Texas built the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class this spring thanks to some big-picture, philosophical changes made for its handling of the class of 2014. But one change has received less attention than the rest.
And it’s a fairly easy one to spot: Texas is simply offering more scholarships.
Not a big deal, right? You’d think the effect of this might be minimal, considering a scholarship offer means less today than ever before in recruiting, but Texas has changed its ways and that's paying off.
The Longhorns don’t recruit like everybody else. For a long time, Texas has been exceptionally careful about handing out official offers. There are a few reasons for that.
First and foremost, coach Mack Brown takes an offer seriously. He vows to the parents of every recruit who enters his office that Texas will never pull the scholarship of a commit. He makes a commitment to them, and also promises that UT pays its players’ way through college no matter what, be it a star going pro early or a backup struggling with injuries.
Striking that deal requires integrity, and Brown won’t make the promise to someone Texas doesn’t truly want. Hence, his staff can’t offer just anybody.
Some would argue that UT has established a certain prestige through this practice -- most recruits walk out to Brown’s office ecstatic because, they say, Texas only offers the best of the best. That sentiment played better when the Longhorns competed for national titles, but it still holds up today.
Though the gesture of a scholarship offers has become increasingly burdened by attached strings, silly semantics and varying levels of "committability" (yes, really), Texas seemed to be playing things in a fairly straightforward manner. It showed in the numbers.
Texas signed only 15 recruits for its 2013 recruiting class, but fewer than 20 more legitimate, "committable" offers went out to the recruits who went elsewhere. Back in 2012, Texas went for a more-than-full class of 28 signees, yet only 20 more prospects claimed UT offers.
None of Texas’ rivals do things this way. Not Texas A&M, which now casts a wide out-of-state net under Kevin Sumlin. More than 140 recruits claimed Aggie offers in the 2013 class.
This isn’t how the big-time powerhouses operate, either. Nobody recruited better than Alabama last year, and yet its list of offered prospects had nearly 150 names. Florida had the nation’s No. 2 class and might have offered up to 170 recruits.
That speaks to the changing nature of scholarship offers today. Those 150 kids could call Nick Saban to deliver their commitment, but you can bet most would be told "not yet" or, more likely, "no thanks." And Bama is playing the game just like everyone else.
Today, offers merely open the door. They’re often times no more than the official beginning of a relationship in recruiting, the reward a coach must give to get noticed.
It’s all too common now for a recruit to talk on the phone with a Texas coach and then claim they received a UT offer. It’s an easy mistake to make, because it’s the assumption most recruits make now.
But Texas is catching up to this trend. A small 2013 class enabled its staff to get ahead in evaluating for 2014, which led to remarkable 20-plus offers going out last August.
That list of offers is up to at least 57 recruits right now and will continue to grow during the spring evaluation period.
Add in recruits who will break out at UT camp and the late-bloomers who emerge during their senior seasons and it’s a safe bet Texas will end up offering twice as many prospects as it did last year.
That aggressiveness is spilling into next year’s class, where 18 sophomores already have offers and Texas is accepting commitments earlier than ever before in Brown’s tenure.
His promise hasn’t changed, but it does come with a caveat: You may have a verbal offer, but you can’t commit until you visit campus. That hasn’t been an issue for any of the 15 committed to the Longhorns thus far, nor the three 2015 pledges.
More offers led to more early commitments, and now Texas has the nation's biggest class. With so many on board, its coaches can direct their attention to the big fish like Solomon Thomas, Jamal Adams, K.D. Cannon and Tony Brown.
Whether or not the move to more offers pays off will, as always, still depend on how the recruiting battles play out and how the recruits pan out. But the early results are promising, and they serve as one more sign Texas isn't afraid to embrace change.