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Evaluating the Big 12's National Signing Day

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The Frogs are in Tier 1 with Texas, Baylor, and Oklahoma. Where does the rest of the class rank? Will Oklahoma and Texas return to their previous dominance?

Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

National Signing Day is the perfect methadone between the end of the college football season and the season that follows. After two classes that weren't necessarily in the national spotlight, and after 2014 and 2015's were somewhat haunted with "misses" in Braden Smith and Daylon Mack respectively–TCU is now past the days of getting consecutive classes outside the Top 25. The 2016 class, the #FunkyTown16 is, on paper, the finest class ever assembled in Fort Worth–mixing in high level high school talent with Top-25 JUCO transfers, the Frogs hit every angle in 2016 and it paid off.

So where did the Frogs finish in comparison to the rest of the Big 12?

Tier 1: Baylor,  Oklahoma, TCU, Texas:

Texas' surge was quite impressive, as they edged out Baylor and TCU on National Signing Day for the best in the Big 12 according to the composite rankings. We'll get to this in a second, but a defensive-heavy class at Texas, despite the tremendous talent that signed, overshadowed a class that is lacking in heavy hitters on the offense. The team that got blanked in Ames–despite returning a great talent at running back in Chris Warren–is undergoing a huge cosmetic change on offense this offseason with Sterlin Gilbert's Briles-inspired offense, but it's a mystery as to who will fit in these Briles-type roles.


Rivals

247

Scout

Baylor

17

17

16

Oklahoma

19

16

20

TCU

21

23

19

Texas

13

8

11

Texas' late surge shouldn't be a surprise, however the "#Believe" is a microcosm of the state Texas football is in. Even with a coach who's arguably on the hot seat, the city of Austin and that University should have no trouble selling itself, no matter how bad times are. So to see Texas fans having to believe is a little funny; but not as funny as those who actually thought they wouldn't put together a solid class, no matter how late in the game. (cough, A&M).

The only big worry is that while it's a brilliant class filled with top-notch defensive talent, the issue at Texas remains with the offense. Shane Buechele is a fantastic edition, and if I had to guess, he'll be the starter sooner rather than later, even when Westlake's Sam Ehlinger arrives on campus after next season. Texas did get a superb complement to Warren, and the biggest twist came when Kyle Porter committed Tuesday morning. Most thought Porter, the MVP of Katy's state title, was going to end up in Fort Worth because of a late push by Sonny Cumbie.

Still, the defensive talent in this class stands out like no other in the Big 12, and possibly the country. Texas has the talent to be #DBU every year, and getting East Texas wunderkind Brandon Jones at safety is, at least from where I'm sitting, their best pick up. Not only in terms of what's on paper, and where Jones ranks on all the recruiting sites, but having a player like Jones to complement the dynamic corners, Kris Boyd and Holton Hill, will slow down the Big 12 passing attack-the obvious bread and butter of the league.

It's hard to criticize Texas' class in any way, really. In a make-or-break year for Strong, a solid defensive foundation gives good leeway for Gilbert's new offense to dig Texas out of their hole. If Strong can get to 7 (with Oklahoma) or 8 wins, Gilbert and recruiting wiz Jeff Traylor can start pulling in a higher volume of high-prized, offensive talent and get the kind of recruits that are tailored to the bear raid offense.

Baylor's great class is typical of who they've been the past four years or so. Great quarterback in Grandview's Zach Smith, wicked fast running backs and receivers, and big, gnarly offensive linemen, peppered in with some incredible athletes on defense. It probably pains TCU fans that brother of Ranthony Texada, Raleigh Texada, who's also a cornerback, will be in Waco next season. They also got a top receiver in Devin Duvernay and a great guard in Patrick Hudson. As you'd assume, Briles' 2016 had more speed than Keith Richards' suitcase circa 1971; Duvernay is the state champion in the 100m, and WRs Denzel Mims and Tren'Davian Dickson are far from slowpokes themselves.

TCU's greatest class, at least on signing day, is also a sign of the times. The best news for Frog fans? The 2017 class is shaping up to be even better on paper than this one. What does this mean? TCU's best class is far from its plateau; The recruiting ability of the offensive coaches, Cumbie and Curtis Luper, who both turned down big job offers in December, is pretty much alchemy at this point. However, whether or not a player is 4-star or a 2-star, the system has shown everyone from a quarterback like Trevone Boykin to a slot receiver and 2-star recruit like KaVontae Turpin can get the best out of their talents in Fort Worth. But with more 4-stars to work with, the sky could be the limit for Gary Patterson and his team.

Do you want to get better? Do you want to tell to tell people "I told you so"-then come to TCU. That's not a bad selling point, especially when it has proven results. Aside from getting top-notch defensive recruits like Ross Blacklock and Isaiah Chambers, ESPN-300 OT Austin Myers; the area where the Frogs really killed it was on the receiving front; getting Bastrop's Isaiah Graham, Camron Williams, and the two best JUCO receivers in Taj Williams and Ryan Parker-the latter of which was the only the only surprise for TCU's NSD as the Tyler JC alum chose the Frogs over Oklahoma last minute. For the most immediate impact however, Williams and Parker are up there, but the best defensive JC player in the country, OLB Tyree Horton will be a name the Big 12 will know at the end of 2016's season.

Oklahoma finished big and stole Mark Jackson Jr. away from A&M less than a week before signing day. They also got a big, 5-star pickup in Caleb Kelly on Wednesday. While, it wasn't the silent recruiting that Charlie Strong pulled off, Bob Stoops still picked up a great class after winning the Big 12 in 2015. While they're losing a lot on defense, Stoops has plenty of promise to work with on that side of the ball with his 2016 class.

Texas:

Year

Rivals

Scout

247

2016

13

8

11

2015

12

7

10

2014

20

15

20

2013

24

23

20

2012

2

1

2

Oklahoma:

Year

Rivals

Scout

247

2016

19

16

20

2015

14

14

14

2014

15

13

11

2013

15

15

13

2012

11

10

12

Thus begs the question: Do Texas and Oklahoma need great classes to regain control of the Big 12? Yes and no. Sure, finishing with Top 10 classes every year whilst the rest of the conference can't even finish in the Top 15 could eventually set in motion and revert things back the Big 12 of the early oughts-where the Stoops' and Brown's squads went blow-to-blow every year for not only a conference title, but a National one as well. Will that happen? No.

Oklahoma has shown it doesn't need to have a Top 10 class every year to do something great. It just needed a Lincoln Riley and a player like Baker Mayfield; and obviously Stoops' stingy defensive mind. Sure, they got out-muscled by Clemson in the Orange Bowl, but Clemson had similar recruiting marks to Oklahoma as of late, and the Tigers didn't even finish in 247's Top 25 classes for 2014.

There does come a point where coaching and recruiting both have to align-Alabama and Urban Meyer's Ohio State are prime examples of that, and Jim Harbaugh's Michigan is getting there. But just look at Tennessee for instance; two top five classes over the past two years and Oklahoma was able to beat them at home in 2014, and on the road this past season.

For Texas, it could be a number of things. Texas was very great in the oughts, and brilliant for four of them (2004, 2005, 2008, and 2009). Granted, there was no Baylor or TCU then. They had Mizzou and Nebraska, but only had to play them every other year. Even looking at it through the National lens; Saban didn't arrive at Alabama until 2007, UCLA wasn't recruiting in Texas like they are now, and Harbaugh was coaching QBs in Oakland. Sure, Texas had recruiting dips in Mack Brown's last two years, but they were dips by Texas' standards, and still within the Top 25. Even after inheriting these subpar classes, again by Texas standards, Charlie Strong after his first year, despite a 6-6 regular season and a beatdown courtesy of Bret Bielema and Arkansas, was still able get the No. 12 class in the country according to Rivals.

Like that 2015 class, Strong and the Longhorns are cutting their teeth on superb defensive talent, and like we said above, while that's encouraging, it's questionable that there aren't any huge names other than Shane Buechele and Kyle Porter on offense. You need to score points in the Big 12; probably at least 30, to win ballgames. Texas, in Big 12 play, scored 30 only once–a loss at home to Texas Tech. The crazier anomaly was that they ran the ball 48 times that game while only passing it 23 times; the duties of which were split between Jerrod Heard and Tyrone Swoopes, who combined for 64 yards and completed less than half of the passes thrown. FWIW: Texas participated in three of the five or six games Big 12 where the winner scored under 30, even though one of them, the Oklahoma game, they kneeled in the redzone where they would've surpassed that 30-point mark.

Texas' passing defense was very good in 2015, especially in the scope of a losing season. They finished 3rd in the conference in pass defense and 6th in pass defense efficiency. They were a little less impressive versus the run; 8th to be exact, and that contributed heavily to Texas finishing 5th in total defense.

There's still plenty of reason to be excited if you're a Texas fan for Strong's defensive backs in 2016. It could very well be the return of DBU. While there's plenty to be excited about for in the defensive backs and in the team's best player and leader, Malik Jefferson, Charlie Strong is walking a tightrope. He's taking a chance with Sterlin Gilbert, and who knows what win total Texas needs to hit for Strong to keep his job; some say as high as 8, some say 7, and others say that 6 wins and a bowl game would be permissible if the offensive has a positive uptick.

It boils down to this: Texas and Oklahoma, more so the former, picked a bad time to play mediocre football. Both schools are still top-notch destinations, for players and coaches alike; but if you're not winning at Texas, and thus not having the slack to build your team your way, like say Briles, Patterson, or even Kliff Kingsbury have had the luxury of, it can set in motion your team struggling for a while. If the Gilbert experiment doesn't work out, Strong could likely be gone by 2016. That's a strong reality–excuse the pun. It's a reality that I feel a lot of Texas fans have admitted, and some have even accepted. For those who aren't, it's easy to see why; if Strong is fired, that defensive mind is gone, the talent takes a step back losing the man who recruited them, and regardless of who'd come in next, it's a difficult transition. Texas already has three losing seasons so far this decade with half of their football played. If the boosters hit reset on Strong, it could be the 2020s before we're talking about Vince Young and Colt McCoy-esque days again. At least if you're Texas, you'll be the most profitable and marketable team in the country pretty much forever. It's just a question of how long you're comfortable with being the Dallas Cowboys of college football for.

Texas (and credit them) also has to play Notre Dame, at Cal, at the Jones in Lubbock, at Boone Pickens in Stillwater, and against Bill Snyder on the road in Manhattan. Not to mention an Oklahoma team that'll be gunning for revenge in the Cotton Bowl, TCU on Thanksgiving, Baylor–presumably with an actual quarterback–will be out for blood, and West Virginia and Iowa State teams that won't be horrible. It'll be a balancing act, dangling on a wire from the UT Tower to DKR, for Strong. But if he comes out with 7 or 8 wins after that and in transition of a new offense, Texas will be back to the days of the mid-ought glory. The kicker, however remains; TCU, Baylor, and Oklahoma will still be there, not taking a step back. Texas Tech is a defensive coordinator away from being a Top 15 team every year as well, and Gundy's Oklahoma State is due for a title every five years.

Texas and Oklahoma can be great again. They'll be able to recruit like they did 10 years ago, but it's just harder to win in 2016 than it was in 2004. It's not only harder within their own conference, but from a National spectrum as well.

Tier 2: Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, West Virginia:

These three did just fine. They're three schools who despite modest classes, can find big playmakers within them. It wouldn't surprise me if in 2017, or 2018, Oklahoma State or Texas Tech, especially the latter, landed a blue chip 5-star; nor would it surprise me if there's a player in the Mountaineer class that turns out to be the next Tavon Austin.

All three of these schools have similar offensive systems, and Tech's and West Virginia's are deeply rooted in the Mike Leach intelligentsia. Most spread offenses that you see today are Leach inspired, and though Oklahoma State's has tapered off of it a bit with Air Raid disciples like Doug Meacham and Dana Holgorsen now elsewhere in the Big 12, there's still plenty it in the Mike Yurich system. What I'm getting to is that in offenses like these, Kliff Kingsbury, Dana Holgorsen, and Mike Gundy know exactly what they're looking for, and have for years. Fast players, 4-star quarterbacks, and sharp schemes will keep these teams relevant.

West Virginia's best get was versatile return man Steven Smothers and supreme JC talent Kyzir White (S) and Justin Crawford (RB). Texas Tech also killed in on the JC front, nabbing the best WR and 3rd overall JC player in the country-at least according to ESPN.

Tier 3: Iowa State:

Really a Tier 2.5, but I'll give them their own category. In a post-Paul Rhodes world, former Toledo head coach, Matt Campbell, brings (shockingly) another offensive-minded body to the Big 12. The Cyclones have always had solid muscle, but they scored a nice one with 3-Star TE, Chase Allen. Ames could also see former Georgia Bulldog, Jacob Allen on the team this year.

Tier 4: Kansas State, Kansas:

There was a recent piece published at SBNation at the lack of blue chip talent in the plain States. Trill Bill Snyder and his system will always have a shot to do damage and make a run for in the Big 12. 4-Star quarterback Skylar Thompson will fit in to the system very well.

I'm buying into David Beatty's stock too; a guy with Texas connections and even going up against fellow Texan Big 12 teams and Tom Herman's Houston squad, Beatty has enough connections to start getting 4-stars to slip into to Lawrence. 3-star athlete Maciah Long and 3-star QB Tyriek Starks will make this team, at the very least fun to watch in the next couple of years. That's a lot more than can be said about the disastrous Weis-era.