Commentary

What to do with Texas

With A&M on board, SEC coaches vary in opinion on how to recruit the Lone Star state

Originally Published: October 4, 2011
By Dave Hooker | ESPN Recruiting

From school to school, opinions vary greatly on just how Texas A&M's inclusion in the SEC will affect recruiting.

Some schools say they will indeed focus more on the Lone Star state. Some will only vary their recruiting philosophies slightly. Others won't change a thing.

LSU will likely be affected the most. Thanks to proximity, the Tigers have been able to successfully recruit prospects from Texas for decades. LSU has nine former Texas high school players on scholarship and two commitments for the 2012 class.

Miles I can tell you that it should make Texas an SEC opportunity. Now, Instead of going into Texas and being an SEC school from that conference that's outside the borders, [it's now] a conference that will be the home conference of the state of Texas.

-- LSU coach Les Miles

It's debatable just how the inclusion of the Aggies will affect LSU. On one hand, the Tigers will lose one of their strongest selling points against A&M: the opportunity to play in what is widely considered the nation's best football conference. Now, prospects from Texas can play in the SEC and play for a home state team all in one. Conversely, LSU will get more exposure in Texas that can help lure prospects to Baton Rouge.

Clearly, LSU coach Les Miles believes in the latter.

"I can tell you that it should make Texas an SEC opportunity," Miles said. "Now, Instead of going into Texas and being an SEC school from that conference that's outside the borders, [it's now] a conference that will be the home conference of the state of Texas. Certainly, A&M giving the SEC a stronghold in that state, I think there will be a lot of opportunities for quality student-athletes in the state of Texas to visit and see themselves competing in this conference not only at A&M but at other schools."

Florida coach Will Muschamp's coaching stops give him unique insight into the matter. He has coached at LSU and Texas so he knows the area well. He's well aware that some schools are already well established in the area. So which SEC teams will benefit from conference expansion?

"I think more of the West teams will benefit more because of location," Muschamp said. "But at the end of the day, a lot of those guys growing up in Texas want to be Longhorns and some of them want to be Aggies. Oklahoma has always done a great job up there in the Dallas-Fort Worth and East Texas area. LSU, when I was an assistant there, we were three hours from Houston and we signed some players out of Houston."

Muschamp said he won't change the Gators' recruiting philosophy to cater to Texas prospects. Why should he? He has plenty of talent nearby.

"We recruit nationally a little bit," he said. "If there's an attachment to Florida with a young man from the state of Texas, we'll certainly recruit him if he's athletically and academically what we're looking for. I do think it will open up a little bit but I don't think you'll see a huge change in guys leaving the state of Texas to go to different places."

One of Muschamp's former coaching mates at LSU has had success recruiting Texas even before A&M was officially introduced last week. Two of Tennessee's highest-rated prospects -- four-star defensive back LaDarrell McNeil from Dallas Wilmer-Hutchins and four-star linebacker Dalton Santos from Van High School -- hail from Texas:

"Certainly what it will do is bring exposure in the state of Texas that the SEC has not had before," Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said. "I know at LSU when I was recruiting there, that was always the biggest challenge, there wasn't any exposure once you crossed the state line. So hopefully that exposure that you get in the newspapers at the local level generates some more kids' interest in playing in this league so I think it can help you.

"It can hurt you a little bit too because certainly if a player did want to play in the SEC, it gave our schools an advantage over the local schools but now you have a local school that's in that league."

Dooley, who recruited in Texas while an assistant at LSU, said he's a bit unsure if he'll adjust the Volunteers' recruiting philosophy now that A&M is in the conference.

"I think the jury's out," he said. "At Tennessee, we are in a very unique position relative to some of our competition that we have to go a little more national. We've recruited Texas. We're recruiting it this year and we're going to keep recruiting it, but as far as emphasis it kind of just changes each year depending on what the interest is back [from prospects]."

If there is one SEC East team that could benefit from conference expansion into Texas more than any other, it is likely Georgia. The Bulldogs have the benefit of nearby Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which offers direct, often inexpensive, flights to several airports in Texas. But don't expect the Dawgs to overlook the talent that is in their backyard.

"We're blessed with a state that's chock full of athletes ourselves, which is outstanding, so Georgia is where we're going to recruit most," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "We've traditionally recruited Georgia and every state that touches us. Within striking distance of us, that's where you're going to get most of your success because guys do, in the end, want to play near the people that love them."

Back to the SEC West, two coaches from Mississippi have varying views on changing their philosophies in recruiting in Texas.

"We've always recruited Texas," Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said. "I think now with the TV exposure there with a Texas team, it's just a natural to try to go back in there a little bit more."

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said he won't dedicate any more man hours to recruiting in Texas.

"We won't change our philosophy very much," Mullen said. "We recruit Texas. It's not a main area for us. It's a secondary area. We have a couple of kids on our team from Texas. I think it will just make us more inviting to players there to be interested in us because there's probably more recognition for us now in the state of Texas than there's been in the past."

Of course, all this could change in the very near future as coaches and recruiters adapt to the Aggies' inclusion in the SEC. That's why some coaches are taking a wait-and-see approach.

"We're certainly going to look at it," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. "We've got a couple of guys on our roster from the state of Texas. We have a couple of guys here, including myself, that have some Texas ties. We'll certainly look at it and see if there's a reason for us to pursue that angle."

Dave Hooker covers Southeast and Atlantic Coast recruiting. He has covered recruiting and college football for more than a decade. Email him at davehookerespn@gmail.com.

Dave Hooker

Reporter, RecruitingNation