There's a good reason the Big 12 is the only Power Five conference that hasn't won a College Football Playoff game in its three-year existence. Deep in the heart of Texas, the Big 12 lost the talent battle again this year in a state the conference desperately needs to secure.
The top-10 recruits from Texas, based on 247Sports Composite rankings, fled to almost everywhere but the Big 12.
- Defensive tackle Marvin Wilson: Florida State
- Cornerback Jeffrey Okudah: Ohio State
- Offensive tackle Walker Little: Stanford
- Outside linebacker Baron Browning: Ohio State
- Defensive end K'Lavon Chaisson: LSU
- All-purpose back J.K. Dobbins: Ohio State
- Offensive tackle Austin Deculus: LSU
Those were the seven highest-rated recruits in Texas. Not one stayed in-state. The top Texas player by 247Sports Composite to join the Big 12 was offensive guard Jack Anderson, who went to Texas Tech.
Raise your hand if you thought you'd see a day when Texas Tech got the Big 12's highest-rated player from Texas.
Sure, the Sooners put together a top-10 class that Bob Stoops says is one of his best in his 19 years. Yes, this is only Year 1 for Tom Herman at Texas.
But the Big 12's talent drain from the state of Texas remains a big problem for the league. A conference can only get picked apart at home for so long before it ceases to be a regional recruiting base.
The closer a school is located to players, the more the college coaches know them, their families and their high school coaches. Think about the consequences for the SEC if it lost this many elite players year after year in Florida and Georgia, or the problems for the Big Ten if it consistently let far too many talented players get out of Ohio and Pennsylvania.
That's what's happening to the Big 12, whose office is based in Irving, Texas. The rest of the country isn't just picking apart the state of Texas; they're raiding Texas, not unlike how the SEC, Pac-12 and Big Ten once took Big 12 members Missouri, Texas A&M, Colorado and Nebraska, setting in motion this talent drain.
It didn't used to be this way. Between 2008-12, the Longhorns signed 23 of the combined 50 top-10 recruits in Texas. The Sooners were second with eight top-10 recruits from Texas, a border state that historically has been good to them.
Based on 247Sports Composite rankings, the Sooners have now gone four straight years without a top-10 recruit from Texas. Over the past five years, Oklahoma signed as many top-10 Texas recruits as Florida, Florida State, Houston, Miami, Notre Dame, Texas Tech, UCLA and USC.
Meanwhile, the Longhorns signed just eight top-10 players from their home state between 2013-17. Their highest-ranked Texas player in 2017 was rated 20th, marking the first time the Longhorns won't have a top-10 in-state player in 247Sports' backdated rankings, dating to 1999.
Herman is just getting started in Austin, but the challenge he faces is that the border is wide open. No one has built a wall yet. The Longhorns' struggles on the field, coupled with Texas A&M joining the SEC (but only being a mediocre program so far), have allowed other SEC schools to flood into Texas.
In 2010, the Big 12 signed 41 of the top 50 recruits in Texas. The SEC got three. By 2012, Missouri, Texas A&M, Colorado and Nebraska had all left.
In 2016, the Big 12 signed only 22 top-50 Texas recruits, compared to 20 for the SEC (14 went to SEC schools other than Texas A&M). This year, the Texas top-50 scoreboard reads: 19 for the Big 12, 15 for the SEC.
Coaches from other conferences noticed Texas is open for business. High-profile nonconference games in Texas, often pitting non-Big 12 schools against one another, have created more exposure, not to mention just how national the game has become.
Urban Meyer snagged three of the state's top six players for Ohio State, which hadn't signed a top-10 player from Texas since 2013. Arkansas, Arizona State, Michigan, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Stanford, UCLA and USC all plucked some Texas recruits.
The Big 12 talent drain is even more startling when looking at first- and second-round NFL picks per school between 2014-16. The Big 12 is closer to the American Athletic Conference in first- and second-round talent than to any of the Power Five conferences. The latest CBS Sports NFL mock draft for 2017 projects no Big 12 players in the first round.
|Conference||Avg. early NFL Draft picks, 2014-16|
Beyond the Longhorns getting better, there is no easy solution for the Big 12 to quickly reverse this fortune. If the Big 12 had an obvious expansion choice, the move would have been made.
The Big 12 passed on expansion, though an argument could be made it missed the boat by passing on Houston since that's a market the Big 12 has lost to the SEC in recruiting and TV. Even Florida State jumped into Houston this year to sign Wilson, the nation's No. 1 defensive tackle.
"I was asked in a pre-production [TV] meeting if I felt like at one point that the University of Texas -- maybe eight to 10 years ago -- could just go pick players in the state of Texas, and now does it remind of your days at Iowa State?" Herman said Wednesday. "I said, 'Yeah, it kind of does.' Because we can't go pick guys anymore. We have to fight, scratch, claw, battle with teams. Is it going to be that way forever? No, we're Texas. We're always going to be Texas. We're going to be back to where it once was."
That day may be coming. Herman recruited at a high level for Houston. But he would be wise to keep the "fight, scratch, claw, battle" motto because the rest of the country isn't letting up, and it's contributing to the Big 12 repeatedly being left out of the national championship picture.
Deep in the heart of Texas, One True Raid continues.