The SEC and Sumlin Effect: A Recruiting Narrative of A&M vs. Texas

Earlier this month, another Longhorn recruit flipped his commitment to the Aggies. This has been a noticeable trend that began with WR Ricky Seals-Jones in 2013, the top recruit in the Texas. It was further amplified in 2014 with the defects of DT Zaycoven Henderson and LB Otaro Alaka, and has only just begun in 2015 with OT Connor Lanfear. Wescott Eberts, writer for Burnt Orange Nation, wrote a great piece assessing the damage Sumlin has been doing on the recruiting trail. Wescott points out,

“The list of A&M pledges, [that have] offers from Texas: 

  • Five-star Gladewater defensive tackle Daylon Mack
  • Four-star Katy running back Rodney Anderson
  • Four-star Sulphur Springs safety Larry Pryor
  • Four-star Rockwall-Heath offensive tackle Trevor Elbert
  • Four-star Houston Clear Lake tight end Jordan Davis
  • Four-star Splendora running back Jay Bradford
  • Four-star Whitehouse safety Justin Dunning
  • Four-star Hays offensive tackle Connor Lanfear 

For those counting, that’s eight out of the nine current pledges for Texas A&M and Texas had shown some interest in the other commit, New Orleans (La.) Easton athlete Deshawn Capers-Smith. And how many players currently committed to Texas have offers from Texas A&M? Not a single one.”

To make matters worse, not a single Top 10 Recruit in Texas is seriously considering the Longhorns for 2015. A&M already has commits from DT Daylon Mack, TE Jordan Davis, and RB Rodney Anderson. Furthermore, they are positioned well to land 4 more top 10 recruits in LB Malik Jefferson, QB Kyler Murray, DB Kendall Sheffield, and WR Damarkus Lodge. This would give A&M the top 5 recruits in the state, along with 7 of the top 10.

With the move to the SEC, Sumlin had a chance to help mold a new identity for A&M. He brought a fun and exciting offense for offensive recruits to play in and is widely regarded as a player’s coach. This selling point has helped with A&M landing the likes of wide receivers Speedy Noil and Ricky Seals-Jones, along with consensus 5-star pro-style QB Kyle Allen. Defensively, A&M has smartly used the strength and perception of SEC defenses to lure top recruits like DE Myles Garrett, DT Daylon Mack, and DB Nick Harvey. Although the defense was pitiful last season (worst in the SEC) many of those players were young, very talented, but young. As A&M continues to develop depth with top recruiting classes, they are positioning themselves to be yearly contenders like Alabama and LSU.

Things were not always this good though. Prior to the move to the SEC and the hiring of coach Sumlin, A&M struggled to pull in top 25 recruiting classes. It seemed that Texas would have their pick of all the top recruits in the state and always finished each year with a top 5 recruiting class. Meanwhile, A&M would be left with the scraps that Texas didn’t want and would be tasked with coaching up 3-star recruits in hopes of being competitive. With little selling points to distinguish themselves from Texas and the Longhorn Network threatening to widen the competitive gap between the schools, A&M looked for membership into the SEC. Upon the announcement of A&M officially leaving the Big12 and joining the SEC, Jason Suchomel wrote some choice words about A&M’s fan base,

“Delusional Aggies (that is to say, most of them) seem to think that switching conferences will suddenly make A&M a more attractive option for high school prospects. News flash – it doesn’t. We’ve asked a number of the state’s top 2013 prospects if A&M’s conference affiliation (or UT’s, or OU’s, etc) will impact their decision. Only one player, Jake Raulerson, said he’d even given it much thought at all. To a man, at least 15 other top prospects have said conference affiliation will have zero impact on their decision, and a few players actually had no idea that Texas A&M was even leaving. 

The A&M fan base wants to believe that playing in the fire-pit that is the SEC will automatically increase its team’s exposure, reputation and recruiting success, thus allowing it to actually compete with Texas in battles to sign the state’s top talent. It won’t.” 

Sumlin had other plans though. Coupled with a successful inaugural year in the SEC capped by a throttling of OU in the Cotton Bowl, A&M emerged as the “it” school for top blue-chip recruits. In Sumlin’s first true recruiting year (2013), he brought in 32 recruits and landed the #8 recruiting class nationwide according to ESPN. Out of the 2013 recruits, 17 were ranked 4-stars or better and 10 cracked ESPN’s top 300 commits. This immediately increased the depth of the program and will be the base for future years of success.

In 2014 Sumlin pulled in a much smaller class of 22 recruits, but this was good for the #4 recruiting class nationwide according to ESPN. This class is headlined by 5-star prospects DE Myles Garrett, WR Speedy Noil, and QB Kyle Allen all of whom could make immediate impacts this fall. And with 13 other 4-star prospects, mostly from the state of Texas, A&M has established itself as the top recruiting juggernaut in the state.

Much has been made of Mack Brown’s resignation from head coach of Texas. He went 8-4 in his final regular season (2013), and was actually playing for the Big12 Title in his final game against Baylor. The years before included a 5-7 campaign in 2010, a 7-5 year in 2011, and an 8-4 season in 2012. By all indications he was turning the corner and bringing Texas back to national prominence. The only problem was that Sumlin was crushing him on the recruiting trail. The notion that A&M wouldn’t be able to battle Texas for in-state recruits proved to be dead wrong. This could have been the very undoing of Mack Brown and the underlying pressure to force his resignation.

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Coach Sumlin and A&M ride recruiting momentum

There is much excitement surrounding the Aggie football program. Sumlin is 20-6 in his first 2 SEC seasons, A&M is in the midst of rebuilding Kyle Field, and 3 Aggies could be drafted in the top 10 picks this April. Not to be outdone, A&M fans have done their part as well. Last season, A&M was the second most watched college football team, only behind Alabama. Its bowl game against Duke was the most watched non-BCS bowl game ever. Furthermore, when Kyle Field opened up registration for the new stadium, Aggie fans responded. With stadium capacity jumping from 83k seats to 102k seats, many wondered if A&M would continue to sell out their season tickets. Season ticket holders and Aggie donors responded by buying out all available season tickets in a matter of days and before it ever opened up to non-donors. The AD and A&M Board of Regents continued this strong backing by inking Sumlin to a new contract of $5 million, one that should keep him at A&M for the foreseeable future.

Time will tell if Texas’ hiring of Charlie Strong will bear any affect on Kevin Sumlin’s recruiting success. Both coaches offer very different styles and both schools have separate conference affiliations. Charlie Strong has a defensive background as a coach while Sumlin’s success has been rooted in the hurry up no huddle offense. Strong is a no-nonsense coach who has brought a list of rules and is forcing upper classman to move back to campus and live in the dorms. Sumlin has a more laid back style amplified by DJ’s playing music in the first practice of spring camp and him visiting top recruits in the “Swagcopter”. Recruits have a choice, a very clear choice. And if the past two years are any indication, the SEC and Sumlin effect has woken the sleeping giant that is A&M Football.

 

Follow us on twitter @MaroonReport for the latest updates and more Aggie football news.

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