Recruiting is the lifeblood of college football, and there are a few states that are critically important for the entire nation, but particularly for the Big Ten. Florida, Texas, California and Georgia — these are the states that produce the most talent, but none of them are inside the conference’s footprint. Land of 10 is taking an in-depth look at how the Big Ten has fared recruiting players from these key battleground states.
Florida: Jan. 22 • Texas: Jan. 29 • California: Feb. 5 • Georgia: Feb. 12
When Joe Tiller brought “basketball on grass” to Purdue in the late 1990s, he found the perfect triggerman for his spread offense, not in Big Ten country, but less than 10 miles from Darrell K. Royal Stadium in Austin, Texas.
Drew Brees led Westlake High School in Austin to a Texas 5A state championship as a senior in 1996, but his recruitment process had been derailed a bit by a torn ACL during his junior season. He became a three-year starter for the Boilermakers and one of the best quarterbacks in both Big Ten and NFL history.
It wasn’t a typical recruiting move at the time, though Brees wasn’t the first Big Ten quarterback from Texas, but it did signal the start of a trend. Schools from the conference have regularly gone to the Lone Star State looking for help at the position during the past 15 years. Texas high school football has been a source of elite talent for colleges, and not just players.
Plenty of Texas high school coaches have become successful coaches and innovators at the college level. There are lots of recent examples, but the Texas coaching pipeline goes back a long way. Former Iowa coach Hayden Fry got his start as a Texas high school coach. So too did late defensive genius Buddy Ryan.
Recent Texas high school coaches who found success at the college level all have something in common. It’s all about the offenses. The Lone Star State has been an incubator for new offensive ideas at the high school level, and that has helped the development of its quarterbacks.
Seven of the 32 NFL teams began the 2016 season with a Texas kid as their starting quarterback, including Brees, Andrew Luck and Matthew Stafford. Some of the top dual-threat quarterbacks who thrive in the spread offense have been from Texas as well, including Heisman Trophy winners Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel.
Four Big Ten teams started Texas natives at quarterback in 2016 — Ohio State (J.T. Barrett), Nebraska (Tommy Armstrong), Indiana (Richard Lagow) and Purdue (David Blough). Barrett, Lagow and Blough will be three of the best quarterbacks in the league next season.
Seth Green will compete for the starting job at Minnesota in 2017. He’s a Minnesota kid who moved to Texas and played at powerhouse Allen High School before returning home for college. Peyton Mansell is one of the top quarterbacks in the 2017 recruiting class from Texas, and could be the quarterback of the future at Iowa. Big Ten schools will continue to make the trip to Texas looking for future signal-callers.
The Past: The Texas triangle
Texas is a gigantic state. It’s more than 10 hours in a car from El Paso to Houston, and nearly 10 hours from Amarillo to Corpus Christi. The University of Nebraska is less than a 10-hour drive from Dallas, and it’s three states to the north.
The geography of Texas still makes it a great place for out-of-state colleges to go hunting for recruits. That’s because a huge portion of the state’s population, and elite college football prospects, all reside in or near the state’s three biggest regions — Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and everything in between.
Colleges can see hundreds of FBS-level prospects at all of the schools connected by I-35, I-45 and I-10. Austin, College Station and Waco are all nestled in that triangle between the DFW area, Houston and San Antonio.
Big Ten recruiters clearly don’t often stray far from this triangle of talent. The Big Ten signed 84 players from Texas in the previous five recruiting cycles and currently has another 18 committed for 2017.
That’s 102 players — 99 of them either went to school inside that triangle or within a short drive from the DFW, Houston or San Antonio areas. The Big Ten’s recruiting footprint is much more condensed in Texas than say, Florida, where the conference has landed talent from all over the state.
Barrett is from Wichita Falls, which is a little more than two hours northwest of Dallas. Minnesota wide receiver Rashad Still is from El Paso, and he’s the only Big Ten recruit in the past six years who is from West Texas. Purdue offensive lineman Michael Mendez is from Los Fresnos, which is nearly four hours south of San Antonio and near the southernmost point in Texas.
For this geographical chart, “Central” Texas is going to include Waco, Austin, College Station and other areas in between the DFW, Houston and San Antonio that aren’t really considered part of those metro areas.
The Present: Big Ten schools prey on coaching turmoil
Here’s a snapshot of Texas college football in 2016:
- Texas fired its coach
- Baylor was a tire fire after firing its coach but not the assistants and isn’t close to being done with the aftershocks of a horrific sexual assault scandal; in fact, it could get a whole lot worse
- All four Texas teams in the Big 12 finished below .500 in league play
- Texas A&M went from No. 4 in the first College Football Playoff rankings to 4-4 in SEC play and 8-5 overall
- Houston went from 5-0 to 9-4 and lost its coach to Texas
- SMU’s coach was a candidate for other openings and doesn’t appear long for the job
Outside of Texas-San Antonio and North Texas in Conference USA, every other school in the state had a disappointing 2016 season to some degree. Anytime there are underperforming teams, and especially coaching turnover, there is opportunity for someone else to pounce.
The state of Texas in the 2017 recruiting cycle has been exactly that. Tom Herman at Texas, Matt Rhule at Baylor and Major Applewhite at Houston are scrambling to save their recruiting classes, but programs outside the Lone Star State have looted plenty in 2017.
|Team||2012-16 recruits||Avg. ranking||2017 commits||Avg. rank|
Seven Big Ten programs currently have 18 commitments from Texas in 2017. All seven schools have landed better players on average in 2017 than they did from 2012-16. Five schools could sign their highest-rated recruit from Texas in the past six years.
The Big Ten has 14 of the top 120 players in Texas for the 2017 cycle. The conference landed 25 top-120 players in the past five years combined. And it could have been even more.
Iowa has two of the top 120 from Texas, but three others have de-committed. Eno Benjamin is now committed to Arizona State, Gavin Holmes pledged to Baylor after Rhule arrived and Chevin Calloway hasn’t chosen a new home yet. Minnesota just lost a commitment from Joshua Crosley on Thursday.
Ohio State has four of the top 20 prospects in the state, which is the same number as all of the Texas schools combined. The Buckeyes, Northwestern and Nebraska are among the 10 out-of-state schools that have two of the top 58 players in Texas committed. Baylor and Texas Tech have one each.
Oklahoma, LSU and Ohio State might end up as the biggest beneficiaries, but others in the Big Ten have enjoyed the tumult in Texas as well.
The Future: Run it back in 2018?
Herman will be settled at Texas, and should have a very successful 2018 recruiting class. What about the rest of the state though?
Baylor thought it was moving forward with some stability after hiring Rhule and his nice start on the recruiting trail. The recent lawsuit, which now alleges 52 rapes in a four-year period by 31 football players, could mean new investigations, harsher penalties and at a minimum a lot more negative attention for recruits to ponder.
Texas A&M, TCU, Texas Tech and Houston are all losing their starting quarterbacks. Kevin Sumlin and Kliff Kingsbury could both be in trouble if they have disappointing seasons again. This could be Chad Morriss’ last year at SMU.
Meanwhile, Penn State hasn’t signed a recruit from Texas since 2009, but has a commitment from one of the top 30 players in the 2018 class, Sachse safety Isaiah Humphries, and already has offered a bunch of other players in the state.
Michigan hadn’t signed one in the previous five years, but Chuck Filiaga is the No. 18 prospect in the state in 2017, and Jim Harbaugh will likely continue to look for new ways to make an impact in the state. Ohio State just had a huge year in Texas, but Herman hired away one of Urban Meyer’s top recruiters in the state.
There could be more opportunities for Big Ten schools in Texas in 2018, and a successful 2017 cycle should encourage the league’s coaching staffs to devote more time and resources in the state in the coming year.