Most Texas football fans don’t track recruiting 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That’s what the recruiting websites are for. They don’t follow message boards or stalk 17-year-olds on Twitter, either.
A large majority of college football fans don’t pay too much attention until national signing day. It’s the only day that matters to Texas coach Charlie Strong.
Asked in mid-October if he was worried about Texas’ recruiting efforts, Strong said, “No, because I always say this: Signing day is not until the first Wednesday (of February), not until that day.”
The Longhorns’ 2016 recruiting class is incomplete. Waco cornerback Eric Cuffee pledged on Thursday, and Lil’Jordan Humphrey, a three-star running back/receiver from Southlake Carroll, announced his commitment on Saturday, but Texas still has only 15 pledges with three days to go.
Four key recruits, all thought to be favoring Texas, are scheduled to announce their intentions on signing day. On national TV, no less. It could be one of the most electric — or most disappointing — signing days in Texas history.
However, no one knows which quiet three-star recruit will become a freshman All-American. Nor can anyone say which brash three-star athlete will quit three days into training camp.
There’s not much to glean either way from Texas’ 34th overall position in the 247Sports composite team rankings. At this moment, it’s the fourth-best class in the Big 12. Texas has ranked first or second in the Big 12 rankings every year since 2005. That year, Oklahoma was first, Texas A&M second, Texas third.
Other websites have UT’s class ranked in the low 30s. Rivals has the class slotted 46th. Texas already has quarterback Shane Buechele, the nation’s fourth-best overall quarterback prospect, and Jean Delance, the 12th-best rated offensive lineman.
Buechele, receiver Collin Johnson, linebacker Demarco Boyd and offensive guard Zach Shackelford have all enrolled for the spring semester and will be freshmen in 2016.
Strong has not spoken publicly since the postgame press conference after the Baylor game, a 23-17 win capping a 5-7 campaign. He’s 11-14 overall after two years in Austin. Strong’s job security will become a hot topic in 2016 if the Horns stumble early. Per NCAA rules, no coach can comment on any recruit until the school receives a signed letter of intent.
Still, midway through last season, Strong downplayed a question about whether negative outside perceptions hurt recruiting.
“Well, I really don’t hear it, but as far as recruiting, this is the University of Texas,” Strong said. “The players are going to want to come here. So they can hear all the noise, but the ones that really want to come, they’re going to come anyway. I don’t let it bother me.”
It’s doubtful that UT will end up outside the top 25 nationally come Wednesday night. ESPN recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill said Friday that the Horns can “make a big jump” in the rankings if things fall right on signing day.
By toying around with 247Sports’ recruiting calculator, you discover that if Texas lands some of its top targets, the Horns can easily vault into the top 20 and almost into the top 10.
“We finishing top 3 I promise,” Manvel receiver Reggie Hemphill-Mapps tweeted earlier this month.
Bobby Burton, publisher of 247Sports, has long believed Strong’s emphasis on delaying the recruiting process works to the team’s advantage. By waiting to see game tape from a recruit’s senior season, it limits risk. Players who commit early might cruise through their senior year or not work hard in the weight room.
Three players still on the board fill a critical need: Defensive tackles D’Andre Christmas-Giles, Chris Daniels and Jordan Elliott.
Linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch is said to be leaning toward Texas, but the Horns would love to also land Erick Fowler and Dontavious Jackson. Both of those linebackers are thought to be looking elsewhere.
Brandon Jones, considered one of the nation’s best safeties, is giving Texas a long look, as is versatile defensive back Chris Brown.
Just reflecting on some things!! pic.twitter.com/G573hUQxhQ
— P-Hud (@pathud20) January 29, 2016
Strong and his coaching staff have plenty to discuss with recruits and their families. The coaching staff always talks up UT’s academic status and Strong’s five core values, including honesty, no stealing and no drugs.
Strong and new offensive assistants Sterlin Gilbert and Matt Mattox have been selling their vision for a new spread offense, one in the mold of Baylor’s wide-open attack.
The coaching staff played up how many young players dot UT’s depth chart. Linebacker Malik Jefferson and offensive linemen Connor Williams and Patrick Vahe each collected a freshman All-America honor last season. The department also put together a dynamic video showing how many youngsters made it onto the field.
Strong said numerous times last season he needed another solid recruiting class to bolster the team’s overall depth. Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said, “In all honesty, we need this next class to be better than last year’s.”
A solid finish would give the Longhorns bounce in their step heading into spring practice. And it would quiet those who think Strong is losing the perception battle.
“People are going to have opinions,” Strong said last season. “I always say this: You open up to public criticism, so let’s deal with it, but we can get it turned. Because if you win, you don’t have to worry about it.”