February 6, 2013

Texas A&M builds on momentum with top Lone Star class

Kevin Sumlin delivers top 10 recruiting class to A&M.

COLLEGE STATION -- Move over, Mack. There is a new Coach February who rules National Signing Day in the Lone Star State.

Based on the early returns, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin looks pretty formidable in the other months as well.

That is the easy, and mostly accurate, conclusion to draw from Wednesday's football recruiting hauls that show the Aggies -- not the Longhorns -- with the most heralded class of any school in the state for the first time since 2005.

A&M, building on momentum from an 11-2 debut season as a Southeastern Conference member, landed 31 signees willing to join Heisman Trophy winning-quarterback Johnny Manziel in efforts to try and take a program on the rise to greater heights next fall. Sumlin's haul, which included 16 players rated as 4-star signees (on a 5-star scale) by, earned consensus top 10 acclaim from recruiting analysts.

Texas, which lost five players to decommitments during this recruiting campaign, added only 15 signees and finished out of the top 10 nationally for the first time in eight years.

ESPN placed Texas at No. 15 and Rivals judged the Longhorns' class at 24th nationally -- behind 11 of the 14 schools in the SEC, including Vanderbilt (19th) and Mississippi State (23rd).

Clearly, the once-Midas recruiting touch of Texas coach Mack Brown is not what it used to be now that he must explain the Longhorns' three-year cumulative record of 22-16 during home visits.

Sumlin? He's the flavor of the month after leading A&M to an 11-2 mark in his debut season, preceded by a 12-1 record in his final year at Houston.

Recruits like winners and Sumlin has won enough, during his brief tenure at A&M, to swing the momentum pendulum among the state's two largest college football programs toward College Station.

Wednesday's results will give A&M fans one more reason to swagger throughout the off-season.

But the trick will be staying power, which even Sumlin concedes will be a challenge based on the Aggies' new neighborhood.

That is why Sumlin did not waste time crowing Wednesday about having a recruiting class judged to be better than the ones at Texas, Oklahoma and everywhere else in the Big 12.

Instead, he took a mid-afternoon peek at an ESPN telecast, saw the Aggies positioned to sign a top 10 class ...and swallowed hard when he saw so many other SEC names surrounding A&M on the list.

"We're eighth in the country, but we're fifth in our own league," Sumlin said. "We're getting there. But we've still got a ways to go."

Texas, despite the downward-trending numbers, still had the highest-rated class in the Big 12 (judged by ESPN) and finished second in its league, behind Oklahoma, in the estimation of Rivals and most other analysts.

Those placements in relation to peers put a shinier spin on the Longhorns' class, which actually averaged more stars per player (3.6) in the Rivals' rankings than A&M (3.45).

But the Aggies' class, because of volume, star power and potential for immediate impact, is more eye-catching to fans and analysts. It also bolsters the roster for a potential national title run next season.

That is the message most fans and future recruits will take away from Wednesday, although Sumlin downplayed the significance.

"From a perception standpoint, I'll let you guys worry about that," Sumlin said. "What I worry about is recruiting the type of student-athletes that we need get to an SEC championship. We're playing catch-up right now. Classes like this give us the athleticism and size, particularly on the defensive front, to give us a chance. We're going to need a couple more of these classes to really get to where we need to be."

If that occurs, the Aggies' move to the SEC could be a difference-maker for an extended stretch on the recruiting front.

Sumlin cited the presence of nine non-Texans in Wednesday's class as evidence.

"Our brand is expanding," Sumlin said. "We were on TV every week but one [last season]. Because of that, people were able to see our style of football. And moving east, with the footprint of the SEC, helps."

But it will continue to help only as long as A&M wins games in double-digit bunches on a regular basis. Sumlin did that in his first season, making his school a hot venue for elite recruits this February.

If he continues that trend, Aggieland could be the state's new home of Coach February for the foreseeable future.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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