As I mentioned during a recent podcast, Dave Wunderlich of TeamSpeedKills.com did some extensive work a few weeks back on the fallout in recruiting from conference realignment: how Missouri adjusted to life in the SEC; Texas A&M’s rise up the recruiting rankings; what the changes meant for the Big 12.
Dave concluded that A&M’s talent gold rush in the Lone Star State has come in part at Oklahoma’s expense. I think he’s correct on that measure. However, it prompted me to go back and study some of the larger recruiting trends/truths that have emerged in the course of Bob Stoops’ tenure with the Sooners.
I don’t really have a unifying theme tying all of these together, so indulge me as I string together a few observations set to graphics. All numbers and rankings cited below come from Rivals.com, which has data on recruiting going back to 2002. (Note: “Blue chip” recruits earned either a four- or five-star rating.)
Before we get started, the above chart includes a breakdown of every OU recruiting class since 2002. The column on the far right (“Texas Recruits”) represents the number of high school recruits that the Sooners signed out of Texas in that class; it is a subset of the total number of high school signees (“HS Recruits”).
Anyway, some points to ponder:
*OU’s recruiting has tailed off over the years.
This shouldn’t really surprise anyone who has followed recruiting for a while. The red line starts in 2005 and reflects a four-year moving average of the Sooners’ recruiting class rankings since 2002. It’s clearly edging higher as time passes.
The fact of the matter is that whereas OU was regularly pulling in top 10 recruiting classes when Stoops first started in Norman, the Sooners are now finishing in the range of 11 to 15. That’s not a death blow to OU’s hopes of competing for conference titles and playoff bids every year, but it has pushed the program to the outskirts of the nationally elite. An abundant stream of talent into a program creates greater margin for error, and the Sooners’ reservoir is slowly evaporating.
*Stoops’ relationship with Texas recruits runs hot and cold.
OU’s reputation for building its team predominantly with Texas talent doesn’t necessarily hold up over time. The blue bars above reflect the annual percentages of the Sooners’ high school signees hailing from their neighbors to the south. The red bars show the percentages of Texas high school prospects in the each class as a whole, including junior college players.
In five of the 14 years, Texas preps made up at least 50 percent of the entire class. In seven of the 14 years, at least half of the high schoolers in a given class came from Texas.
Clearly, Texas recruiting has helped sustain OU in this 14-year snapshot. However, Stoops has cast a wider net than most casual observers probably realize.
OU has snatched up four-/five-star talents from Texas to varying degrees of success throughout Stoops’ tenure.
In the chart above, the blue bars indicate the total number of blue-chippers signed in each class. The red bars are the blue-chippers from Texas. Stoops' recruiting classes have included an average of about 13 blue chip players annually. Roughly five of them come from Texas every year.
Importantly, note that from 2011 on, the total number of blue-chippers signed by OU per class has trended down.
One number that I found interesting was the percentage of Texas recruits signed by OU who have been rated as blue-chippers. Take a look at the chart directly above. With the exception of 2004, the majority of Texas players who signed with the Sooners every year from 2002 to 2009 were blue chip. Since then, the share of blue-chippers in that group has dwindled.
This suggests to me that OU was moving down in the pecking order in Texas even before the Aggies’ defection in 2012. (Note that Mack Brown cleaned up in his home state from 2009 to 2011, finishing fifth, third and third nationally during that three-year stretch. Also, it bears mentioning that OU went heavy on JUCOs in 2012 and 2013.)
Anecdotally, Stoops and his staff appeared to take more of a national orientation toward recruiting in the last five to six years. Assuming that’s true, it raises a chicken-egg question: Did they start branching out because they were striking out more often in Texas, or did they start striking out more often in Texas because they were branching out?
*Time to pick a lane?
To this point, Stoops’ buffet-like approach to recruiting has served the Sooners well. Regardless of your view of the current state of the program, OU has accumulated plenty of hardware thanks to the talent acquired by Stoops and his coaching staffs.
Yet, if you were inclined to tie the team’s erosion to the dwindling number of top-tier Texas preps on the roster, I wouldn’t fight you on it. In the four years leading up to the 2011 season, OU signed a total of 28 four- and five-star Texas preps; in the next four classes the Sooners landed a total of 11.
So, does OU have to blanket the Lone Star State on the recruiting trail to get wins on the field in the fall? I think the answer is a conditional "no."
While Texans would love for you to believe otherwise, there's nothing magical about Texas football players. You can find an abundance of talented players in plenty of other states – Florida, Georgia, Ohio.
However, as OU has pivoted toward national recruiting, the evidence indicates that Stoops and his coaches are having a tough time making up for the volume of top-tier talent they used to get from Texas with players from outside the Sooners' historical wheelhouse. Going forward, that may force them rededicate themselves to their traditional recruiting stomping grounds.