Charlie Strong’s arrival at the University of Texas is going to change the Big 12.
The on-field impact of the former Louisville coach’s arrival in Austin remains to be seen, but he will undoubtedly change the landscape of the conference. His words during his introductory news conference should put fear into the heart of two Big 12 teams in particular.
“Let's not get caught up in the five stars; let's not get caught up in the four stars,” Strong said Monday. “Let's get caught up in the football players.”
The Longhorns’ new head coach went on to speak of American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smith, who was a quarterback when Strong recruited him to Louisville, yet recorded 14.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss as a defensive end in 2013. His words should be music to the ears of Longhorns fans, as recruiting has not been the problem in recent years at Texas. Poor evaluation and player development has been one of the biggest contributors to the program’s slide.
Largely by taking advantage of those struggles, Oklahoma State and Baylor sat alongside the Longhorns in the Big 12 title race heading into the final weekend of the regular season and seem poised to be the teams most impacted by Strong’s arrival. Oklahoma State and Baylor each went 3-2 against the Longhorns during the past five seasons after combining to go winless in 10 games against Texas in the previous five years. Their rise has had a direct correlation to the Longhorns’ decline.
The biggest impact on those two teams could come on the recruiting trail. If Strong’s priority is evaluation and development, as he contends, that's a shot across the bow to Oklahoma State and Baylor, two programs that have built their success upon their ability to better evaluate and develop their recruits. Those two schools featured 162 combined players from Texas and combined for 21 victories in 2013.
Running back Kendall Hunter, cornerback Justin Gilbert and tackle Russell Okung are just of few of the overlooked Texans that Oklahoma State pounced on. They had NFL-level talent and built the Cowboys into a Big 12 title contender. We all know about Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III and his journey to Baylor, but receiver Kendall Wright -- an NFL first-round pick -- and guard Cyril Richardson -- a 2013 Lombardi Finalist -- have been key contributors to the Bears’ rise. They each were overlooked by the Longhorns.
While Strong’s arrival could make it harder for Oklahoma State and Baylor to repeat their Big 12 championship runs of recent years, both schools have created enough momentum that they could still consistently compete for Big 12 titles regardless of how well Strong does in Austin.
Of all the Big 12 teams, Strong’s hire should have the least impact on Oklahoma. The Sooners are a tradition-rich program with the ability to compete for championships regardless of their surroundings. OU’s 5-5 record against UT since 2005 is second only to Kansas State (5-1 in six meetings). And the Sooners should have no problem recruiting in Texas against Strong’s Longhorns program, particularly with the stability head coach Bob Stoops brings to the program.
The rest of the Big 12 schools are less likely to be dramatically altered.
TCU and Texas Tech have combined to beat Texas once in the past five seasons, with the Horned Frogs’ 20-13 victory in 2012 as the lone triumph. Although both schools are similar to Baylor and Oklahoma State in their ability to turn hidden gems into productive players, they haven’t turned that into consistent on-field success against the Longhorns in a way the other two schools have, although TCU has only played UT twice during that five-year span. The impact on their recruiting will be similar to Oklahoma State and Baylor, but on a lower level as neither school can tout a Big 12 title as proof of their success when trying to land those hidden gems.
Kansas State, Kansas, West Virginia and Iowa State should see their biggest impact on the field, as their brushes with the Longhorns on the recruiting trail are few and far between.