Dallas Colleges: Otaro Alaka

Texas A&M fans were hoping for a "home-run" hire when Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin began his search for a new defensive coordinator in late November.

Snagging "The Chief" from a division rival whom they have yet to beat or finish ahead of in the standings since joining the SEC qualifies as a grand slam.

Bringing John Chavis to Aggieland to revive Texas A&M's defense could have significant positive consequences in 2015 and beyond.

[+] EnlargeJohn Chavis
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsThe arrival of veteran coordinator John Chavis at Texas A&M is expected to fix a defense that has been the program's weakness under Kevin Sumlin.
Chavis' résumé speaks for itself. He has coached in the SEC continuously since 1989, with the past 20 years spent as a defensive coordinator -- the first 14 for Tennessee, the past six for LSU. At Tennessee, he was part of a national-championship team and regularly had his defenses ranked in the top 25 nationally. During the six-season span Chavis led the LSU defense, only one team in the nation allowed fewer points per game than the 17.1 the Tigers allowed: Alabama (12.8).

Choose the measuring stick, and Chavis' Tigers stood up well. Over the past six seasons combined, the Tigers rank in the top five nationally in yards per game, yards per play, passing defense, red-zone defense and defensive goal-to-go efficiency. They were 11th nationally in rushing defense and 17th in defensive third-down conversion percentage over the past six seasons (35.3 percent).

Against only SEC teams, LSU remained strong. The Tigers are either second, third or fourth in the SEC over the past six years in 11 separate defensive categories, including scoring, third downs, and turnovers.

The Aggies are in dire need of defensive improvement after spending the past two seasons at the bottom of the SEC in yards per game allowed and rushing defense. In the three-year span since Texas A&M joined the SEC, the Aggies rank among the bottom five teams in the league against SEC competition in each of those 11 defensive categories: scoring, yards per game, yards per play, rushing, yards per rush, passing, yards per pass attempt, third down, goal-to-go, red-zone conversion rates, and turnovers. Sumlin went after Chavis precisely to remedy those glaring statistics.

On paper, it looks like a dream team: Sumlin's offensive reputation paired with Chavis' defensive experience.

At LSU, Chavis didn't usually have the benefit of a top-flight offense to go with the Tigers' salty defense. Quarterback questions were the norm rather than the exception, though LSU traditionally has a strong ground game stocked with good offensive linemen and quality running backs. In Chavis' six seasons at LSU, the Tigers averaged 26.1 points per game against SEC opponents, which ranked seventh in the conference.

Now, he's joining a Texas A&M program that has averaged 35.1 points per game against SEC teams since joining the league in 2012. The Aggies have a wealth of young playmakers, including a bright-eyed freshman quarterback, Kyle Allen, who just came off a career performance in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

Like any transition, it's unlikely to progress snags. Chavis is used to having a team that controls time of possession and thus doesn't leave his defenses on the field for the majority of the game. Sumlin has never been a time-of-possession head coach, and his teams usually operate at a breakneck tempo, though he did show signs this season of slowing the pace occasionally in wins against Auburn and Louisiana-Monroe.

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Chavis had the benefit of deeper and more talented defenses than what will initially be at his disposal in College Station, Texas. It's normal for LSU to have multiple defensive players chosen in the NFL draft, but for the Aggies in recent years, it has been the exception.

Young talent does exist across Aggies' current defensive two-deep, led by true freshman defensive end Myles Garrett. Of the 29 players on the Aggies' final 2014 depth chart, 15 were freshmen or sophomores, and seven true freshmen -- Garrett, defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson, linebackers Otaro Alaka and Josh Walker, and defensive backs Armani Watts, Nick Harvey and Donovan Wilson -- started at least one game for the Aggies this season.

The Aggies are still trying to stock sufficient defensive talent to field a top-flight SEC defense. They did a good job in the 2014 recruiting class, which yielded those true freshmen starters, but they still need more talent, frankly, LSU-type talent -- and depth -- in order to make this work how they hopes it will.

If they continue to acquire the necessary talent, the potential that exists in the Aggies' marriage to Chavis seems limitless. The expectations will certainly be stratospheric.

Sumlin's teams have never been known for great defense: his squads finished worse than 100th nationally in yards allowed per game in five of his seven seasons as a head coach. But this is a promising sign that he's committed to reversing that trend.

He reached across the Texas-Louisiana border to pluck one of the most respected defensive names in the country from an SEC West rival, one that coordinated defenses that even Johnny Manziel couldn't conquer. Sumlin had a front row seat to the Chief's success the past three years and took a simple approach in hopes of delivering defensive success at Texas A&M:

If you can't beat 'em, hire 'em.
Will Muschamp is a wanted man. The former Florida coach was once a premier defensive coordinator in college football, and now he’s being sought out for the same position by both Auburn and Texas A&M.

Muschamp isn’t the only name to have come up. Others have been linked to the two openings, including former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, who won a national championship as LSU’s defensive coordinator in 2007, as well as current Houston defensive coordinator David Gibbs, who spent a year at Auburn in 2005 and is not far from Texas A&M.

The question is – whether it’s Muschamp, Pelini or even Gibbs – which defensive coordinator job is more attractive to potential suitors, Auburn or Texas A&M?

Greg Ostendorf: If the goal is to play for national championships, then this is a no-brainer. Auburn won a national championship in 2010 and played for another one just last season. As long as Gus Malzahn is the head coach, the Tigers will be good enough offensively to make the playoff year in and year out.

They’re also better suited to make a run next year. Despite all the young talent on the Aggies’ roster, I argue that an incoming defensive coordinator will have more to work with at Auburn than he would at Texas A&M.

 Assuming nobody leaves early, the Tigers will have seven starters returning on defense, including the top three leading tacklers (Johnathan Ford, Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost), the team leader in sacks (DaVonte Lambert) and the team leader in interceptions (Jonathan Jones). Can Texas A&M say the same thing?

The defense will also welcome back Carl Lawson, the team’s top pass rusher who missed the entire season due to injury. Lawson didn’t have the same type of production as the Aggies' Myles Garrett did his freshman year, but when healthy, he still has NFL potential written all over him.

That alone is a solid group, especially with Lawson coming back, but when you throw in Tre' Williams, Nick Ruffin and Stephen Roberts, a trio of promising young freshmen who all played this season and gained valuable experience, the potential for a turnaround is there as long as Auburn finds the right guy to take charge.

Some argue that Malzahn focuses primarily on offense when it comes to recruiting, but Auburn’s current 2015 class has three linebackers ranked in the ESPN 300, and the right hire could be just what the Tigers need to land a star like Jeffery Holland or Daron Payne. Can you imagine the success Muschamp would have in Florida, a state Auburn recruits well already? He would have no trouble convincing top defensive targets to join him on the Plains.

The question I have for the future defensive coordinator at Texas A&M is how long will your head coach be around? Kevin Sumlin’s name has been linked to NFL jobs the past two seasons, and it will likely come up again this offseason. Granted, Malzahn might also have a future in the NFL, but Sumlin seems closer to realizing that dream.

Let’s be honest. Both schools have money, both have top-notch facilities, and both have the resources to be successful. The difference is Auburn has better players and a better opportunity to win next year. For a defensive coordinator who might want to coach again soon, i.e. Muschamp or Pelini, there’s not a better job out there.

Sam Khan: Texas A&M’s defensive coordinator position is an appealing opportunity for prospective defensive coaches.

For starters, there is nowhere to go but up. The Aggies ranked last in the SEC in yards per game allowed in each of the past two seasons, so the room for improvement is plentiful.

 The real reason it’s a good opportunity though, is the personnel. The Aggies have ripe young talent to work with. Myles Garrett. Armani Watts. Otaro Alaka. Josh Walker. Zaycoven Henderson. Those are all true freshmen who started games for the Aggies this year.

Garrett is a bonafide star. He shattered Jadeveon Clowney’s SEC freshman sack record (Garrett has 11 sacks this season) and is the type of player the Aggies’ next defensive coordinator can build around the next two seasons (let’s be honest, the chances of Garrett exhausting his college eligibility seem slim given his production so far).

Watts showed promise at safety this season with three interceptions and seven pass breakups. Alaka and Walker performed admirably when inserted into the starting lineup late in the season and look like the linebackers of the future. Henderson is a big body with quickness to plug in the middle. And that’s not to mention a host of other underclassmen who were forced into action each of the past two seasons who will continue to grow in the coming years.

The Aggies have more young talent coming in via the 2015 recruiting class, like 5-star defensive tackle Daylon Mack, four-star defensive end James Lockhart and ESPN 300 safeties Larry Pryor Jr. and Justin Dunning. The foundation for future success is there.

Money won’t be an issue for the Aggies when it comes to paying their defensive coordinator of choice. The school is in the middle of spending nearly $500 million on football facilities upgrades and shelled out $5 million per season for Kevin Sumlin. They’re not going to go cheap on the defensive coordinator, which is a pivotal hire heading into Sumlin’s fourth season in Aggieland, just for the sake of saving a few bucks. They have to get this hire right, and they’ll spend what’s necessary to do it.

The resources to attract more defensive talent is there. The player’s locker room and lounge is second-to-none. The Aggies have one of the best weight rooms in the country. Sumlin is a master recruiter who excels at closing the deal with elite recruits.

And Sumlin is willing to give his choice a chance. Auburn has had seven defensive coordinators in the past 10 seasons. Sumlin, who has been a head coach since 2008, is going on his fourth. Sumlin has no problem making changes when necessary, but he usually isn’t the type to overreact to one season’s worth of results.

Defensive results seal Mark Snyder's fate

December, 1, 2014
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Prior to what proved to be his final game as Texas A&M’s defensive coordinator, Mark Snyder acknowledged the pressure that comes with his profession.

If you don’t succeed, you’ll be looking for another job in short order.

"I learned at 30 years old, the second you take a job in this profession, you're on the hot seat," Snyder said on Nov. 20, a week before the Aggies’ 23-17 loss to LSU. "The day you take the job, you're on the hot seat. All the young people that want to get into coaching need to understand that. This is a production-based business, period."

Snyder’s defense came under fire the past two seasons because of the production, or lack thereof, it showed. After a promising debut season in Aggieland in 2012, the Texas A&M defense couldn’t find its footing under Snyder’s watch the next two years, which ultimately led to his firing by head coach Kevin Sumlin on Friday, fewer than 24 hours after the Aggies yielded 384 rushing yards and nearly 500 total yards to LSU.

[+] EnlargeMark Snyder
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsTexas A&M coordinator Mark Snyder's defense finished last in the SEC in yards allowed per game (449) and rushing (223.5 yards per game).
As Snyder alluded to, it’s a results-based industry and the results weren’t good in 2013 or 2014 for the Aggies’ defense. In 2013 the Aggies ranked last in the SEC in scoring defense, yards allowed per game, yards allowed per play, rushing defense, yards allowed per carry, and red-zone efficiency.

There were numerous contributing factors, perhaps none larger than the youth and inexperience that existed on the defense. At least a dozen freshmen permeated the two-deep depth chart, and suspensions and injuries didn’t help. In 2012, the Aggies had the good fortune of a veteran-laden defense with two NFL draft picks (defensive end Damontre Moore and linebacker Sean Porter), but the 2013 unit was void of that type of talent, leadership and experience.

This season was supposed to be different. With most of the 2013 defense returning and the addition of a strong freshman class, led by 5-star defensive end Myles Garrett, depth and talent improved. There was a sense of optimism surrounding the unit with six returning starters and the influx of young talent, which yielded season-opening starting freshmen at defensive end (Garrett), safety (Armani Watts), and eventual starters at linebacker (Otaro Alaka, Josh Walker).

The start to the season was different, with the Aggies posting a solid performance at South Carolina, holding the Gamecocks to 67 rushing yards, 3.0 yards per carry, and collecting three sacks, things that were weak spots the season before. Throughout Texas A&M’s 5-0 start, there were ups and downs, but reasons to believe progress was happening.

As the schedule stiffened and the Aggies navigated the SEC gauntlet, the numbers got worse: 559 yards and 48 points allowed to Mississippi State. A whopping 602 yards and 59 points allowed to Alabama. Even though the Aggies beat Auburn, the Tigers rolled up 363 rushing yards. The final nails in the coffin came against Missouri (587 yards) and LSU (491), both of whom ran for more than 330 yards.

At season’s end, the Aggies were right back where they were at the end of 2013: last in the SEC in yards allowed per game (449) and rushing (223.5 yards per game). Problems that existed the year before, like tackling or fitting proper gaps in the run game, resurfaced.

If the Aggies, with nearly $500 million being spent on upgrading football facilities and a $5 million coach, wish to be true SEC contenders, those types of defensive performances can’t happen.

Were there circumstances that contributed to the struggles? Absolutely. Three players who would have likely started this season -- defensive end Gavin Stansbury, defensive tackle Isaiah Golden and linebacker Darian Claiborne -- were no longer on the team for various reasons. Injuries mounted as the season went on. Some players who the staff relied on to take big steps forward this season didn’t. Linebacker depth was poor. The sputtering offense that resulted in a quarterback change didn’t help the defense, either, at times. That is the nature of SEC football though, and regardless of circumstances, results are required.

Sumlin knows that, which is why he’s making a change. He’ll search far and wide for a coach he believes is the best fit to take the promising young talent on the defensive side of the ball and elevate the results to the necessary level. Whether that is a high-profile, high-priced name like former Florida head coach Will Muschamp, Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi or someone more under-the-radar like Houston’s David Gibbs remains to be seen, but the hire will be critical for Sumlin, who replaced his offensive coordinator last season with Jake Spavital and is now making another coordinator hire.

The 2015 season could be a big one for the Aggies, but in order for it to be the type of season Sumlin has been building toward, he must get the right guy, and get a lot better than worst-in-the-SEC defensive results.

Issues remain for Aggies despite win

November, 3, 2014
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Kevin Sumlin was right about at least one thing following Texas A&M’s narrow 21-16 escape of Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday at Kyle Field.

"We need to win," Sumlin said. "It’s been awhile since we won."

It’s true. The entire month of October passed without a win for the Aggies (6-3), once a trendy pick for one the four inaugural College Football Playoff berths after a hot start.

How quickly things have changed and how far this team has fallen.

[+] EnlargeKyle Allen
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsThe Aggies need QB Kyle Allen to play well to have any chance against Auburn on Saturday.
The images from the end of Saturday’s close win against a sub-.500 team from the Sun Belt Conference were almost the polar opposite of what was seen in Columbia, South Carolina, on Aug. 28 when Texas A&M stunned the nation by wiping the floor with the Gamecocks.

Perhaps most telling words about where the Aggies are came out from Sumlin after Saturday’s game.

"This game was won a week ago in the off week with how we practiced from a physical standpoint and a toughness standpoint," Sumlin said. "To close out the game being able to run the football and take some time off the clock and have our defense make some stops at the end to win the game. From my standpoint, two or three weeks ago, I don’t know if we win this game."

The fact that the Aggies might have once been at a point where they lost to a Group of 5 team that is now 3-5 and ranks 101st or worst nationally in almost every major offensive statistical category, is troubling.

That day was probably Oct. 18 when the Aggies were systematically destroyed 59-0 at Alabama. Sumlin is probably right -- they wouldn’t have beaten Louisiana-Monroe or just about anybody that afternoon. The Aggies that day turned in their worst performance since joining the SEC in 2012, and easily their worst since a 77-0 loss to Oklahoma in 2003, which was two head coaching changes ago.

High-powered offense and opportunistic defense against an SEC opponent on the road, like what was witnessed on Aug. 28 at South Carolina, has been traded for squeaking out a meager offensive output, a defensive unit that bent, but didn’t break on Saturday, and a host of freshmen in key positions on both sides of the ball, including at quarterback.

A team that racked up 680 yards in its opener is a shell of its former self, managing only 243 offensive yards (104 fewer than Louisiana-Monroe posted Saturday) and was running clock, moving the chains late in the fourth quarter in an effort to secure a win.

There was once a time when the clock was mostly irrelevant to the Aggies' offense, except for timing how quickly the team could score. Now it seems the breakneck offensive tempo that the Aggies have been known for in recent years is nonexistent.

Of course, starting a true freshman quarterback for the first time -- Kyle Allen -- contributed to the offensive struggles. Allen, the No. 1-ranked pocket passer in the 2014 recruiting class, is quite talented physically but doesn’t have a full grasp of the offense yet. Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital scaled down the Aggies' offense significantly as to not give Allen too much to digest.

They will open the playbook more heading into Saturday’s game at No. 3 Auburn. They have no choice but to do so as Allen makes his second start. But the Aggies are also in this position partially because the quarterback who performed so impressively in the first five games of the season, Kenny Hill, is suspended for two games for a violation of team rules. One of the team’s supposed leaders has now been suspended twice in this calendar year (he was suspended in March during spring practice following an arrest on a public intoxication charge).

Upcoming is a treacherous three-game stretch to close out the regular season -- at Auburn and at home vs. Missouri and LSU. That the Aggies still seem to be trying to find the right answers on each side of the ball more than two-thirds into the season is cause for concern.

The good news is that some of the personnel changes seen on the field Saturday show potential. Two true freshmen -- Otaro Alaka and Josh Walker -- gave the linebacker position an energy jolt with their starts on Saturday. They were active and flashed some of the ability that made them so heavily recruited, combining for 12 tackles and a half-sack on Saturday.

True freshman defensive end Jarrett Johnson, who has seen some time this season, saw quite a bit Saturday and finished with five tackles and a tackle for loss. Safety Armani Watts, who started the season brilliantly but had been mostly missing from the lineup of late, recaptured some of his playmaking magic with an interception.

Offensively, the running game was much more productive than it had been in the previous two games. Taking away sacks and kneel downs at the end of the game, the Aggies averaged 4.6 yards per carry, totaling 168 yards on the ground on 36 attempts.

True freshman defensive end Myles Garrett and receiver Speedy Noil continue to play at a high level as they have most of this season. They are two of the bright spots of the Aggies' 2014 campaign.

There are still issues -- pass protection needs to improve (they yielded three sacks on Saturday), receivers will have to be better, and Allen will have to be more productive than the 106 yards and two turnovers that comprised his day on Saturday. The Aggies still have many problems to solve.

If they are going to win any of their last three games, the answers have to come sooner rather than later.

Instant impact true freshmen: Texas A&M

August, 25, 2014
Texas A&M hauled in the nation’s fourth-ranked recruiting class in February. You don’t rank that high in the national recruiting rankings unless you’ve brought in some big-time freshmen, ones who are poised to make an early impact. As the Aggies’ season opener on Thursday approaches, let’s look at five true freshmen expected to contribute early and often:

LB Otaro Alaka: The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Alaka, the 12th-ranked outside linebacker nationally in the 2014 class, isn’t listed as the starter at strongside linebacker, but he’ll definitely see the field. Alaka pushed senior starter Donnie Baggs at the position in camp. When defensive coordinator Mark Snyder wants to get additional speed on the field, look for Alaka to be one of the guys out there.

DE Myles Garrett: The No. 4 overall prospect in last year’s ESPN 300, Garrett has been as advertised through summer workouts and preseason training camp. He arrived in Aggieland with a college-ready body (6-5, 255) and will figure into the rotation immediately at the Aggies’ rush end position. This summer, Kevin Sumlin said "I'll just say this: Our players have a lot of respect for Myles Garrett."

DT Zaycoven Henderson: This late steal from Texas appears to be one of the best finds the Aggies stumbled upon in the class. The East Texas product is strong has good quickness for his 6-1, 315-pound frame and will be a key part of the defensive tackle rotation, an area the Aggies need depth. The four-star prospect enrolled in January thus was able to participate in both spring football and August camp.

WR Speedy Noil: After a good spring and strong training camp, Noil landed a starting job at two positions -- receiver and punt returner [last year’s leading punt returner, De’Vante Harris, is injured]. The five-star prospect and No. 7 player in the ESPN 300 is nicknamed "Speedy" for a reason. He will see the ball in his hands plenty, and the Aggies are expecting him to do big things when that happens.

FS Armani Watts: After a rough 2013 at the safety positions, the Aggies could use an upgrade. Watts hopes to provide that, earning a starting job by showing impressive range, good tackling and earning the trust of Snyder in training camp. Strong safety and returning starter Howard Matthews will help Watts get lined up properly so the ESPN 300 recruit can focus on his job at free safety. Watts is a versatile talent.

Lessons from spring: Optimism on D

April, 15, 2014
When it comes to Texas A&M's spring, the first question surrounding the Aggies often relates to the quarterback battle and who is in the lead to succeed Johnny Manziel.

The next question is usually relates to the defense, and how much better -- if at all -- the unit will be after a disastrous 2013 season.

While neither can be definitively answered, when it comes to the defense, there is at least some reason for optimism coming out of spring football. The Aggies can't get much worse than they were a year ago, when the ranked last or near last in the SEC in virtually every major statistical category, but there were signs during spring practice that indicate that brighter days are ahead for defensive coordinator Mark Snyder's group.

One reason the Aggies have to feel better about their defense is the experience they'll have. Last year the root of the struggles seemed to be the youth and inexperience up and down the depth chart, with the Aggies having as many as a dozen freshmen in the defensive two-deep.

Though the Aggies will still be relatively young in some areas (particularly linebacker), most of the players who are candidates to start or see significant time were thrown in the fire last season.

Middle linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni is a perfect example. Though he'll only be a sophomore this fall, he started against Alabama last Sept. 14 and in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against Duke. Mastrogiovanni called it "overwhelming," but as the guy getting first-team work at his position this spring, coaches have heaped praise upon the former ESPN 300 prospect.

Should defensive tackle Isaiah Golden and linebacker Darian Claiborne return from suspensions (both missed the spring after February arrests), they too will benefit. Both started a large portion of the season as true freshmen.

Other players who could be in position to contribute, such as linebacker Shaan Washington or cornerback Noel Ellis, weren't starters but saw enough field time to give them a taste of what life in the SEC is like.

Add to those young players a host of returning veterans, such as the starting secondary of Deshazor Everett, De'Vante Harris, Howard Matthews and Julien Obioha, Gavin Stansbury and Alonzo Williams and the Aggies can begin piecing together a more experienced defense.

With so many players returning (nine starters return from last year's defense) and a top-five recruiting class on the way, the Aggies will continue to add to their talent level on defense. One defensive player is already on campus (defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson) and showed flashes of his potential during spring football.

With players like defensive end Myles Garrett, the nation's No. 4 overall prospect, ESPN 300 athlete Nick Harvey, who will be a defensive back at Texas A&M and other ESPN 300 prospects like Deshawn Washington, Otaro Alaka, Qualen Cunningham, Armani Watts and Josh Walker, competition will only increase when preseason training camp starts.

The increased depth on the defensive line could be the biggest factor in helping the defense improve. Snyder indicated how critical it was earlier this month.

"Up front for the first time, we're going to be able to roll people," Snyder said. "I told [defensive line coach] Terry [Price] … that when we get to the fall, we're going to have to practice our rotations, which is a great thing."

For the Aggies, there really is nowhere to go but up defensively. They could be another year away from being the kind of defense they hope to be, but the developments this spring suggest at least some improvement is in order in 2014.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big 12 

January, 27, 2014

As expected, this was one of the busiest weeks in the Big 12 from a recruiting standpoint. Teams were looking to fill in last-minute vacancies, and players were looking to finalize their college plans. TCU proved to be the big winner in the conference, landing six 2014 commits and two more commits from the 2015 class. Kansas wasn’t far behind, as the Jayhawks got verbal commitments from five three-star players for the 2014 class.

Here are some of this past week’s highlights:

Big 12 class rankings analysis 

January, 22, 2014

When it comes to Big 12 programs, Texas is still the top dog in the ESPN class rankings -- but for how long?

The Longhorns held on to the No. 13 spot nationally and the top spot in the conference, but Oklahoma is surging. The Sooners moved up to No. 16 and are hoping to gain more steam with two weeks remaining until national signing day.

Baylor remains in the top 20 at No. 18, and Oklahoma State dropped one spot, from No. 25 to No. 26. Texas Tech (No. 35) and West Virginia (No. 37) remain in the top 40. Here is a more in-depth look at the Big 12 class rankings:

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Texas coaches back on the road recruiting 

January, 16, 2014
The dead period is over and it’s time to hit the road. Charlie Strong has his new coaching staff in place and is ready to get back to work on closing out Texas’ recruiting class.

The Longhorns currently have 21 committed prospects, though several are looking to take official visits elsewhere this month. There are big-time recruits still available. And don’t forget the new names who are sure to pop up on Texas’ radar in the next few weeks.

Here’s a rundown of where things stand and what names you should know entering the end of the dead period.

Solid commitments

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Texas commits respond to Strong hire 

January, 5, 2014

Charlie Strong has officially been named Mack Brown’s successor at Texas. It’s a move that appears to get thumbs up from many of his future athletes.

As 2014 Texas recruits waited to hear who would be their future head coach, many of them were hoping for the right fit. Strong’s résumé -- 23-3 in his past two seasons at Louisville, 3-1 in four bowl game appearances and an outstanding recruiting reputation -- says he fits the bill.

In short, Strong gets it, and while Texas commits had the utmost respect for Brown, they now feel they’re in good hands.

“I think he can do pretty good there,” four-star offensive lineman Terrell Cuney (Jasper, Texas/Jasper) said. “I don’t think anyone can live up to what Mack did, but he’ll come in and do big things.

"Bring it on, man! 'Hook ‘Em all day!'”

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Weekend recruiting wrap: Big 12 

December, 16, 2013

If all eyes weren’t on the Heisman Trophy race Saturday, then they were on Mack Brown's impending resignation as head coach of the Texas Longhorns. Add that in with the multiple junior college pledges to Big 12 programs, and you have a pretty solid weekend of recruiting as we approach the middle of the month.

Official visits and in-home visits were major topics of discussion last week. Here are some of the top storylines over the weekend:

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Big 12 class rankings analysis 

December, 11, 2013
Two Big 12 teams made positive moves in the latest ESPN class rankings. West Virginia cracked the top 40, coming in at No. 39, and Oklahoma State continued its ascension, climbing from No. 24 to No. 22.

Texas still holds the No. 8 spot, while Baylor remains at No. 16. Oklahoma fell one spot from No. 23 to No. 24, and Texas Tech remained in the top 40 at No. 36.

Here is a more in-depth look at the Big 12 class rankings:

Trending up: West Virginia and Iowa State both saw spikes in their 2014 recruiting, but the Mountaineers are the hottest of the two, particularly after picking up ESPN 300 athlete Dravon Henry (Aliquippa, Pa./Aliquippa), the top-ranked recruit in the state of Pennsylvania. West Virginia also landed junior college quarterback Skyler Howard (White Settlement, Texas/Riverside Community College), who threw for more than 3,100 yards and 33 touchdowns this season. Let’s also give credit to Iowa State, who scored five commitments in the first 10 days of the month, the latest being junior college defenders Jordan Harris (Wesson, Miss./Copiah-Lincoln Community College), an inside linebacker, and Gabe Luna (Garden City, Kan./Butler Community College), a defensive end.

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OU-Texas: 2014 recruiting tale of the tape 

October, 10, 2013
When the Red River Rivalry is played, records are thrown out the window. When the game’s over, some love looking into the future to play “what if” with the next batch of talented college players.

While both teams have some room to land uncommitted recruits, both are pretty happy with where they are currently. Texas has 24 commits, and Oklahoma has 14, and when comparing ESPN 300 athletes, Texas only has a 7-5 lead.

Which team has the Red River Rivalry recruiting edge this year? Here’s a breakdown of eight positions and which team holds the edge for now.


Perhaps the most competitive comparison between the schools is at quarterback. ESPN 300s Justice Hansen (Edmond, Okla./Santa Fe) and Jerrod Heard (Denton, Texas/Guyer) are the nation’s No. 4 and No. 5 dual-threat quarterbacks. Hansen is the Sooners’ top-ranked commit and has proven himself a first-class leader of the class. Heard already has one state championship ring, and he’s hoping for a repeat performance in December before arriving at the Forty Acres.

Advantage: Oklahoma

Dallis Todd
Erik McKinney/ESPNOklahoma will get 6-foot-5 playmaker Daliis Todd in its 2014 class.
Running back

There are high expectations for both ESPN 300 Samaje Perine (Pflugerville, Texas/Hendrickson) and Donald "Duke" Catalon (Houston/Eisenhower). Perine is a physical specimen with the combination of power and finesse at 6-foot and 213 pounds. Catalon, at 5-10 and 193 pounds, has the agility and overall balance to make him a potential every-down back. Texas also has three-star Kevin Shorter (Newton, Texas/Newton), a player who plays with a chip on his shoulder, looking to show that he should be mentioned with the elite talent.

Advantage: Texas

Wide receiver

Neither Texas nor Oklahoma will be complaining about their receiver crop. The Longhorns have an ESPN 300 player in Armanti Foreman (Texas City, Texas/Texas City), a rising star in Emanuel Porter (Dallas/Lincoln) and a player in Garrett Gray (Marble Falls, Texas/Marble Falls) who caught 13 passes for 293 yards and five touchdowns in a game last year. Oklahoma has size and athleticism in 6-5, 210-pound ESPN 300 receiver Dallis Todd (La Mirada, Calif./La Mirada) and a 6-7, 180-pound end zone threat in Jeffery Mead (Tulsa, Okla/Union)

Advantage: Texas

Tight end

Oklahoma has done well with recruiting tight ends and was able to land ESPN 300 players Carson Meier (Tulsa, Okla./Union) and Mark Andrews (Scottsdale, Ariz./Desert Mountain). Meier is the No. 5 Y-tight end in the country, while Andrews is the No. 8 H-tight end. Texas also has a good one in junior college pledge John Thomas (Bossier City, La./Trinity Valley Community College). At 6-6 and 255 pounds, Thomas can be used as both a reliable blocker and receiver.

Advantage: Oklahoma

Offensive line

It’s hard to believe that between the two schools, only three offensive linemen are committed.

Sooners commit Alex Dalton (Troy, Ohio/Troy) is considered one of the nation’s top centers, and guard Jonathan Alvarez (Mesquite, Texas/Horn), with his work ethic alone, will surprise a lot of people in a couple of years. Texas, like Oklahoma, has a four-star center committed in Terrell Cuney (Jasper, Texas/Jasper). Cuney is a player who might see immediate playing time as a freshman.

Advantage: Texas

Defensive line

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Video: Big 12 official visit

May, 9, 2013

HornsNation’s Max Olson and Midlands Regional Coordinator Damon Sayles chat with Phil Murphy about the latest with Darrion Johnson, Otaro Alaka and Daniel Gresham, as well as Oklahoma’s slow start to 2014 recruiting and Iowa State building a class around a receiver.

2014 Big 12 recruiting scorecard: April

April, 23, 2013
Recruiting is a year-round game, and it's time to take our monthly look at how this year's recruiting classes are progressing. Getting off to a quick start can get things rolling for any class. Here's how I'd rank the classes thus far. Click on each team to see the full class, though you'll need ESPN Insider to see it.

1. Texas

Total commits: 14
ESPN 150 commits: 2
Class notes: The Longhorns added seven commits since our last update and debuted at No. 1 in our ESPN 2014 class rankings released last week. Jermaine Roberts, the nation's No. 14 cornerback, and Houston native Otaro Alaka (No. 9 OLB) headline a very busy month for the Longhorns. Texas also got a commit from the nation's No. 2 center, Terrell Cuney, though it lost Demetrius Knox, the nation's No. 14 offensive guard, on Monday. Texas is the only Big 12 team with multiple commits in the ESPN 150.

2. Texas Tech

Total commits: 9
ESPN 150 commits: 0
Class notes: The Red Raiders made a big move since our last update, adding five commits and jumping ahead of Oklahoma for the No. 2 spot in our conference recruiting rankings. Four of Texas Tech's five commits made their pledge over the weekend while the spring game took place, including quarterback Patrick Mahomes and skill position talents DeMarcus Felton (RB) and Cameron Batson (WR). Kliff Kingsbury is doing some serious work on the recruiting trail. Tech doesn't have a huge commit that will turn heads, but this is a strong start for a class that already looks pretty deep.

3. Oklahoma

Total commits: 4
ESPN 150 commits: 1
Class notes: The Sooners grabbed a huge pickup on the weekend of their spring game with quarterback Justice Hansen from nearby Edmond, Okla. The nation's No. 3 dual-threat quarterback gave Oklahoma its lone ESPN 150 commit, and two days later, the nation's No. 30 receiver, Dallis Todd, followed suit with a commit.

4. TCU Horned Frogs

Total commits: 5
ESPN 150 commits: 0
Class notes: TCU is bringing two quarterbacks to Fort Worth in this class, including its latest commit. Fort Worth native Foster Sawyer (future All-Name Teamer, folks) joins Grayson Muehlstein to give the Frogs a pair of pro-style passers who combine to have four last names.

5. Oklahoma State

Total commits: 3
ESPN 150 commits: 0
Class notes: Oklahoma State added a pair of commits who rank in the top 15 nationally at their position to jump ahead of Baylor in these rankings. The nation's No. 15 running back, Devon Thomas, and No. 14 OLB Gyasi Akem both pledged to be future Cowboys.

6. Kansas State

Total commits: 5
ESPN 150 commits: 0
Class notes: Outside linebacker Elijah Lee (No. 41 at the position) is the biggest pickup for the Wildcats since our last update, but four of K-State's five commits are in the top 50 nationally at their respective positions. Defensive end C.J. Reese also committed to K-State since our last update.

7. Baylor Bears

Total commits: 4
ESPN 150 commits: 1
Class notes: The Bears have the Big 12's top overall commit in ATH Davion Hall, the nation's No. 73 overall prospect, but don't have another player ranked nationally at his respective position. Offensive guard Devonte Jones joined the Bears' class over the weekend. One player, a recruiting class does not make, which is why the Bears have been passed up by three teams since our last update.

8. West Virginia

Total commits: 2
ESPN 150 commits: 0
Class notes: West Virginia launched itself ahead of Iowa State on this update with a big pickup over the weekend. The nation's No. 12 dual-threat passer, Baltimore's William Crest, pledged to Dana Holgorsen and the Mountaineers. He went to the same high school as Tavon Austin.

9. Iowa State

Total commits: 1
ESPN 150 commits: 0
Class notes: Iowa State doesn't have a commitment since December, but the nation's No. 33 receiver, Allen Lazard, is a nice pickup from inside state lines. Opinions on Lazard differ widely between recruiting services. I've already heard from a number of ISU fans about Lazard's modest ranking. Don't shoot the messenger, folks.

10. Kansas

Total commits: 1
ESPN 150 commits: 0
Class notes: Kansas hasn't added anyone since our last update, but still has a pledge from running back Traevohn Wrench, a 6-foot-1, 190-pounder from Gardner, Kan.