- Max Olson, Big 12 reporter
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The trend was hard to miss if you walked the sidelines of a Baylor or TCU game before kickoff this season. What was soon to come looked pretty obvious on those Saturdays.
Throughout their dream seasons as co-Big 12 champions, guess who Art Briles and Gary Patterson packed their respective houses with? High school juniors and sophomores.
This week starts the clock on the class of 2016, yet Baylor and TCU are as ahead of the game as ever on that front. Their top-10 finishes are already beginning to pay off with this next batch of recruits.
Together, Baylor and TCU have landed 14 pledges for the 2016 class. Only 12 of the state of Texas' top 30 recruits have made commitments, but eight belong to the leaders of the Big 12.
While Texas and the rest of their recruiting rivals were scrambling to finish off the class that signed Wednesday, both Baylor and TCU have already hosted their first junior day of the year. It never hurts to have those kids stopping by to see your new trophies as soon as possible.
For TCU, it was only natural to get a jump-start on the next class. The Horned Frogs had 21 of their 23 signees for 2014 on board by the end of December.
The majority of that group committed off a 4-8 season. That group was pitched potential and promise. The 2016 class got to witness the results, and that has Patterson and his staff optimistic about how good this next batch of newcomers can be.
"I think kids that came to our ballgames, our type of offense and defense is very exciting," Patterson said during a national signing day appearance on Fox Sports. "I think the sky's the limit. I don't think we've even scratched the surface of what TCU can be."
The Frogs' group of eight pledges for 2016 already has its quarterback in San Angelo Central's Brennen Wooten, plus ESPN Junior 300 athletes Christian Wallace and D'Eriq King and receiver Courtney Lark. They also have a cornerback, three-star Ke'Shawn Somerville, who flipped from Baylor.
The Bears' 2016 class already has of the nation's best in offensive tackle Patrick Hudson, the No. 11 rated recruit in the ESPN Junior 300. The 6-foot-5, 330-pound lineman from Silsbee, Texas, flipped his commitment from Texas A&M to BU back in July.
Baylor took its quarterback for this class, Zach Smith, last summer as well. He's joined by ESPN Junior 300 back Kameron Martin, who's become the most vocal recruiter of the bunch on Twitter. BU also accepted a pledge last summer from Navasota's Tren'Davian Dickson, who went on to shatter the national single-season record with 39 touchdown catches (including four to win his state title game).
Briles and his assistants secured 13 of their 19 latest signees by the end of 2014. They didn't have to worry about many of them, either. That provided the luxury of time to get moving on 2016 and beyond.
"The last couple of weeks of recruiting, I mean, we recruited 2016 kids and looked at 2017 sophomores," Briles said during his signing day news conference. "Because these guys had been with us, stayed strong, they committed and stayed intelligent."
The commitments for this next class aren't the only key. By hosting those early junior days, Baylor and TCU get to be among the first to target and offer those in-state recruits who might not be on everyone else's radar just yet.
Neither program inked a top-30 recruiting class in ESPN's 2015 rankings. Together, they signed almost four times as many three-stars as four-stars. This 2016 class can be a different story. The highly-touted kids who wouldn't take a call from Briles or Patterson a few years ago are taking trips to Waco and Fort Worth.
What matters, of course, is how you finish. TCU and Baylor will have to fend off foes for the next 12 months to ensure these pledges stick. The momentum of preseason top-10 hype should endure for these next six, making it easy to envision why both could be on the way to their highest-rated classes in a long time.
Throughout their dream seasons as co-Big 12 champs, guess who Art Briles and Gary Patterson recruited? High school juniors and sophomores.