Texas’ red-hot recruiting class is the story of Signing Day

Texas became the story of Signing Day, closing the 2016 signing class with a flurry like UT never had before. For years when Mack Brown signed all those Top 5 classes, there never was much Signing Day drama or intrigue. This year, though, was much, much different. 

Charlie Strong generated as much buzz as anyone in the recruiting world this week, and especially early Wednesday morning. Texas beat out archrival Texas A&M and Baylor, and pretty much everyone else in the country for top safety Brandon Jones, the nation’s No. 19 overall recruit. UT also landed four-star DT Chris Daniels, the No. 146 prospect, and then reeled in in-state LB Erick Fowler, who switched from LSU. The wave of momentum kept going for the Longhorns later Wednesday morning when the No. 43 overall prospect Jeffrey McCulloch, an outside linebacker, also said he was signing with UT.

By 6 p.m. ET Wednesday, Texas had climbed to No. 8 in the Scout team recruiting rankings, becoming the only Big 12 team in the Top 15. Amazing when you consider the Longhorns were one of only three Big 12 teams that didn’t make a bowl this season. UT had 15 four-star recruits among its 24 signees. 

Three weeks ago, all the major online recruiting services had UT ranked in the 30s. As Stew Mandel and I discussed on The Audible back then, those rankings shouldn’t have come as a shock given that Texas had just come off a dismal 5-7 season where the Longhorns didn’t even make a bowl game; that there was a staff shake-up involving another offensive scheme change; and that head coach Charlie Strong’s job status had been a hot topic there all fall. In the podcast we pointed out that despite those low rankings at the time, UT did secure one very key recruit in touted QB Shane Buechele, an accurate passer, who as an early enrollee figures to get a good shot to provide some much-needed help.

[By the way, neither one of us actually predicted where they were going to finish in the recruiting rankings. If you actually LISTEN to what we said, we were just talking about reasons why they were ranked where they were at the time.]

This group on paper is stacked with defensive studs and seems like a good follow-up to what proved to be a terrific first full class for Strong in 2015. UT started six true freshmen — twice as many as anyone else in the Big 12. One of the gems of that class was a former three-star recruit, Connor Williams, a one-time tight end primed to be a star left tackle. He’s started the entire year for Texas.

That 2015 class was ranked No. 7 last winter by Scout; No. 9 by ESPN; No. 10 by 247 Sports and No. 12 by Rivals.

The ironic part is all those diehards and Longhorn fan sites who have become so obsessed with UT’s recruiting-rankings climb in the past few weeks probably don’t realize that five years ago, in 2011, none of the major online recruiting sites ranked Charlie Strong’s first full recruiting class at Louisville in the Top 25, but it was the nucleus to back-to-back Top 15 finishes and a 23-3 mark in his final two seasons at U of L. That ’11 class produced three first-rounders (Teddy Bridgewater, Calvin Pryor and DeVante Parker); three third-rounders (John Miller, Jamon Brown and Lorenzo Mauldin); two sixth-rounders (Deiontrez Mount, Charles Gaines); and one seventh-rounder (Gerod Holliman). Louisville had eight players drafted in the first three rounds in the past two years. The Cards had only seven players picked in first three rounds in the previous decade. U of L also had four first-rounders in the past two years compared to just two first-rounders in the 16 years before Strong was hired.

When I visited Strong in Austin last spring, he pointed out that in his 2011 recruiting class at Louisville only Bridgewater was hyped as a blue-chip prospect. "Those guys weren’t afraid to work because nothing was ever given to them," Strong said.

That group was hungry. Last year’s class sounded like it was. Many of those later Top 10 classes Mack Brown signed seemed to be lacking on that front. It’ll be fascinating to see if — and when — things come together on the field in Austin.