Eighteen prospects signed a National Letter of Intent to the University of Texas in mid-December with the expectation that Tom Herman would be their coach. 

On Saturday morning, that reality was flipped on its head, as UT announced Herman was out after four years in Austin. He was 32-18 during his time with the program without a Big 12 title or College Football Playoff appearance while at the helm.

At the conclusion of the Early Signing Period last month, Herman and Texas signed the No. 18 recruiting class, behind in-state Texas A&M (9), rival Oklahoma (11) as well as programs with less of a reputation on the trail in Ole Miss (15) and Wisconsin (16), among others.

The sole member of the SI99 planning to play for the Longhorns has yet to sign. In-state defensive back Ishmael Ibraheem was arrested the weekend before the Early Signing Period and did not put pen to paper. 

The senior group that has already seemingly locked in plans to play at Texas could be relatively fluid, as recent NCAA precedent would likely enable a release from the binding document due to the coaching change. Should any class of 2021 signee look to reopen his recruitment, there would likely be no lack of suitors ahead of National Signing Day on Feb. 3. 

The group of 18 UT signees includes considerable talent on defense, including top-10 safety JD Coffey, do-it-all athlete Ja'Tavion Sanders and one of California's top cover corners in Jamier Johnson. Texas did add a Christmas verbal commitment from in-state wide receiver Keithron Lee, who is expected to sign in February. He and Ibraheem are the sole commitments yet to sign in what has been a down year on the trail relative to Texas standards, coming off of a top-10 class in the 2020 cycle.

It starts at the top with its lack of impact with SI99 prospects. Fourteen prospects from the state of Texas made the preseason SI99 and zero inked with Texas under Herman this cycle. Only the state of Florida (16) had more elite prospects by the measure. Plenty of national programs covet the Lone Star state on the recruiting trail, with the results re-emphasizing the gap between the current college football blue bloods and the Longhorns in recruiting. 

Alabama has seven Texans as part of its No. 1 recruiting class, including the state's top offensive tackle (Tommy Brockermeyer), running back (Camar Wheaton) and slot receiver (Jojo Earle). The group includes multiple Texas legacy prospects as well as the quarterback once pledged to the Longhorns for more than a year in Jalen Milroe, who flipped to UA in August. 

Oklahoma (3), Texas A&M (2), Ohio State (1), LSU (1), Texas Tech (1) and even SMU (1) each signed more SI99 prospects from the state of Texas than UT to date.  

In addition to less-than-ideal on-field results—both in the Big 12 relative to rival Oklahoma and within state lines as Texas A&M has ascended under Jimbo Fisher—there has been a lack of NFL production at Texas. Prospects typically value the potential to play at the highest level as much, if not more, than winning on Saturdays. 

Texas had just three players drafted in 2020. Twenty-two programs, including perceived in-state "little brothers" Baylor and TCU, had more NFL production in the last year. Sixteen programs have more products on current NFL rosters, including recruiting and geographical rivals Oklahoma and Texas A&M.

As for what's next, Texas announced Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian as the official replacement for Herman at Texas. From a recruiting standpoint, it makes a lot of sense in recruiting the game's most important position, quarterback. Sarkisian has sent considerable offensive prospects to the league throughout his career, especially of late while in Tuscaloosa. Ties to recruiting in the state of California, where Texas has splashed at times, would increase the program's national recruiting profile as well. 

If Texas is to finally to make it back, as in back among the elites and not theoretically back after a meaningless bowl win, it needs to prioritize the state of Texas while on the trail. There will never be a shortage of Texans on the roster, but the margin of elites from the fertile football state needs to trend upwards if the Big 12 or the College Football Playoff crown is to be considered. 

With Sarkisian, his hires with ties to high school and/or college football success in the state of Texas will prove critical to the long-term success he may have while in charge. As the Charlie Strong and now the Herman eras prove, big buyouts combined with bigger expectations in Austin creates what amounts to one of the smaller margins for error—on the field or on the trail—in all of college football coaching. 

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