Why is this man staring West?
Watching the head-to-head recruiting battles between OU and Texas that has bitterly defined the Texas-OU rivalry since the 1950s, evolve into the strange, almost parallel, recruiting universe of today has been interesting.
In 2012, the Sooners signed only 5 of their 26 players from the state of Texas (19.2%, they signed as many Californians as Texans) while the previous ten years boasted a 46% Texas sign rate (107 out of 233, compiled using Rivals.com). The near term trend between 2008-2011 was even more pronounced with 56% of their signees hailing from the Lone Star State.
Though 2012 may simply represent a one year outlier, in 2013, Texas finds itself competing more with SEC schools for the finishing touches on its recruiting haul than against our primary rival and Big 12 hegemon. In a Big 12 that can be defined post-Osborne as an extended contest between Texas and Oklahoma (with Oklahoma winning), and the Texas program coming off of two relatively disastrous years, it's a curious circumstance that OU is going national.
What is going on? Why is OU in (seeming) Texas recruiting retreat?
They may not be. It's just that our battles are over before they start. Kent Perkins, Darius James, A'Shawn Robinson - seemingly the top 3 Texas OL on OU's recruiting board - wrapped up their recruitments 10 to 11 months from Signing Day. The pattern was more or less the same: OU offer or junior day visit, recruit says nice things about OU, followed by Texas offer or junior day, then Texas commitment. With respect to OL specifically, Texas now values many of the same attributes that OU does, and that's bad news for Bob. I'd bet that in 2007, at least 2 of those 3 end up as Sooners and that has a lot to do with...
New staff at Texas. An evaluation change at Texas began with Muschamp on defense and, to a much lesser extent Applewhite's lobbying as a junior member of the offensive staff, but now we boast an entire staff more willing to work to find - and define correctly - desired player attributes. Previous staffs didn't and Texas fans believed the hype when pay-sites, in pandering complicity, pared the known universe of good players in-state to Players Texas Is Interested In. Before that, OU was getting a lot of the players that they wanted that we didn't particularly value. Probably at TCU's expense. Specifically, this staff now evaluates OL and Athlete ballas much differently than previous regimes.
Beyond OU's inability (or lack of interest) in recruiting Texas in 2012, they did sign Texas players in abundance in 2010 and 2011, but many were lower on OU's evaluation boards or laden with more baggage. Not just in the stilted opinion of Texas fans or coaches, but, more crucially, in the opinion of OU's coaches. See their current Wide Re-Divas.
Failure to capitalize on 2010-2011. While Texas went 13-12 and saw an actual program implosion, OU went 22-5 and claimed another Big 12 title. During the same time, DFW - a traditional Sooner outpost - boasted an inordinate amount of contested talent, and a good deal of that talent favored OU early. Though OU landed players like Daryl Williams, Corey Nelson, and Joe Powell, Texas dominated the DFW head-to-heads for players like Adrian Phillips, Jackson Jeffcoat, Mike Davis, Taylor Bible (ugh), Aaron Benson, Tevin Jackson, John Harris, Reggie Wilson; not to mention other battles in Houston and East Texas.
OU outperforming Texas on the field and in the Red River Shootout can't continue indefinitely without consequence (see early 2000s and Adrian Peterson's "business decision"), but it demonstrates the amazing grip that Texas exerts on the psyche of Texas athletes that grew up watching Longhorn teams between 2004-2009.
Positional Need/System. OU's current 2013 class is small, and so far very promising, but doesn't feature a head-to-head "win" against Texas. That's no slight against OU's signees: 3 of OU's 8 verbal commitments hail from Texas, and that includes what I consider to be the best conventional QB in Texas (Cody Thomas, acquired from Petrino's Arkansas wreckage) and the state's best RB (Keith Ford). Texas went for the state's best dual threat QB and our depth chart at RB isn't exactly appealing, so there are times when we simply don't overlap on elite players. Similarly, OU has historically been more willing to gamble with respect to grades or character concerns and that allows a pool of athletes we're less likely to dip into.
But caution: The Iron Law of Shitheads always wins. Achieve a critical mass of them on your roster such that they define your culture, and your program goes in the toilet. Urban Meyer thinks I have a point.
General popularity. OU isn't as frequently represented as the favored alternative to Texas. Increasingly, we see elite Texas recruits listing LSU, Alabama, Oregon, Florida as their preferred out-of-state alternatives. Or, in-state, Baylor and A&M. I have no idea why. Is it because of the rumors that OU isn't much fun right now? Or is it simply college football trendiness? I have little doubt that a monster season from the Sooners is all that's needed to alter sentiment, but right now, Texas spends as much time sweating LSU as it does OU. We can't compete with OU if the recruit doesn't consider them to begin with. Which explains OU's 2012/2013 strategy even more.
There's nothing magical about Texas talent per se, but there's a lot of it, and OU doesn't have a great history of winning without it. They can certainly win with a national recruiting model, but OU's previous flirtations with that paradigm under Stoops met with uneven results and an inordinate amount of busts from recruiting off of lists instead of properly kicking tires. Maybe the Sooners are putting in the time and building the connections necessary to do better due diligence on OOS talent, but that proof will be in the pudding they used to feed Mark Mangino.