Commentary

Texas, OU still tops in Big 12 South

Although Texas and Oklahoma still are attracting the top talent in the Big 12, Texas A&M and Texas Tech are going in the right direction, writes Billy Tucker.

Originally Published: January 20, 2009
By Billy Tucker | Scouts Inc.

The Big 12 South was certainly well-represented in 2008. Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State simultaneously held positions in the top-10 of the BCS standings at one stretch during the season.

The Longhorns and Sooners are certainly living up to their top billings off the field as well. Texas currently sits at No. 3 in our 2009 recruiting class rankings with a strong in-state showing. Oklahoma, meanwhile, is looking for a repeat top-10 class come signing day with an emphasis on defense. Texas Tech's best season in program history is definitely paying dividends on the recruiting trail for head coach Mike Leach. The Aggies endured a very disappointing season in College Station but could challenge for a consecutive top-25 class. Conversely, the Cowboys of Oklahoma State more than doubled A&M's wins but their subpar class is certainly not reflective. First-year Baylor head coach Art Briles saw firsthand how young players can make an impact in today's college game and put an emphasis on protecting standout quarterback Robert Griffin in his first full recruiting season at the helm.

Baylor

Baylor

In his first full recruiting season at Baylor -- after resurrecting the Houston Cougars -- Art Briles has focused much of his attention on protecting electrifying quarterback Robert Griffin. He has done so by cleaning up on some underrated, up-front talent in Texas. Jeramie Roberts (Garland, Texas/South Garland) is Baylor's top ranked prospect. The No. 18-rated guard has great upside and versatility -- he could just as easily develop into a solid, two-gapping nose guard. The Bears continued to address their lack of young depth on the offensive line, particularly on the edge, with solid tackle prospects like Ivory Wade (Dickinson, Texas) and Cyril Richardson (Fort Worth, Texas/North Crowley). Baylor needs to put an emphasis on the running back position; Chance Casey (Crosby, Texas) will be more of a change-of-pace runner for the Bears than a high-carry, featured guy.

Top prospect: Roberts is a very intriguing lineman; he has great size, deceptive athleticism and could potentially play a number of different positions on both the offensive and defensive lines. We project he will start his career at Baylor as an offensive guard and quickly become one of the Bears' better trappers and more mobile linemen.

Don't be surprised if … Baylor is a .500 team next fall. The Bears were much more competitive in 2008 and they have their their roster in good shape moving forward. The athletic Casey will see snaps on both sides of the ball during his career in Waco.

OU

Oklahoma

[+] EnlargeJustin Chaisson
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comJustin Chaisson could be a standout D-lineman in the Big 12.
OU had plenty of offensive firepower on the field last fall. This class should make defensive coordinator Brent Venables smile as it's loaded on his side of the ball. Recent interior addition Jamarkus McFarland (Lufkin, Texas), fellow top-10 defensive lineman Justin Chaisson (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman), safeties Kevin Brent (Dallas/South Oak Cliff) and Gabe Lynn (Jenks, Okla.) bolsters OU's defensive class. If you count athlete Darius Jones (Marshall, Texas), who is likely to play corner, OU's top eight-rated prospects are all headed to Norman to play defense. The linebacker group of Tom Wort (New Braunfels, Texas), Brandon Mahoney (Keller, Texas/Fossil Ridge), Ronnell Lewis (Dewar, Okla.), Gus Jones (Wagoner, Okla.) and Jaydan Bird (Conway Springs, Kan.) is one of the better committed units in the country. Lewis could be this year's biggest sleeper as the athletic linebacker's background is 8-on-8 football. Losing receiver Eric Ward (Rider, Texas) down the stretch to Texas Tech definitely still stings; wideout was a position of need for the Sooners.

Top prospect: McFarland was a huge get out of Texas; he's the state's top-rated defensive tackle and a very disruptive interior guy. Although he needs a bit of fundamental polish, McFarland is very athletic for his size, extremely quick off the ball and very explosive. All the tools are there for Venables to work with and develop into an excellent college defensive tackle.

Don't be surprised if … The Sooners put all their energy into landing another top-tier receiver prospect down the stretch after recently losing long-time verbal Ward to Texas Tech in one of this recruiting season's biggest surprises. OU may have to go the juco route at this point. but OU could try to lure a few committed prospects it was on early -- such as Illinois pledge Terry Hawthorne (East Saint Louis, Ill.).

OSU

Oklahoma State

Despite recently landing Top-15 running back Dexter Pratt (Navasota, Texas), OSU has simply not seen a 2009 recruiting class reflective of its national success last fall. The Cowboys claim verbals from six prospects rated at a solid 77 or higher on the Scouts Inc. grading scale. The upper tier of this class is comprised of homegrown talent and is led by the state's No. 2 running back Jeremy Smith (Tulsa, Okla./Tulsa Union). The 206-pound back has a good blend of size, speed, balance and quickness. Smith is a well-rounded back who could become a featured runner for the Cowboys down the road. They also needed an infusion of young talent at the defensive back position, particularly safety, and landed a solid high-point defender in Daytawion Lowe (Midwest City, Okla./Carl Albert). Top prospect:: Pratt is simply a load of a back to take down; he has a great blend of size and speed. A big, blue-collar type runner, Pratt squares up his shoulder pads quickly out of his cuts and hits it hard downhill with good power. Although he could certainly wear down a defense at the next level, Pratt is not an ideal zone, "pick and slide" type runner, which may precipitate a switch to another position, like linebacker or H-back, during his career in Stillwater.

Don't be surprised if … Oklahoma State does not finish as high on signing day as its 2008 finish on the field. The Cowboys will most likely grade out in the bottom half of the entire Big 12.

Texas

Texas

Texas just continues to reload; it should sign a top-five class in February. The Longhorns got after it early with this group -- most of their current commitments came on board last spring. As usual, Texas relied on location, with 19 out of 20 current pledges residing in-state. No. 1 center Mason Walters (Wolfforth, Texas/Frenship) headlines a talented group of offensive line prospects. Overall, this class has nine top-10 positional prospects, including major offensive firepower with ESPN No. 2 rated quarterback Garrett Gilbert (Austin, Texas/Lake Travis), No. 2 tight end Barrett Matthews (Houston/North Shore) and 6-foot-3 running back Chris Whaley (Madisonville, Texas). Of all the prospects in this group, Gilbert has the talent to be a special player in Austin and help the Longhorns continue to be a perennial contender. Top prospect: Gilbert finished his high school career with a state-record 12,534 yards and 136 touchdowns. The 2008-09 Gatorade National Football Player of the Year has a strong arm, is confident, athletic and extremely productive behind center. The Under Armour All-American can run and throw, but it's his sound decision-making with the ball that may stand out the most.

Don't be surprised if … D.J. Grant (Austin, Texas/LBJ), ESPN's No. 5 receiver in 2008, becomes a big-play target for Colt McCoy next fall as a redshirt freshman. Grant was a major sleeper in last year's recruiting class, having been injured most of his junior season.

Texas A&M

Texas A&M

For the Aggies, last fall was a disappointment on the gridiron to say the least, but in his first full recruiting season at the helm, Mike Sherman has put together a quality class in College Station. A&M recently landed one of the best running backs in the country with the pickup the explosive Christine Michael (Beaumont, Texas), ESPN's No. 4 rated back. While, Michael is the Aggies' only ESPNU 150 prospect, they have four other prospects committed with a top-30 positional ranking led by disruptive defensive tackle Chris Henderson (Dallas/Carter). We thought A&M needed some young talent at the corner position to develop and could have a future stud in Steven Terrell (Allen, Texas). Terrell brings a good blend of size, speed and athleticism to the perimeter. Sherman went into Louisiana to snag agile guard Patrick Lewis (Reserve, La./East Saint John). Receiver Uzoma Nwachukwu (Allen, Texas) is a great land, as he could quickly give the Aggies a much-needed receiver who can stretch the field vertically and create mismatches in space.

[+] EnlargeChristine Michael
John Albright/Icon SMIChristine Michael should contribute right away for Texas A&M.
Top prospect:We were a bit surprised the Aggies were able to snag the highly-coveted Michael, who has emerged as one of the top backs in the country. The explosive runner amassed close to 4,000 yards rushing and 80 touchdowns throughout a prolific high school career. Michael is a shifty power back with the ability to run through initial contact or avoid it through the hole with suddenness. He is the complete package and an early impact type guy for the Aggies.

Don't be surprised if … A&M pushes for a repeat top-25 class on signing day, despite its poor performance on the field. Michael is the Aggies' leading rusher next fall

Texas Tech

Texas Tech

The national success and exposure is definitely reflected in this Red Raiders class, arguably one of the better ones in Mike Leach's tenure. The class still lacks an elite prospect -- currently no ESPNU 150 prospects are committed -- but it has its fair share of difference-makers; this group is very solid top to bottom, particularly in the middle range. Plucking Oklahoma receiver Ward down the stretch was quite possibly one of this recruiting year's biggest surprises. Ward will have ESPN's No. 17 rated signal-caller throwing him balls in quick release, gunslinger Jacob Karam (Friendswood, Texas). The Red Raiders added some needed youth upfront with a pair of Top-20 tackles in LaAdrian Waddle (Columbus, Texas) and Kyle Clark (Denton, Texas/John H. Guyer). The majority of this class still comes out of the Longhorn State, but Tech is not just picking up residual talent passed over by Texas and Oklahoma anymore.

Top prospect: The Graham Harrell era is over and junior Taylor Potts appears to be the heir apparent. The Red Raiders are lacking young talent behind center, which makes the commitment from Karam very significant. He may lack ideal size, but Karam's a gunslinger with a quick delivery, great feet, solid athleticism and a knack for making things happen. He reminds us of Kansas' Todd Reesing; Karam is a scrappy, tough player with some playmaking skills both as a runner and passer.

Don't be surprised if … Texas Tech snags another big-name prospect down the stretch and is right on the cusp of its first top-25 class on signing day.

Billy Tucker is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. and has close to a decade of coaching experience at the college and high school level.

Billy Tucker

Scouts, Football Recruiting
• Recruiting coordinator for ESPN RecruitingNation.
• Nearly a decade of college coaching experience.
• Was recruiting coordinator at nationally-ranked Division II colleges.