Recruiting trends in the Big 12 can be quite fickle at times, with a number of traditional college football powerhouse programs, the spoils often go to the team on top at the time. The landscape seems to be changing in the conference once again with some new blood at several key programs, but will that be enough to shake things up in 2018? Here are some of the major themes to keep an eye on.
1. CAN OKLAHOMA START A NEW STREAK AS CONFERENCE RECRUITING CHAMPS?
The Sooners were easily the top team in the conference when it came to recruiting in 2017. Before the season even started, Oklahoma had a strong lead with nearly 20 players committed, and Bob Stoops and company did a nice job maintaining that to finish with their best recruiting class in years.
Last year’s success in the Dallas-Fort Worth area was critical for the Sooners, but in 2018, the Sooners have seen more of their early success come in-state with three commitments, headlined by national Top 25 prospect Brey Walker. With another borderline Top 50 prospect in California quarterback Cameron Rising, Oklahoma has gotten itself off to yet another promising start.
Despite all the Sooners’ success in the Big 12, OU has only finished as conference recruiting champion five times in 2005. While Oklahoma could make that six this year - and is off to a solid start now with the No. 12 recruiting class in the country - closing on Texas prospects such as Brennan Eagles, Alston Orji, Jalen Preston, and Darrell Simpson would grow that footprint even further in the Houston area.
2. CAN TEXAS WIN THE STATE?
Longhorns fans are surely ready to see Tom Herman make the most of all the assets available to him now as the head coach at Texas. Of course, he’s not only working against other Texas programs in the Big 12, he has to contend with Texas A&M out of the SEC as well.
Some of the players that he took a last-minute swing at in 2017 may not have chosen Texas, but they didn’t necessarily stay in-state, either. Chevin Calloway committed to Arkansas. Walker Little chose Stanford. Even Stephan Zabie, the teammate of last year’s quarterback signee Sam Ehlinger, committed to UCLA. Things are off to a different start now with the recent commitments of Byron Hobbs, who took his turn a few months ago as one of the most popular defensive recruits in Texas, as well as grabbing commitments from four-stars Casey Thompson and Justin Watkins.
Both Thompson and Watkins are out-of-state recruits, but all three commitments were on campus for the Longhorns’ junior day weekend at the end of February, so this could be the sign that UT fans have been waiting for; that this staff can seal the deal with recruits. Holding off teams TCU and Baylor in conference, as well as the Aggies - who also currently sit just outside the top 15 recruiting classes - will take continued successful efforts in-state.
3. IS THIS THE YEAR THE KANSAS GETS OUT OF THE RECRUITING GUTTER?
The Jayhawks gave themselves a head start in recruiting that nobody could have seen coming a few months ago, landing commitments from three Louisiana four-star prospects. Ja’Marr Chase didn’t take long to reconsider that decision and back off of his commitment, but over Easter weekend, Kansas replaced him with another dynamic receiver in Texarkana prospect Tevailance Hunt.
Kansas already has seven players committed heading into the summer and sits just one place behind Oklahoma in the 2018 team recruiting rankings. While Jayhawks fans will no doubt welcome highly ranked recruits at any position, Devonta Jason and Corione Harris are Rivals250 prospects at wide receiver and cornerback, Clayton Tune could be a strong quarterback pickup assuming all goes well with his recovery from a knee injury last season and defensive back Aaron Brule has looked exceptional at events this spring, so they are having success at some critical positions with now.
As a team that has traditionally finished in the bottom-three in-conference, some success on the field this season coupled with a strong finish with this year’s recruiting class could result in a change in Kansas’ fortunes sooner than later.
4. CAN BAYLOR GRAB ITS SECOND CONSECUTIVE TOP-THREE CLASS?
Plenty has been said about the job Matt Rhule and his staff did to make lemonade from lemons just ahead of National Signing Day, 2017. Now the task will be to do it again - and do it better.
After the way Rhule found success at Temple and smartly hired well-connected high school coaches to fill his staff at Baylor, he had a potent sales pitch to recruits. Whether or not he’ll have some growing pains recovering from the events of last spring or getting the most out of what remains on the roster heading into this season will determine to what degree he may be able to replicate that success.
Baylor is off to a relatively good start this spring, loading up on promising offensive linemen and bringing in a sure offensive playmaker in Josh Fleeks. But it would help to secure a marquee name or two from in-state to help quell some of the doubts recruits at large might still have.
5. CAN IOWA STATE START LANDING SOME FOUR-STAR RECRUITS?
Iowa State coach Matt Campbell has the tough task of not only resurrecting the Cyclones, but doing so in a situation where the majority of his recruits come from out of state. ISU finds itself in that group of programs that has to offer more players earlier in the process and when the wins have yet to materialize, that’s a pretty daunting task.
Since 2011, Iowa State has only signed three four-star recruits, which probably goes a long way in explaining both win totals and relatively lackluster recruiting classes in recent memory. Even securing the commitment of John Waggoner, Iowa’s top-ranked player, would be a huge get for the Cyclones, but he’s currently a high three-star.
The Cyclones may not be a team that many are talking about outside of Ames heading into this season, but they kept several games close last year and could be just a couple of playmakers short of turning a corner. Another key would be landing a strong quarterback in this class after not signing one in 2017. Chance Amie or Kaleb Eleby seem to be the most realistic targets at the moment and would provide a boost to those out-of-state recruiting efforts.