College football recruiting rankings tend to be a lot like Texas weather forecasts. There can be monumental changes within a 24-hour period. And no update should be considered gospel until the storm is unfolding.
Having said that, the storm will arrive Wednesday when high-profile prospects can make their commitments binding on National Signing Day. That makes this final weekend of the recruiting calendar, which begins Friday, a make-or-break proposition for several notable programs — headlined by Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State —struggling to match their typical grades from recent seasons.
Texas’ class, comprising 14 commitments, checked in Thursday at No. 46 on the Rivals recruiting site. That placed the Longhorns behind five other programs from the Big 12 as well as in-state rival Houston (No. 26) and two schools better known for landing top-tier basketball talent than football brawn: Duke (No. 23) and Kentucky (No. 19).
But the Longhorns still stood ahead of Oklahoma State, which ranked No. 52 with Rivals and did not crack the nation’s top 50 classes in three of the four major recruiting sites.
The Cowboys’ 18-member class, which does not include a commitment from any player rated as more than a 3-star prospect (maximum of five stars), earned a No. 50 ranking from Scout.com and landed at No. 51 with 247Sports. The ESPN rankings list only the top 40 teams, and OSU was not included in that group.
Grades at all sites are refreshed several times each day, depending on recent developments. But it is telling when Oklahoma, the reigning Big 12 champion and a participant in last season’s College Football Playoff, manages only a consensus ranking of 29 when its placements from the four primary sites are averaged. For the Sooners, their worst grade came from Scout (34) and their best from ESPN (24).
But none of OU’s rankings place the Sooners in contention to match the consensus national rankings for Baylor (12) or TCU (15) when it is time to select Wednesday’s unofficial Big 12 recruiting “winner” for the 2016 signing class. OU, like Texas, also finds itself in pursuit of Texas A&M (17), Duke (26), Kentucky (28) and others when it comes to landing quality players.
Houston (30) also is a major mover in this year’s consensus rankings, well ahead of Texas (39) and directly behind Oklahoma (29).
Texas Tech did not get a consensus ranking because the Red Raiders did not crack the top 40 with ESPN. But the 26-player class received a No. 21 ranking from Scout, along with No. 41 rankings from Rivals and 247Sports.
Lots of factors contribute to the fresh pecking order for local recruiting classes, including a spike in the number of elite Texas recruits on SEC rosters since Texas A&M joined that league for the 2012 season. Based on ESPN research, SEC schools have landed 42 percent of the state’s top-100 talent in the past four seasons, compared with 28 percent for Big 12 schools. In the six classes signed before A&M’s move to the SEC, top-100 players from Texas wound up on Big 12 rosters 73 percent of the time.
In addition, the emergence of TCU and Baylor as consistent top-10 programs, coupled with Houston’s rise to 13-1 and No. 8 in the final AP poll from last season, have taken players away from Texas, OU and Oklahoma State.
The recruiting approach also has changed at Texas, where coach Charlie Strong prefers to pursue players following their senior seasons in high school rather than lock up commitments in their junior year, as predecessor Mack Brown did while earning his “Coach February” reputation.
It is worth noting that last year’s strong closing push by Strong and his assistants, who flipped six commitments in the final week before signing day, bumped Texas to the top of the 2015 recruiting rankings among Big 12 schools. Of last year’s 29 signees, nine were listed on other schools’ commitment lists at some point.
1998 Last year when a school other than Texas or Oklahoma was deemed to have the top recruiting class among Big 12 football programs. That appears destined to change Wednesday.
A similar late surge by Texas seems unlikely, if not impossible, based on the Longhorns’ recruiting evaluations for a 14-member class that features a four-star quarterback (Arlington Lamar’s Shane Buechele). Texas has fewer confirmed pledges than TCU (22), Baylor (20), Tech (26) or A&M (19). OU, with 16 commitments, also has one of the smaller classes.
But much can change before players put their names on letters of intent Wednesday. If it does not, Oklahoma State will be staring at a recruiting class ranked in the 50s despite averaging 8.3 wins per season for eight years.
Even more stunning: Texas and Oklahoma, the only schools that have been declared the Big 12’s “winner” on signing day for the past 17 years, would find themselves overshadowed by another school’s class for the first time since Nebraska landed the league’s most heralded haul in 1998.
ESPN recruiting rankings
41. Texas Tech
52. Oklahoma St.