Recent realignment having minimal impact on 2012 recruiting classes
Dorial Green-Beckham, the 6-foot-6, 220-pound receiver every coach in the nation would sign if he could, has narrowed his choices to four schools: Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. The buzz in recruiting circles is that Arkansas and Missouri are the schools to beat. What do those two programs have in common? They're each within about a three-hour drive of Green-Beckham's home in Springfield, Mo. They each have a recent history of excellent passing offenses.
And they'll each be in the SEC as of July.
But does that matter? Does the fact that Missouri will begin play this year in the conference that has won the past six national titles make it a more desirable destination than it would have been as a Big 12 program? After all, Green-Beckham also considered Texas and Oklahoma, which, despite the Realignmentpocalypses of 2010 and 2011, remain in the Big 12.
We won't know whether Missouri's move influenced Green-Beckham's choice until he announces his decision Wednesday, but there is enough data to determine whether the major conference moves have affected recruiting for the class of 2012. Short answer: They haven't affected it very much at all.
Remember, the evaluation/recruitment of top prospects begins in earnest during the summer before many players' junior seasons. In states such as Texas, where early commitments are a way of life, many of the most coveted prospects chose a school in February or March of 2011, long before anyone knew Texas A&M and Missouri would go to the SEC and TCU and West Virginia would go to the Big 12. Texas A&M's move became official in late September. TCU's move was announced in early October. West Virginia's Big 12 offer came later that month. Missouri's long-rumored -- and once prematurely announced -- move came in November.
"We made a couple of adjustments," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said a few weeks after the Tigers' move became official. "We're going to put one of our coaches into Atlanta, and we're going to put two into Florida. ... We've had to jump ahead and do that right away. That's more so for next year in terms of when it will be complete, but we felt we have to get into those areas, too, from a public relations standpoint and from a marketing standpoint."
The key phrase is "next year." Missouri coaches, like their counterparts at their fellow conference immigrants, will have a full recruiting cycle to familiarize themselves with the players and high school coaches in their new territories. The Tigers will play games in Columbia, S.C., Gainesville, Fla., and Knoxville, Tenn., which will expose an entirely new audience of high schoolers to the Missouri brand. The Tigers also will visit familiar territory in Texas, playing at Texas A&M on Thanksgiving.
Missouri's move didn't usher in a wave of commitments from Florida and Georgia, because the Tigers simply hadn't been recruiting those areas. Despite leaving the Big 12, Missouri remains quite active in Texas. As of Monday night, seven of Missouri's 19 public commitments (36.8 percent) are from Texas high schools. In Missouri's previous five classes, 42 of 116 (36.2 percent) signees came from Texas high schools.
Meanwhile, at Texas A&M, new coach Kevin Sumlin has the SEC to sell, but he inherited a mostly full class. Fourteen of Texas A&M's 22 commitments picked the Aggies before the conference switch. Three players, JUCO transfer cornerback Otis Jacobs, cornerback Darion Monroe and defensive end Julien Obioha, played high school ball in Louisiana, but none had offers from LSU and all committed to Texas A&M before the SEC move. (Jacobs decommitted when Mike Sherman was fired, committed to Tennessee and flipped back on the first day JUCO players could sign in December.)
It remains to be seen whether Texas A&M's new conference affiliation will allow the Aggies to recruit other SEC states or if it will help them win more head-to-head recruiting tussles with Texas now that A&M can brand itself as the Lone Star State's SEC program. "Facilities, the brand of Texas A&M and the reputation and tradition, and moving into the SEC -- I think give you a great possibility and a great chance to be successful in recruiting," Sumlin said when he took the job.
Meanwhile, West Virginia's 2012 recruiting class has more of a Texas flavor because the Mountaineers began a push into Texas when they hired coach Dana Holgorsen, who before becoming the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State had worked at Texas Tech and Houston. Four of West Virginia's 26 signees/commitments are from Texas, and only two of those (Katy receiver Jordan Thompson and The Woodlands linebacker Garrett Hope) committed after the conference switch. In the case of both players, West Virginia was the only AQ-conference school to offer a scholarship.
Though the Mountaineers will cease playing in Tampa every other year once in the Big 12, West Virginia won't abandon Florida anytime soon. Eleven of the Mountaineers' signees/commitments for 2012 are from Florida, and West Virginia signed 24 players from the Sunshine State in the past five classes.
The school that should have received the biggest bump from its conference switch is TCU. The Horned Frogs have been in the Mountain West, but coaches began this recruiting cycle thinking TCU would begin Big East play in 2012. That all changed when TCU was tapped to replace Texas A&M in the Big 12. But not much changed for the 2012 class. Twelve of the Horned Frogs' 19 signees/commitments chose TCU before the conference move. Of the other seven, none had an offer from Texas and only two (linebacker A.J. Hilliard and offensive tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai) reported an offer from Texas A&M.
At an October news conference celebrating the Big 12's acquisition of TCU, Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson made it clear that he didn't believe a new league alone would make top-rated recruits clamor for offers from TCU. "Being in the Big 12 Conference doesn't make us successful," Patterson said. "Winning in the Big 12 Conference is what makes you successful."
The same is true for all of this year's conference swappers and their new leagues. Win, and the recruiting will take care of itself.