong’s door. Of Texas’ 12 commitments, just three — Buechele and receivers Collin Johnson and Reggie Hemphill-Mapps — are ranked above three stars. The state’s top two players, Allen offensive tackle Gregory Little and Spring Westfield defensive tackle Ed Oliver, are not considering the Longhorns.
Last week, defensive coordinator Vance Bedford pointed to the 2015 class as reason for optimism.
“Last year, be frank, our coaches did a great job working, but we got lucky,” defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said. “You look at the three corners we signed. They’re pretty doggone good. They didn’t commit until January. All three of them. Ask me those questions on signing day and I can give you a really good answer, good or bad.”
2016 Texas Longhorns recruiting class
Here's a look at the recruits who have committed to Texas coach Charlie Strong for the 2016 recruiting cycle. Star rankings from 247sports. Oral commitments are non-binding. National signing day is Feb. 3.
Player Pos. School Stars Committed
Collin Johnson WR San Jose (V. Christ.), Calif. 4 4/17/2014
Reggie Hemphill-Mapps WR Manvel 3 10/4/2014
Demarco Boyd ILB Gilmer 3 1/30/2015
Shane Buechele QB Arlington Lamar 4 2/23/2015
Tope Imade OG Arlington Bowie 3 5/26/2015
Gerald Wilbon DT Destrehan (La.) 3 6/17/2015
Peyton Aucoin TE New Orleans (La.) Martin 3 7/24/2015
Malcolm Roach DE Baton Rouge (La.) 3 11/6/2015
Andrew Fitzgerald DE Flower Mound 4 11/12/2015
Denzel Okafor G Lewisville 4 11/14/2015
Davion Curtis WR Temple 3 11/19/2015
Jean Delance OT North Mesquite 4 1/2/16
Zach Shackelford G Belton 3 1/17/16
Eric Cuffee CB Waco 4 1/28/16
Lil'Jordan Humphrey WR Southlake Carroll 3 1/30/16
Kyle Porter RB Katy 4 2/2/16
D'Andre Christmas-Giles DT New Orleans (La.) 3 2/2/16
Marcel Southall DT Duncanville 3 2/3/16
Chris Daniels DT Euless Trinity 4 2/3/16
Brandon Jones S Nacogdoches 4 2/3/16
Erick Fowler LB Manor 4 2/3/16
Chris Brown S Alief Elsik 3 2/3/16
Jeffrey McCulloch LB Aldine Davis 4 2/3/16
Jordan Elliott DT Houston Westside 4 2/3/16
Devin Duvernay WR Sachse 4 6/22/16
JP Urquidez OT Copperas Cove 4 6/25/16
Unlike last year, Strong can expect to be confronted on the recruiting trail by questions about his job security. Staring at a second straight losing season, the common belief is that 2016 will be a make-or-break year for Strong, whose team is 4-6 heading into a Thanksgiving game against Texas Tech. Texas is 10-13 overall since he took over the program.
Still in play for the Longhorns are five-star prospects Patrick Hudson, an offensive tackle from Silsbee who may be wavering on his commitment to Baylor, and the nation’s top-ranked safety, Nacogdoches’ Brandon Jones. Either of them could serve as a bell cow and bring additional talent to Austin, much like Jefferson did a year ago.
Manor outside linebacker Erick Fowler, an LSU pledge and the state’s No. 13 player, has not ruled out the Longhorns and could be swayed to join his friend Sam Ehlinger, a 2017 quarterback from Westlake who has committed to Texas.
Texas will also make a run at Manvel wide receiver Deontay Anderson (No. 8), North Mesquite offensive tackle Jean Delance (No. 14), Houston Westside defensive tackle Jordan Elliott (No. 15) and Alief Elsik linebacker Dontavious Jackson (No. 17).
Bedford said there’s “a bunch of top dogs out there.”
“When all is said and done, I think we’re gonna get the needs that we have in recruiting,” Bedford said.