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Eyes on Texas: Not to ‘make excuses,’ Del Conte points to attrition for Longhorns’ woes

Horns have lost roughly half of the 2018, 2019 recruiting classes. But how much talent does it take to reach bowl eligibility?

Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte wants the fan base to understand why the Longhorns don’t have enough talent to beat Kansas, one of the worst Power Five football programs in America.

“This isn’t to cast any blame or make excuses; it’s just factual that we have some real depth issues,” Del Conte wrote in his weekly email to fans.

Well, the scoreboard indicates otherwise.

Texas had enough talent to build up an 18-point second-half lead against Oklahoma. Enough for an 11-point second-half lead against Oklahoma State. And for an 11-point second-half lead at Baylor. And enough talent to take a 7-3 halftime lead at Iowa State.

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Just how many four- and five-star athletes does it take to beat Kansas? Or become bowl-eligible nowadays? Without a stunning turnaround these last two games, Texas (4-6, 2-5 Big 12) is staring at a possible 4-8 record with a seven-game losing streak going into 2022.

In his regular email to fans, Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte tried to tap the brakes on fan angst that has seeped out through the Longhorns' five-game losing streak. “I know we're all really disappointed, and there's a lot being said, but this is not a time to splinter or pull apart in any way,” Del Conte wrote. “We need to stay positive and remain united as a Longhorn Family.”

Now, this is the crux of Del Conte’s argument. Yes, Texas may have enough frontline talent to build up big leads. But there isn’t enough depth — specifically on the offensive and defensive lines and linebacker — to finish off games.

It’s obvious Texas lacks depth in the trenches. That was clear by early October. It’s the top priority in the 2022 recruiting class, as evidenced by seven defensive line commitments. UT has two offensive linemen pledged, and head coach Steve Sarkisian said he’d like to sign five. The class is currently No. 7 in 247Sports’ composite national rankings.

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But to imply Texas doesn’t have enough talent to beat a 31-point underdog — or any of those other teams where the Horns led in the third quarter — seems misguided. Fans won’t buy that spin.

“When you look at it, 52% of our 2018 signing class and 46% of the 2019 class are no longer here,” Del Conte wrote.

Sarkisian hit this talking point on Monday, too.

“I think from the 2018 and 2019 recruiting classes, I think 50% of those players are no longer with our program for whatever reasons,” Sarkisian said. “They transferred, medically disqualified, NFL, those guys aren’t here. Those would be our juniors and seniors on our roster.”

Sarkisian also casually mentioned that 25 players missed practice last Tuesday because of a flu bug roiling the locker room. “We got hit with the flu,” he said. “It happens.”

Texas coach Steve Sarkisian has seen his Longhorns lose five straight games, something that hasn't happened at UT since 1956. He received a vote of confidence from the UT administration this week. “These guys have been unbelievably supportive of me, the staff and the program from day one and continue to be,” Sarkisian said Thursday. “And I think that's just an awesome sign."

Let’s dig into those recruiting numbers.

Texas signed 27 players in 2018, a class that was No. 3 nationally and rated the best in the Big 12. Nineteen players were either four- or five-star recruits. Of those 27, only 14 remain.

The next year, Texas signed 26 prospects. That class also was No. 3 and again best in the Big 12. Seventeen players were four- or five-stars. Of those 26, only 14 are still with the program.

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Thus, 28 of the 53 Longhorns signed in 2018 or 2019 are still on campus. That’s 52.8%. So, yes, roughly half the total is gone through attrition, injuries, whatever. But it should be noted that 20 of the 28 that remain had four-star designations or higher. Defensive back B.J. Foster (2018) and receiver Jordan Whittington (2019) were five-stars.

Are the recruiting rankings bogus? Well, history has shown they’re more correct than not.

If you’d like to blame former coach Tom Herman and his staff for bad recruiting evaluations, go ahead. Just don’t forget that 14 players Herman coached were drafted from 2018-21, too.

Some of Herman’s recruits simply didn’t pan out, which happens. Was it his fault that Bru McCoy got homesick? Or that De’Gabriel Floyd developed spinal stenosis? Or that some just didn’t want to learn the playbook, didn’t like the environment and just wanted to leave?

USC wide receiver Bru McCoy, right, was a five-star recruit who was the No. 1 athlete prospect in the country in 2019. He originally signed with USC, then transferred to Texas, was present for UT's spring football workouts but then got homesick and transferred back to USC. He never played in a single game for the Longhorns.

New coaches must play with the roster they inherit, and Sarkisian most certainly has. The roster had too many skill position players and not enough linemen for his liking. After an entire offseason of watching 2020 game film, practice tape, weight room numbers and spring drills, Sarkisian was fine with what he saw.

“From a roster standpoint, we've got a talented team,” Sarkisian said the Monday before the season opener against Louisiana. “Is it ideally built exactly how I would build it, maybe not. But that's OK.”

What's not OK: losing to Kansas. At Royal-Memorial Stadium. To a third-string quarterback. With a walk-on who had never played offense before catching the game-winning two-point conversion.

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Del Conte is a people-pleaser by nature. But in issuing something of a vote of confidence on Sarkisian, the athletic director is acknowledging fan anger and message board outrage. Please, for Chris’ sake, nobody tell DeLoss.

Kevin Eltife, chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, went to practice Wednesday to personally tell Sarkisian that the administration has the coach’s back, a source told the American-Statesman. That’s not micromanaging, as some sneered. It’s making sure a new coach knows he doesn’t have to look over his shoulder.

For his part, Sarkisian has handled all of this with aplomb, at least publicly. He keeps an even-keel approach no matter the situation, no matter the reporter’s question. Sark can handle fastballs down the middle, sliders on the corners and intentional walks all the same.

“These guys have been unbelievably supportive of me, the staff and the program from day one and continue to be,” Sarkisian said Thursday. “And I think that's just an awesome sign.

“Not everybody is as fortunate to have people that literally have your back and support you through the process. Because clearly, it's a process to what we're trying to get done,” he added.

Del Conte is the same athletic director who gave Herman a public vote of confidence on Dec. 12 and then fired him on Jan. 2 — four days after a 32-point blowout win in the Alamo Bowl. Herman had four straight winning seasons capped by four straight bowl wins.

In the closing seconds of the game, Texas football coach Tom Herman fist-bumps UT athletic director Chris Del Conte in the Longhorns' 38-10 Alamo Bowl win over Utah on Dec. 31, 2019. Herman lasted one more season.

“I know we're all really disappointed, and there's a lot being said, but this is not a time to splinter or pull apart in any way,” Del Conte wrote to fans. “We need to stay positive and remain united as a Longhorn Family.”

Texas fans are simply fed up. They’re tired of the losing, the coaching changes, the excuses, the blame game. Patience has long run out.

“None of us expected what we’re up against now,” Del Conte wrote to fans, “but that’s why we hired him and a tremendous staff to allow us to build a foundation for long-term success.”

Contact Brian Davis by phone or text at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com or @BDavisAAS.

Saturday's game

Texas at West Virginia, 11 a.m., ESPN2, 104.9