More exposure in Texas could help SEC recruiting
Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino recruits in Texas as much as any coach in the Southeastern Conference.
As the SEC's westernmost member, the Razorbacks' roster lists 22 players from the talent-rich, football-obsessed Lone Star state.
Now that Texas A&M is joining the SEC, Petrino said he expects to do even better there.
''We'll have more exposure, more TV games,'' he said Wednesday on the SEC coaches' teleconference.
''I always felt we lost a couple of kids to Big 12 teams because those kids grew up watching those teams on TV and wanting to play in the Big 12,'' he said.
When it comes to recruiting, exposure is a valuable commodity.
The more exposure a school gets through televised games and media coverage, the more it builds name recognition with a wider audience. The SEC has one of the best television deals in college sports, with a nationally televised game on CBS every Saturday afternoon - and sometimes one at night, too - and ESPN serving up a steady diet of SEC football.
So it's not as if kids in Texas can't watch SEC teams play and, indeed, conference coaches are split on how much of a boost their league will get from adding the Aggies.
LSU coach Les Miles said reaching recruits definitely goes beyond what's on national television.
''It'll be a great opportunity for the local media in Texas to see the in-state conference being the SEC,'' said Miles, who routinely grabs top-notch recruits from the Houston area. ''I think when the media covers a conference game ... because there's now a conference school in that state, that it will give great opportunities for schools in our conference, certainly LSU, to get into Texas.''
Playing in Texas helps, too.
Since 1992, when the SEC added Arkansas and South Carolina, SEC teams have gone on the road for 19 regular-season games in the state of Texas. Arkansas, predictably, has played the most with eight. Mississippi State has played four, LSU three and Mississippi and Vanderbilt have each played two.
The Cotton Bowl has had a deal with the SEC to select one of its teams since 1998.
Teams often schedule games with the idea of showcasing their program to recruits in a particular area, though most SEC schools don't have to go far to find a wealth of good football players.
''I think there are so many players in the Southeast a lot of schools in our league just didn't feel that they needed to go there,'' said Auburn coach Gene Chizik, who has also been an assistant at Texas and the head coach at Iowa State.
He said when he worked in the Big 12 and recruited in Texas, ''In general, you saw a couple of SEC schools there for a couple of guys.''
Tennessee coach Derek Dooley was an assistant at LSU under Nick Saban and was the head coach at Louisiana Tech before taking over in Knoxville. He has done plenty of recruiting in Texas in his old jobs and his new one.
He said while having Tennessee talked about in Texas more often should be a good thing for the Vols, A&M's entry to the SEC also could create a new stumbling block.
''We also know it makes it more challenging because you have to go beat the home school,'' he said. ''If you have a kid that wants to get into the SEC, he's got an option to stay in the state.''
Chizik and Mississippi coach Houston Nutt said that they would probably have to re-evaluate how much time, effort and money they spend in Texas. Georgia's Mark Richt, whose program has done just fine recruiting mostly in-state in neighboring Florida and South Carolina, said he would likely ''investigate'' whether it's worth trying to dip into Texas more often.
On the other hand, new Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, who has emphasized a national approach to recruiting, and Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said their assistants are already in Texas and they won't change their approach.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier also said A&M to the SEC won't change his staff's travel plans.
''I don't think we'll go into Texas,'' he said. ''I think a lot of those high school kids might say, 'Now tell me where is South Carolina? That's where now? Oh, yeah, it's right below North Carolina.'''
Florida coach and former Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp wondered if too much is being made of the windfall of talent headed the SEC's way.
''There are young men in the state of Texas who are going to be Longhorns, there are young men who are going to be Aggies and Oklahoma has always done a great job in the Dallas area and that's always going to be true,'' he said. ''I do think it will help as far as exposure is concerned.''
Saban, seemingly always a step ahead of the pack, had already stepped up Alabama's recruiting in Texas last year.
''We put another coach in Texas because we thought it was a place we should spend more time recruiting,'' Saban said.
Still, he's not sure he's buying the conventional wisdom about A&M providing a gateway to Texas for all those tenacious SEC recruiters.
''If you get more exposure there is more recognition and more interest and that should help you in recruiting Texas,'' he said, ''but there's no proof of that.''