As TCU fans in the MWC we all came to expect that Coach Patterson could do more with less, and were fervent in our beliefs that we were the best team in the nation in 2010 and 2011, despite not having a roster stacked full of four and five star recruits. Now that the Frogs are in the Big 12 and the wins aren't coming quite so regularly though, there is a lot more grumbling more calling for an emphasis on getting those four and five star athletes to Fort Worth.
And that's all well and good. After all, every program in the nation has those goals, even the Georgia Southerns, Idahos and SMUs of the world would love to have a program that brings in five star talent no matter how ludicrous it may seem to the layperson who knows that people with choices don't go to SMU. Still, the offer sheet for your average consensus four-five star is a long one, and they generally don't choose to slum it with non-Power 5 conference schools. All well and good for us so far, as TCU is a now a member of the Big 12 conference, but even then there are 12 schools in the Pac-12, 14 in the ACC, 14 in the SEC, 14 in the Big Ten (why?) and 10 in the Big 12 (we need to flip names with those guys up North). That's 64 teams that can at least offer kids a good shot at the playoff if they win their conference, add Notre Dame and that's 64 other teams who are all hunting for those elite kids with stars by their names. Before we get into how TCU can best attract those special athletes for themselves, it's important to establish where exactly TCU sits in the pecking order of the Big 5 conference teams, as well as in the Big 12.
Tier 1- The Bluebloods
These are the teams that are good and have been consistently good for so long that even when they have down periods, top level talent is practically beating down their door to help return them to prominence. They've got the fight songs everyone knows, and most kids all over the nation grew up as fans of one of these teams. You know who most of them are without a list.
Tier 1 Examples: Michigan, Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, USC (Trojans)
Big 12 Tier 1-ers: Texas, Oklahoma
Tier 2- The Up-and-Comers
Of all the tiers, this one has the most flux as programs rise and fall throughout college football. These are the teams that have had a hot streak in recruiting, or hired the right coach that took them to consistent success (and maybe a national title or two) for years. They're not the big dog in the park, and a bad coaching hire or two can send them right back down the ladder, but recruits have enough respect for their recent success (and often, proximity) to give them a long hard look.
Tier 2 Examples: Florida State, Oregon, Auburn, Nebraska, Virginia Tech, LSU (May jump to Tier 1 at some point), Miami (fallen)
Tier 2 Examples in the Big 12: None, but Oklahoma State is on the wait list.
Tier 3- The Little Brothers
It's a catch all term for teams that aren't quite on the Tier 1 level, but who have had enough history and success to be a thorn in the side of the top level teams. These are your rival programs, the ones that the kid who wanted to stand out from his friends all dressed in burnt orange would slip on Aggie maroon instead, and once every three or four years give his buddies no end of grief with the Ags finally won a game in the series. They may be in a different state from their Tier 1 counterparts, but they're still Much like on the field, they don't tend to win the head to head showdowns with the top programs for the best recruits, but they win enough to be dangerous.
Tier 3 Examples: Texas A&M, Michigan State, Georgia Tech, UCLA, Clemson
Tier 3 Big 12 Members : Oklahoma State
Tier 4- The Rest of the Conference
These are the teams that hover around the .500 mark in the all time win/loss record, and for every fantastic 10 win season that got the coach a long term extension there was a 2-10 season that got someone unceremoniously fired. Though these schools have a lot going for them, they also don't quite have the full picture that makes them a football powerhouse, whether it be a remote location, a boring campus, administrators who don't care about athletics or just bad luck in being a "Sleeping giant" that has never woken up. Three star talents abound at these schools, and they generally tend to grab more of the two star than the four star sort when filling out the classes.
Tier 4 Examples: Ole Miss, North Carolina, Minnesota, Maryland, Oregon State, Arizona
Tier 4 Big 12 members: TCU, Texas Tech, Kansas State, Baylor, West Virginia
Tier 5- The Dregs of the Conference
The teams that Tier 4 fights to have for homecoming games, these are the teams that have played in their current conference (or its forbears) forever, but wouldn't be picked up for any reason other than sentimentality if one of those grand conference re-draft offseason hit counter posts actually happened. These are the schools that recruits have in their top 5 along with MWC and AAC teams while they wait for a bigger offer that may never come.
Tier 5 Examples: Indiana, Wake Forest, Duke, Mississippi State (usually), Kentucky
Tier 5 Big 12 members: Kansas, Iowa State (fingers crossed for Baylor's return here as well)
Weird Tier- The Ultra Academics
Sometimes a kid will come along who happens to be incredibly gifted both physically and mentally, to the point where he wants to do a lot more with his life than be a Gym Teacher/High School football coach with the Sports Management degree from a school with great football, but subpar academics. For him, it might be worth going to a school that isn't all that good at football, because the University's name on his degree has a wow factor that can set him up for life. Not enough of these athletes exist to make these teams perennial powers (and in fact they're often lumped in with the dregs for homecoming massacres for the rest of the conference), but they can pull in some talent that tier 1-5 schools (that aren't "Public Ivy" double dippers like Michigan or Texas) can't get in the door with.
Tier 5 Examples: California, Stanford, Virginia, North Carolina, Vanderbilt
Tier 5 Big 12 members: None.
So that's what we're up against, 64 other universities all hunting for the same handful of exceedingly elite recruits- Rivals, to take one example, will generally have 30-ish five stars, and 250 or so four stars, which sounds like a lot until you remember that each team has 85 scholarship slots open over four years (and many, many more if you're Alabama, but that's a topic for another day) and those teams at the top are taking far more than their fair share. Alabama, for example, grabbed six five stars in its 26 man class- a full fifth of all available five stars- while Ohio State gorged on 15 four stars. TCU on the other hand, collected one four star (according to Rivals), compared to two for Baylor and four for Oklahoma State. One to two four stars is pretty par for the course for tier four universities however, and though you may argue that TCU's recent pedigree should have them higher in the list, the clouds of offensive uncertainty (and pot smoke, don't forget the clouds of pot smoke) hanging around the program leave it difficult to list the frogs anywhere else for now, despite the advantages provided by being in Fort Worth, the great TCU campus and fantastic head coach mean that we're definitely in with the Tier fours at the moment. So, should we resign ourselves to mediocre results now that we're in a conference with so many teams at a similar level to us, and several programs at a higher level? No, and there's another team regularly in that fourth tier that gives me hope for what TCU could achieve in the future as well- The Ole Miss Rebels.
I'm going to lose some readers at this point, because how dare I compare our football program to one from the mighty ESS-EE-SEE, destroyer of worlds and winner of neutral site season opening games? Because Ole Miss isn't a world beater (yet), but they've been recruiting like one under head coach Hugh Freeze by doing two things that TCU doesn't do with regularity- spreading their offers far and wide, and getting in on top tier recruits early. If you're a four star level talent somewhere in the USA, odds are pretty good that you have an Ole Miss offer in your mail pile, and it's probably one that you received pretty early on in the recruiting process. Why is that significant when teams like Alabama and Ohio State are lurking around, waiting to spring when the kid shows he's got what they think he needs to be a star at their school? Because before he gets on the phone to talk to Nick Saban about coming to Alabama's upcoming football camp, the kid has already met with your coach twice and talked to him on the phone a number of times and gone on the internet and learned more about the school that has already offered him. Offering early means that you're not going to be lost in the shuffle, because the offer that ensures that a kid is going to have a chance to play in a big 5 conference means more to someone than the 13th tier four school to drop an offer. For a while in Coach Freeze's first year of recruiting at Ole Miss the Rebel's offering numbers were something of a joke- the Rebs gave offers to many times the number of players they could possibly have taken (even in the oversigning happy SEC), but thanks to getting in early on recruits Ole Miss kept turning up on kids top 10, top 5 and top 3 lists, to the point where even if the kid didn't end up signing with the Rebels, they were getting official visits and had a hat on the table at the end. In Freeze's second year a huge number of the best players in the country. In year 2 for coach Freeze the Rebels actually reeled in some 5 star recruits, including the number one player in the country Robert Nkemdiche, thanks in part to the fact that the Rebels were such a hot topic on the recruiting trail, and they had more time to get in with the recruits and sell them on what Ole Miss had to offer them.
This could easily be what TCU does, because as we TCU fans already know, TCU has a whole heck of a lot to offer a player. There's the great location, wonderful campus, CFB Hall-of-Fame level coach, amazing facilities and a beautiful new Amon Carter stadium- not to mention the long awaited Big 12 membership. Combining that with Patterson's efforts to put a fence around the metroplex would mean that TCU would be in an excellent position to rise to the higher tiers of college football and prove once and for all that we belong in the Big 12. There are drawbacks to this strategy, of course- if you're waiting on four star kids to prune down their lists, you can't have the same number of offers out on the table to the three star kids that typically make up your recruiting class or you may find yourself without a scholarship for that coveted four star tackle who's deciding between you and Georgia on signing day, and local high school coaches who consider themselves your pipeline may not be putting in as good a word for you to their top tier guys if you aren't extending an offer to their low three-high two star players, but if you can trust Patterson, Meacham and Cumbie to make wise use of their offers it's a strategy that could pay huge dividends for the Frogs- after all, you'll never get the five star kid if he doesn't even know you want him at TCU.